Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Oxford and Ole Miss: Willie and Pete

willie morris-photo d r morris
Photo by David Rae Morris Photography @ http://www.davidraemorris.com/

Mississippian Willie Morris’ literary career, life and adventures carried him far and wide from home. From Presidents, to the J. R. Ewings in Austin, to upper eastside Manhattan’s elites and back down to the field hands working the cotton around Yazoo City…Willie knew them all. But no one knew Willie any better than Pete.

In 1980, Willie Morris returned to his native soil to be writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. When Morris left New York, he took his dog Pete, who had formerly belonged to the owner of a local service station and whom Willie referred to as “the Mayor of Bridgehampton,” back to Mississippi with him.

Morris said even after Pete agreed to move south, the people of Bridgehampton never forgot their famous native son. Later when New York friends would asked about Pete they still referred to him as “His Honor” or “Mr. Mayor.”

After the pair moved to Mississippi, it didn’t take Pete long to gain new fame. “He took to eating collard greens and became the same sort of presence in Oxford as in Bridgehampton.” Morris said. And in fact Pete held the title of deputy mayor under Oxford Mayor John Leslie.

“But Pete really did not desire fame. People loved him because of his intelligence and his great worth. Tricks were beneath him, but he loved children, who were always intrigued by his ability to wag his tail in a circle when asked to do so.”

Morris wrote a profile of Pete for Reader’s Digest. “He was very much a literary dog and he hobnobbed with some great writers – William Styron, James Jones, Larry L. King, and Truman Capote. In the end, I think old Pete was getting a little tired of the literary life.”

“I think it was old age. He just went out in my front yard and died. When the news of Pete’s passing reached Long Island they had a huge wake for him at Bobby Van’s Saloon on Main Street. They even flew the flags at half-staff. While my first dog Skip was the companion of my boyhood, Pete was the brother of my middle age. He was the property of no man. I’ve always had a dog, but after Pete, I’ll never get another. We buried him on a beautiful hill here in Oxford, and there’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about him. I’ll always remember Pete because I buried him in the best place to bury a dog that was you brother – in your heart,” Willie Morris.

John Cofield

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