Remembering a gentleman of Tupelo

I said nasty words in the office on Wednesday, moments after learning Tupelo’s Bruce Smith was killed in a car accident.

Ever since getting the sad news, I’ve pictured Bruce’s smiling face and remembered that I owe him something.

I had a great time interviewing him for a 2009 story. He was genuinely entertained by life, and he was a gentleman well-versed in making others feel comfortable, welcome and important.

When the story ran, an editor had changed the headline to identify him as the leader of Tupelo Symphony Orchestra.

With his years on the symphony’s board of directors, a case could be made that he was “a” TSO leader, though he didn’t appreciate being called “the” leader.

But he laughed it off when I called to apologize, and he was highly complimentary of the story.

I sometimes find it difficult to take compliments, but Bruce had an effusive, heartfelt quality. He could lift people up, even if they weren’t sure they wanted to be lifted up.

The Bruce I knew was always a good guy, and by always, I mean every time I saw him over the past 15 or so years.

Wait.

There was that one incident.

He used to write reviews of symphony concerts for the Mighty Daily Journal. An editor trimmed a review and Bruce wasn’t happy about it.

It’s easy to give him a pass because I’ve dealt with plenty of editors, and they’re a bunch of CONTENT DELETED.

About four months ago, Bruce stepped in and took my side after I’d gotten hammered by people online.

Thomas Wells and I were on the streets during the April tornado. I caught video of the swirling mass as it ripped through town, and later wrote about what it was like to witness a real, live twister.

I mentioned that we’d hid under a bridge, and a few people got angry, saying that’s exactly where you shouldn’t hide. One wrote, “I’d like to hit them in the mouth.”

Bruce was my only online defender:

“This is a wonderful piece of writing – vivid, gripping, even poetic in the presence of a great cataclysm of Nature. If Scott Morris and Thomas Wells had to shelter under a bridge for Scott to produce this stirring account, it was worth it.”

I don’t know if I agree with him. In hindsight, what we did seems awfully stupid.

But I’ve been carrying a “Thank You” for Bruce that I’d meant to deliver the next time we met.

Now I have a picture of his smiling face popping into my mind. It happens again and again, too many times to count, and it’s always followed by a lingering “Thank You.”

I hate that Bruce died. I hate it for his family. I hate it for his many friends.

But I like the idea of spending my days with a pocketful of gratitude for a good man.

M. SCOTT MORRIS is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at or (662) 678-1589 scott.morris@journalinc.com.