Times Free Press contributor Bill Stamps, whose stories of his Southern upbringing filled two books and countless newspaper columns, died Wednesday. His wife, Jana, attributed the cause to a massive heart attack. He was 72.
Stamps spent four decades as a promoter in Los Angeles, working and socializing with headliners in the entertainment industry. In 2016, he and Jana left "Hollyweird," as he often called it, and relocated to Cleveland, Tennessee, where his father had worked as a morning host and general manager of radio station WCLE in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Stamps attended school in Cleveland in grades 6-8, but it was his earlier childhood in Middle Tennessee that dominated his writing. Readers would come to know the family members and townspeople who influenced his early years, especially his no-nonsense grandmother, Miz Lena. His memories of that long-ago era defined his writing, and Miz Lena's firm but loving influence was almost always present.
As he wrote in a 2018 column, using her vernacular, "Way back years ago, my grandmother, Miz Lena, told me, 'No matter what's goin' on, always remember to thank Jesus for every day of yore life. Never ask him for more than yuh need. Just simple pleasures. Always keep yore promises that yuh make to the Lord, and he'll keep lookin' out for yuh.'"
His memories were full of those simple pleasures: Sunday dinners, rain on tin roofs, heading out for adventures with his dog, Prince.
If Miz Lena was the authoritarian figure in Stamps' childhood, her housekeeper, Elizabeth, was the nurturer. She was like a mother to him, he said.
"She used to tell me that she loved me like I was her own. I loved her right back. Elizabeth taught me how to tie my shoes. How to cup my hands and close my eyes when I prayed, and she helped me memorize the 23rd Psalm," he wrote.
Equally defining in his life, but less talked about, was his wartime experience in Vietnam. He served with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. He earned a Bronze Star, Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat, "even though he was hit six times," said his wife.
He never really left his war days behind, Jana said, but sharing memories of happier times, compiled in the books "Miz Lena" and "Southern Folks," helped him cope with darker days.
"The writing was therapy," she said. "I know it did him a ton of good."
The North Ocoee Chapel of Jim Rush Funeral Homes is handling arrangements. According to his wife, Stamps wished to be cremated with no public memorial service. Survivors also include a son, Jesse Stamps, of Los Angeles.
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