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Rotary fundraiser features Grizzard performer
First time Covington, Social Circle clubs sponsor event together
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Fans of the late, beloved Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard will have a chance to celebrate the columnist's life and work at the first ever "Remembering Lewis Grizzard: In His Own Words" festival on March 14 and 15 at the Blue Willow Inn and Social Circle Theater.

The event is a joint venture of the Covington and Social Circle Rotary clubs - the first time the two clubs have come together for such a large-scale effort, said Covington News General Manager Pat Cavanaugh, who chairs the committee overseeing the festival.

"We're looking for this to be a fun weekend, and we see some great things coming out of it in the future, which in the long run can benefit all our communities," said Cavanaugh, adding that Grizzard would have approved of such a joint venture.

"There's not something like this anywhere," he observed. "We have hopes that this could turn into a regular yearly Lewis Grizzard festival that will bring thousands and thousands of people to our area," and many tourist dollars, he said.

The idea for a fundraising performance first came to him after seeing the positive response from reviving Grizzard's columns in The News. The Blue Willow Inn came up as a natural location for such an event, given that Grizzard's column about the Blue Willow's fried green tomatoes brought tourists pouring in and saved the business from extinction. A room at the restaurant was even named after Grizzard. After receiving the approval of Grizzard's widow, the clubs began working together and event grew into a two-day festival and performances.

The sometimes curmudgeonly humorist - he famously refused to write on anything other than a Royal manual typewriter - was syndicated in 450 papers across the country for 20 years and was a prolific writer and performer, producing multiple New York Times bestsellers and comedy albums. He was born in Fort Benning and raised in Moreland. The UGA graduate started off as a sports journalist, working as the youngest executive sports editor at the Atlanta Journal, and also worked as the sports editor at the Chicago Sun-Times before becoming a columnist. He suffered a congenital heart defect and died 15 years ago as of this coming March.

Grizzard's lasting appeal comes partly from his unswerving frankness, said his widow and fourth wife Dedra Grizzard.

"Lewis was so popular in this area and he was so loved and he is still so missed after all these years because no one really, as far as a newspaper man and columnist, has been able to come on board and write like Lewis wrote," said Dedra, who was charged with looking after Grizzard's legacy.

"Because he tended to be politically incorrect and the speech police were always after him. He really did speak his mind about politics and current events and special interest groups, and it wasn't always so kind what he had to say. But there were so many other people out there who felt the same way Lewis did, but couldn't put it into words as eloquently as Lewis could."

Bill Oberst Jr., who has portrayed Grizzard to rave reviews at more than 600 sold-out shows across the country for the last decade, observed that Grizzard's humor was gentle and rarely crass, unlike other comedians.

"The thing about him, I think, Lewis could make people laugh without being mean," Oberst said. "He really understood Southerners in a way that I don't think any public figures since him has."

Despite the economy, or perhaps because of it, demand for the Grizzard shows have increased over the last couple of months, said Dedra.

"It's kind of an odd thing and I wonder if it's because people just really need to laugh, in the face of the adversity and negativity we're feeling and seeing... they want some humor brought back into their lives."

She hopes that someday she will see students will study Grizzard as an iconic figure of Southern writing, and ultimately hopes to find a publisher to bring Grizzard's books and columns back into print.

Proceeds from the festival will go to the Social Circle Rotary's reading programs, the Covington Rotary's Miracle Field project and the American Heart Association - a non-profit Grizzard favored.

The festivities on Saturday, March 14, start at 6 p.m. with a cash bar and dinner at 7 p.m. featuring the Blue Willow Inn's famously tasty fare - fried chicken, potato salad, greens, friend green tomatoes, yams, peach cobbler and more. The night's entertainment includes a "Grizzard look-alike" contest and is capped by a special performance by Oberst as Grizzard. Tickets cost $99.99 per person and participants can also reserve tables of eight.

If Saturday night's show is out of your price range, there's also a Sunday matinee performance from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Social Circle Theater for $19.99 per person.

Tickets can be purchased at the Pinnacle Bank in Social Circle, The Covington News at 1166 Usher Street, Covington or at the Rockdale Citizen at 969 South Main Street, Conyers. Tickets can also be purchased by mailing in a check and a form to "Remembering Lewis Grizzard," P.O. Box 164, Social Circle, Ga. 30025.

The event is sponsored by The Covington News, The Rockdale Citizen and Real Country Q92.3 FM.