For the longest time, Amazon thought I co-authored a book with Burt Reynolds.
It was the early days of that mammoth retailer when my husband and I wrote “The Book of Bowden: Words of Wisdom, Faith, & Motivation by and about Bobby Bowden, College Football’s Most Inspirational Coach.” Burt Reynolds wrote the foreword. I can’t argue with Amazon’s reasoning of choosing his name over ours. I mean, if you were a seller, which name would you want associated with a product you’re marketing?
Getting that Foreword was the result of a series of favors. My mother, June Strauss, asked Florida State University’s “Voice of the Seminoles,” Gene Deckerhoff, if he would talk to Burt about writing it for us. June was well connected: she’d served as president of FSU’s Alumni Association, helped launch the School of Theatre’s patron association and had received a number of accolades from the university over the years. But I suspect what was more important was that she was married to “FSU’s first football hero” (as Bowden and Reynolds once called him), my dad Buddy Strauss.
It was a longshot, a one in a million kind of deal, but a writer can dream. I was plagued with other worries, too. If he agreed, would I receive the foreword before my deadline? And if not, what was my Plan B? Then the most crucial: Can Burt Reynolds even write?
Three days before our publishing deadline, a woman identifying herself as Burt Reynolds’ secretary called and asked for my fax number. Time stood still until I heard the machine chime once, then the thermal paper roller engage. Out spilled one of the most beautiful tributes I’ve ever read about our subject, Bobby Bowden.
In gratitude for that favor from Burt Reynolds, who died last week at the age of 82, and in honor of the absolutely golden friendship he shared with Coach Bowden, here’s that Foreword:
From the moment I met Bobby Bowden I knew he was more than special. I had met, at that point in my life, four presidents and numerous irreplaceable movie stars—from Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda, to James Cagney and Orson Welles. I knew what real charisma meant, and I certainly knew when I was or had been in the presence of greatness.
Bobby Bowden seems to possess a little piece of every extraordinary man I’ve ever had the pleasure and honor to know. He is, first of all, a “people person.” No one he meets—and I mean no one—is ever a stranger or ever treated beneath him.
There is a glowing light from deep inside him that never goes out. No matter what the situation or pressure he has on himself, whether from others or from his own high standards, he never imposes that pressure—by action, deeds, or words—on other people.
We have all read or heard “Saint Bobby,” a moniker that no person could ever live up to. But in over thirty-four years of friendship, I’ve never felt Bobby Bowden was judgmental, indulging me, overestimating, underestimating, or uncomfortable with me or anyone I brought to meet him.
He never has disappointed me or anyone he calls a friend, and he takes that word “friend” very seriously.
I’ve sat in his office with teammates who played for him forty years ago and played with him over fifty years ago. The time seemed just as precious (usually even more for him than the old friends) and never, ever rushed.
Yes, he does sound too good to be true, but if you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, forget it. For me, he is what I would hope someday to be, to have just some of that humor, his dignity, his faith, his great curiosity for and about life, and his great ability to make all of us who know him a better person because of it.
He is the big brother I never had. I’m not alone in this love for the man, just very happy and content to be a member of an ever-growing family of people whom he has touched and changed forever. – Burt Reynolds