Tuesday, March 29, 2016

We've enjoyed "Big Eyes" art for years

This is the print Dan and Margaret Keane McGuire gave us in 1981.
      Sometimes there is a good story hanging on your living-room wall, and it goes unrealized for years.
    So it is with our "Big Eyes" framed print, which we have had for almost 35 years.
     It has a prominent location here in our apartment -- just as it has wherever we've lived -- and we always knew it was a special gift.
    Until Saturday, we didn't realize how special. There is a story within the story.
    The inscription on our print reads: "To Bea and Nico with much aloha. Margaret Keane McGuire" (above that: ©MDH Keane, 1981) 
    Margaret Keane is the famed "Big Eyes" artist -- world renowned, really -- and our print is a big-eyed Oriental girl in a colorful kimono, sitting alongside an equally big-eyed Siamese cat. Judging by the date, it was her latest effort.
    It was one of several going-away presents from our wonderful friends at The Honolulu Advertiser (RIP) when we left to return to the mainland after my 19-month stint (1980-81) on the sports desk there -- one of the most enjoyable jobs I had.
    (Six years later we would get a Siamese cat that looked just like this one -- Rachel's 8th birthday gift, Kitty, who stayed with us for 16 years through four states.)
    We did not know Margaret, but her husband, Dan McGuire, was a parttime sports columnist at The Advertiser. He would visit the office a couple of times a week to bring in his column and, like many of the people at that paper, he was a genuinely nice person.
    He had been in the journalism/sports business for 40-plus years and, although his column didn't need much editing, he appreciated what touches this sports-copy editor would add.
Margaret Keane (from her web site -- keane-eyes.com/about-Margaret)
    So to receive a print from Margaret Keene McGuire then was meaningful. We were told she was a well-known artist, but to be honest, we did not know the full story.
    Occasionally, someone visiting our place would comment on the print, and it is in the background of several of our photos. The years rolled by. Margaret Keane was just a name on the print.
    On Saturday, Bea was meeting with her SAGE medical-school students when a young man asked about the print. He recognized Margaret as the artist, then mentioned the recent movie done on her.
    Movie? What movie? 
    As Bea pointed out to me, we often get locked into our own world and miss what might be pertinent to us. An example is the movie Big Eyes. It's the story within the story.
    This is the story of Margaret Keane's life and work, and the deception she and second husband Walter Keane used to make millions of dollars from the artwork in the 1960s. That's right, deception.
    A 2014 production directed by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetlejuice, etc.) and starring Amy Adams as Margaret and Christoph Waltz as Walter, it tells of how the husband claimed for more than a decade to be the artist painting the waifs -- sad-looking children -- and how she, scared, went along with the scheme.
    In short, he bullied and threatened her. Convoluted, controversial story that evolved into suits and court battles. Lots about it on the Internet. (Several story links listed below.)
    Bea told her students that I knew Margaret's husband, that he worked at the Honolulu paper. So the young man asked, "Is this the husband [in the movie]?"
    Of course, I was clueless about the movie, but I assured him "no way." Dan McGuire, a gentleman, never would have done that.
    Then I went to my computer and researched Margaret Keane (she is alive, at 88, living in Napa, Calif., and still painting daily, according to stories I saw). Plus, I dug in my files for the stories I'd saved on Dan McGuire's obituary (sent to me by my Advertiser friends in 1983).  
    Dan had his own great story. He was, as the obituary noted, "perennially good-natured." I'm one of thousands who can vouch for that.
    He had wavy, thick gray hair by the time I met him in 1980 -- he was 62 then -- and just the year before had gone from fulltime sports columnist to parttimer. He was popular with his co-workers and the readers, and known for his ever-present cigar.
    He was a West Coast guy, a sports writer in California before World War II, then a United Press war correspondent in the Pacific, and twice a sports columnist (1946-50, 1963-79) at The Advertiser.
    In between, for 13 years, he was the publicity director for the San Francisco 49ers. Dan loved him some NFL, and the Niners. He was friends with such stars as Frankie Albert and Y.A. Tittle, and with the PR director of the Niners' main rival, the Los Angeles Rams -- Pete Rozelle.
    (If you're not an NFL person, Mr. Rozelle later was the best commissioner that league will ever have.)
This is from a 1970 Life Magazine story. In the caption
on this photo, it refers to Dan as a sportswriter for a
Honolulu newspaper and Margaret is quoted:  "He
helped  me to become a lot less timid and afraid. For
 a year, I couldn't paint anything at all."
    Dan loved golf as much, maybe more, than football. He and Monte Ito -- The Advertiser golf writer for years and years and a sweet, beloved human -- began and led the "Dawn Patrol," a group that played regularly and was the subject of much sports department story-telling and laughter.
    Dan had been through one marriage (and nine kids) when he met Margaret in Hawaii a year after her bitter breakup with Walter. She had moved to the Islands, and they hit it off, married in 1966. 
    It was Dan, according to a UPI story in December 2014,  who influenced Margaret's career recovery after her struggles.
    From the story:
    It was during those first few years of marriage to McGuire that Margaret came to a decision about how she wanted to live her life.
    "I made the decision that if anyone asked me [about the paintings] from that point, I was going to tell the truth," she said.
    McGuire "told me not to be afraid. He really was a good support and helped me get the courage to do it."
    Dan died of pancreatic cancer less than two years after we left Hawaii, and our Advertiser people -- plus golf, the Niners and the NFL world -- and, most of all, Margaret lost a true friend.

       If you go to www.margaretkeane.com, you can find her history and links to her colossal collection of artwork. It is astounding to see the list of notables who commissioned her to do portraits of themselves, loved ones or friends.
    It took a couple of minutes to find a copy of the print we have. It is entitled "Ladies in Waiting" (we never knew that) and the print purchase price is listed at $250. A 30x24 poster is $45, a magnet or small greeting card is $2.50, a double matted card is $12.95.
    We have our own print -- and it was a great gift. We love it, and we know for sure, just as the whole world does now, that Margaret Keane was the artist. We knew it all along.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A wise decision: joining SAGE

    My first term as a "senior mentor" ended this week, and it was a meaningful experience for me.
    Hopefully, it also was for my "students" -- three young people on a path toward jobs in the medical profession. I waited to write about this until we had the last of our six visits over a year's time.
    That's two visits per semester (in this case -- spring, fall, spring), and we learned about each other. Their assignment, mandatory in their curriculum, was to assess my health status. More on that in a moment.
    This is part of the SAGE program -- Seniors Assisting in Geriatric Education -- based at the University of North Texas (UNT) Health Science Center. It is a program shared by students at UNT and TCU.
    Geriatric, as in -- well -- old. The volunteers for the program, such as Beatrice and I have been, must be at least 65. So we're well qualified.
    Happy to do it. It really was -- is -- no problem. No pain involved, and I have plenty of time.
    The only inconvenience was for the students, who are quite busy with classes and jobs ... and life, and have to coordinate their schedules to meet with us.
    Bea was first into the program, having seen an application on a visit to her personal-care physician, who is based at the UNT Health Science Center. Her doctor recommended she join the program, saying Bea was an "excellent" fit.
    Bea has just begun meeting with her second group of students. I was a bystander when she met with her first group several times in our apartment, and when Bea suggested I get my own group -- of course, I do what she says -- I filled out my application.
    Starting February a year ago, I began meeting with "my kids," as Bea and I referred to them.  
    And here is what I learned from Chris, Meghan and Maricar -- and I think Bea agrees that it applies to her students: It is so inspiring to see these bright young motivated people eager to learn about dealing with patients and wanting to make a difference in the medical world.
    With people like this, this country will not fall apart, thank you.
    We were team No. 121, and my students were fortunate in a couple of ways:
    (1) Location. Our apartment is less than two miles from the UNT Health Science Center and TCU, where the students have most of their classes. 
    Some of the SAGE teams -- and there are, we were told, 150 to 200 teams of three or four students -- visit their assigned "mentors" as far as south as Burleson and as far north and east as Plano. So "my kids" had an easy trip.
    (2) Bea and I both are in fairly good shape health-wise, except for occasional mishaps (burned feet, ankle fracture). We're not in great shape -- we could work out more, eat better and snack less -- but 3-4 days a week of yoga/stretching at the Downtown YMCA and daily walks (I try not to miss) keep us reasonably well.
    Some teams are assigned even older people who are house-bound, perhaps in need of social services and Meals on Wheels deliveries. The program is designed to offer those people access to assistance.
    Fortunately, my students didn't find major problems as they assessed my condition. Same for Bea.
    On their first visit, Feb. 24 a year ago, my students placed a "Vial of Life" in our refrigerator -- listing my pertinent medical contacts and history, the daily medications I take (we have no prescribed meds). This is a standard service in the program, in case of an emergency.
    On each visit, they checked my blood pressure and pulse rate -- and the numbers were remarkably consistent over a year's time. (The numbers were a lot better than those on my doctor or dentist visits.)
    Visits included a talk about family medical history, a nutritional assessment,  a limited physical and osteopathic structural exam (reflexes, cognitive ability, etc.) and -- the toughest one -- an end-of-life, living-will discussion.
    Each time the students took notes and filled out forms because they were required to submit them for class. (Glad they were the ones taking notes.)
    One of my group is a Baylor University graduate, married for a year, and aiming to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine. But before continuing on that path will come a year of studying theology -- a spiritual calling. 
    Another is about to graduate from TCU with a degree in nursing, and already she has a job as a nursing assistant in a local hospital. Her applications are in to fulfill her goal to be a labor/delivery nurse soon.
    The third has a B.A. degree in biology from UNT (Denton) and wants a career in pharmacy, but might stay in school to work on a master's and possible a doctorate. 
    When I asked what they had learned from the SAGE program, I thought the answer from one was right on: "We want the ability to communicate better with patients, so that we can be better prepared to meet the patients' needs."
    My sense is these people are prepared, or will be soon enough.
    So this is, in my opinion, one of the benefits of senior-citizen (geriatric) status. For my friends our age, if there are programs such as this one in your area, I recommend that you volunteer.
    The first question Tuesday, in our final meeting, was, "Do you want to participate again in this program?"
    My answer: definitely. Next group, please. It's a sage thing to do.                            

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Charlie Bishop: Always "the gentle giant"

A good free-throw shooter -- especially for a 7-footer -- Charlie Bishop, left, against Southwestern Louisiana in February 1967,
 Louisiana Tech's biggest victory in his title-winning freshman season. That's  Richard Peek (44, in white).
The game drew a sellout, overpacked crowd to old Memorial Gym. (Photo provided by La. Tech sports information department) 
    (Fifth in a series)
    When Charlie Bishop died a couple of weeks ago, it was sorrowful news for those of us who remember him. Seven-foot people are a rarity.
    He was a basketball player in the 1960s, a star at Louisiana Tech University, and for many of us, a bit of a legend. He was, as several friends noted, "a gentle giant."
    The end came on Valentine's Day when his system shut down. Many woes -- the death of a wife and then a long string of physical challenges, including amputation of much of his right leg and a broken bone in his left leg -- made the last two decades somewhat difficult for him. He was 68.
    He had two children who are proud of him -- and he was proud of them; he became a grandfather; and he married again (Barbara) and gained four stepkids. And he almost never stopped hunting and fishing, and working.
    We identified him, of course, long before as the "big kid" in basketball.
    He was, in the spirit of this series, the third part -- the youngest part -- of the "Triple Towers," three near 7-footers on Tech's 1966-67 conference championship team. Charlie was the closest of the three to 7 feet.
    I write without hesitation that at one time he was (1) the best basketball player from tiny Summerfield, La., and (2) the best 7-foot player from North Louisiana.
    And then he wasn't.
    Two all-time greats, both NBA stars and Basketball Hall of Fame inductees, erased that Bishop legacy.
    A few years later, Robert Parish -- from Shreveport -- became the 7-foot all-timer in North Louisiana.
    And about Summerfield, here's what you should know (and many do) ... that's Karl Malone's hometown.
    Some 15 years younger than Bishop, Malone -- not quite "The Mailman" yet -- did what Bishop couldn't do at Summerfield High School -- he led his team to a state championship. In fact, Malone led Summerfield to three consecutive championships (1979-81) in Class C, the state's smallest classification.
      And then Karl, picking up his famed nickname, delivered in college, too -- also replacing Bishop as the best player from Summerfield to star for Louisiana Tech.
    But Charlie stood tall in his time.
    He's still in the Tech record books, most notable for 33 rebounds in one game -- against Centenary as a freshman. I will vouch that 33 is the legitimate number; I kept the stats that night (and the guys from that era will tell you I wasn't charitable.)
    A season later, he had 39 points in one game (at Louisiana College), one of his four 30-point games at Tech. He had 1,398 points (at that time, only three Tech players had ever scored more) and 1,115 rebounds in 97 games.
    Some games he simply was the most dominant player on the floor -- just as he had been at Summerfield (but against lesser opposition).
    As a freshman on the 1966-67 Tech team, he was the final piece in an otherwise veteran team that rolled to a conference championship, a 19-7 regular-season record, and Tech's first NCAA postseason tournament (College Division).
    "What Charlie did that first year was important," said Leon Barmore, the senior guard, leading scorer and co-captain of that team. "He was very good at doing his job and blending in.
    "He was good at being the second trailer on the [fast] break. He could make the jumper from the perimeter; his scoring wasn't just around the basket. He had a nice shooting touch."
    In that season's most important game, a victory against a heralded, talented Southwestern Louisiana team that was led by the first African-American players to play against all-white teams in our area, Charlie had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
    Summerfield has no stoplight, not even a blinking light. Some call it a small town; I'd call it a place. Might be 1,000 people. It is at the top of once oil-rich Claiborne Parish, nearly into Arkansas.
    You have to be going there; it's rural.
    But college basketball coaches knew the way in the mid-1960s, or found where the Rebels were playing. Because this very tall young man was scoring 30 points a game, just overwhelming opponents. He showed promise to be a centerpiece for a program.
    Louisiana Tech head coach Scotty Robertson was a regular Summerfield visitor and got to know the Bishop family well.
The scholarship signing photo, spring 1966: (from left) Louisiana Tech
coach Scotty Robertson, big Charlie, Summerfield principal-coach
Bill Bailey (photo provided by Jan Bailey Carter)
    Summerfield is an easy trip to Ruston and Louisiana Tech, about 35 miles, maybe 40 minutes. And Tech had some recruiting advantages.
    The Summerfield principal-coach -- yes, one and the same -- was Bill Bailey, a standout Tech basketball player in the early 1950s, and he still loved the place. There was a student  -- team manager in basketball -- at Tech, Brian "Butch" Smart. His job, we kidded him, was to recruit Charlie Bishop.
    And so there was Charlie, in his red-and-white Summerfield letter jacket (large, extra long), sometimes sitting behind the Tech bench for home games. At times his parents were there, too, and very tall younger sisters Sandra and Cindy.   
    All the area schools wanted him -- and maybe he wasn't a major-college prospect -- but Charlie and the two Bishop girls were a cinch to go to Tech.
    He was Robertson's prize recruit ... until Mike Green three years later.
    And let's be honest here -- Tech paid a price (literally). The NCAA investigated the recruiting and a few years later, the Tech program went on NCAA probation for "extra" benefits given -- if I recall -- to Bishop (and his family) and Green.
    (Both Bishop girls played basketball for Summerfield, too, and were the leaders of teams that played in four consecutive Class C state championship games -- with titles in 1967 and '68, and as runner-ups in '69 and '70.
    This was pre-Lady Techsters days, so they were just students at Tech. Sandra went on to play for pay with the All-American "Red Heads," a Globetrotters-like women's touring exhibition team in which all the players -- aha -- had red hair.)
    Charlie arrived at Tech -- young, inexperienced, goofy at times but affable, able to take the teasing he often received from teammates and taunting from opposing crowds.
    "He was a big, good ol' country boy who was very easy to get along with," Bud Dean, a starter at forward as a senior the same season (1969-70) as Charlie, told a sportswriter from The Shreveport Times recently.
     Longtime Ruston Daily Leader sports editor O.K. "Buddy" Davis, a Tech student in the mid-1960s: "My lasting memory of Charlie was some oversized shorts that would invariably droop and he'd have to make necessary adjustments on the run."
     And Butch Smart -- a future outstanding coach and subject of one of my early blogs http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/05/hes-taken-life-to-max.html -- was his advisor/guide/protector. He made sure Charlie was where he was supposed to be and doing what he was supposed to do.
     With Coach Robertson pushing him, and fellow big men Richard Peek and Bob Watson and the other team veterans showing the way, Charlie was a fit.
     There were -- and are -- people who felt Bishop didn't fulfill his potential at Tech, that he was lazy. I don't agree.
     As a senior, he teamed Green -- then a 6-10 freshman sensation, and in my opinion, Tech's best-ever player (better there than Malone or Paul Millsap) -- and that season ended with a 17-5 record and conference championship, too. So it was two titles in four years for Bishop.
     He led the team in scoring one season, in rebounding twice, and he made all-conference.
     "He was a rawboned, raw talent when he got there," said Jon Pat Stephenson, who started at small forward in Bishop's freshman season, "and he was pretty darned good when he left.
     "Charlie just tried really hard, harder than any of the others in the bunch. He probably improved more than anyone we had there in that time. ... I think Scotty did a great job with him."
     Tommy Gregory, a forward who teamed up front with Bishop two seasons and practiced against him often:  "Charlie helped us to the conference championship that year but could not play in the playoffs as a freshman.  Stupid NCAA rules then as well as the no-dunk rule the following year."
     Jim Pruett, a starting guard for two seasons with Bishop: "Charlie was a good human being and a very good basketball player. He had a good touch around the rim and greater [shooting] range than most big guys of that era. If he got hot, stopping him was a tough proposition."
    Pruett also recalled this: "Gentle giant. ... Periodically, something (probably Scotty) would set him off and it would be almost funny to see him angry ... because it just didn't fit him."
       In the 1970 NBA Draft, the Cincinnati Royals -- then coached by Boston Celtics legendary guard Bob Cousy -- picked Bishop in the sixth round.
    As Barmore, visiting with Charlie at a nursing home in his final months, recounted for The Shreveport Times: "He told me about going to Willis Reed's camp in the Catskills and every night he played in pickup games with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Walt Frazier and Oscar Robertson. Can you imagine playing with all those guys?"
    Then Charlie tore up a knee, and needed surgery. He never went back to basketball.
    Maybe he lacked the drive for rehab or felt the game, the NBA player, were too fast, too talented, for him to compete.
    Soon he was married, had a family, stayed in the Ruston area and worked -- at T.L. James Construction, on oil platforms in south Texas, at Louisiana Pacific and then for the last couple of decades at Pabco Insulation, located in Grambling. Mostly he was a heavy equipment manager.

Charlie, with his children -- Lee and Hope
    He didn't dwell on basketball and was not a regular at Tech games. He did play in a few alumni vs. faculty games, said his son, Charles William Bishop III, known as Lee.
    "Daddy, as far as I can remember, always followed Tech's program," Lee said. "He would listen to games on the radio. ... I know he missed basketball just by the excitement I would see in him when he listened to Tech games, as well as the few times he took us to the games."
    Charlie's daughter, Hope Neuroth, is 45. Lee is 41, 6-foot-3 and a 17-year policeman in Monroe, La.
    Tommy Gregory: "I was truly touched by his son when he spoke at Charlie's funeral. A really moving testament of Charlie's life."
    In that eulogy, Lee told of his father's modesty: "... I learned of Daddy's basketball accomplishments through passing." How strangers would stop him and ask if he was the Bishop from Summerfield and Tech, as if 7 feet wasn't a clue. (With his bushy red beard, though, maybe he was not recognizable.)

     Lee: "Daddy as always would stand there with his hands on top of one another in front of him rocking slightly back and forth and would reply 'yes, m'am' or 'yes sir.' And would politely excuse himself from the conversation."
    Lee later added, "... But that was Daddy. He didn't brag or boast unless it was about his kids, nephews, nieces or [four] grandchildren."
    Lee spoke of Charlie's tough discipline at times with an "attitude adjuster" paddle, and of learning from his father about "a strong work ethic," "a strong family bond," "the value of self-worth, integrity, respect for others, and the satisfaction of doing for yourself. 
    "... But most of all Daddy and Mama taught us to have a sense of selflessness to put others ahead of yourself and for that I am truly grateful."

    He taught Lee about hunting, fishing, marksmanship, skiing, building and fixing things, how to cut steel and weld, how to start a garden, and how to barbecue the Southern way -- charcoal and wood, no gas.

    But in some ways, Lee said, he was "very 'old school.' He'd get our kids or Hope's kids to show him how to use an I-phone, how to do things on it."

    Most importantly, he taught about pain, life ... and death.
       "Daddy was a very loving father who taught me growing up the meaning of chivalry by example," Lee said. "He always would open doors for mama brought her flowers and candy and loved her passionately even after she was called home 16 years ago."  
     His health problems mounted over the years. The original knee problem evolved into two painful knees, for years. In 2006, Charlie had double knee replacement surgery. A fall led to a re-injury in his right knee and an implant replacement. 
     More trouble with that knee, subsequent surgeries in Houston -- and then the amputation of the lower part of that leg, and he began to learn to use a prosthetic leg.
    "He eventually fell and broke his hip and had to have hip surgery," Lee said. "He never walked again after that."
    Then he fell over in his wheelchair and broke his left femur, requiring a bone graft to repair, in September 2015.
    That led to respiratory issues during the operation, a prolonged hospital stay, recovery time and physical therapy in an assisted living center, and finally a return home right before Thanksgiving.
    Pneumonia in January 2016 sent him to the hospital -- for good.
    "He did not let it get the best of him," Lee said of all the problems. "He still did things he liked -- went fishing, shooting," and he was ready to go after deer again this year with a new rifle.
    A friend suggested that Charlie, over the years, "was kind of a loner, withdrawn from society" and that perhaps "his life had not turned out like he thought it would."
    Jim Pruett said that "Charlie and I reconnected a few years ago when Scotty was sick, and we talked periodically ever since. I did not know he was nearing the end.
    "Last time I saw him, at Butch [Smart]'s funeral [late May 2013], he was in a wheelchair with his wife rolling him around. Strange sight to see a 7-footer in a wheelchair.
    "Still, he was as friendly and as gentle as ever. I will miss him."
      Almost strangely, in his last years, Charlie was deferential to his old friends and teammates, addressing them as "Mr. (last name)" instead of by first name. He was told -- repeatedly -- he didn't need to do that, but it remained that way.
    Maybe it was because it was manners, that's how he was taught. It was his gentle way.
    "I always enjoyed visiting with him," said Leon Barmore. "He was such a polite man."

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Richard Peek: A man for many seasons

      (Fourth in a series)
      One cold March day in the mid-1970s, Richard Peek was off duty from his fireman's job and went fishing with a buddy on the banks of the Trinity River in Dallas.
Richard Peek (44): A big man who could play
in the mid-1960s (photo from Louisiana Tech
sports information office)
      Within their sight, a boat overturned, and two men and a little boy went under the water.
      Peek had trained as a paramedic at the start of his 33-year career with the Dallas Fire Department. He saw the danger; without hesitation, he dove in the water.
      He saved one man and the boy. Unfortunately, the other man -- the boy's father -- drowned.
       Richard came home still wet and disheveled. His wife, Carole, asked what happened. "He was real quiet about it," she remembers. He said, 'I had to go in the water.' No further details.

       Three days later, Carole found out what had happened. The story had been reported in the papers and friends of the Peeks were calling.
       President Gerald Ford soon sent a letter of commendation. The Carnegie Foundation offered a financial reward. Richard refused to accept it.
       "Anything he did as a fireman or as a person, he didn't talk about himself," Carole said.
       We're here to write about him. We remember Richard Peek as a basketball player, the 6-foot-11, 230-pound center who played two seasons for Louisiana Tech University, the second as one of the "Triple Towers" of the 1966-67 conference championship team coached by Scotty Robertson.
       That was his senior season and he was -- my view -- the quietest, most steady player on that team and perhaps its most important player, a skilled and tough inside force.
       He was the only one of those Bulldogs to play professionally, one season with the Dallas Chaparrals.
       Beyond basketball, he was a man of many interests. He lived a full life -- as an outdoors person, an adventurer, an achiever, and particularly as a family man.
       Richard Peek died on Feb. 16, 2014, in Tyler, Texas, at age 70, after a steady, debilitating health decline -- Parkinson's and then Lewy body dementia.
       It was a tough and challenging last few years, physically and emotionally, for Carole as she had to try to move his big body when he was unable to do so on his own.
       They had moved after his Fire Department retirement and three decades of living in Garland, Texas -- east side of greater Dallas -- to a place in the country near Chandler, just outside of Tyler. That was to be nearer kids and grandkids, but the difficulty of his illness forced another move even closer, to Whitehouse.
     He and Carole -- friends since junior high days in Pensacola, Fla. -- were married for 49 years, with three children (Michael, 47; Julia Ann Cole, 45; and Jeffery, 41) and seven grandchildren. Jeffery is the tallest of the kids, at 6-7.
      Richard came to Louisiana Tech following two years in the University of Florida program. After sitting out a year as a transfer, practicing with the Tech team along with 6-10 Bob Watson (who became eligible a half-season earlier than Peek), it was easy for his teammates to be impressed.
      "He was a very good player, a pretty polished low-post player," said Leon Barmore, one of the guards in those years. "He had post moves that a lot of guys in that time didn't have. He'd leave guys guarding him in the post just standing there."
      Jimmy Pruett, the other starting guard: "Richard Peek was a very good player, steady, dependable. All-[conference]. Could score, defend, rebound, and was all about winning. ... Not particularly outspoken. ... He wanted to do the right thing and win."
      Tommy Gregory, a reserve forward who often teamed with Peek and had to guard him in practice: "I remember him as a hard-working player, good around the hoop and a good rebounder with a good mid-range shot. He was a tough, unselfish player."
     Peek led Tech in rebounding both of his seasons, and averaged 17.4 points a game as a junior and 14.1 the next year on a balanced team that went 20-8 overall and 11-1 in the conference (Gulf States).
     As a senior, he was the steady center who could be dominant, but sometimes it was excitable 7-foot freshman Charlie Bishop who had the big games.
     Part of Peek's role was as a mentor to Bishop, working on moves around the basket for the inexperienced rookie.
     "Coach Robertson told Richard when he came to Tech that he hadn't coached players that big," said Carole, "so Richard was sort of an assistant. He helped devise some of the drills for the center.
     "He really loved playing for Scotty Robertson."
        He did not love playing for Norm Sloan -- "Stormin' Norman" -- at Florida.
     Richard had starred at Pensacola's Escambia High School (later Emmitt Smith's school), and his size and ability made him a prime recruit for the Gators, who'd never had much success in the sport.
     After a year on the freshman team, he lettered on the Florida varsity as a sophomore -- a 12-10 team, 6-8 in the SEC (tied for ninth in a 12-team league). And he wasn't happy.
     Sloan was the coach and, said Carole, "Richard didn't like the players he was with. He was his own person, and there was so much mischief going on." So he looked to transfer.
     The connection to Tech was Escambia coach George Hill, who was friends with Tech first-year assistant coach Don Landry. Escambia, in Peek's years there, had played against Landry's St. Aloysius (New Orleans) teams two years in a row.
     So when Hill called Landry asking if Tech might be interested in a 6-11 center, the answer was "sure." "I knew what a good player he was," said Landry, and Robertson had Peek come to Ruston for a visit.
     "They wined and dined him at a ranch there," Carole recalled, "and he was a big hunter and fisherman. He saw that area was good for that."
     It was a fit, along with Robertson's promising program.

      More from his teammates:
      "Richard and I were close; we were roommates [on the road-game overnight stays]," said Barmore, the future Hall of Fame women's basketball coach. "We umpired kids' baseball games together one summer. Can you imagine a 7-foot guy squatting behind home plate?"
      "He knew how to handle the ball, and knew how to pass it," said Jon Pat Stephenson, the starting small forward in Peek's two seasons. "He could handle a lob pass than the other two [centers, Bishop and Watson]. We beat a lot of teams with those lobs."
     Barmore and Stephenson each remembered one Peek move with the ball in the low post. "He would dip his left shoulder and spin back the other way," Barmore said. "He'd leave guys guarding him just standing there."
      "He made that look easy," Stephenson said, "and he'd have a layup or a dunk."
     Pruett: "As I recall, his points were mainly in close, certainly inside 10-12 feet, although he was not a great leaper. An excellent college player, but maybe not quite agile enough or strong enough for the NBA.
     "Kind of the classic big man of that era -- and our best big guy while he was there. I only got to play with him one year. He was definitely the key player added -- from outside our area -- in making us a championship team.
      "He was really a nice person, kind of quiet, easy to be around, although I was only around him (and his wife) at basketball-related times."
     "He was a very mild guy, he was very coachable," said John Whitmore, a sophomore on the 1966-67 team. "He fit in perfectly with the guys who had been around for a couple of years, and he was a very skilled post player."
     "Richard was a great player -- strong, focused and could do it all," said Terry Ewing, a reserve forward who played one season with Peek and practiced against him two years. "He was very much a team player, but when he got the ball around the bucket he knew how to finish.
    "I got six stitches in practice when I wasn't quick enough to avoid his powerful elbow. Richard was a true gentleman who played hard but always played clean."
    Ewing recalled that he worked with Peek "one summer painting land lines around tracts of timber for Ewing Timber. The men who worked for my Dad laughed that they had never seen markings on the trees that high up. We became very close during that time and he was a special friend."
     Gregory: "I think it was [Southwestern Louisiana's] Elvin Ivory that dunked on him one night. Next trip down the floor, Richard returned the favor with that quick spin move down low that he had.
     "... He was a great teammate and I really enjoyed playing with him. Won't ever forget seeing him folding up into his green VW bettle that he and Carole drove."
Richard Peek (33) with the 1967-68 Dallas Chaparrals;
in front are Shreveport's Charles Beasley (12) and player-
coach Cliff Hagan (16); beside Peek, John Beasley (44).
     He was drafted by the NBA's Baltimore Bullets ... in the 15th round, 148th player picked in 1967. Slim chance, so he opted to try the new American Basketball Association, the new team in Dallas.
     The first Chaparrals -- forerunner to the now San Antonio Spurs -- were led by former University of Kentucky and St. Louis Hawks star Cliff Hagan (who was the player-coach) and included two players named Beasley -- Charles, from Shreveport (Fair Park) and SMU, and John, from Linden, Texas (near Texarkana) and Texas A&M.
     Peek was a reserve, averaging 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds a game in 51 games. His averages were 5.4 and 5.3 for eight playoff games.
     But one season was it. Before the next season, he was traded to the Kentucky Colonels, then traded again. Failing to make an ABA regular-season roster, he was asked to play in Italy. He refused.
     And while he missed the game for a while, said Carole, "his knees were so bad; he hyperextended one knee three times, and his back hurt all the time. He was real unhappy [in the pros]."
     His basketball career done, he looked for a new career.
Tried stockbroking, but it was a bad time -- and he didn't have that much money to invest. Tried selling insurance; didn't like it. He then went to work in a sporting goods' store, in the guns department; he had hunting expertise.
     One day a few Dallas firemen came in, and he asked about their jobs. It was intriguing, and they told him the department was hiring.
     He applied -- and one problem: He was too tall; they didn't have clothes to fit him. He offered to pay for custom-made clothes; he wanted that job.
     They hired him, and he stayed for more than three decades. "He really loved that job," Carole said.
     But not all of it at first. Trained originally as a paramedic, "he became insensitive after a while because he saw so many bad things," his wife said. "I told him he needed to ask out of that part of it."
     His height was a plus in that his reach sometimes was a great help in putting out fires. But, as you'd expect, the danger was great, too.
     "I don't know how many times he was in the hospital with burns and injuries," Carole recalled.
     And there was a day when a Hunt mansion in Dallas was burning, and two of the men in Richard's company died. Richard was missing and his captain was about to head to the Peek residence to tell Carole ... when he was spotted sitting under a tree, overcome by heat and smoke inhalation.
     But he was always one to stay physically fit. "He loved to be very active," Carole said. "He was not lazy."
     He was a fisherman; he was in a bass-fishing club. He was a hunter -- duck hunting, quail, deer ("but mostly he liked shooting photos outdoors," said Carole). He liked mountain climbing, backpacking, rafting, skiing -- in southern Colorado; he was a runner (and convinced Carole to run with him). He lifted weights regularly.
     He was -- picture this -- a 6-11 rugby player for the original team of the Dallas Harlequins, one of the area's first and most prestigious clubs. "He was always beat up," said Carole. "I remember the keg parties; they sang all those songs."
     To help his ailing knees, his doctor advised him to get a bicycle, so he became an avid biker for a while. And then he was a real "biker" -- a motorcycle enthusiast who, with a friend, made numerous rides from Dallas to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the annual Motorcycle Week, and then continued on to Key West, and made the return trip. That's a long haul.
     Because of his length, "custom-made" applied, too, to his bicycle and his BMW motorcycle. His son Michael now has that BMW.
     Finally, in the years out in East Texas, he had a tractor to keep him busy on their piece of land. But the good times ran out with his health issues.
     Carole Peek still lives in Whitehouse and has some treasured souvenirs: A red-white-and-blue ABA ball, a ball from Louisiana Tech, and Richard's first fireman's helmet, an old-timer made of leather. 
     "He was very grateful (for his life) and very sweet," Carole said.
      He was, as those of us at Tech then knew in those days and today, a wonderful player and a wonderful person.
     Next: Charlie Bishop, a gentle giant

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Bob Watson was a leader in a big way

      (Third in a series)
     We knew him as "Big Bo" in the mid-1960s at Louisiana Tech University. For more than 40 years, he has been Mr. Watson in El Dorado, Ark.
Bob Watson, Louisiana Tech, mid-1960s
(photo provided by La. Tech sports information office)
     As in, for most of that time, Robert Watson, superintendent of schools.
     You had to notice Bob Watson at 6-foot-10 -- whether it was on a basketball court or in everyday life. As he did for Louisiana Tech's basketball program or in El Dorado schools, he was a pacesetter.
     His basketball career didn't develop as he and many others at Tech had hoped -- well, not after his spectacular first game -- but he was in school for an education. And he achieved much in his career in education.
     In the mid-1970s, he and wife Charlotte moved to her hometown, El Dorado -- the one-time oil-boom city of about 18,500 people in south Arkansas  near the Louisiana border and about an hour north of Louisiana Tech. Mr. Watson, just as on the basketball court, was a big man there.
     He was superintendent of schools for 29 years, retiring in 2014 after a 40-year school administrative career, and he's still serving the city -- as interim administrator at First Baptist Church.
        At Louisiana Tech, he brought size to the basketball program when he arrived early in 1964 as a transfer from his home-state West Virginia University. When he became eligible to play, he became the tallest player in Tech history.
     He set a trend, opening a nine-year span of "big man" Tech basketball.
     Richard Peek (6-11) came to the program a few months later as a transfer from the University of Florida. Charlie Bishop (7 feet) was a freshman on Tech's 1966-67 conference championship team, joining the older guys for a "Triple Towers" front line. 
     Mike Green (6-10) came along three years later, teamed with Bishop for one year, and eventually rewrote the Tech record book.
     Watson wound up as a backup -- playing time in a we're-far-ahead or too-far-behind role. But he brought a spirit, an energy and a personality that was much appreciated by his teammates and the fans.
     As noted in a previous blog, Watson's entry into games his final season was greatly anticipated by the fans at Tech home games. They knew the action would pick up.
     "Bob Watson was a really likable human being -- funny, with a big, booming voice," recalled Jim Pruett, a starting guard during that time and now a retired college professor living in Germantown, Tenn. "I remember him being pretty emotional/vocal, and very good-natured. He could get upset and make some noise!"
     There is a Shreveport connection to Watson coming to Louisiana Tech.
     Bob had been a fine player -- his height helped -- at Logan, W.Va., a tiny place in the southeast part of that state near the Kentucky line. Going into the state university and a basketball program that was then (and still is) a national name, he realized he wasn't a fit and looked to transfer.
     His roommate as a freshman was 6-foot-8 Bob Benfield, who had been a two-year star on Coach Scotty Robertson's powerful teams at Shreveport's Byrd High School.
     Robertson had moved on to coach at Louisiana Tech, and so Benfield called Robertson, who then contacted Watson and recruited him to Tech.
     (Benfield was a preacher's son and chose West Virginia because his father had been transferred from Shreveport to a church in Charleston, W.Va. Benfield went on to play regularly for the Mountaineers and was a 1967 NBA draft pick.)
Bob Watson, Don Landry: The occasion was Coach
 Scotty Robertson's funeral in Ruston, Aug. 21, 2011
(photo provided by A.A. "Bud" Dean)
     Watson's arrival began a transformation for Robertson and assistant coach Don Landry.
     "Neither of us had coached players that big," recalled Landry, 77, who lives in Baton Rouge after a long career in coaching and athletic administration. "We studied film, we read, we talked to other coaches, on how to use one or two big post players."
     That included, for Landry quite memorable, lengthy sessions with UCLA coaching legend John Wooden -- who was about to coach 7-foot-1 superstar Lew Alcindor -- and then-Kansas State coach Tex Winter, who had created and written a book on the triple-post offense.
     After one year as an LSU assistant to Dale Brown, Winter carried that offense -- the famed "triangle" -- to the NBA as an assistant (to Phil Jackson) with the champion Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
     Soon after Watson joined Tech, so did Peek. First, as transfers, they could only practice.
     "We had one of the nation's smallest teams," said Landry about the 1964-65 Bulldogs, whose biggest starter was 6-4 senior Jerry Hood, a three-time all-conference player -- a terrific shooter from 15 feet in who knew how to use the backboards and brutally strong inside (his teammates actually feared his elbows). But leaping ability? That wasn't Hood.
     Watson earned enough classroom credits in summer school and Tech's 1964 fall semester to become eligible to play in January 1965. Once he joined the lineup, the veteran, savvy Hood continued as the focus of the offense, all around the lane area. He averaged 23.4 points a game that season.
     But Watson's first game ...
     If he had stopped after that one, he would have been a legend. Everyone I contacted remembered and mentioned his debut.
     It was against Northwestern State -- Tech's longtime archrival in athletics -- at then-new Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches, and Watson totally dominated with about 20 points and 15 rebounds -- we think -- in a Tech victory.
     "I don't remember [the numbers] exactly," Watson said last week. "I remember tipping in a lot of shots. I know I didn't shoot any from outside."             
     "He had the best first game of anyone I ever played with," Pruett said. " ... Everyone thought 'stardom.'' I know I did.
     "After that, as I recall, he played himself out of the lineup. I don't recall him ever complaining about his scarce playing time. Just always showed up and did his best as a backup -- and definitely made some positive contributions."
     Watson, who could be effective with short old-time hook shots inside, was a regular for the last nine games of the 1964-65 season, but before the next season (his junior year), mononucleosis kept him out for a long time, and he never regained the edge he'd had.
     Peek became the team's top center for the next two seasons.
     Watson, like many of us, was not aware of Peek's death (two years ago) and was saddened to hear of it, asking for the details. 
         "He were good friends then, he was such a delightful person," Watson said. "... We butted heads a lot in practice. I really got to appreciate him."
     Watson quickly built friendships -- especially with a young woman from El Dorado, Charlotte Causey -- and became a popular teammate, and the source of much laughter.
     Jon Pat Stephenson remembers going with team manager Tom Burkhart to the newly married Watsons' apartment off the Tech campus each Thursday, where Charlotte prepared a meal and together they watched the then-hit series The Man from UNCLE."
     Burkhart was his roommate in Watson's first months at Tech and remembers, after Bob became eligible to play and had his big debut, them going to the Dixie movie theater in downtown Ruston and "everyone started applauding" when they walked in. "Bob liked that, and he thanked them."
     Here is what other teammates said:
     "I really liked Bob," said Sydney Boone, Benfield's Byrd teammate who was on the Tech team when Watson arrived but soon dropped off and became one of the best intramural players at Tech (for Kappa Alpha fraternity). "He always had a smile and a happy 'hello, Syd, how are you doing?' and 'miss you on the court' type greeting when we saw each other on campus." 
     Tommy Gregory, a 6-7 forward who took much of Watson's would-be playing time: "His first game against  Northwestern was gangbusters. ... He never had another game like it.  Bob was thin physically and not as coordinated as he would liked to have been.  His shooting ability was about like mine, not very notable.
     "He was and is the nicest guy."
     Terry Ewing: "Bob was as nice a guy as you would ever want to see. ... He was a great teammate."
     After graduating from Tech with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education, Watson stayed in school and earned a masters' degree in Speech, and with delight, watched the 1967-68 Bulldogs led by old teammates Malcolm Smith, Gregory, Pruett and big Charlie.
     He then went home -- to Logan, W.Va. -- to teach and coach. After five years, he and Charlotte (they married in 1965 after his sophomore year at Tech) returned to the Deep South.
     Having added an Administrator's Certification at University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he went from assistant principal at El Dorado High to junior high principal, then high school principal -- and finally superintendent ... for three decades.
     "I had the opportunity to improve a lot of things," he said of that tenure. "I dealt with finances, and we focused on getting test scores up and creating opportunities for our kids. Had to close some schools and consolidate some, but it was about making progress."
     The crowning achievement came near the end of his career when a new El Dorado High School was built and opened, replacing the old school that had stood since 1963.
     In a 2014 television interview on the day he was honored with a reception just before his retirement, he said, "The biggest accomplishment would probably be the building of the facility that we're in. It was significant in terms of the state said we needed to look at our high school."
     The $50 million facility "looks like a small college campus," Bob said. "It is 317,000 square feet and can handle 1,600 kids."
     And he did all he did without the use of a cellphone or personal e-mail. address. "I had a very good administrative assistant," he said, laughing. "I was with the kids and the staff; that's what was important to me."
     Charlotte and Bob had three children: Dr. Robert Watson II, a primary-care physician in El Dorado; Nancy Watson, a counselor at El Dorado High School; and the late Hartford Watson, who had just earned a doctorate in physical therapy and married when he was killed in an auto accident six years ago.
     All three Watson kids attended Tech, as did Charlotte's father -- Hartford Causey, who played football and baseball there in the 1930s.
     The Watsons have three grandchildren.
     The sons weren't quite as tall as their dad -- Robert II is "only" 6-foot-7, Hartford was 6-5. They did play high school basketball.
     "Big Bo" has no regrets about his time at Tech and basketball.
     "I felt blessed to play ball there," he said last week. "I'll be candid with you -- I didn't worry about playing time. I just wanted to be part of the team, with a bunch of great guys. ...
     "Practice was something. You had Peek and Bishop, and that was a lot of size, a lot of talent. It was a real struggle a lot of days in practice.
     "But to be part of that team was a blessing. I have nothing but fond memories of my years at Louisiana Tech."
     (Next: Richard Peek, man of many seasons)