Billed as "One Hale of a Night," the 23rd annual Wilson County Library Roast lived up to its reputation.
The roast of Hale Moss, president of the Wilson County Fair Board, had the audience howling Wednesday night as old friends skewered the guest of honor.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead, as well as Wilson County commissioners, joined state Sen. Mae Beavers, Rep. Susan Lynn and community and business leaders to honor the man credited with making the Wilson County Fair the destination event it is today.
The person on the spot gets to choose the people who will roast him at the crowd's delight. Moss chose Andy Brummett, who attended Mt. Juliet High School with him; former Lebanon High School student Kevin Young; Joe Elliot, of Springfield and a friend from college days at the University of Tennessee Joe Elliot; co-worker Susan Gunn; and two of his fellow Wilson County Fair Board members, Kristina McKee and Wanda Bates.
Before the festivities began, Moss seemed fairly confident he had chosen well. But he did express a few reservations.
"The first person I called to ask to speak said he had a book about being a part of a roast," Moss said. "He said according to the book, he had to tell the truth."
Alesia Burnley, director of the Wilson County Library System, said the board looks over a list of potentials and approaches one to see if he or she is willing to undergo the treatment for a good cause.
"It's usually someone prominent and well established in the community," she said, noting Moss certainly qualifies.
First up to bat was Brummett, who has known Moss since elementary school days in Mt. Juliet.
He spoke about school days and their many adventures growing up, including a story about riding horses with Moss one day only to look up to see Moss rolling by him, sans horse. Brummett said when they were in school, one teacher preferred humiliation to paddling and forced miscreants to don a petticoat and wear it.
"Hale and I would come to class, and we would just go ahead and put the petticoat on," Brummett said.
He also recognized the debt the county owes Moss for his work on the county fair.
"The James C. Ward Agricultural Center is his passion, and it's a better place because of him," Brummett said.
Elliot was next up, and he told some tales out of school about his experiences with Moss when both were big men on campus at the University of Tennessee.
"We were in school during the late '60s, and we all remember what was going on during those days - Vietnam and Kent State," Elliot said. "Those were the days of free love, LSD, marijuana and drugs. Hale partook of one of those things, I'll leave it to you to decide which one."
He said Moss was away from home for the fist time, and he came up with a theory while alcohol kills brain cells, "it only kills the slow and weak ones, so the more you drink the smarter you get." Elliot said Moss was happy to test that theory – repeatedly.
And so it went with his friends and co-worker making him the butt of good-natured jokes. Moss bore it well, perhaps because he knew the proceeds of his pain would help local libraries.
The annual roast is important to the county library system. It began in 1991 with George Harding as the first roast honoree. According to Burnley, the net profit from 1991 to 2012 was $177,900 after expenses.
Burnely said the roast is the library system's only fundraiser. She said it was started to buy the things not funded in the city or county budgets. Money raised is used for matching grants, computers, furniture, shelving and other needs.
The list of past honorees is an impressive list of county faces. Last year, Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce President Sue Vanatta was on the hot seat. This year, she bought an entire table at the roast, perhaps in gratitude because she survived being a "roastee."
"It's the least I could do," she said.
Burnley said an honoree needs "to be a good sport, generous and brave."
Moss proved to be all three.