Photo Credit: Dan Johnson
Philip Lee Williams
The opening publication party for It is Written: My Life in Letters and its author, Philip Lee Williams, last Thursday in the Grand Hall of the new Russell Special Collections Library was a happy occasion, truly a homecoming, since his parents lived right next door, on Hull Street, after they married following the Second World War, in which they both served. The Russell Library folks added to the occasion with a delicious spread of food, a copious array of drinks and an impressive display of Phil’s books. Phil was introduced by University Librarian and Associate Provost Toby Graham and by Marc Jolley, his editor at Mercer University Press, which published this handsome volume. The Russell Library is a treasure in our midst, and it was celebrating as well Phil’s donation of his voluminous papers—30 running feet of boxes, available to researchers and to anybody looking for a movie script to crib.
The standing-room-only crowd bought books, and Phil signed them and then made some remarks (some of them extremely kind to me) and read from his book, which is a remarkable reconstruction of a life and an interesting account of how he made himself into a writer.
If you missed the occasion or even if you were there, you’ve got another opportunity. This Sunday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. Phil will read and sign It Is Written at the Athens-Clarke County Library’s Café au Libris. He’ll be introduced by Banner-Herald writer Lee Shearer, our old colleague from The Athens Observer, which Phil edited for seven years, when he was just beginning his career as a novelist, during the pre-dawn hours.
Phil Johnson would, in all likelihood, have been mayor of Athens, had his faculties not been slowed by the spinal meningitis that he contracted as an infant. Thanks to his numerous and loving family, he was able to make do as a large presence wherever he was, because they refused to institutionalize him and invented Hope Haven School as a place where he and others with disabilities could learn, until the public schools wised up and accepted these exceptional students. No mayor could have commanded a larger or more diverse crowd than those who attended the “send-off party” last week at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, after pneumonia took Phil away 61 years beyond his doctors’ pronouncements that he wouldn’t make it.
Phil made it, and he became a popular presence wherever he went, such as his weekly bowling at Ten Pins and hanging out afterward at the Office Lounge with his constant companion, his brother Dan, who, after their mother’s death, devoted his own life to taking care of Phil—or was it the other way around?
If you can recall X-Ray Café and Oracle on West Washington Street, you know you want to get on over to 773 N. Pope St. from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13 and Sunday, Sept. 14 for Paul Thomas’ huge yard and porch sale. That’s on the part of Pope St. that runs alongside Emanuel Episcopal Church across from Daily Groceries on Prince Ave. Paul is lightening the load, emptying out his entire house of its 25-year accumulation, creating a rare opportunity for those who enjoy artifacts assembled by a somewhat skewed artistic imagination. Paul’s got it all: books, magazines, comics, records, CD’s, VHS, DVD’s—all $1.00 each, plus lots of other fun stuff, cheap.