By Glen Mason
Special to the
New Journal and Guide
Curtis Maddox and Morgan Freeman are blood brothers.
If you want to source that fact then you may want to pick up a copy of “Learning To Live“ to see what Freeman says about that little known factoid in the recently published biography by Maddox with Dreason Ruckett.
The book reads as a poignant series of stories and testimonies, which offer a unique look at a former businessman, football coach, college administrator. (Note the order). It is seldom that one’s career of service is graphically documented in a method that blends a narrative and photographic memorabilia into a portrait of a man’s obvious Joive de Vivre. It compels perusal by offering a glimpse into the service and life of an entrepreneur, educator and mentor who has touched the lives of all manner of people, students and “lifelong” friends.
”Learning to Live” starts out as a tribute from close friends then morphs into a captivating biography. The biographical exerts would make for a novel unto itself.
One actually experiences the author growing up and learning the life lessons to survive in Greenwood, Mississippi, and persevere in spite of being reared in a Jim Crow segregated South. His halcyon day nearly puts Maddox right in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement. His is a story of triumph, and at the same time, a first person account at the growth he help engineer at Norfolk State University where he spent over 40 years as a pioneering coach, educator and vice-president.
“The book serves as an inspiration in how Coach Maddox stayed focused, his determination and his ability to go over around and through any obstacles,” said Horace Luten, a retired mental health professional and social worker from Savannah, Ga., who played for Maddox at Norfolk State.
“I enjoyed reading it because it shows how he kept a positive attitude throughout his entire life despite his disability, and it shows he did not let that deter him from what he wanted out of life. “
In “Learning to Live,” Coach Maddox shares his dedication to family life amidst examples of love of community, hard work and diligence set by his mother and father. His mother, as with most families, was the backbone of the family. She was a popular midwife which meant an extended family that would encourage her intelligent and athletic son to reach beyond the confines of the delta.
The author is almost as whimsical as practical in exchanging anecdotal wisdom. Maddox’s easy, homespun demeanor reads as leisurely in print as one would speak with him in person. His narrative offerings, as serious as some of its topics may be, have a veneer of humor that could be described as an amalgamation between Dick Gregory and Will Rogers.
The book presents a rare peek into the life of a former football coach who impacted the lives of other men minus X(s) and O(s) and a playbook. That portion he saves room for to embellish the book’s title “Learning To Live.”
The book is dedicated to his late mother, Mrs. Elnora Henderson Maddox. Maddox frequently mentions that his parents were his inspiration and that he was imbued with their intelligence and work ethics.
“My mother had a heart of gold and a fist of iron. “ Maddox wrote of her in one chapter. His tributes to her are honest, heartfelt . . . personal.
His story sheds a light on “unique” player-coach relationships that have endured the test of time.
Ronald H. Davis, a retired high school coach and corporate manager, who played football for Maddox at Norfolk State College now university, wrote the book’s forward.
Davis said he felt privileged to write it because he represented his teammates, and that he and Maddox were more “torvarach,” than friends or player and coach to borrow from the old Russian expression.
“I probably knew him better and his way of thinking than the other guys, “ said Davis, when asked about his assignment. “The funny thing is . . . that’s how he made all his players feel. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him is ‘it’s not where you live, it’s how you live.’ That’s one of the things that always stuck with me.
“It was humbling, too, “ Davis added. “Out of all of the people that Curt knows: celebrities, pros, college presidents, corporate giants and all, he asked me to write the forward to his book. It is an honor. He is my mentor. This was a privilege. His example of friendship trumps anything one could ever have. Our relationship, and his relationship with his players, transcends the colloquialisms of what friendship has come to mean. I tried to capture that in writing the forward.”
Ray Jarvis, a Chesapeake native and record setting wide receiver for Maddox in the late sixties at Norfolk State College, also said Maddox was a friend and mentor first, then a coach.
He remembers Maddox visiting him everyday when he was recovering from a knee operation. He was literally drafted during rehabilitation by the Atlanta Falcons .
“He was more than a coach,” said Jarvis. “He cared about you as a person not like you were an athlete. He treated you as a person. His interest in you went way beyond the football field. That’s why so many of his players stay in touch with him today.
“Coach Maddox always had a way with words. He’d create these euphemisms, or he’d say something that would make to you think. He’d say something to an NFL scout like, ‘Condie Pugh was faster than the morning milk truck late with the baby’s milk,’” Jarvis said, chortling at the memory. “Or, ‘get what you can, while can, can what you get, then sit on the can.’
“He once described me to a scout as being able to ‘catch a BB in the dark!’” said Jarvis. “Maddox would say something that would stick with you. Think about it.
“That was quite the compliment with me being a receiver. A scout or anyone would remember that instead of some cliché like ‘he has good hands.’”
“Learning To Live” is a good read. It waxes poetically with metaphors that resonate with the value of relationships developed throughout one’s lifetime while paying homage to lifelong friends.
Again, it is a poignant exhibit of a life that has impacted other lives in many different ways. It borders an introspective look at a civil servant, educator, coach and father figure who has initiated and accomplished some good, maybe historic things, while building relationships with a myriad of people without much fanfare.