His Florsheim dress shoes sit on my closet floor today, 13 years after he last wore them. A black dress shirt he wore on special occasions hangs above the shoes. His Schofield Study Bible, with notes and dates written throughout, commands attention on a shelf in my home library. In that Bible are not only notes, but church notices from yesteryear from Forest Hill Baptist, Clover Hill Baptist and Hubbard Chapel Baptist, some showing the order of songs he would lead during the Sunday services.
This Sunday, June 18, is Father’s Day across the land. I hope and pray you honor your father, or honor his memory as I do, and my sister Patricia Ann, and brother, Carey Fred, will no doubt do. Clent Jackson Tucker was like no other man to me. To this day, my Dad is still my biggest hero and the most influential person in my life.
My Pop was my first and best coach in basketball and baseball. He always took time to be there, not just for our family, but for others. He coached little league baseball and won state and national championships when he coached 15 to 18 year olds. He served as president of Boys Baseball, Inc. in Dallas in the late 1960s. He literally introduced me to Mickey Mantle prior to a national tournament baseball game. He got me autographs from Detroit Tigers Norm Cash and Al Kaline while he was in Detroit on union business. I was in the hospital recovering from my first spinal fusion when I got a telegram from Kaline, one of my favorite players, wishing me a successful recovery, all because Dad met him at Tiger Stadium between games at a double-header and told him about me.
Dad worked part time as a security guard at the Cotton Bowl, so as a youngster, I got to go to many games at the fabled stadium before the Dallas Cowboys ever came to town. I was seven years old when I got to be SMU quarterback Don Meredith’s ball boy on the sidelines for one game. It was a wet day and I got to towel dry the footballs when they came to the sideline.
It was July 12, 2004, when I got the call. I was the part-time Sports Editor at the Wood County Democrat and a full time teacher and coach at Yantis. Dad was working at the civic center (in Quitman) he loved so much, sweeping the floor. Mom called and said something was wrong with Dad. I got to the civic center as the EMT ambulance arrived.
Dad simply said “Son, I just can’t breathe.” He was rushed to the local hospital, but as hard as Dr. Norman Hicks tried, a massive heart attack would take my father’s life that day. I will never forget and will always treasure Dr. Hicks being so warm and kind with my mother that day. I did get to tell Pop I loved him and one of the last things I ever heard my Dad utter was, “I love you Peanut,” to my Mom as he slipped into eternity.
My friend Nell French was there. She asked me to do something I thought I could not do, write a story about my Dad for the next issue of the Wood County Democrat. Fighting through tears and a flood of memories, I sat alone in the darkened Democrat office, and wrote about my Dad. I spent the night on the floor by my desk, but I got it done. I’m sure writing those words helped me on my journey through the grief process.
Dad loved Quitman. He moved back to Quitman from Dallas after retiring from 30 plus years with Ford Motor Company on East Grand Avenue in Dallas. I always accused him of “retiring so he could go to work.” That is what he did in Quitman. He became involved as the Quitman Chamber of Commerce manager, and was one of those instrumental, along with many of his friends, in building the Carroll Green Civic Center. He served on the city council when his good friend Joe Waddleton was mayor. He got involved with Quitman Youth Foundation at the urging of another friend and Quitman grad, Bill Poe. My Pop was the 1986 Citizen of the Year in Quitman.
Of all the things he did, his 19-year involvement with the Old Settlers Reunion was his favorite thing. With my mom, Libby, always by his side, he spent night after night preparing and making sure everything went right during that first week of August.
My Dad was a true example for my family. I got custody of my children in 1974, but it was my parents who raised them to be the wonderful adults they have become. I was in and out of Quitman trying to find my way through a daze of alcohol and drugs, but my Dad (and Mom) still stood strong with me when, in 1997, I became sober. The last seven years of his life we became very close and I learned so much from simply listening to him.
He was a proud Army veteran, a man of honor, honesty, and extreme loyalty to his family and those he called friend. His roots came from his parents, George and Artie Tucker, who were the unquestionable leaders of the Tucker clan.
I look with great satisfaction today at the wonderful father my son Cory is to his son, Zane, and daughter, Jordan. I have watched with pride my daughter, Carley, be mom and dad to her 18-year old daughter, Lauren, despite the struggles of being the single mom of a profoundly deaf child.
I know my wife’s Dad, Don McVey, was a good man and loving father. I can tell by the way she shares her memories and love for her Dad, who also passed away in 2004. When her Dad was no longer able to physically do work, Lorna would listen and he would guide her through the process of whatever project he had going. She would be his hands on a variety of jobs. I just wish I could have known him.
My brother and his wife have raised three boys, two of which are great dads and husbands, the other a UT graduate, and a good man. My sister’s husband of 48 years, Mike, has long been an example as a husband and father. I have been blessed by those around me.
I hope you celebrate this week with your father, be it in person or in a memory. I know as I look at those Floresheim wingtips in my closet, I will never be able to fill those shoes. What I can do at 66 years of age, is simply strive to be a better man, a man like Clent Jackson Tucker.