The Gambler and the statesman

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2015

By Frank Roberts

What’s the greatest invention since the wheel? The mute button, designed to be pushed when one of those obnoxious commercials comes on. And then there are the Geico ads, which are often more entertaining than the surrounding program.

A current spot features Kenny Rogers chirping his old poker hit, “The Gambler.”

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“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Wearily, he chirps, “you never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.”

In one fell swoop you learn about both poker and insurance.

When I learned that Jim “Catfish” Hunter’s wife, Helen, was a big Rogers fan, I invited them to join us for his concert, which I was reviewing.

We found the husky-voiced one to be an affable character, and we found that his opening act, T. Graham Brown, was a big baseball fan. When he was introduced to Jimmy he was, as they say in the country, “in hog’s heaven.” The two of them went off in a corner and talked baseball.

A few years later I told “Whisperin” Bill Anderson that we had stopped at his Po’ Folks Restaurant on the way to the Hampton Coliseum. He said he wished he’d been with us.

He, too, was a baseball fan and, for a couple years, worked as a sportswriter in Georgia.

The first time I met him, he marched in to the newspaper office where once I happily toiled to get some publicity for his restaurant which had recently opened. The chain was short-lived. Po’ Folks was making him po’.

Some time later, I ran into Brown, who recognized me immediately. He explained that he sees me whenever he gets hungry. Seems he had a picture of Jim and myself on his refrigerator door.

Speaking of country music, remember when Robert Mitchum starred in “Thunder Road,” an educational film about the art of making moonshine? He recorded the title tune, and it became a good-sized hit.

President Harry Truman’s daughter, Margaret, tried to get into showbiz but it didn’t work. Critics, Democrats and Republicans alike, slammed her performance ruthlessly.

As a president, her dad was gutsy. The story goes that he was carting Winston Churchill around in a fancy train, touring the mid-west. En-route — and Kenny Rogers should have been there — the president and some staff members were playing poker.

The former Brit prime minister fancied himself a sharp player, but, truth to tell, he didn’t know when to fold ’em.

Harry T. didn’t want to embarrass the great wartime leader, so he asked his fellow players, including several newspaper reporters, to let Churchill win. “Let him win; just carry him for the evening,” he pleaded.

They did, and would-be winners became warm-hearted losers. The British leader won several hands he should have lost. The other poker players took Rogers’ advice before he offered it in his Geico commercial. They folded their good hands and let ‘Winnie’ win.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at