When Billy Brewer was fired as Ole Miss football coach in 1994, he needed only a few months of continued state service to collect his retirement. I was serving as State Auditor, so I called my old friend and said, “Coach, don’t worry. You can come to work for me and get the time you need.” There was a long pause on the other end of the line, and I could tell emotion had overcome Billy “Dog” Brewer. He was brought to tears.
He finally collected his thoughts, thanked me and said he would get back with me in a few days. His primary concern about my offer was that it might hurt me politically, though I assured him that was not a consideration. Coach Brewer never took me up on my offer, and neither he nor I ever mentioned it again. Coach Brewer cried that day. On Saturday, when I heard of his passing, I cried!
Coach Billy “Dog” Brewer was my friend. He is dead, but yet he lives in the hearts of many. His spirit rests, but yet it roams in our memories. His lips are silent, but yet I hear still his empathetic words.
Why was Billy Brewer affectionately known by so many as “Billy Dog?”
The answer is simple and not at all what many would expect from a gritty, tough-as-nails football player and coach! Perhaps most would think more in terms of “mean as a junk-yard dog,” but that’s not why my old buddy got the famous nickname. The real reason for the “ Dog” designation is much more reflective of the man’s true nature. It’s simple. Billy “Dog” Brewer loved dogs, all dogs: his dogs, my dogs, stray dogs, all dogs. At a very early age in life people noticed the compassion and unusual affection Billy showed for all of God’s creatures — from the nobility of pure breeds to the mange infected cross-breeds, Billy was noted for his empathy and caring spirit.
I can bear personal witness to the fact that coach Brewer employed the same concern, the same compassion, the same empathy for people –all people–throughout his life. In my darkest days I had no more loyal, caring, empathetic friend than “Billy Dog.” Over the course of the last several days, I have heard countless others relate similar stories of the man’s kindness and simple, but sure, goodness.
I am now almost 67 years old, but was always referred to as “Kid“ by Coach Brewer. Many late nights I would answer my phone to his cheerful greeting, “Hey, Kid, how you doing?” We spent a lot of time planning bird hunts that never took place. I think we both had reached the age where we enjoyed talking about going as much, if not more, than actually hunting birds. Coach had recently secured an invitation from our Louisville, MS friend, Gary Hughes, to go quail hunting at his place in west Texas, where quail are plentiful and the accommodations splendid. Sadly, due in part to my procrastination and “Billy Dog’s” debilitating stroke, we never made that trip. It’s one of the major regrets of my life.
Life has a way of slipping away from us. Few people know or would guess that Coach Brewer was an incredibly skilled gardener, and that this time last year he was working two large gardens by himself. Many days my front porch would be piled up with tomatoes, radishes, squash, and eggplant, signaling I had missed a visit from my old friend.
Coach Brewer will forever be a big part of Ole Miss football lore. Many will surely recall his gridiron victories, and no doubt he will be remembered in connection with the Chucky Mullins tragedy. However, in my view, Billy “Dog” Brewer did more to bridge the racial divide at Ole Miss and in our entire state than virtually anyone else. He will be remembered for these things and many more, but I think his lasting legacy will be his personal goodness, his fierce loyalty to his friends and his all-out commitment to fairness and empathy for all God’s creatures.
A man such as Billy Brewer is rare in any age. I am immensely proud that we lived in the same age at the same time, and even more proud to have had him as a friend.
To read Steve Patterson’s story about Billy Brewer’s 80th birthday party at Patterson Point Lodge in October 2015: Billy Brewer and Other FriendsBilly Brewer, New Albany MS, Steve Patterson