It’s not every day you get to cross swords with a music legend when you think you’re trying to say the right thing.
Back when I was working for a living, writing editorials and editing an opinion page, I had the rare honor of running into some serious headwinds over an editorial I wrote regarding a legendary music icon. The idea for the editorial came from a colleague. It developed quickly.
In the late 1980s, I was working as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise on the Gulf Coast of Texas. We got word of a plan to name the Interstate 10 bridge over the Neches River, which separates Jefferson County from Orange County after the late George Jones, the country music icon with deep roots in Southeast Texas; he who was born in Deep East Texas just north of the Golden Triangle.
My colleague and friend insisted that was a bad idea. Why? Because Jones had a terrible history of alcohol abuse. Jones was a serious bad boy, given how he overindulged in adult beverages.
My colleague insisted it would be hypocritical to name a motor vehicle bridge after someone who lived a wild life and abused alcohol all along the way.
So, we published the editorial. We insisted that naming the bridge after Jones would send a terribly ironic message, that it would be a tacit endorsement of this admittedly brilliant country musician’s behavior.
I got push back from many of Ol’ Possum’s fans. After all, he had played many dates over many decades in Southeast Texas. He was one of us, they told me. How can we say such a thing about a fellow who gave so much joy to so many music fans?
The word got out over our objection to naming the bridge after George Jones. One day the phone rang. The caller turned out to be Nancy Jones, Ol’ Possum’s fourth wife, to whom he remained married until his death in 2013.
Nancy Jones and I had a cordial conversation, even though she objected to the Enterprise’s position that naming the bridge after Jones would be a bad public relations move. She wanted me to know that her husband had been sober for many years, that he was not the same man who engaged in that frightful behavior of his younger years.
We held our ground. I thanked Mrs. Jones for the phone call and for her courtesy.
As for whether they named the bridge after George Jones, the state and the adjoining counties thought better of it. Hey, it was worth the fight.