Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two Camden characters depart

Hollis Curl: Newsman, Era editor helped bring ferry back

The last time I read a column by Hollis Curl -- Camden, Ala.’s Wilcox Progressive Era editor and publisher who died last week -- I remember thinking, I ought to call or write Hollis to say “excellent column” and see how he’s doing. He’d been sick for a while.

But, I didn’t make the call or send the note. And, I learned, again, the lesson of doing that thing you think of doing when you think of it. That’s because now it’s too late.

Hollis, who I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been a reporter/writer, always wrote excellent columns. He named his “For What It’s Worth” and won many awards for his musings.

A straight-to-the-point newspaperman, Hollis Curl published The Wilcox Progressive Era for more than 40 years. His column and the newspaper’s editorials written by him ran side by side with the small-town news staples like club news, school honor listings, pictures of giant vegetables and, always in Wilcox County, sportsmen posing with big deer or youngsters with first-time game.

But it was through his column and the newspaper’s editorials that Hollis had his greatest impact on Wilcox County and beyond.

I had to smile when I read the story about Hollis by Tom Gordon of The Birmingham News. Quoting from an earlier interview, the story stated the editor/publisher never worried about complaints or disgruntled readers (and there were a few over the years). Rather, Hollis said it was a “mistake to confuse me with someone who gives a damn, because I really don’t.”

Classic Hollis. You could count on Hollis to say or write something controversial, sometimes because he felt so strongly about it, and sometimes just because he could. And often, what he said and wrote came with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

The years I worked in corporate communications for Wilcox County’s largest employer, I’d be at the restaurant in Camden with some visiting business person from the West Coast and introduce them to Hollis, our local newspaper editor. He’d smile at us and get that gleam in his eye, then he’d let fly some seemingly-innocent-but-definitely-not-PC-by-West-Coast-standards comment. Then he’d chuckle and say, “Nice to meet ‘ya." Classic Hollis.

But M. Hollis Curl – who probably could care less if most people agreed with what he wrote or not or if he ticked somebody off -- did give a damn about the things he gave a damn about.

These things include his family, wife Glenda, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And, he cared a lot, too, about Wilcox County’s J. Paul Jones Hospital, one of the few rural lifelines still serving Alabama’s Blackbelt. He promoted the hospital in every way possible in his weekly newspaper and as a well-cared-for patient when he got sick.

And Hollis was passionate about the restoration of the Gee’s Bend Ferry, which he wrote and politicked about until it finally happened in 2006. The newly-built terminal for the ferry, which continues to get attention because of its link to the getting-more-famous Quilts of Gee’s Bend, is named for M. Hollis Curl. His family held visitation there before services last week at the historic Canton Bend United Methodist Church.

There was just one M. Hollis Curl, as news-folks across Alabama know. His words, his attitude and his presence will be missed.

Miss Cleo: Years of hospitality and three tough sons

The Monday before Hollis died, folks in Camden gathered to remember another local legend, Cleo Holley Gaston.

Miss Cleo and her late husband Cecil ran the famed Bassmaster Inn and restaurant in Camden for years. Their sons, David, Charlie and Larry, continue the hospitality tradition. They own restaurants in multiple counties and can cook most any kind of delicious food for as many people as needed. And the burley threesome of brothers – and their children and extended families – loved Miss Cleo with a devotion to make any mother proud.

Their mother taught her sons about hospitality and giving in the best way possible, by example. If someone needs help, if there’s something these Gastons can do for those in need, it’s done. And that’s just one of the many reasons Camden cherished Cleo Gaston.

Picture of the day:
Twilight on the pier:
My family fishes from our pier on Pine Barron Creek in this picture from 2005. With all the rain, the pier last weekend was covered almost to the top of the solar light atop the pole at center of the picture And, the light's still shining!
Here's hoping for an early non-flooding Spring.

Song of the day: Ain't Talkin, Bob Dylan

"All my loyal and much loved companions
They approve of me and share my code
I practice a faith that's been long abandoned
Ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
My mule is sick, my horse is blind
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
Thinkin' ‘bout that gal I left behind

It's bright in the heavens and the wheels are flying
Fame and honor never seem to fade
The fire's gone out but the light is never dying
Who says I can't get heavenly aid?"

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