Alabama Humanities mourns loss of Winston Groom

Alabama Humanities Foundation joins fans and friends around the world in mourning the loss of Winston Groom, who died Sept. 16 at age 77 in his hometown of Fairhope.

A noted author and journalist, he is perhaps best known for writing the 1986 novel, Forrest Gump, a 21-week bestseller that spurred a movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks, which won six Oscar awards.

“Winston Groom was a gifted writer and storyteller whose loss leaves a tremendous void in the humanities community,” said AHF Interim Director John Rochester.

Groom, who grew up in Mobile, actually wrote dozens of fiction and nonfiction books, including Conversations with the Enemy about an American prisoner of war in Vietnam accused of collaboration, which earned him recognition as a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

He graduated from the University of Alabama and served in the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division during Vietnam – both playing significant roles in the settings of Forrest Gump.

A friend to Alabama Humanities, Groom headlined the 2013 Alabama Humanities Awards Luncheon, which recognizes outstanding work and contributions to the humanities in the state, delighting an audience of more than 400 with remembrances of his Alabama-rooted life and works.

In that address, he talked about his mother, who graduated from The University of Alabama in 1929 and was an aspiring actress who traveled to New York to fulfill her dreams. She did have some small parts, but the Depression era took its toll, and she became a teacher.

Years later, as she was dying, she told her son, “I guess I’ve led a humdrum life.” Quite the contrary, he told her, reminding her of the lives she touched through teaching and the parts she played on stage.

He, too, had dreams to fulfill, but the war in Vietnam put plans on hold for a bit. After the war, he became a reporter for the Washington Star, but he aspired to write a book. After eight years, he resigned to do just that, noting that it was an all-or-nothing approach.

Old reporters in the newsroom, he reasoned, inevitably had three things tucked away in their desk drawer — a pack of Lucky Strikes, a brown paper bag with a bottle of VO in it and an unfinished manuscript. “I didn’t want that to be me,” he said.

He fulfilled his own successful prophecy, penning a diverse array of novels, including Forrest Gump. The book got its name from an incident in 1967, when he came home from the Vietnam War, a lieutenant in uniform. The uniform wasn’t all that attractive to the ladies in that rebellious time, he said, so he went to a store to buy a new suit of clothes. The name of the store? Gump’s.

He also borrowed from that personal experience with his mother for the last line in the book, where Forrest is talking. “I can always look back and say, at least I ain’t led no hum-drum life”