Published on September 7th, 2023 | by TLV News0
“Friend of a Friend of a Sailor” Memories of Jimmy Buffett by Sparky Reardon
I can’t claim a close kinship with Jimmy Buffett or even being audacious enough to call myself a Parrothead, but upon his death as I look back, I realize he played a part in my memories and during some tough times during my time at Ole Miss.
In 1982, Jimmy Buffett played at the Tad Pad in a Monday night show. I was doing student programming at the time and we had a Sunday load-in in advance of a 6 pm soundcheck. That morning I got a call from Jimmy’s road manager asking if I could arrange for Jimmy to meet Willie Morris. I had taken Willie’s Contemporary American Writers class, and we became friends during his time in Oxford and shared many a Sunday night with friends in vicious games of Trivial Pursuit.
I told the road manager I would try but knew that it would be hard to get to Willie since he slept until late afternoon and put his telephone in the refrigerator. I decided to ride over to his house around 2 pm and amazingly found him writing at his kitchen table with note cards spread around.
“Willie, Jimmy Buffett wants to meet you,” I said.
He responded, “Who is Jimmy Buffett?”
I explained that he was a very popular singer/songwriter. Willie liked the idea and took to calling him Jimmy “Buffay.” He agreed to meet him and suggested that we take him to dinner at The Sizzler on Highway 6, but only if I would join them and drive. How could I pass this up: dinner with Jimmy Buffett and Willie?
I picked up Willie, big bottle of red wine in hand, for the sound check and afterward left with Jimmy with a bottle of bourbon in hand headed out Highway 6. We arrived sometime around 8 pm greeted by the post Sunday night church crowd. It was amazing how the stories progressed from tales of Southern writers to Buffett telling the hilarious story of when he practiced singing the national anthem for a Gator football game.
As the liquid levels of both bottles approached low tide, the crowd thinned and as was Willie’s tradition, he presented Buffett with one of the bowling trophies that lined the walls. Soon it was just the three of us.
Sometime later, Gladys, the owner of The Sizzler walked over to our table, retrieved her bowling trophy, put the front door key on the table, and said, “Whenever y’all finish, put your dishes in the sink, lock the door and put the key under the mat. I’m going home.”
I had the good fortune to travel with Willie, his son David Rae, Ronzo, and Dean and Larry Wells to Jimmy’s Coral Reefer show at Mud Island. Jimmy’s mother Peets loved Oxford and became fast friends with Dean Faulkner Wells. When Deanie’s daughter Diane got married, I was privileged to drive Peets to the reception. Driving Jimmy Buffett’s mother to the wedding reception of William Faulkner’s great niece to hear The Tangents! My favorite Jazz Fest of all times was with Peets and her entourage.
These are cherished memories, but there are two other times when Jimmy Buffett meant something to me.
A year after the Chi Omega accident in 1987, a memorial was held at the sorority chapter house on a pristine spring day in April. 1987 had been a tough year and I was hoping for better times. I had parked in the Stockard parking lot and as soon as I got in my car, I removed my tie, rolled down the windows and drove around the west side on my way home.
I heard music playing. I glanced up to a second-floor wide open window, screen removed. There in the window was a skinny freshman in his boxers, a Cardinals baseball cap atop his head and sunglasses on with a beer and cigarette in hand dancing to “Margaritaville.” I smiled, drove off and thought, “Life’s gonna be alright.”
In the fall of 1987, tragedy again visited Ole Miss when a freshman that I had gotten to know well fell down the stairs of his fraternity house and died four days later. He had visited my office the day before. It was a strenuous time dealing with families, media, the fraternity and my own frustration and sadness.
I had flown with some of his fraternity brothers to Clearwater for his funeral. His parents had given me the honor of delivering remarks at his packed house funeral in a beautiful old Episcopal church. I remembered sharing with the congregation that “if they gave all-American awards for smiling, Skip would win the Heisman Trophy.”
I got back to my condo that night. I had learned that post crisis feelings were the toughest; that time when it was quiet, when figuring out what and how to feel was agonizing, when adrenaline pumped with nowhere to flow.
But I handled it that night. I had learned my lesson.
I got a couple of cold Heinekens, turned out the lights, and stretched out on the floor, put on a Jimmy Buffett album and cried.
Like Jimmy says, “Laugh till you cry, cry till you smile.”
Thomas J. “Sparky” Reardon served the University of Mississippi as the Dean of Students from 2000 until 2014. Prior to that he served as coordinator of Pre-Admissions, assistant director of Student Activities, associate director of Student Services, and associate dean of students. Reardon received his BAE from Ole Miss in 1972 and his Ph.D. in 2000. He retired in 2014.
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