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LORAN SMITH: Good conversation can teach a lot about life

FEATURES COLUMN: Good conversation can be good for the soul

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

St. SIMONS ISLAND – Good conversation is good for the soul. To enjoy a good conversation, it is important to gather with somebody who has something to say. Story tellers have been as important to history as the artisans to architecture.

The venue certainly can enhance good conversation, and there is no better place to imbibe and reminisce than at the Frederica House on St. Simons where the setting is rustic, the atmosphere as comfortable as a warm sweater in the early spring, and the food fulfilling. You feel at home when you settle in at the Frederica House where the owner, Tom Mitchell, is often there to greet you.

The Frederica House reflects island living, a laid-back lifestyle in which neither natives nor visitors get up tight about anything. You park under trees dripping with moss and follow a boardwalk to the front door where there’s not a lot of elbow room, but an abundance of smiles and warm greetings from the proprietor and patrons alike.

You can sit at the bar and follow the latest sports action on television. At the Frederica bar, strangers make friends quickly and easily. The Frederica House seems to have the best business circumstance a restaurateur could want—it is always filled with diners, but you can always get a table.

At a recent dinner here, Jim Minter, the former editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Jimmy Orr, former all-pro receiver for the Baltimore Colts, were reminiscing about the early days of the Atlanta Falcons and the University of Georgia in the fifties. Bill Griffin, a native Georgian who lives in Pittsburgh but who has a second home on Sea Island, was an eager listener. Naturally, sports was the principal topic of conversation. Minter is a former sports writer — one of two onetime sports writers to become editor of the AJC. The other one you may remember for winning the Pulitzer Prize, the late Ralph McGill.

Griffin, who knew what it was like to go barefoot as a boy in Morgan County, has enjoyed notable success in banking, which is why he landed in Pittsburgh where he found compatibility with his business career and a “great place to raise a family.” He made peace with the weather, which was a challenge for Orr. “That place,” Orr remembered from his days when he was the National Football League’s rookie-of-the-year with the Steelers in 1958, “is just too cold for me.”

Orr has a resume that includes a singular distinction. He caught touchdown passes from two of the greatest names in NFL history, Bobby Lane and John Unitas. He and Griffin moved easily into conversation about the leading restaurants in Pittsburgh, which are still popular.

With his flair for uncommon modesty and egoless recall, Orr is a gifted conversationalist. The evening was not restricted to sports topics, however. Minter remains one of the best story tellers in our state when it comes to political fare. His experiences are varied and noteworthy. His knowledge exceptional.

If you recall when Reg Murphy, Constitution editorial page editor, was kidnapped in 1974, the AJC agreed to the ransom demand of the kidnappers, a whopping $700,000. The kidnappers decreed that the courier drive an open jeep in short sleeves to a drop-off point in Forsyth County—in the frigid winter temperatures of February. Minter, up for the task, delivered the ransom money as instructed. The kidnappers were caught, and practically all of the money was recovered.

Years later when Murphy, who became publisher of the Baltimore Sun, sold his Sun stock for over $15 million dollars, Minter sent him a note: “Next time you get kidnapped, don’t call me, write a check.”

Next time you visit St. Simons, schedule dinner at the Frederica House. Perhaps, you can eavesdrop on a sprightly conversation like I did last weekend.