Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Norman King

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Years ago, Reader’s Digest, published a periodic feature under the

heading of, “The Most Unforgettable Character I ever Met.” There were

remarkable profiles of such famous people as Branch Rickey of the

Brooklyn Dodgers (by Jackie Robinson). Thomas Edison by his son,

Charles; Eleanor Roosevelt by journalist Emma Bugbee and Chuck Jones

by his cartoon creation Bugs Bunny. The Digest also connected with

ordinary people who left their mark on society: A woman chimney sweep

and helicopter pioneer, Igor Sikorsky.

 

Last Sunday, there was a gathering of ten dozen or more family and

friends of the late Norman King at Johnnie’s Hideaway on Roswell Road in

Atlanta to remember the most unforgettable character who ever dressed

out in silver britches between the hedges of Sanford Stadium.

His son, Mike, organized the tribute with able assistance from his

daughters Kendall Isaacs and Christian Taylor, old friends, a few

teammates, drinking buddies, and those who enjoyed his company for a

day or a weekend or a lifetime.

 

It was Norman who originated the concept of extended stay lodging.

He would show up out of the blue, and a friend would invite him to hang out

for a couple of days. Then five years later…..you know the rest of the story.

This iconoclast with the most winsome personality and a bank

account that was always overdrawn, was the son of a preacher man and

found adventure every day in whatever came his way. He never met a

stranger, and he never worried about being broke. Breaking even was

good enough for him, but even those times were few and far between.

This is the way it was in the early sixties. Norman married a classic

beauty with supermodel good looks by the name of Gaye Boardman. He

arranged a brief honeymoon stay at Callaway Gardens.

 

He did not own a car, and if she had been up for it, he and Gaye

would have hitchhiked to Pine Mountain. Coming to the rescue, however,

was Jimmy Harper, the longtime Southeastern Conference referee and one

time Georgia quarterback.

Harper told Norman to take the keys to his new Oldsmobile for the

weekend and that he would see him the following Monday. A week later,

Norman called the exasperated Harper from New Orleans, letting him know

that he would return Harper’s Olds in a couple of days.

 

That story was one of the many that regaled those who gathered to

pay tribute to one of the greatest pure athletes ever to wear the Red and

Black and the most colorful character to have ever walked the campus of

the University of Georgia. Too bad Reader’s Digest failed to send a writer

to Athens for a sit down with Norman who was bright enough for Phi Betta

Kappa Honors except that attending class for Norman was as appealing as

sitting for a root canal.

A highlight of the celebration was a taped interview with South African

Gary Player, the accomplished golfer who knew Norman well. The way that

came about was that a mutual friend from Atlanta, Bob Witcher, went over

to run Player’s business empire.

 

They called Norman and invited him to join them. All it took was a

plane ticket. He became close friends with the Player’s (Gary and his wife

Vivienne), stayed with them and partied with them. Player introduced him

to accomplished people such as Ian Smith, the prime minister of old

Rhodesia.

 

He also introduced Norman to Bobby Locke, the South African golfer

who won the British Open four times. They became close friends and were

frequent golf partners during Norman’s five year stay in South Africa.

 

During this time Norman’s golf handicap was an enviable 2. This is

evidence of how athletic this former Bulldog really was.

From South Africa, Norman moved on with Witcher to Australia where

he became a successful businessman, returning to Atlanta after ten years

on the longest sabbatical he ever experienced.

For all the wild oats he sowed and the unconventional lifestyle he

embraced, Norman King loved his alma mater and was a man with a good heart.