In late December for the past 27 years, Grady Liles made his rounds to several businesses and homes in the Shoals.
The NCAA Division II National Championship Game had just been played in each of those years, and Liles had gathered dozens of game balls. He personally dropped them off, shook a few hands and told the recipients what he, she or their organizations had meant to another successful game.
"It wouldn't have happened without you and your people," he said every year.
And he meant it.
That was one of Grady Liles' gifts. He had the ability to bring people together for a common cause, and he made you feel important and vital to the project.
A lot of good things have been said since we lost Grady Liles last week. In fact, you would be challenged to find anyone to say a negative word about him. He was that kind of man.
Grady was one of the first people I met when arriving in the area nearly 36 years ago after accepting the job as sports editor. He was heavily involved in University of North Alabama athletics. His commitment to UNA never lingered. One person made the comment the other day that the pearly gates of heaven would actually be purple gates when he arrives. If you knew Grady and his sense of humor, it makes sense.
His contributions went well beyond UNA athletics, though. He was there for countless charity events in the community and lent help to people at times when they had nowhere to turn. He was a good neighbor in every sense of the phrase.
Grady was unselfish and did everything he could to avoid credit when something good happened, even if he was directly involved in making it happen.
He once told me, "It doesn't matter who gets the credit. It needs to be done, and let's do it."
Grady was a doer. When he came up with or heard of a good idea, he didn't say "it sure would be nice" if it happened. He made it his passion until it got done.
Grady's vision to bring the NCAA championship game to the Shoals is a great example. He went to the 1985 championship game in McAllen, Texas, where UNA lost. He saw one man essentially put on the game, and the game atmosphere was more like a preseason scrimmage than a national championship game.
"We can do better," Grady said.
He went to then-Mayor Eddie Frost, Shirley Tucker and others to discuss bidding to host the game. He and his team went out and made it happen even when most NCAA officials at the time said he couldn't deliver what was promised.
Grady always delivered, especially on that part where he wanted to leave things better than what they were when he arrived.