The Rev. Paulwyn L. Boliek welcomed everyone and praised the theater for producing solid citizens, saying you won't read about them being arrested, getting into fights or getting pregnant without being married.
Then he told a funny joke and made a few clever remarks before sitting down, prompting Master of Ceremonies Clint Bryant , the athletic director at Augusta State University (and un-anointed stand-up comedian), to quip, "Pastor's pretty funny, ain't he? If I had known that, I'd have put a time limit on him. Getting kind of cute. I tell you what, you let white folks in, and they take over."
And so began the roast to raise money for the fund that provides college book scholarships to Mini Theater graduates.
For those who might not know, the Mini Theater is a community arts and life skills school, founded by Tyrone Butler and his wife, Judith . The scholarship fund honors Butler's late mother.
Roasters were Barbara Gordon , the editor and publisher of the Metro Courier newspaper; Minnesota Fatz , director of urban programming for Clear Channel Radio Power 107 and 96.3 Kiss FM; James J.R. Riles , an entrepreneur and owner of JR's Stop and Shop; Jay Jeffries , a meteorologist at WAGT-TV; Willie A. Watkins , the owner of Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home in Atlanta; and J.B. Powell , a former Augusta commissioner and state senator.
FUNERAL HUMOR: Continuing on as emcee, Bryant said, "Willie, we expect some money out of the mortuary for this stuff. All those people you've been burying. You know, Willie Mays -- the last one to let you down."
THE LINEUP: Fatz was supposed to be the first roaster, but he was running late, so Bryant said, "He's somewhere in Louisiana. We ain't waiting on him. We've got Ms. Barbara Gordon who does an outstanding job. And then we're going to follow up with James J.R. Riles. Now ya'll got to listen very carefully to J.R. I been knowing him for 25 years. I still don't know what he's talking about. He gets to slurping and talking and gets to chewing and talking.....
"Then we're going to eat and have some entertainment. And then we're going to come back, and we've got Jay Jeffries, and y'all know he's a fool. And then we've got Willie Watkins and then J.B. Powell, craziest white man I know. I think he's been smokin' cow dung. And then we're probably going to get Minnesota Fatz last."
THE EXORCIST: Gordon came out with a big wooden cross Mays was forced to hold and what was supposed to be holier-than-thou water.
"I'm a little bit upset tonight," she began. "Willie's sister called me about a week ago, and she said, 'Barbara, I'm worried about Willie.' I said, 'Dee what's your problem?' She said, 'We need an intervention.' I said, 'Dee, what kind of intervention, baby?' She said, 'We need an exorcism.'
"Knowing Willie, I understood. So I was right on time for that. Now night before last, Ms. Alicia calls me and says, 'Barbara, there's been a change of plans. We're not going to do the exorcism. We're going to do a roast.' And I'm saying, 'Oh, no, not me. I'm ready for the exorcism.' And we're going to exorcize him tonight."
Mays is notorious for not returning phone calls, a flaw exploited by Gordon and several other roasters.
"We know that Willie's gotten up in age," she said. "And all this newfangled stuff, the Blackberry and all this other stuff. He can't work it. So we're not going to hold that against him."
She then handed him an old fashioned phone and said, "Willie, this is a phone. Call your friends. Call your family. Call your associates. You can't hide it. You can't throw it away. This is your special gift. This is your phone."
MINNESOTA FATZ' HERCULEAN TRIBUTE: In the meantime, Fatz had arrived, and Bryant told him he wasn't going to make him be last for being late after all.
"Pump it up! Pump it up!" Fatz said above a mix of roof rattling rock and radio programs.
"This is going to be a very Herculean experience, as our good friend Henry Ingram would say. Every other word is 'Herculean.' And tonight is a Herculean experience. When I got the word that they asked me to come up here and really speak about Willie Mays, you know it was like, well, you know, I only really know about Willie Mays through the late Robert Howard and all the stories we talked about. Stories that ... OK, you are the former mayor. Certain things I can't really express out here tonight."
Fatz praised Mays for his greatness, contributions to Richmond County and the comfort he'd given him after he lost his mother, his father and, recently, his grandmother, so you had to take what he said next with a grain of salt.
"I called up Tyrone Butler earlier today, and I was like, 'Tyrone, I really don't know Willie that well.' We talk. We talk about certain things, and things I can't really reveal here because I don't know whether Willie's married or not. If I talk about some of the things we talk about, he'll be in divorce court tomorrow morning."
Four or five minutes into Fatz's tribute, Bryant gave him a one-minute warning.
"One minute?" Fatz asked. "Well, OK." As an aside, he said Bryant should "head his ass back to Augusta State."
IT ISN'T WHAT IT IS: Each roaster was great, especially Jeffries who did a hilarious imitation of Mays changing his voice from a mumble while reading the menu at IHOP to a cheery "Hey baby, how're you doin'?" when women he knew walked by.
I don't know whether J.B. Powell's story about driving all night with Mays to New Orleans is true, but it sure was funny.
"We got there at about 11 o'clock in the morning, and we didn't have a room or anything until 3 o'clock," Powell said. "So we were talking to the bellman there, and Willie came up with a scheme. Now I normally don't go for things like that 'cause y'all know I'm a good boy. But Willie talked me into telling the bellman, 'Sir, you must not know who I got with me.'
"The bellman said, 'Who might that be?'
"I said, 'Willie Mays!'
"'The Say-Hey Kid?'
"'That's him. Sign something for him, Willie.'
"The gentleman said, 'Hold on just a minute.'
"He came back, and he said, 'Y'all come on in. I got your room.'
"The whole time we were on that trip, Willie had to sneak out the back exit to leave because everybody would say, 'Mr. Mays! Mr. Mays! Would you sign something for me?'
But what was really, really funny was when this older gentleman came up to him, and said, 'Willie, I haven't seen you since the Polo Grounds, but you ain't changed a bit.'
I said, 'That poor old man can't see.'"
COMING NEXT WEEK: How Mays put the perfect squelch on City Administrator Fred Russell and proved he can still think on his feet; what he thinks about the state of politics in Augusta; whether he's going to run for the commission next year; and how much money he spent taking his 3-year-old granddaughter, London , to Disney World.