“Hello to my friend!”
I greeted Harold at his home in Benton the way he’s greeted KSR so many times, and for an hour or so he welcomed me to talk a little about a lot of things. After he asked me if I thought Matt would ever run for senate, we covered his life and work, politics, the community in and around Marshall County and, of course, the Cats and KSR. It was every bit as cool as you’d imagine, and now, I get to share some of it with you. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I did.
Born in Hardin, about 8 miles south of Benton near the Calloway County border, Harold got started with the Cats on the radio, like so many from his generation, and counts Cotton Nash among his favorite players. Besides his family — he’s one of eight siblings — his relationship with Kentucky basketball is one of the few that go back further than the one with his wife, Anna Lou. She’s an antique dealer, and something of a vintage treasure herself, and in December they’ll celebrate 63 years of marriage. The lifelong love has brought two daughters, four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, three step-great-grandchildren, two step-great-great-grandchildren, and at least eight times that I went back over all that to make sure it was right.
They met when Harold was working as a carhop at the Pig and Whistle restaurant after a ballgame one night, and married in Mississippi not long after he graduated Hardin High School with the 16 other members of the class of ’54. He went on to a couple other jobs the next few years, even briefly trying his hand on a riverboat. Briefly.
“On Tuesday night I met the boat,” he laughed. “On Saturday night, I said this is not for me.” When the boat got to Metropolis, Ill., about 40 miles away from Benton via dry land, he jumped off and headed home. Eventually he settled in as a union man at Pennwalt Corporation, what is now Arkema Inc., in nearby Calvert City, the center of the manufacturing economy that still supports much of Marshall County.
He worked there 38 years before retiring at 62, but his plan to fish and relax didn’t last long. His friend called to see if Harold would help out part time at his local business — a funeral home. Harold agreed, and gave only one condition: “I don’t go in the embalming room.” Instead, he stayed just about as far away as he could, working the front door until two years ago. I suspect that, like me, Harold made everyone who walked through that door feel like an old friend.
His best work, though, might’ve come in gyms all over west Kentucky, officiating high school and college basketball. He called several region and district tournaments in his 23 years on the court, and though he never got to officiate the state tournament, he has a story for almost every whistle. Like when the fan they threw out of a game for yelling a racial slur — the racial slur — at his partner turned out to be the superintendent of the school system. Or when he got to call barnstorming scrimmages for UK and UofL under Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum, some of his most cherished memories.
Harold traveled as far as Leitchfield to call games, but Marshall County was always home. Quite a bit has changed over the years for the county of 31,000. There are the plants like the one he worked at, which began to pop up after Kentucky Dam opened in the 1940s. Hardin High merged into South Marshall in 1956, which merged into Marshall County in 1974. Harold’s brother Bob was the first principal of MCHS, now one of the largest public high schools in the region, before serving as superintendent.
You can find Republicans around town nowadays. “When I was growing up, you couldn’t find 20 in Marshall County,” he said. You can get a drink there, too, after Marshall went wet in 2015. It’s the only thing that seemed to bother him while we talked that day, and understandably so. Even notwithstanding the crime and violence he believes affect the county more now, he lost a daughter after a battle with alcoholism.
And, of course, nothing will ever quite be the same after January 23, when shots rang out in the halls of MCHS and two students were killed. It was in the days that followed when Harold grew to hold a special place in KSR listeners’ hearts, as he gave statewide voice to a reeling community. He says he could feel the state reaching out to wrap its arms around the people there, who, like him, were shaken but resolute. More than $600,000 from all over the country has been raised for the victims’ families, and Harold believes the community grew in the wake of that unthinkable morning.
“We don’t hear it talked about as much now as when it happened, but it still lingers in everyone’s minds and it always will,” he said. “But the whole county has gotten closer since then.” And even though they’re secondary in times like those, Harold said having Kentucky and KSR to give them a little bit of fun — a break from the burden of the tragedy — helped the community deal with the pain as well.
Harold is no stranger to healing after a sudden tragedy, unfortunately. In addition to losing a daughter, his brother Mike Miller, longtime Marshall County Judge Executive, passed away unexpectedly in 2014. Miller was a fixture in western Kentucky politics, and passed not long after winning his 11th term in office.
Mike was Harold’s main fishing buddy for many more terms than that, and though Harold still loves to fish, he hasn’t done it quite so much since he lost his brother. He figures he’ll get back to it sometime, and when he does he might pay a visit the local county park. After all, it’s named for Mike and, of course, the lake is stocked with some real big ones.
Until then, most mornings you can catch Harold talking politics and swapping stories at his daily breakfast summit at McDonald’s. Then it’s time for KSR. He says it’s the fun that caught his attention when WCBL started carrying the show. “It’s humorous, and sometimes humiliating, but that’s what makes it good. The one that got the hair transplant — they give him a hard time — but that Matt’s a heck of a nice guy,” he told me. “Unless we’re out of range or can’t pick them up, I’m gonna be listening everyday.” His favorite caller is Eugene – game recognizes game, apparently — and he’s team Outback, Shannon and Darrell.
Later he’ll catch the Cats or his beloved St. Louis Cardinals if there’s a game on, and he assures me he sees the end of every one, even the late tips. And if you’re wondering whether the stories are true about him getting so wild during games that Anna Lou has to calm him down, they are. I asked her. “Oh of course it’s true. One time he and his friend got to yelling. Well, we had a cat.” She leans in to make sure I hear it right. “They scared that thing away and it didn’t come back for two days.”
Despite his occasional hysterics, she and Harold still go most everywhere together. They’ve traveled to Vegas, Hawaii and more. If they’re in the car around town, though, chances are good they’re listening to KSR. The day I met them, they were heading to a big antique sale in Murray. Like usual, Anna Lou has but one request: “Can’t we go anywhere without listening to Matt Jones?” For once, though, she’ll get her way. Today’s show is a repeat.