Saturday, August 13, 2022

Dickie Scruggs on Love of Family, Faith, Ole Miss

The Vassallo Interviews — Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor who interviews Oxford’s and our region’s leading personalities.
Steve said: “Dickie Scruggs wakes up each and every morning thinking about his love for God, family, country and Ole Miss. His love for the latter has inspired me ever since I first met him. The following interview reflects a deep, personal look into his character and passion for the things in life he truly has placed on a pedestal. For the legions of Rebels, we are blessed that The University of Mississippi is among those treasures.”
HottyToddy.com – Dickie, tell us about the highlights of your life at Ole Miss.

Dick Skruggs and his daughter Claire Scruggs Walczak having lunch at Boure
Dick Scruggs and his daughter Claire Scruggs Walczak having lunch at Boure

Dickie Scruggs – It seems silly now, but I remember like it was yesterday the first pep rally I attended in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. In those days, the band was allowed to play Dixie inside, and the place was rockin’ like nothing this freshman had ever seen. I thought, “Man, I have arrived!” I got the same feeling a few weeks ago watching the video of the football team cheering in their locker room for the baseball team in Omaha. The Ole Miss Band and pep rallies still give me goose bumps.
HottyToddy.com – How did you and Diane meet?
Dickie Scruggs – I first saw Diane at the swimming pool in Pascagoula during the summer before we started the 7th grade. Right after swimming team practice, I stayed at the pool with my best friend John, who was anxious to show me his pretty girlfriend. I just knew he was talking about Genie Talbot, the girl that I thought was the most beautiful I had ever seen. I had heard she liked John. Several girls arrived at the pool with the 7th grade beauty Genie Talbot. One of the girls was pretty, but skinny. Then John pointed to the skinny girl and said beaming, “That’s Diane Thompson, my girlfriend.” I couldn’t believe he was turning down Genie Talbot for skinny Diane Thompson.
Well, Diane and I were in the same home room throughout junior high and a year of high school until I went off to military school, including ninth grade when our home room teacher and football coach was Robert Khayat. I did not see Diane again until our junior year in college. I was at Ole Miss and she was at Southern Miss. I was escorting a girl from Ole Miss in the State Miss Hospitality Contest on the Coast. Diane was Pascagoula’s entry and among the favorites to win. When I saw her at the contest, I was in shock. It was a delayed version of love at first sight. Diane was strikingly beautiful, elegant and graceful. I loved her from that moment on.
HottyToddy.com – You have quite a passion for Ole Miss sports. When did this start?
Dickie Scruggs – In 1961, I was in the 9th grade and was driving home from one of my first car dates, listening to a staticky New Orleans radio broadcast of the Ole Miss-LSU game. The announcer called the name of Ralph Smith, a star end for the Rebels, who had just made a big catch. Smith, known as “Catfish”, had been a star at Brookhaven High when I was growing up there. My uncle owned a sporting goods store where Catfish and the legendary Lance Alworth both worked after school. Those guys were gods in that town, especially to a grade schooler like me. When I realized that Catfish Smith played for Ole Miss, that’s all I needed to know. My ninth grade football coach, Robert Khayat, helped to seal the Ole Miss deal for me.
HottyToddy.com – When you were considering going to Ole Miss, were there other possibilities?
Dickie Scruggs – I never seriously considered another university. I was a competitive swimmer in high school at Georgia Military Academy (now Woodward Academy), and was recruited by the University of Georgia and Tulane. Although I was team captain, I was not the fastest in any stroke. We had four All-Americans on the team, and I was being recruited mainly to influence one of them. Tulane offered me a partial scholarship, but it wasn’t enough to pay Tulane’s high tuition and the expenses of living in New Orleans. And I knew by then that I would never be a world class swimmer. Besides, my heart was always with Ole Miss.
HottyToddy.com – Of all the great memories of Ole Miss athletics, what is your fondest one and why?
Dickie Scruggs – That’s a hard question for any Ole Miss fan. There were so many great moments, in every Ole Miss sport. Hard to top this year’s baseball Super Regional. But all in all, I’d have to rank in first place our win at LSU in 1968. It was Archie’s sophomore year and his first as a starter. The lead changed hands several times, and the fans of both teams were really out of control. I never saw so many fights. Even the Boy Scout ushers in Tiger Stadium were throwing Coke bottles down onto the Ole Miss sections. LSU took the lead (21-17) with barely two minutes left. In those days, that was practically “game over”, and the LSU taunting was at its most obnoxious. With time running out, Archie drove the Rebels 80 yards, throwing the winning touchdown to Steve Hindman in front of the Ole Miss student section with only seconds remaining. My heart pounds just thinking about it. If you liked last year’s win here over LSU, you’d have loved that one in Tiger Stadium. LSU never beat us when I was a student from 1965 to 1969.
HottyToddy.com – What are your other interests and hobbies besides athletics and history?
Dickie Scruggs – For most of my professional life, my day revolved around work. Hobbies took a back seat. This was especially true when I began taking on hundreds of asbestos clients in the early 1980s. Mass tort cases were relatively new to the law then, and it all had a Wild West quality to it. But it was rewarding, both economically and intellectually. When the “war” against Big Tobacco came along in the early ’90s, it quickly became all-consuming. It was not until we succeeded in 1997 that I had time or money for much else.
Living on the Coast brought a natural interest in salt water sports. I took up competitive sailing, put a crew of locals together, and sailed in regattas on all three coasts. We actually won a few. I became one of Dennis Connor’s major sponsors in two of his America’s Cup campaigns, and sailed several races on Stars & Stripes.
Diane and I, and later our kids Zach and Claire, also became avid scuba divers. We dived all over the world, and particularly in the South Pacific. After all the litigation I had survived, diving with sharks around seemed tame.
HottyToddy.com – Expectations are running high for the 2014 OM football season. What are yours?
Dickie Scruggs – My expectations are always high just before the season. But this year is special for me, since I missed the last six seasons while I was in prison. I believe I got home to Oxford just in time to see Rebels have a breakout year, maybe a top ten finish and winning the Western Division of the SEC.
HottyToddy.com – Relating back to the time you graduated from Ole Miss until now, what have been the high and low water marks for Ole Miss athletics?
Dickie Scruggs – The Archie era was the high water mark for me, followed closely by that of Eli. Archie Manning was by far the most remarkable and exciting college quarterback I ever saw. I always felt that we could beat anybody when he played. The low mark was in 1974 when I returned to Ole Miss from the Navy and began law school. We won only three games that year, and the athletic department was in disarray from lots of infighting. To make matters worse, State was in an ascendancy under Coach Bob Tyler. It was a tough few years for me and for the entire Rebel Nation.
HottyToddy.com – In your opinion, who was the greatest American President, and why?
Dickie Scruggs – Andrew Jackson. Whipped the British; whipped the bankers; and whipped the secessionists.
HottyToddy.com – Tell us about your childhood growing up in Mississippi.
Dickie Scruggs – I was born and grew up in Brookhaven, where my family had lived since the American Revolution. I grew up like most baby boomers in the ’50s in small Southern towns. I walked to school and walked the “the show” on Saturdays with my friends. I played army, made prank phone calls, played Little League and peewee football. I went to Sunday school and got whippings for cutting up in church. I always felt a little different because I didn’t have a dad at home and all my friends did, but it didn’t slow me down. Although I moved to Pascagoula just before the seventh grade, I still have many friends and memories of Brookhaven. I have already told you about my teenage years in Pascagoula when I met Diane. I made many of the friends in Pascagoula who shaped my life, including Diane, Mike Moore, Trent Lott and Robert Khayat. We raised our kids in Pascagoula. I have so many good memories there.
HottyToddy.com – Who are some of your favorite athletes through the years?
Dickie Scruggs – Archie Manning, of course, who’s much more than an athlete. In the same vein are Robert Khayat and Jesse Mitchell. I greatly admire men who’ve persevered and maintained their dignity through difficult times, like David Cutcliffe, Pete Boone and Richmond Flowers, whose son was one of Eli’s great receivers. There are many others, but these come immediately to mind.
HottyToddy.com – Why do you love a Ole Miss so much?
Dickie Scruggs – That’s one of those questions like, why do you love your mother, or your kids. I love ’em because, like Ole Miss, they are part of me. It’s simply the finest all-around university in the world in a wonderful town.
HottyToddy.com – Changing the subject to history, where do you think the United States is in its journey as a nation?
Dickie Scruggs – To paraphrase Winston Churchill, America is the worst nation on earth–except for all the others. Because we give vent to very conceivable idea and philosophy and express ourselves in frequent elections, we have a very bright future in my judgment. I believe that our Constitution is the finest document ever written by man. Not many countries have survived and prospered for two and a quarter centuries, let alone been the world’s dominant power for most of that time. Our founding fathers were the most farsighted group of men in recorded history. They gave us a framework for governing a society of immense diversity. Under any other system, we’d have had civil wars and secessions every twenty-five years.
HottyToddy.com – Your generosity to Ole Miss and other causes and institutions has been considerable. Do you feel that because of your gifts, others were influenced to give generously likewise?
Dickie Scruggs – Everyone has his or her own reasons for giving to Ole Miss. In my case, I felt so blessed professionally and financially. I always believed, and still do, in the words of Luke, that “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.” I think my example has less to do with other’s giving than their belief in the philosophy expressed by Luke.
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Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communicationssubjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. In addition, he is a certified economic and community developer and currently, a highly successful leader in the real estate business with Premier Properties of Oxford. Steve’s lifelong dream has been to live in Oxford full-time. “I am now living my dream daily as is my wife Rosie, who works with the Oxford Chamber of Commerce,” Steve said. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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