Reese an original who can’t be replaced

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

As long as I can remember — which is back to the mid-1970s — The Vicksburg Post has printed Charley Reese’s views three times weekly.

During those years, the people who complained to me about his columns pointed out with great certainty that he was a right-wing nut, a conservative too conservative for conservatives.

In 1991, at almost exactly the time the first President Bush sent troops in for the first Gulf War, the Jackson newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger, started printing Reese’s column. At the time, Reese was apoplectic about Bush’s “war for oil” and his reckless use of the military.

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So imagine my delight a few days later when I picked up the Jackson paper and a letter-writer was complaining about Reese. “It’s a shame,” the author wrote, “that when The Clarion-Ledger decided to add another columnist it chose another left-wing loon.”

That might not be a direct quote from the letter, but it’s close. Most people never figured Reese out. My observation, which I have shared often, is that he was, above all else, consistent: He was against everything.

For the past two weeks, King Features has been sending “greatest hits” columns from the Orlando-based writer, noting that he has been on medical leave. Word came last week that after hundreds and hundreds of straight-talking opinion essays, his column for this Wednesday will be his last.

It’s a day that comes to all — James Kilpatrick shelved his typewriter last year — but one I didn’t anticipate would ever come for Charley Reese.

‘By my math, Reese is 69. I don’t know anything about his health, except that it’s apparently been able to silence him when, Lord knows, nothing else could.’

He wrote with singular clarity, a bootstraps and basics philosopher with no interest in fame or riches.

He was frequently over the top, especially with his columns favoring the cause of the Palestinians, and he never left any doubt about his viewpoint.

Reese visited Vicksburg once long ago, but hung out with Charles Faulk and Louis Cashman Jr., not us lowly reporters. Not too many years ago, Dorothy Dalrymple invited me to the state DAR convention with her to hear Reese in person. He made only two or three speeches a year and never accepted a fee.

After leaving The Orlando Sentinel (in a tiff), he continued to write from home for about 150 other papers. When this thing called e-mail came along, he actually got a computer and an e-mail address. That lasted only a few weeks. For better or worse, Reese didn’t care what his readers thought. He cared that they thought.

Witness how he began his last column in the Florida paper:

“This is my farewell column to readers of the Orlando Sentinel. I’m not very good at this kind of thing. Thanks and goodbye.

“Now to fill the rest of the space.” And witness how he closed that column:

“So, Sentinel readers, adieu. Thanks for all your kind thoughts and letters. To those of you who sent unkind thoughts, go to hell.”

By my math, Reese is 69. I don’t know anything about his health, except that it’s apparently been able to silence him when, Lord knows, nothing else could.

One last laugh: After super-humorist Lewis Grizzard died in 1994, Reese’s editors at King Features told him to replace Grizzard by writing some funny stuff. Reese knew he couldn’t do it, but he tried about three times. And then he likely told the editors the same thing he told the senders of “unkind thoughts.”

Reese couldn’t replace Grizzard. No one could. And while there’s space on this page to be filled, no one will replace Reese. No one could.