I was just sautéed, not roasted

Published 6:49 pm Friday, February 14, 2020

Over the last 30 years as a member of the Mississippi Press Association (MPA), I have attended dozens of “roasts.” It is MPA’s main fundraiser for its education foundation, which supports journalism internships for Mississippi college students.

The Oxford dictionary has two noun definitions for “roast.” The first is “a cut of meat that has been roasted.” The second is “a banquet at which the guest of honor is subjected to good-natured ridicule.” It was my turn to be subject to the latter.

Roasts are great fun, yet they seem to be dying out. I’m glad the MPA is continuing the tradition. It’s a great night of fun. I have learned a lot about many interesting Mississippians through their “roasts.”

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Hours before the roast, my wife Ginny asked me if I was looking forward to it. “I’m looking forward to it being over,” I responded. Maybe Donald Trump likes being in the spotlight, but it’s a bit disturbing to me. Nevertheless, it was for a good cause.

There are really two things you want in a roast: First, you want a packed house. Second, you want lots of laughs. I am relieved to say we got both last Thursday night. I think the number of laughter eruptions was in the hundreds. Dozens of friends have gone out of their way to say how much fun they had.

One reason for the crowd was my shameless twisting of my friends’ arms. I was terrified we would have my roast and nobody would show up.

I must say, my friends delivered in spades. To every person who showed up, thank you, thank you, thank you. I will never forget it.

I have lots of faults and a few strengths. One of my strengths is loyalty. Once you are my friend, you are my friend for life. I’m just built that way. I think that personal characteristic helped make the night a success. I have so many friends that I have known for decades.

My children were definitely not impressed. My daughter Ruth begged off to go to a friend’s birthday party. John had to study for an exam. My sister came close to flying out for the event, but I persuaded her to watch it on YouTube. That would have been too much pressure.

There was one tense moment when Ginny was about to stand up and contribute to the roasting, but her friends held her down. Thank God for small mercies!

Marshall Ramsey was the event moderator, having been roasted himself in 2017. Marshall is perfect for these events. His wit is guaranteed to get dozens of laughs.

The roasters were Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (one of my favorite politicians), lifelong friend Wilson Carroll, entrepreneur and golfing buddy Jeff Good, mover and shaker Hayes Dent and Charlie Dunagin, editor and publisher emeritus of the McComb Enterprise-Journal.

Having roasters who really knew me and could tell true funny stories greatly added to the event. Reality is always funnier than fiction.

Everybody was funny, but I think Charlie was the funniest. His dry, understated wit and obvious fidelity to truth, down to the tiniest details, made for a perfect delivery.

Minutes before his presentation, I turned to Charlie, who was sitting next to me on the dais, and told him I knew exactly what stories he was going to tell. “How did you know,” he demanded. “Charlie, you’ve told each of those stories a dozen times!” I didn’t realize how funny the stories would be to people hearing them for the first time.

I was taken aback by how lenient my long-time friends were, especially knowing they were armed with a mountain of roastable material. Perhaps they knew I was a former state champion extemporaneous speaker and also had a mountain of ammo to launch back if need be.

As it turned out, I felt compelled to hug my longtime roaster friends at the conclusion of their talks. They all ended with words that made my eyes mist.

At the start of dinner, photos of my life were displayed on two big screens at the front of the room. It made me feel like I was attending my own funeral. That’s a strange feeling, but I must say I can’t complain. If I can avoid any major screw ups over my remaining years, I’ll die to reasonably positive impressions of my life (at least among my friends.)

The day before the roast, several people asked me if I was prepared. “Prepared for what?” I asked. “I’m the roastee not a roaster.” That’s when I was told that the roastee is supposed to come up with the best speech of all, humorously and tactfully roasting back all his roasters.”

I went into a panic. What was I to do? Fortunately, I have been a lifelong shutterbug, and I had numerous photos of my roasters over the years. I was able to weave those photos into funny storylines that poked fun at each of them.

After my roast turned into a sautee, I had to tone down my response, but it seemed to go well. I got my share of laughs.

Best of all, there were no pregnant pauses or awkward moments. I remember one roast, when the roastee was so offended by the roast of one of his media critics, that he took the opportunity to lambast the writer, revealing how much emotional pain this journalist had caused his family. You could have heard a pin drop. Everybody wanted to crawl under the table.

Not so at my roast. A good time was had by all and there were nothing but laughs and smiles and good moments.

Best of all, unlike a funeral, I got a chance to thank the hundreds of people in the room, all of whom I respect immensely and love dearly. I felt badly that I didn’t mention every one of them by name, but we would have been there all night.

Thirty-five years ago, armed with a graduate business degree in computers and information systems, I was headed to the Silicon Valley to invent the internet. As God would have it, I was destined to return to my Mississippi roots and go into the family newspaper business. As I looked out across the room with so many fine people with whom I have worked and played and loved, I didn’t regret a single minute. God’s providence is amazing.

I also want to thank the readers and advertisers of the Northside Sun for allowing me to pursue a challenging, rewarding and joyful career with which I have been able to provide for the family I so dearly love.

It’s been a wonderful run. And it’s far from over. In fact, I’m just getting started!