A loss that pierces

Every note Jerry Pierce wrote me I kept because he was Jerry Pierce and I was just me and I always loved his company, even if it was just through words on a page. It wasn’t like being with him — nothing was quite like being with the man most guys called “Pierce” — but it was like being within his gravitational pull, and that was enough.

An idol of mine, Jerry Pierce became ill last week and passed away Tuesday. That hurts me.

Hurts a lot of people. Our world is less when laughter leaves it.

If you didn’t know him, you’re either not involved with Northwestern State in Natchitoches, where he’s “worked” since 1965 as an administrator and bona fide goodwill ambassador, or you’re not deeply involved in Louisiana sports — and if you’re not that is definitely OK because while there’s a lot of good in athletics there’s some bad too, but the bad is worth putting up with because of guys like Pierce, let me please tell you.

In brief, I was crazy about him. Met him when I was a young sportswriter and loved the guy. He was at heart an old-school newspaper wretch at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans who moved into sports information at NSU and then into administration, all the while a Johnny Appleseed of encouragement and wit, and a guy who, in our sports-rich state, began the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame from scratch 50 years ago, something that’s grown into sort of a big deal, as the museum on Front Street in Natchitoches suggests.

He was supposed to host a 50th Anniversary at the Hall last Thursday night, an informal get-together for whoever wanted to come, a casual history lesson that would have turned into a Q&A and a standup routine, all unrehearsed, Pierce at the wheel. That’s the safe bet, though we’ll never know because instead, on that Thursday evening, he was in the hospital, given no chance at that point to make it much longer, and still he was telling a friend how much fun it had all been.

When we heard he’d been feeling suddenly a little down with flu symptoms and Thursday’s event would have to be delayed until spring, I was disappointed one minute and happy the next because, hey, it was another fun thing to look forward to in the spring. I’ll laugh in the spring.

Then the bad parts came and it was all so sudden and totally unexpected and messed up. Just all messed up, if you ask me.

But … none of us are promised spring. Just like ball, life has rules, and that’s one of them.

Pierce knew that, so he lived in the springtime most every day.

He was the best emcee I’ve ever seen or heard, and no telling how many times — literally hundreds — he was called on for that slippery chore.

Once an inductee went long on an acceptance speech at a Hall of Fame Saturday night induction ceremony, so from the lectern he looked at me with a straight face and said, to everyone, “Teddy, it’s a good thing we didn’t give him the Pulitzer or we’d have been here ’til Tuesday.”

The room exploded. Crisis averted. On with the show.

I once sent him a disastrously long email to answer in great detail a question he had and he wrote back, “Many thanks. I have a vacation coming up in July and will try to respond then to your very thorough email.”

He followed that up a week later with, “Haven’t gotten to that information you were kind enough to send but I plan to read it right after I finish my Briggs and Stratton maintenance manual.”

He once left the Louisiana Tech president comp tickets for a Northwestern State basketball game; they were on the top row of Prather Coliseum, as far away from the court as you could get and still be inside.

The most recent note he wrote to me was in August and ended with “Love you.” I knew he did, but he’d never written it. Through the years I got bushels of encouraging notes from him. Funny that he would have closed as he did, the final note from him I’ll ever get.

He was a tremendous writer. One of my favorite columns was about his little granddaughters and the tests he would give them during car rides and bike rides and on school breaks. Almost every visit, one of them would say, “Ask us some questions.”

“What’s the name of the river where Jesus was baptized?” Brief silence. Then Charlee, only 5, says, “The Holy Nightwater.” (“She makes up some of her answers,” Jerry wrote about this girl comedian who is no doubt the granddaughter of the grandfather.)

More from Pierce. “What country is most identified with kangaroos?” One of the girls blurted, “Georgia!”

“Who invented the airplane?” Big sis Allie was excited. “I read about it in school! It’s Chris Walker,” she said.

Granddaddy Jerry had to tell her it was the Wright Brothers. “Right,” she said. “Chris Walker Wright. He was their cousin.”

Must be something in the water this family is drinking …

Here’s another question for you, Allie and Charlee: Who’s a guy who could totally command a room, who could calmly or not-so-calmly defuse the most heated situation, who could encourage you on your worst day, a guy who, right after you saw him, you always felt better than you did before?

Answer: your granddaddy. He was tried and true, and like you, we miss him, desperately, already.

Love you.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu