By Loran Smith, an award-winning writer and a longtime staff member of the University of Georgia Athletic Association. He has been a prolific author, penning a regular column that still appears in the Athens Banner Herald as well as several newspapers around the state, and he has written more than a dozen books. A native of Wrightsville, Ga., Smith is a past chairman of the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and president of the NFF University of Georgia (Athens) Chapter.

Living in a classic city, a university town means there is plenty of gown to enrich and reward your experience if you identify with the arts and the cultural opportunities which abound.

          Seeing the Georgia Bulldogs flourish between the hedges is something I find uplifting and rewarding, but there is also a motivation to enjoy other options like the presentation Sunday after the Auburn game by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.    Guess who had a couple of extra tickets?  None other than the affable CBS announcer Verne Lundquist, he of broadened horizons with a disdain for provincial hindrances!

          Whatever your day job is, you can find enlightenment and compatibility with the arts and cultural options that exist.  I remember a London taxi driver, named Harry Lewis, who took a Southern provincial on a half-fare tour of the city so he could show off his city beyond the standard venues—Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of Big Ben.

          Harry  was a connoisseur of all things operatic.  At a traffic stop, he broke into a high tenor rendition of a song from, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  I concluded he should have a starring role.  Has a taxi driver ever sung a few lines from an opera to you while he is driving you about his city?

          While Lundquist is an admirer of those who are bent on winning athletic contests with a performance that underscores drama and stirring moments, he also finds time in his personal realm time to toast Broadway, the Opera and the cultural highlights that exist wherever the road of an extraordinary life takes him.    He never met a museum he didn’t like.   Travel has brought many of the world’s major ports into his cultural sphere.  He and his elegant wife, Nancy, especially dote on the dining options which include a concert or musical performance.

          The Auburn weekend was Verne’s last official visit to Athens.   He called the Tennessee-Missouri game in Knoxville one weekend later.   Thanksgiving Saturday with the playing of the Iron Bowl (Alabama versus Auburn), meant that his days as the television voice of Southeastern Conference ended.   He only had the SEC championship left.  Verne’s exodus (utvandring if you want to say it in Swedish) was a sad day for those who have gotten to know and appreciate not only his good work and his ambassadorial role with the CBS network, but his making friends for the network.

          Making friends for the network has never been part of his job description, but it has come natural for him and Nancy to enjoy the social scene at the SEC venues and to welcome fans into their midst.  They make people feel good about CBS.

          Athens is one of his favorite stops, a place where he has taken time to meet with faculty and students at the Grady College of Journalism.  The Five and Ten is one of his favorite restaurants in the country and he has long been smitten by the beauty of the nation’s oldest chartered state university.   While he knows when a restaurant is top drawer, he has an “old shoe” personality which means if you serve hamburger, he embraces that as much as he would roast sirloin.

          His farewell to Athens (not really in that he is now making plans to return next fall as a spectator) allowed him to call a game at one of his favorite venues and the layover the next day for the performance of the Atlanta Symphony.

          Verne is of Scandinavian extraction (“Actually half Swedish and half Norwegian which means that I wake up every day in conflict.   I don’t know whether to kill myself or just get drunk.”)  He has become friends with two of the stars of the Atlanta Symphony -  the brother, sister act of David and Julie Coucheron, whom they often enjoy dinner when the Lundquists are in Atlanta.

          Verne and Nancy were excited and pleased to visit Hugh Hodgson Hall for the symphony, finding the venue “just terrific.”  Verne was as excited to see David wow the audience with his violin as Verne was to call the Georgia-Auburn game the day before.”   The Lunquists have become David’s and Julie’s adoptive parents.

          In Steamboat Springs, which the Lundquists call home, Verne has become a perennial member of the Board of Directors of the String Music Festival.   The board has term limits, but they don’t apply to Verne.

          He is iconoclastic with regard to provincialism in sport.   He, too, doesn’t understand why you can throw a touchdown pass to win the Super Bowl and not enjoy an evening at the Opera.

          November brought a sad farewell to Verne and Nancy Lundquist--but we will forever be grateful they came our way.