‘Forrest Gump’ author speaks at Alabama Insurance Day

Matt Mecoli

“Life is like a box of chocolates…You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Southern novelist and University of Alabama alumnus Winston Groom based his most famous novel, ‘Forrest Gump’, on many of his own life experiences. He came back to his alma mater yesterday as the guest speaker for Alabama Insurance Day, hosted by the Alabama Department of Insurance.

Groom told captivated audience members that, in fact, it was one of his father’s stories that birthed one of America’s most beloved characters.

His father told him about a mentally deficient kid from his childhood who used to be teased by neighborhood boys. The boys bullied him until one day his mother bought a piano. Within two days, he could play the piano like a maestro, and from that day forward, the kids who bullied him instead defended him.

That night, Groom wrote the first chapter of ‘Forrest Gump’, a book the Pittsburgh Press called a Huckleberry Finn­-type odyssey, complete with the humor-tempered irony and insight of Mark Twain. A rollicking satire, milking laughs from our sacred cows…As much fun as a box of chocolates, but far less fattening.”

Groom may seem an unusual pick to speak at an insurance conference, as Alabama Insurance Day is devoted to professionals who work in and with those in the insurance industry, typically including attorneys, bankers, actuaries and insurance executives.

“The program committee thought it would be interesting to have a change of pace at lunch,” said William Rabel, endowed teaching professor of insurance and financial services. “Winston Groom is obviously a famous author and highly regarded as an Alabamian. They thought people could learn from what he has to say and benefit from his experience.”

Groom received a bachelor’s degree from the University in 1965 in English, and he served as the editor of a humorous literary magazine on campus called The Mahout. The name was a mocking reference to the UA mascot, as a mahout is the person who drives an elephant.

“I think we should bring back the live elephant as our mascot,” Groom said. “That person in the mascot outfit has got to be suffering from the heat. Auburn has that bird flying around. Why can’t we have an elephant?”

Groom said his work with Mahout magazine influenced him to switch from law to English.

“If I had to give some advice to younger people in their lives, I’d tell them you just have to do it,” Groom said. “You have to say ‘I’m going to do this, consequences be damned.’”