“As I was swimming naked through the living room …”

It might have been the best newspaper lead ever. It was the opening phrase of the first post-Hurricane Katrina column penned by Ronnie Virgets, a New Orleans original who died Monday night at age 77. As the Crescent City’s media world loudly laments the loss of one of its most beloved characters, we all should lament the nationwide decline of his species, namely, the ink-stained newspaper guy whose lifeblood is one with the audience he serves.

Chicago had the gritty, tough-minded Mike Royko. New York sports fans had Dave Anderson and Red Smith. World War II soldiers and readers had Ernie Pyle. And New Orleans, with its abundance of personality, has had its share. Virgets, though, was second to none, even though he wasn’t really a traditional news guy.

New Orleans writer and television personality Ronnie Virgets is served the house specialty, ice-cold oysters on the half shell, by Alma Griffin at Casamento’s Seafood Restaurant in Uptown New Orleans. Photo by Carol Highsmith


Virgets was a sports and culture writer, but with a newsman’s eye for detail and for human foibles, combined with a native New Orleanian’s appreciation for absurdity and serendipity. He could write “in praise of the neighborhood bar,” advising readers to “wrap your fist around the glass, spin slowly around on your barstool and, full of all the common sense of a newborn baby, get ready for a little education.”

Or he could write about “living vicariously,” with all the quirky lyricism that was his trademark: “Here’s the setup. Yogi, Jimmy Chimichanga and I to this Uptown chateau have come, and it is replete with swimming pool and a garden tended by professional pruners. It is owned by Duffossat’s sister, who is married to an investor who has invited her on a cruise around the Aegean Islands. Duffossat has a business card that reads ‘Personal Service,’ which means he runs errands for old people, and he’s housesitting for his sister. He also owes Chimichanga a bunch of money, which is how we all got here.”

Virgets, who branched into TV and radio, had a raspy voice and a character-actor’s mustache, along with an ear for whimsy and a nose for, well, BS. Yet if the BS were mere embellishment rather than malicious, he could spray it with some Drakkar Noir and go on his merry way….

[The full column is at this link.]


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