Willie Morris at his work table at 16 Faculty Row in
1982 (photo by Kathy Ferguson)
By Larry Wells
From In Faulkner’s Shadow: A Memoir
(University Press of Mississippi, 2020)
I first met Willie Morris at the Greenwood Arts Festival in 1978. In his mid-forties, six feet tall, blond, boyish and brimful of mischief, the former editor-in-chief of Harper’s, politely bowed to my wife Dean, whom our hostess, Mary Jane Whittington, had introduced as “Mr. Faulkner’s niece.” I watched Morris react with pleasure. Then he tugged at his collar and asked if we were ready for a cocktail.
“Stand between me and those blue-haired ladies!” he whispered as we joined the garden party. We asked no questions but formed a human barrier between him and the Delta matrons. “Those ladies will ask me to address their book club,” he explained. “And I can’t say no to ladies of my mother’s generation.”
As we hovered near the bar Morris observed that he was thinking of moving back to Mississippi. In the same breath he wondered if he “could stand the pace.” Dean observed that she’d had the same concern when she moved to Oxford from Hilton Head.
“People in Hilton Head were nice to me,” she went on, “but in Mississippi the problem is that people in your hometown, your old friends and especially those of my mother’s generation, know too much about you.”
“Exactly!” exclaimed Morris, his eyes lighting up. “In Mississippi folks feel they can ask you anything.” He hesitated, then asked, “Did, uh, Pappy have the same problem?”
I’d seen this happen before. Every writer we met couldn’t wait to utter the name “Pappy”to a member of the family. For Dean this happened on a regular basis.
“Yes!” she readily agreed. “Pappy was obsessed with privacy. He put up a Private, Keep Out sign on his gate.”
My first impressions of Willie Morris were of his quick reactions, the ability to carry on two conversations at once, his unerring grasp of the core issue, and the ever-present twinkle in his eye. That night it was as if he were absorbing the Delta atmosphere and fueled by the animated conversations around us. His accent was growing more “Southern” by the minute.
He plied us with practical questions. How many writers in residence did the University of Mississippi have? None. How many bars were there in Oxford? One. When did the restaurants close? Ten. How many restaurants were there? Four or five. Was it an expensive place to live? No.
“Maybe I wouldn’t be put off by the slow pace,” he mused, charmed by the idea of a small university town with a single bar and five restaurants—a university without a writer-in-residence.
“Oxford can be pretty quiet,” I observed, though unaware of how welcome the concept of quiet could be to a New Yorker accustomed to sirens and car alarms. “The only sound you will hear at midnight is the town clock chiming the hour,” I added, unaware that in less than a year we’d be sitting in our kitchen with Willie as the courthouse clock pealed midnight.
Upon learning that we were staying at the Holiday Inn, he invited us for a nightcap after the arts festival program. At 1 a.m. Morris treated us to something that proved a bit embarrassing to us but was routine for him.
“Let’s call Bill Styron and wake him up!” he said. As Dean and I nursed our nightcaps he dialed William Styron’s home, the time in Connecticut being two a.m. Who else did we know that could wake up William Styron and get away with it? Who else did we know that had Styron’s unlisted phone number? “Hey, ‘Stingo,’” Morris said using what we later learned was Styron’s high school nickname. “William Faulkner’s niece wants to talk to you. Her name is Dean.”
Dean warily accepted the receiver and managed to carry on an agreeable if awkward conversation while Morris watched, his arms crossed, severely pleased with himself. Writers trust their first impressions. If they like you they will be your friend for life. That’s how it was with Willie and us, and also, as it turned out, with William Styron. That night in Greenwood when we swapped tales of misspent youth by the Holiday Inn pool was, I think, when Willie made up his mind to move to Oxford.
“I’m interested in teaching at Ole Miss,” he said. “Please give the Chancellor my regards, will you, Deanie?”
UPON OUR RETURN to Oxford we made an appointment to see Dr. Porter Fortune, chancellor of the University of Mississippi. When we informed him of Morris’s proposal Fortune was enthusiastic. Ole Miss had never had a writer in residence. (Faulkner turned them down.) The acting English Department chairman, Evans Harrington, a published novelist, taught a tutorial in creative writing, but the university had no writer-in-residence.
Dr. Fortune recommended that we speak to Robert Khayat, Vice Chancellor for University Affairs. Khayat invited Dr. Ann Abadie of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture to the meeting. Dean declined to attend and sent me as her proxy. Neither of these gifted administrators arrived at work expecting to deal with an unfunded, unprecedented faculty position. From their noncommittal expressions I guessed that they were concerned not about the budget, which would prove a hurdle, but how the university would be affected. Morris wasn’t an academician and had no teaching experience. Why would a successful editor give up the bustle of New York for a small state university? Could he connect with the students? Would he keep regular office hours, grade papers, post final grades? How would he get along with town and gown?
While I was flattered to be asked to represent Morris, I was at a loss to respond. Did he feel burned out? Did he feel that returning to Mississippi was a chance for a fresh start? Khayat pointed out that the faculty budget for 1979 was already committed. There was no funding for a writer-in-residence. Inside my shirt I shrank two sizes. I’d always known liberal arts was an orphan but now I was experiencing the phenomenon up close. This was my administrative baptism under fire.
Khayat referred me to Rufus Jones, Head of Development. Jones was well-known as a politically savvy fundraiser. Evans Harrington and Ann Abadie also attended the meeting. Harrington, bless him, assured Jones that the English Department would be honored to invite Willie to join the faculty. Wearing a poker face Jones politely listened. Doubtless he’d fielded similar alumni requests to hire a guest lecturer. I had to up the ante.
I explained Morris’s plan to invite authors William Styron, George Plimpton and John Knowles to speak on campus. According to Willie they would come for expenses.
“All right but please leave my major donors alone,” Jones said. “They’ll give you a thousand instead of the ten thousand they would ordinarily pledge. I ask only to be kept informed.”
Dean and I had no experience in soliciting donations. She recommended we begin with the First National Bank of Oxford, where her great-grandfather had been founding president and where William at nineteen had worked as teller. When Joe Parks replaced J.W.T. Falkner as bank president, the incensed J.W.T. withdrew his savings, $30,000, from First National, ceremoniously crossed the square with money bags in a wheelbarrow. His intention was to deposit the cash in the Bank of Oxford and leave First National without cash that day.
We had no idea if the FNB president knew of J.W.T.’s rebellion, but regardless he graciously pledged $2,000. Across the square to the Bank of Oxford we went, unconsciously walking in step. Twenty minutes later we had a matching pledge.
Donations from other banks followed, a thousand here, a thousand there. Mississippi Chemical Corporation of Yazoo City, Willie’s hometown, was especially generous. We hosted private fundraising parties at our home. Addressing twenty or more guests I pitched Willie as writer-in-residence, listed his achievements and compared his coming to Ole Miss to a comet landing in front of the Lyceum.
“This is a personal favor to Willie,” I added, implying, in my zeal, that Morris and I were longtime friends. Later I privately wondered why, indeed, had we gone to bat for Willie? Was it because he’d blown our minds by inviting us into his world? Had we changed existentially beside the Holiday Inn pool? That night in Greenwood, we’d connected with Morris as believers in the written word, friends of the craft of writing.
We raised over half of Willie’s salary for the spring semester of 1980. Aided by a $7,000 pledge by the chair of the Ole Miss Journalism Department, Morris’ first semester of teaching at the University of Mississippi was now assured. It was unprecedented for a university department to help fund a professor’s salary for another department, but Norton had his eye on the horizon. After a year and a half, Willie would transfer from the English Department to Journalism.
Willie’s Scouting Trip
Duke University, we learned later, had offered Morris twice as much as Ole Miss, but North Carolina wasn’t where he wanted to be. As he put it, “I wanted to come back to Mississippi but not in a pine box.”
We wrote Morris that his salary had been guaranteed. He didn’t respond right away. It wasn’t Duke’s offer that gave him pause. He wanted to scout Oxford and Ole Miss.
To cover his travel expenses we contacted Sid Graves, our fellow graduate student, director of the Carnegie Library in Clarksdale, and co-founder of the Delta Museum. Delighted at the opportunity of having Morris appear at the Carnegie Library, Graves agreed to host Willie’s trip to Clarksdale. The Carnegie budget allowed for two speakers per annum at $250 per speaker. Sid combined his annual promotions budget to pay Morris’ airfare, lodging and rental car expenses. (Money went further in 1979.) We looked forward to attending the Clarksdale event and escorting Morris to Oxford.
Accompanied by Adam Shaw, son of the novelist, Irwin Shaw, Morris flew to Jackson. They spent the night in Yazoo City, where Morris’ friends gave him a welcome-home party. At the Carnegie Library he read to an enthusiastic audience from North Toward Home.
After the program, Dean rode to Oxford with Adam Shaw. Morris rode with me. He tuned the radio to the World Series of 1979, the Pittsburg Pirates versus the Baltimore Orioles. This was the first of many nights we spent on the road with Willie. He said that after he left Harper’s ABC’s Roone Arledge offered him a sports-casting job. “I was tempted,” he said, “but I couldn’t sacrifice my writing.”
We drove the straight roads of the Delta and listened to the World Series. The delta flatlands were ghostly in the gloom, farmhouses like distant islands of light. The headlights illuminated cotton trailers parked alongside the road. Baseball, literature and cotton. Willie Morris was where he belonged.
He asked if we could visit Rowan Oak. Dean and I hadn’t planned to stop there, but we knew that she would enjoy showing Rowan Oak to Willie at any hour. At Rowan Oak the house and grounds were closed for the night, but that was no problem.
“If the university police show up Dean will vouch for us,” I told Willie.
“Maybe they’ll join us in a toast to Mr. Bill,” he mused.
As Dean and Adam followed in the rental car I made a bee-line for Rowan Oak. The four of us walked up the dark, curving driveway, the house a spectral white under a full moon. Morris took a pint of Jack Daniel from his pocket. Passing the bottle we toasted Dean’s uncle beneath the cedars.
THE NEXT NIGHT, a tumultuous Friday on a football weekend, we hosted a cocktail party at Miss Maud’s. Many of the guests had contributed to Willie’s salary fund. He loved meeting our friends. “These are good people,” Adam Shaw told Willie. “You’d be crazy not to come here.”
Afterward we had dinner at Taylor Grocery, the celebrated catfish restaurant and country store located six miles south of Oxford. Morris gazed in delight at the gas pumps in front of the store. We could smell catfish frying. Judging by Morris’s expression one might think we’d taken him to “Four Seasons South.”
“No reservations needed,” I told him.
Willie was familiar with Taylor as a setting in the novel Sanctuary but had assumed it was a fictional place. Armed with facts from Howard Duvall’s “Yoknapatawpha” tour I told him that before the Civil War the Yocona River bottomland around Taylor produced so much cotton that a shallow draft paddleboat was needed to haul the bales to Natchez. Dean broke in to tell Morris and our other guests, who included Senator Thad Cochran, how, in 1942, she, Jill and Vicki had run away from home in a two-wheeled cart drawn by Jill’s-pony. They went to Taylor.
“We drank water from a gourd dipped in the watering trough in front of Taylor Grocery,” she said. “Pappy had the sheriff’s department out searching for us.”
To Willie, and especially to artist William Dunlap, the interior walls of the café begged for inscriptions. With owner Mary Katherine Hudson’s permission, Dunlap sketched a crop-duster flying low over cotton fields. His Delta horizon covered an entire wall. Thad Cochran wrote an inscription, then gave Willie the magic marker.
He thought for a moment, then scribbled, “This is where Faulkner’s Temple Drake and Gowan Stevens got off the train looking for a bootlegger!” And signed his name with a flourish.
WILLIE’S INTRODUCTION TO Oxford wouldn’t have been complete without a tailgating party. That weekend Ole Miss was playing Georgia. We took him to the Grove, ten acres of trees, grass and shade on the Ole Miss campus. During football season the Grove was “old home week” for alumni and students. In those days football fans parked under the oaks. Typically on game day you’d see fifty tailgating parties whereas today they number well over a thousand.
Our tailgate served up the usual Bloody Mary’s and fried chicken. The conversation had Morris in thrall. These Oxford natives had grown up in Faulkner’s Oxford. They’d kept ponies in their grandfathers’ barns. They’d witnessed mule-trading on the Square. Growing up each had known Faulkner as “Pappy.’ With an intimate knowledge of settings and characters in Faulkner’s stories, they spoke of his fiction as if it had happened yesterday. Like characters in The Mansion or Light in August they corrected, or embellished, each other’s stories. For Willie’s benefit one of our hosts burlesqued, “If you’re thinking about calling me a Snopes, say it to my face!”
Enrapt, drink in hand, Willie listened absently to Rebel football trivia. People dropped by our tailgate to welcome him. Suddenly it occurred to me that, having failed to support William Faulkner in the way he deserved, and doubtless expected, folks in Oxford wanted to make up for this gaping omission. Luckily, Morris proved easy to love.
That Saturday in October, surrounded by kindred spirits, he bade us farewell with a cheerful wave, saying, “See you New Year’s Eve!”
In January of 1980, at Morris’s inaugural lecture at the University of Mississippi, Bishop Auditorium was filled to capacity. Students were seen running to the lecture hall. There was a sportive, holiday air, the kind of anticipation one might see at a Bob Dylan concert at Tad Smith Coliseum. Law student John Grisham was among the two hundred students and faculty who flocked to that first lecture. Professors squatted in the aisles as Willie took the stage. His black Labrador, “Pete,” slumped beside the podium.
Man and dog received a standing ovation. It was the beginning of the Morris era at the University of Mississippi.
Pleased to see students taking notes Morris gave them a reading list of six novels written by his friends, living and dead, beginning with From Here to Eternity. James Jones died in 1977 before finishing Whistle, the third novel in a trilogy that began with From Here to Eternity. Honoring Jones’ deathbed request, Morris completed the novel for his friend. His seamless additions were acclaimed by critics and readers alike. He reminisced about writing his memoir, James Jones: A Friendship. Midway through the lecture Morris looked up. “Dean Faulkner Wells,” he called out, “where are you?” When Dean raised her hand he continued, whimsical and mischievous, “Censors deleted four-letter words in the first edition of From Here to Eternity. What are your thoughts?”
Without hesitation Dean responded that this was how soldiers talked, that in bowdlerizing the novel, censors had done Jones an injustice. Willie pounced on the word bowdlerizing and asked the students if they knew what it meant. I believe that was the moment when he evolved from lecturer to teacher.
Relaxing afterward, he told us, a little amazed at his transformation, that he felt “privileged to be teaching at Ole Miss.” As an editor he’d shaped careers and pushed Harper’s staff writers, including David Halbersham and Larry L. King, to new levels. Now, he’d entered a new phase in his life.
Willie began the semester by assigning George Plimpton’s Paper Lion followed by Winston Groom’s Better Times Than These. His friends—Styron, Plimpton, Knowles, Groom, and Gloria Jones, widow of James Jones—came for expenses only, as he had promised Equal time was allotted to festivities. William and Patty Lewis gave a formal dinner party welcoming Winston Groom and George Ames Plimpton, for whom Willie dreamed up an elaborate prank. At the dinner table everyone except Plimpton knew what was about to happen.
In 1868 Plimpton’s great- grandfather, Adelbert Ames, was appointed provisional governor of Mississippi. A liberal Republican, Governor Ames advanced the rights of former slaves by appointing African Americans to state offices. Confederate sympathizers reviled the provisional governor as “Beast Ames.” Between Plimpton and Morris it was a source of genuine amusement that Willie’s great-grandfather, a Confederate colonel and Mississippi legislator, had brought impeachment charges against Gov. Adelbert Ames.
Willie arranged for the current Mississippi governor, William Winter, a close personal friend, to issue a fake proclamation giving Plimpton “safe passage” out of Mississippi and “pardoning” his great-grandfather, Adelbert P. Ames. Willie read aloud the document drafted in Jackson on the governor’s stationery and delivered to Morris by courier.
Dear Mr. Plimpton,
You are an honored guest today at our State University. Your literary and editorial genius is notable. Your athletic talent has encouraged you to play quarterback, throw baseballs, drive racing cars, box against champions, and slam cymbals together in the symphony orchestra. Your comradeship with our southern writers in New York City, where you so graciously keep them out of trouble, has helped bring the Grand Old Union back together again.
As governor of Mississippi, I herewith extend a pardon to your great-grandfather, Adelbert P. Ames, the Republican Reconstructionist governor of our beloved state, and present a document of safe conduct through the ghost of old enemy lines. I pledge that you shall remain free and unmolested in the Sovereign State of Mississippi for 12 hours, beginning at 9:45 AM today, February 26, 1980, ending at 9:45 PM on that day when I understand that your plane departs north for Memphis. I cannot, however, I speak for the governor of Tennessee on this matter.
With all best wishes from the people of Mississippi I am sincerely yours,
William F. Winter
The poker-faced Plimpton listened to Willie read the proclamation. Then University of Mississippi police chief Michael Stewart appeared in the dining room with hand on pistol (as coached by Willie). “Which of you gentlemen is Mr. George Plimpton?” he demanded. George glanced at Willie, who stared at the ceiling. “On the orders of the governor of Mississippi,” Stewart went on, “I am to escort you, sir, to the edge of town where you will be driven to Memphis and placed on an airplane for New York. Mr. Plimpton, if you are ready, please come with me, sir.”
Plimpton thanked his hosts, bid good night to his fellow dinner guests, and warned Morris of swift retribution. We applauded as Plimpton, accompanied by UPD Chief Stewart and Winston Groom, departed. Later, Groom reported that two University patrol cars, blue lights blazing, escorted his car to the city limits at speeds exceeding ninety miles an hour.
“I didn’t write that proclamation,” Governor Winter protested years later when asked about his part in the prank. “Willie wrote it! All I did was have it typed on official stationary. You know, we would do anything for Willie. If we didn’t, he might renounce our friendship!”
Throughout the spring of 1980 Oxford was treated to the public appearances of writers and sports figures at Willie’s invitation. This casual acceptance of celebrity—the “Willie Syndrome” we called it—spread through the town like a virus. By the end of the semester Dean and I were shamelessly dropping the names of some of America’s best-known authors.
MEANWHILE WILLE SAT in on poker games, drank moonshine, arranged dinner parties, and hung out at the Holiday Inn bar with students and alumni. One evening at the Holiday Inn I introduced him to Oxford’s mayor, John Leslie. Morris casually remarked that the mayor of Bridgehampton was waiting in his car. Willie had dubbed his dog Pete “the mayor of Bridgehampton.” Bars in Bridgehampton allowed pets, and Pete was a bar dog if ever there was one.
“Why did you leave him in the car?” asked Leslie.
“Well, sir, he’s black,” Willie said with a straight face. Mayor Leslie was horrified.
“We’ve put those days behind us!” he assured Morris. Oxford was a liberal community, he stammered, where injustice was not tolerated. “Let me welcome the Mayor of Bridgehampton!” Leslie was on his way to the parking lot when Morris stopped him.
Willie had earned the right to joke about Mississippi. In his book Yazoo: The Integration of a Deep Southern Town he addressed the peaceful integration of public schools in Yazoo City in 1971. “I did not want to go back,” he wrote. “I finally went home because the urge to be there during its most critical moment was too elemental to resist, and because I would’ve been ashamed of myself if I had not.”
Morris’ North Toward Home, published in 1967, expressed his belief that white southerners of conscience judged African Americans by their character, not the color of their skin. Overnight, he became a spokesman for his generation and for a decade or more Willie’s autobiography, written at the tender age of 32, was required reading throughout the South. Morris’s liberal voice and presence made him the living embodiment of change.
That said, it was best not to match the living embodiment drink-for-drink. Bourbon before dinner, wine with meals, Irish coffee after dinner, Black Russians till dawn.
“Pappy liked his liquor, too,” Dean observed, “but compared to Willie he was a lightweight.” We joke about it now, but Willie’s weekend indulgences often extended through Monday or Tuesday. Between midnight and dawn he could empty a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and still be talking when the sun came up.
If he wasn’t working on a book he spent half the day phoning friends and setting up dinner parties, preferably at their homes. Most people had answering machines, but Morris used his own caller-ID. To get him to answer the phone a caller was instructed to hang up after the 2nd ring and redial immediately. This was Morris’s rudimentary but effective means of avoiding invitations from book-clubs.
In 1980 Oxford had two bars, the Holiday Inn and the Warehouse. The Gin Company opened a year later. At last call, Willie invited everyone in the bar within earshot to go home with him. Bachelors were inclined to accept. Morris went through any number of friends who stayed up drinking with him. Wives took husbands into custody. One wife even spoke of divorce. Two or three of his drinking buddies were charged with DUI’s. Everybody wanted to party with Willie but only the hardiest survived.
Journalism Rescues Morris
It was both funny and predictable when Morris complained, “I cannot bear to grade another pop quiz!” In the beginning he had thrown himself into teaching, but the excitement had worn off. For the literary giant who had edited Norman Mailer, William Styron and David Halberstam, a year of grading student exams and term papers was enough. He asked me to speak to Will Norton about transferring to Journalism.
I phoned Dr. Norton, who expressed his delight at the prospect of bringing Morris to the Department of Journalism. I put Willie on the phone. Norton gave him a new official title—journalist-in-residence.
THE FOLLOWING SEMESTER Morris threw himself into his new position with his usual energy and enthusiasm. He created a feature-writing class in which his students’ essays would be published in a bi-annual tabloid journal Willie named The Ole Miss Magazine. “It will be available in both town and campus,” he reported to the kitchen table cabinet, “and at the bargain price of $1.00 per issue.”
The Ole Miss Magazine was staffed by the top Ole Miss journalism students. The former editor of Harper’s showed them how to set up “departments” and discuss ideas for stories. As examples of feature writing he had them read essays he’d published in Harper’s by David Halberstam, Larry L. King, John Corry and Marshall Frady. And he let them choose their assignments.
Sometimes Morris accompanied a student on a fact-finding missions. At Mr. Levy’s Jitney Jungle grocery store on North Lamar he took note of shoppers stopping in the aisles, talking and laughing, and how other shoppers often struck up secondary conversations. Smiling to himself, Morris came up with the title: “Litany at the Jitney.” Today his former students look back on Morris’s class as a seminal period in their lives.
In the debut issue of The Ole Miss Magazine Morris contributed a personal essay about revisiting “Billy Goat Hill, a grassy knoll behind centerfield at his alma mater, the University of Texas. Longhorn outfielders had a secret advantage. They carved footholds in the grass allowing them to back-pedal up the hill to catch fly balls.
“I took the same route of my college days,” Willie reminisced, “when I drove the long stretch from my Mississippi Delta town to Austin in a vintage black and white Plymouth with dual exhausts. Distant expanses of fields, where the court houses, lazy intersections I once knew, greet me now in the most haphazard déjà vu. Carthage, Palestine, Buffalo, Franklin, Hearne, Rockdale, Thrall—have they existed in a dreamy hush all these years, and awakened now just for me?”
Ole Miss Magazine provided an opportunity for Morris to teach by example. From his choice of assignments and hands-on editing the journalism students learned subtle, invaluable lessons. One night after last call at the Holiday Inn bar Morris asked me to come and read some essays in the first issue of The Ole Miss Magazine.” Flattered to be asked and curious about the assigned topics I followed him to 16 Faculty Row. Seated in his easy chair he’d scarcely begun to read aloud before he produced a felt-tipped pen and started editing.
As long as he was upright, alert, and protected from the elements he could transform raw prose into a finished product by deleting a word, adding a modify phrase, pausing to sip bourbon-flavored coffee, and weighing the results on his jeweler’s scales.
At age forty I had learned copy-editing by trial and error. What I learned that night was a whole new approach to the written word.
Willie’s gifts included entering another writer’s thought process—in this case that of his students—and shaping the narrative without altering tone or voice. A quiet satisfaction came from him as he worked—not enjoyment, considering this was child’s play for him, but an abiding contentedness. Under his hand the student-essays became as good as they had a right to be. If structure was a problem Morris solved it by circling a paragraph here and drawing an arrow there. Over the legal limit, panting fumes, he copy-edited the papers while leaving style and substance intact. The basic story remained in place. What he added was shading, depth and focus.
There’s a delicate line between editing and revising. Willie knew when to let go. He’d fold a student’s paper, crease it down the middle, and open the next one. I doubt he noticed that I was observing how his editor’s mind worked, how he walked a narrow line between polishing and rewriting. I was sorry when he finished editing the last student paper. I didn’t fully appreciate his influence until the next time I edited my own prose. What happened at 16 Faculty Row that night was a turning point for me.
Willie dispensed advice in bars, bookstores, homes, football stadiums—anywhere a wannabe writer caught him with time on his hands. His canon, I would submit, can be multiplied a hundred-fold by the output of writers he encouraged. What he showed students, again and again, was not how to write but how to edit their own work. Above all he taught them to believe in themselves. His influence at the University of Mississippi from 1980-90 cannot be overstated.