A most interesting job and Zell Miller

Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

One of the most interesting places I worked in my life was Opryland Hotel. As most of you know, the hotel is in Nashville. I worked at Opryland from about 1977 until 1987 and had a variety of jobs. All of the jobs were fun, but probably the one that gave me the greatest pleasure was working at the front desk.

The front desk is where people check in for their rooms and I was one of the supervisors. As such, I had privileges that allowed me to interact with guests in a manner not afforded the average desk clerk.

I enjoyed meeting some interesting characters during those years. Of course, there were dozens of country music personalities among those I met. Having gone to Nashville as a songwriter, one might say I was in Hog Heaven.

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I’ve heard the late, great Johnny Cash actually say, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” He was checking in late one night and had been working at the Opry House.

I can remember taking George Jones a pack of Salem cigarettes and receiving a $20 tip. Merle Haggard left his jacket in the lobby one night and I took it up to his room and he might have written a line to a song, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muscogee,” but he sure did in Nashville!

I attended at least two Country Music Association (CMA) Awards shows at the Opry House and would have attended another, except someone offered me $500 for my tickets. Five hundred dollars was a nice sum of money back then. Still is!

I was there when President Ronald Reagan stayed for a couple of nights. As a manager, I had special privileges of going up to the floor where he stayed. Secret Service security was super-tight and I never met President Reagan, but it was quite an experience to see him and his entourage walk through the lobby.

Billy Carter, the late brother of President Jimmy, always stayed at our hotel. I had met Billy when James Earl was running for president. I was playing a night club at the Atlanta Townhouse, the campaign central for the Carters. He liked that I knew so many Merle Haggard songs and we struck up an acquaintance. Years later, when he would come to Nashville to enjoy Tom T. Hall’s friendship, I would have breakfast with him at Opryland. Contrary to public persona, Billy was always reading a book and was quite bright.

Today, I’m thinking about Zell Miller, who died a few weeks ago. When Zell was Lieutenant Governor of Georgia he stayed at Opryland for the CMA Awards show. I recognized his name on the reservation list. As a Georgia boy, I knew the name.

It was my job to oversee people’s accommodations and I had the privilege to upgrade Zell’s room from a regular room to a suite. I met him and his cowboy boots when he checked in. I can’t say that I “knew” Zell but I liked him.

I listened to his funeral the other day as I was driving. It was on Georgia Public Radio and there were many stories told. At the service to which I listened, there were three presidents who spoke. It’s easy to guess that one was Jimmy Carter. The other two were Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Not many people have three presidents eulogize them, but there aren’t many people who lived as interesting a life as the Young Harris mountain boy, Zell Miller. His passing might have gone unnoticed by many, but not this Georgian. He was an independent, outspoken politician and honest to the core. Can’t say that about too many politicians these days