Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Harper Lee: Roll Tide!

Illustration for article titled Harper Lee: Roll Tide!

Harper Lee, author of one of the most popular American novels ever written, was famous for not granting interviews. But Marja Mills, a former reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune, became friendly with Lee and her sister, Alice Finch Lee, and was permitted to write about them. Mills's new book, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, offers us a peak into the sisters' lives. I thought you might appreciate these two sports-related bits.

Harper Lee and Football:

"For years, Nelle and Alice had their own tradition for watching football games. They loved watching the Crimson Tide in particular.

They had no television in the house, Alice told me, until Julia was hired in 1997 and insisted. Nelle had suggested the same more than once, but it took Julia to get a small set across the threshold. She was not about to miss her game shows. After that, during football season, Alice would join Nelle in the back bedroom to watch the games. Be- fore the dawn of the television age in the Lee home, the two sisters would make the seven-block drive to the Monroe County Bank building, below Alice's law office, and watch the weekend's best games in a conference room.

Sometimes Nelle watched University of Alabama games at the home of her high school English teacher, Gladys Burkett. This was in an old house on North Mount Pleasant Avenue, a few blocks off the town square. It was there that Nelle got to know Dale Welch. They met over football but bonded over books. "I think she appreciated that I was a teacher and a librarian. We had a lot to talk about," Dale told me. A friendship quickly blossomed and soon they were meeting for coffee or lunch at Radley's.

Like many in their circle of friends, the Lees were a mixed family when it came to football in Alabama. Their brother had attended Au- burn. That gave it special status. But Nelle had attended the University of Alabama, and she and Alice gravitated to the Crimson Tide. If you ever want to drive down an empty thoroughfare in Monroeville, do so when Alabama is playing Auburn."


Harper Lee and golf:

"Their other great sports passion was golf. In fact, both Alice and Nelle had once played the game regularly at the Vanity Fair golf course. Nelle told a journalist in the early 1960s that the course provided her a quiet place to think. They particularly looked forward to the Masters every April. As Alice told me, "We usually root for the underdog." Later that same spring, the Lees got a thrill cheering for Phil Mickelson at Augusta, where he won his first major at long last."


[Photo Credit: Katy Winn/Corbis]

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