Grits Gresham

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Grits Gresham
Born Claude Hamilton Gresham, Jr.
(1922-06-21)June 21, 1922
Spartanburg County, South Carolina, United States
Died February 18, 2008(2008-02-18) (aged 85)
Natchitoches, Louisiana
Occupation Sportsman, journalist, host of ABC's The American Sportsman from 1966 to 1979
Spouse(s) Mary Eleanor Gresham (1925–2001, married 1944 – her death)
Children Thomas Hamilton "Tom" Gresham
Gary Kent Gresham
Barbara Gresham Hammerman
Notes
The sportsman Gresham was described by a Baton Rouge editor as "crusty-hard on the outside and tender on the inside."

Claude Hamilton "Grits" Gresham, Jr. (June 21, 1922 – February 18, 2008) was an internationally known American sportsman, author, photographer and television personality who hosted ABC's The American Sportsman series from 1966 to 1979. Gresham, who resided on the historic Cane River Lake in Natchitoches, the oldest city in Louisiana, traveled throughout the globe, particularly South America and Africa, to engage in hunting, fishing and shooting with various American celebrities. He was a champion of the environment and conservation, the subject of his graduate school thesis.[1]

Early years, education, military[edit]

Gresham was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, to Claude Gresham, Sr. and the former Belle Hill. He inherited his nickname from his father, a semi-professional baseball player known as "Grit". Gresham grew up in rural South Carolina. As a small boy, he was so interested in hunting that he slept with his air rifle beside his bed. He took his first shot of the day out of his bedroom window. "Two things were going to happen every day when I was growing up. The sun was going to rise, and I was going to shoot something," Gresham said in a 1996 interview.[2] Before Gresham began his long career in outdoor journalism, he signed a baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs organization but never played.[3]

He attended Blue Ridge School for Boys, a private male boarding school named for the Blue Ridge Mountains and located in Hendersonville, North Carolina. This school closed its doors in 1968. He also studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, but he procured his bachelor of science and master of science degrees, with specialty in forestry and wildlife management, from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he was thereafter an inductee into the LSU Hall of Distinction.[4]

During World War II, Gresham served in the United States Army Air Corps, the precursor to the United States Air Force. He considered his military service as important as his success in journalism.[5]

In Nashville, on February 8, 1944, Gresham married Mary Eleanor R. Gresham (July 4, 1925 – March 5, 2001),[6] formerly of South Carolina. The couple had three children: radio talk show host Thomas Hamilton "Tom" Gresham and his wife, Patricia T. Gresham (both born 1951), of Natchitoches; Gary Kent Gresham (born 1953) of Natchitoches, and Barbara Gresham Hammerman (born 1947) and her husband, Raymond Levine, in Gig Harbor in Pierce County in western Washington state.[7] They also had three grandchildren, Delta Music Experience CEO Amanda Gresham, Guntalk TV principal Ryan Gresham, and landscape professional Meredith Gresham.

Outdoors journalist and commentator[edit]

Gresham worked for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and thereafter edited the Louisiana Conservationist magazine. He was the former outdoors editor of The Shreveport Times too.[8]

Gresham succeeded former Governor Joe Foss of South Dakota as the host of The American Sportsman. He was thereafter joined by Curt Gowdy as cohost. Gresham further hosted Shooting Sports America, sponsored by Chevy Trucks on the ESPN network. For twenty-six years, he was the shooting editor of Sports Afield magazine. He was also published in Sports Illustrated and Gentleman's Quarterly. He appeared in television commercials for Miller Lite Beer .[9]

Entertainers such as Bing Crosby, Burt Reynolds, Jonathan Winters, Phil Harris, Rip Torn and Andy Griffith joined Gresham on hunting and fishing trips as did sports figures such as Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner, Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, and Bert Jones, the 1976 National Football League Most Valuable Player.[10]

The interview with Reagan[edit]

It was Gresham who, in an interview with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, reported that Reagan, as a fledgling radio announcer, had once used a Colt pistol to save a nurse in Des Moines, Iowa from a mugging on a street. After Gresham's story broke, the nurse came forward and confirmed the tale, although she explained that she had no knowledge that the young man who had saved her so many years before had turned out to have become the popular actor and President of the United States.[5]

Robert Barham and Bert Jones recall Gresham[edit]

Robert J. Barham, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and a former Republican member of the Louisiana State Senate, was among Greshan's longtime admirers. Gresham spent a lot of time with Barham's late father, Erle McKoin "Ninety" Barham (1916–1976) of Morehouse Parish, who was also an environmentalist. Barham recalled a "picture of my dad in one of his books -- 'The Complete Wildfowler. As a child, I got to meet him and be around him. He was just so easy to be around. Grits was nothing like the television celebrities of today. People were drawn to him. He made them feel at ease ... he made me feel at ease, and I was just a child. ... There will never be another like him," Barham told the Alexandria Daily Town Talk.[10]

Bert Jones, a native of Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish, who played for LSU and the former Baltimore Colts, knew Gresham as a youngster. Jones was hunting quail in Texas when he learned of Gresham's death: "I guess it is only fitting that I'm hunting when I find out my close, close friend has died. I wish he were here with me right now. I will miss him." Jones, a former appointee to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, appeared with Gresham in two episodes of The American Sportsman, and Gresham appeared three times with Jones on Jones' Suzuki's Great Outdoors on ESPN. Jones remains a close friend of Gresham's son, Tom, host of the nationally broadcast Tom Gresham's Gun Talk and the former editor of Southern Outdoors and Rifle magazines.[11]

Fishing and the wetlands[edit]

Gresham was among the first to sound the alarm about the loss of wetlands in Louisiana. He worked with Ray Scott, the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, to halt the cheating that had previously haunted tournament bass fishing. Gresham's Kiss the Land Goodbye was one of the early works about vanishing wetlands.[12]

Gresham's The Complete Book of Bass Fishing is, according to Ray Scott, "the best book ever written on bass fishing." Gresham wrote a column for Scott's Bassmaster magazine pro bono. Scott no relation to former Natchitoches Mayor W. Ray Scott (1923–2008), said that Gresham "helped to dispel the cheating in tournaments; spread the word on conservation and ethics, and teach people how to fish. . . . I use to tease him about that old floppy hat he wore, but . . . he will be missed by us all."[13]

Death and legacy[edit]

Gresham died at his home on Cane River Lake in Natchitoches, a small city in north central Louisiana, of complications from Alzheimer's disease -- pneumonia and infection. He had spent most of his last year in a nursing home in Natchitoches. In addition to his children, he was survived by three grandchildren and three sisters, Rosa Schemmel of Wichita, Kansas, and Edith Kelley and Ruth Bedingfield of Ware Shoals in northwestern South Carolina. Services were held on February 22, 2008 in the chapel of Blanchard-St. Denis Funeral Home in Natchitoches, with the Roman Catholic minister Louis E. Sklar, III, officiating. Among Gresham's pallbearers was State Representative Rick Nowlin of Natchitoches. Burial was in Memory Lawn Cemetery on Louisiana Highway 6 near Natchitoches.[14]

Gresham received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. On February 9, 2006, he received the only Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which established, with the Professional Outdoor Media Association, an ongoing "Grits Gresham Shooting Sports Communicator" award. The recipient of the award receives a bronze replica of Gresham's trademark white straw hat.[15] He was among the most known spokesmen for the National Shooting Sports Federation.[16]

Gary Garth, the outdoor editor of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, relates that he became "addicted" to duck hunting as a child, based on the encouragement of Grits Gresham columns. "Through my work I've had the opportunity to meet, hunt, and fish with a few of the giants in my business. But I never met Grits. It's just as well. Some pedestals should remain untouched," Garth said in his tribute to the legendary outdoorsman.[17]

Joe Macaluso, outdoor editor of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate recalled a fishing trip with Gresham on Toledo Bend Reservoir at the Texas-Louisiana boundary. Macaluso described Gresham as "the most famous of all Louisiana outdoors writers and media members... He was like a loaf of good French bread, crusty-hard on the outside and tender on the inside. When I told him that, he laughed [and said] 'Don’t tell anyone else'...[18]

The Gresham Collection is located at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Foundation in Natchitoches.[4]

List of Gresham's books[edit]

  • The Complete Book of Bass Fishing
  • Fishes and Fishing In Louisiana
  • Fishing and Boating in Louisiana
  • The Sportsman and his Family Outdoors
  • The Complete Wildfowler
  • Grits on Guns[5]
  • Grits Gresham on Duck Hunting (video)[19]
  • Grits Gresham on Goose Hunting (video)[20]
  • Weatherby: The Man. the Gun. the Legend

References[edit]