Remembering the times with Rozelle

Published 7:18 am Wednesday, August 8, 2007

By By Lowell McGill
I met Hugh Rozelle in 1954 when I was going to college and working part time at WATM and the Advance.
Little did I know then that it would be a lasting friendship.
He would sometimes bring his son Eddie to the station where I would let him help me DJ over the air and introduce a few songs and say a few words. Having an overflowing personality like his father, you knew that he would grow up to be successful in life.
As I became closer friends with Hugh I learned more about him and what he wanted to accomplish in his profession as an attorney and legislator. He told me something that I have always remembered. In a somewhat joking manner he said, 'when you identify yourself as a friend of a lawyer 50 percent of your friends may turn away from you and another 50 percent may even become more friendly with you.' But I never lost any friends that I know of because of my friendship with Hugh. Blessed with a world of wit, he was one of the most 'informed' people I ever knew. He had a brilliant mind and he had the ability to write impressive legal briefs and narratives.
He liked the 'ordinary' folks. His dialogue with them was unique. But he could also converse with leaders and dignitaries as good as any person I have ever known. He would go to country churches and stay for 'dinner on the ground' and afternoon singings. Family singing groups and four-part harmonies were among his favorite music. He invited me along on some of those visits. It was occasions like this that he became so well known to the entire Atmore community. In later years he was saddened when new management dropped all the Sunday morning singers and ministers following the sale of WATM. Hugh always gave money to these Sunday morning religious programs to help keep them on the air.
Several years ago on a Halloween night, which had a bright full moon shinning, he asked me to go with him to a deeply wooded settlement out of Perdido. He had a client living there but the client did not have a phone. It seems that this client's court trial date had been moved up to the next day and it was imperative the client be at that trial. Hugh did not know where he lived and neither did I. So I called some relatives in Perdido for directions. Even with those directions it took me over an hour to find the client's mobile home. But, that's the way Hugh was. He was "looking out" for his client to make sure he received the proper legal service that he deserved.
He kept a little black book with him all the time. I asked him one time if this was his diary. He told me it was not a diary but a log of his activities and names of people with whom he came in contact each day. He said he learned how to keep this log from his Hugo Black family relatives. Hugh, who was from Ashland in Clay County, Ala., often spoke of Judge Hugo Black, a former Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court. But, he never bragged about his kinship to Judge Black.
In July of 1956, while I was still in college and working summers at the station and also writing sports for the Advance, he called me one day and asked me to meet him at the Atmore National Guard Armory on a Friday at about 6 p.m. At this point in time I had gotten to really know him better but I never knew what he was up to next. When I got to the armory, the parking lot was beginning to fill with cars. Hugh met me outside and told me to come on in with him. Well, as it turned out, Hugh was going to be the ring announcer at a wrestling match. He asked me to be his 'assistant' and I said why not, I do the local sports for Tom and Ernestine on the radio and for Martin Ritchie at the Advance, I might as well do wrestling too. I don't know how he got involved with this but I know he got a kick out of it. Prior to the opening rounds he would walk around the audience and speak to everyone, and shake their hands. He had countless friends in the audience. A pre-match meeting was held when all the wrestlers had gotten to the armory. Only wrestlers and the ring announcer were allowed in the closed-door meetings. This was when the wrestlers would discuss their agenda for the evening matches. I didn't go into the room with them so I don't know what was discussed. But it was a night of fun, especially for me because I didn't know anything about wrestling. Hugh was a friend of Tom Drake, a former well-known Alabama wrestler who later served in the Alabama State Legislature for several years. Drake, reportedly, married into a prominent family from Cullman County.
He told me that he would be away on some occasions and he wanted me to fill in for him. Well, the series of matches continued through the summer and I did stand in for him on one occasion. By the way, I finally was asked to attend one of those pre-match meetings with all the wrestlers. But, I had to make a vow that I would never discuss the meetings with anyone. Up to this day, and out of respect for Hugh, I have never discussed that meeting with anyone.
Hugh also taught part time business courses at a local business school in the 1950s, mostly to returning military veterans. Again he let me fill in as a teacher for him on a few occasions. That extra money was very helpful to me at that time. One year of college was required to teach at that level.
As the years went by there were greater and more important things to come in the life of Hugh Rozelle. I remember one morning when drinking coffee at his office Chief Calvin McGhee came in. Not long after that, Lenoir Thompson, an attorney from Bay Minette also came in. I had known Mr. Thompson as a boy in Perdido where he and I grew up. In fact, his mother was my Sunday school teacher at our 'little' Perdido Methodist Church. Mr. Thompson told Hugh he needed no introduction to me. He said, 'I remember him from his childhood.' He was 'that little boy that always rang our big church bell on Sunday mornings at our little church located on the top of Perdido hill.' I, of course, dismissed myself from their meeting, but a few days later when I was at his office for coffee he told me to get ready for some big news. You see, Hugh and Mr. Thompson were among those attorneys who were formulating plans to obtain federal recognition for the Poarch Creek Indians.
During the next year or so I was not in in touch with Hugh very much because he was busy with his work in the Indian project. But one day he called me and asked me to drive him to the airport. There he would meet with other attorneys who would board a plane and fly to Washington, D.C. On the trip to the airport he told me that the Poarch Creeks would gain their recognition, he was sure of that. And, of course the rest is history. The Indians did receive their charter and now they are leading the way to a more progressive Atmore. In fact, their present business ventures will provide countless jobs here and will make Atmore a 'destination.' People will come here come from 'far and wide.' Because of Hugh, I made several friends over the years with members of the Poarch Creeks including people like Eddie Tullis, the late Chief McGhee and many others. Not enough can be said today for the excellent opportunities the Poarch Creeks will provide area residents.
In time Hugh would serve as a District Judge and City Judge where he enjoyed highly successful careers. In 1986 he became, associated with Mickey Womble, a well known and extremely likeable and knowledgeable attorney from Monroeville. Womble, who is still in Monroeville, worked in association with Hugh for many years.
As the years passed and after he lost his wife, he would often come and have meals at my home. He always told me about eating alone at all the fine restaurants in Atmore. I suggested that he visit the local hospital for some of his meals. I told him that my wife and I often ate there, especially after our boys had grown up. My wife told him that Louise Brogden, an excellent dietitian, always provided healthy and well-balanced meals. He was not aware that locals could eat there. He later thanked us for our directing him to the hospital cafeteria, because he became a regular 'customer' for many years.
One afternoon at his office he pulled out that little black book and he told me why he kept it and made regular entries in the book. He said he was writing a book beginning from his days in Ashland through his present life. He knew that I liked to write and he was an inspiration to me when I founded "The Tri-City Ledger" in Flomaton in1971. He would often come by the newspaper office and would bring interesting articles for me to use in the paper. He knew that the paper was a financial struggle for me but he continued to give me encouragement. In 1978 he played a big role in my being accepted into the Federal National Flood Insurance Program.
The year that he died I was away in another state working flood claims and could not get back to attend his funeral. This hurt me deeply because of our longtime friendship.
I don't know how far along he got in writing that book. I hope someone has all those many notes and manuscript pages that he assembled over his life and can complete that book that he set out to write many years ago.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

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