Loran Smith’s Feature Column: Vernon and Patricia
Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2023
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL – Owing to a college friendship, I was
the beneficiary of the most desired accommodations for a long weekend
recently at this golf-oriented resort where golfing elite, nationally and
internationally, often hang out.
The centerpiece of my weekend, however, was the annual Georgia-
Florida game. Arriving here early and taking a respite with Vernon and
Patricia Brinson is always so emotionally gratifying that when it comes time
to depart, there is deep and lingering depression.
In the mornings, I am the first up which means the coffee pot has
been joyfully engaged. As I crack the sliding glass doors, I can hear the
Atlantic crashing ashore with abandon and uplifting cacophony—not
deafening like a rock band, but arresting and soothing in a manner that
makes you appreciate nature and the good things in life,
My friend Vernon Brinson played baseball for Georgia, with plans to
become a coach. His model was his first collegiate coach, Bobby Bowden,
for whom he played baseball and football at South Georgia College, in an
era when love of alma mater was a motivating force—not greed as in NIL
Vernon, after transferring to UGA, was graduated from Georgia and
became a coach and teacher in Jacksonville. With the summers off, he
joined the sales staff of Key Buick. He was so good at closing deals, the
local dealer, one Tom Perry, began to advise him that he should use his
natural sales instincts and gentlemanly ways and consider a career in the
It was tough, tearing himself away from coaching because of his deep
and abiding love of sports, but Vernon ultimately concluded that if he
became a dealer, he could use his business success to enjoy sports at a
level that would surpass a career in coaching.
Key-Royal Automotive, a business anchored in Birmingham, in
association with General Motors, allowed its best and brightest salesmen to
become dealers. If a dealership was in trouble or if the second or third
generation of family ownership was not meeting goals or getting the job
done, GM would often maneuver to bring about a change.
They would consult with Key-Royal where salesmen were trained to
provide leadership that translated into business success. The hierarchy at
Key Royal found dealership opportunities throughout the Southeast, but
were awarded franchises in places like Cherry Hills, N. J., and San
Vernon could have taken over dealerships at one of those locations,
but bided his time until there was an opportunity in the Southeast, where he
felt more comfortable. Opportunity came about in 1968 when he became
the Royal Oldsmobile dealer in New Orleans.
By this time, he was far removed from Friday night lights and a career
in X’s and O’s, eking out a living in some small town in Georgia or Florida.
The path he chose would link him with far greater financial opportunity.
He became the biggest Oldsmobile dealer in the state of Louisiana,
but later switched to Honda. Archie Manning became a friend and
spokesman for his dealerships. Vernon’s wife Patricia, an enterprising and
creative interior decorator, became the best friend of Olivia Manning (who
needs no introduction).
Vernon, forever a Bulldog, nonetheless had a sense of community
support and provided dealer cars to coaches at Tulane and LSU. He
became friends with the NBA Hawks’ legendary center, Bob Pettit, which
brought about a banking investment that resulted in notable dividends.
With Key-Royal owning a dealership in Minneapolis, Vernon arranged
for his college friend, Fran Tarkenton, to become the spokesman for the
company dealership in the Twin Cities.
Vernon’s dealership provided cars for the Sugar Bowl. He became
President and Chairman of the Sugar Bowl. He invested in racehorses with
a seasoned eye that led to one of his horses, Tapwrit, winning the Belmont
Stakes in 2017.
Through a friend, he connected with the late Cot Campbell of Aiken,
- C., That friendship spawned an investment in a horse named
“Limehouse,” a thoroughbred which did very well. Well enough that when
Limehouse was sold at stud, Vernon’s investment brought him a seven-
figure return. He purchased a second home on the beach at Ponte Vedra.
Vernon and Patricia are the consummate hosts with an annual pre-
game party on the eve of the Georgia-Florida game that is as classy as
they come. They have entertained over the years, CBS announcer Verne
Lundquist, Coach Vince Dooley, and Frank Moore—the one-time cabinet
member of the Jimmy Carter administration—among others.
My college friend has always been good to his friends and has kept in
contact with them over the years. When Bobby Bowden was inducted into
the College Football Hall of Fame, Vernon paid the way of a half dozen of
his former South Georgia College teammates to New York for the induction
banquet. That really touched the coach.
A splendid business career with abundant sports affiliations on the
side, Vernon Brinson has combined business and sports to enjoy an
eventful life. I’d say that beats coaching unless you are Kirby Smart and Nick Saban.