Contact: Sasha Steinberg
STARKVILLE, Miss.—Colleagues, family and friends gathered Thursday [July 14] at Mississippi State to celebrate the life and accomplishments of a beloved Mississippi journalist whose papers will be housed at the university’s Mitchell Memorial Library.
“Orley was very special to journalism work in the state of Mississippi and even beyond,” said MSU Dean of Libraries Frances Coleman, who officially welcomed the family of late Vicksburg native and award-winning newspaper columnist Orley Mason Hood Jr. to Mississippi State. “One of our main goals here at Mississippi State University is not only to preserve Orley’s papers, but we want to share them on behalf of teaching and research, and especially on behalf of our students.”
MSU President Mark E. Keenum also expressed joy, pride and honor in welcoming the Hood family into the MSU Bulldog family, as well as accepting the papers of one of Mississippi’s accomplished writers and storytellers.
“Over the course of his very accomplished career, many thousands of Mississippians would get up in the morning and read his columns and start their day with Orley Hood,” Keenum said. “Everyday Mississippians could get a sense and feel about how everything rang true and was real to them and their life by reading through Orley’s stories and experiences.”
Sid Salter, MSU chief communications officer and public affairs director, knew Hood for many years.
Salter noted that Hood was a big fan of MSU basketball legend Bailey Howell, whom Hood referred to as “my first hero” in a column he wrote in October 1997.
Hood wrote, “All these years, I’ve kept that windbreaker stored in plastic. Last year, I gave it to my 10-year-old. I told him how important it was to me. I told him about Bailey. I told him it was the only autograph I’ve ever gotten. That it was the only one I ever wanted.”
To read this and other Hood columns, visit http://msfame.com/category/orley/.
Hood’s wife and fellow Mississippian, Mary Ann Hood, also shared fond memories of her husband. She said he remained a strong, committed family man up until his death on Feb. 21, 2014 at age 65 from complications of acute myeloid leukemia.
“The only thing missing today is Orley, but I know what he would say if he were here,” Mary Ann said. “He would flash that grin, and he would say, ‘Isn’t this great?’ ‘Great’ was one of his favorite words. I know Orley would be very happy.”
Hood wrote for The Meridian Star, Memphis Commercial Appeal and Jackson Daily News as a sportswriter, columnist, sports editor, Southern Style editor, senior editor and features editor. He later joined The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, where he wrote features and a general interest column.
Mary Ann Hood said her beloved husband was “a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and fantastic Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble player who knew sports, history, literature, art and anything about World War I or World War II.”
“Orley never really stressed about writing. It seemed to come easy to him,” she recalled. “He had such a passion for writing, for telling people stories and getting it right. That was so very important to him—getting it right. Spelling peoples’ names right. Getting the score in the first paragraph, and expressing his opinion, of which he had many.”
In addition to being a talented journalist, Hood said her husband was great at relating to people.
“Many of the things he wrote about—our family and the experiences we were having—readers were having, too. He just made it a lot funnier for them,” Mary Ann said. “Orley loved talking to people. A simple trip to the grocery store for a gallon of milk could take an hour because he would run into somebody that he had to talk to.”
She said along with loving sports—especially soccer, which sons Hunter and Tucker played—her husband was an avid walker. Even after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2011, Hood maintained a walking diary he began nine years prior. He ultimately recorded 22,176 miles, or a little more than 2,000 miles a year.
“Orley loved Hunter and Tucker, and they loved him back,” Mary Ann said, choking back tears as she commended her sons for being “standup guys” during their father’s illness. “Orley got to see Hunter get into medical school and Tucker graduate with honors from Ole Miss. Both of them got to spend a year at home after graduation, and those were two great years that Orley had.”
Billy Watkins, features columnist and storyteller for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, also praised Hood for his kindness toward others and ability to “paint pictures” with his writing.
“I loved Orley Hood. The man changed my life. Whenever I finished reading his columns, I would say ‘I wish I’d written that,’” Watkins said. “I worked with him in sports and features every day for more than 25 years, but I never got over being in awe of Orley. I’m still in awe of Orley. He’s my hero.”
Orley Hood knew more than journalists’ bylines; he knew them as people, Watkins said.
“It was like traveling with a rock star because everywhere you went, people would want to talk to him. You could see the genuine respect that other writers from other states had for him,” Watkins recalled.
Even so, Watkins emphasized that “writing is what Orley did; it’s not who he was.”
“If you asked me to describe him to a stranger, I would say he was a man who cherished every single moment with his family, and he was a friend to the end.”
Mary Ann officially presented MSU President Mark E. Keenum with her late husband’s papers, which are becoming part of the Mississippi Journalism Collection housed in the library’s Special Collections Department – Manuscripts Division.
In return, Keenum presented her with a cowbell signifying the Hood family becoming part of the Mississippi State Bulldog family.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.