YARBROUGH COLUMN: Remembering the extraordinary kindness of Vince Dooley

Published 12:02 pm Monday, November 7, 2022

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There is no need for a recitation here of Vince Dooley’s myriad and well-deserved accomplishments on and off the football field. You have seen and heard them numerous times since his passing on October 28th at the age of 90. However, there is a side to this great man you might not know about. His extraordinary kindnesses.

In the late ‘60’s, my son Ken, along with his best friend Rick, attended Dooley’s football camps. Rick was a terrific athlete and excelled in every sport he played. As a teenager, Rick and his family moved to California. Had he stayed in Georgia, I often wonder if he might have ended up wearing Red and Black.

Instead, he graduated from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. In 1984, Rick entered the Air Force and flew 49 combat missions in the first Gulf War. It was a dangerous job. Enter Vince Dooley.

Although it had been a lot of years since he had seen the little boy from East Point running sprints at Sanford Stadium, he heard where Rick was and what he was doing and wrote him a letter of quiet encouragement. Rick told me later that hearing from Vince Dooley was a tremendous morale booster. Plus, he delighted in taping the letter to the cockpit for his co-pilot, a Georgia Tech graduate, to see as well.

From the Air Force, it was on to American Airlines where Rick rose to the rank of captain, flying the big birds internationally. And then disaster. In the prime of his life, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Although Rick’s health quickly and steadily weakened, his love for the Georgia Bulldogs did not. Enter Vince Dooley again. Rick told me how he enjoyed watching his adopted team on television out in California. I relayed that to Coach Dooley, who sent him an autographed cap and more importantly and without being asked, enclosed a long letter detailing his own family’s battle with cancer and more words of quiet encouragement.

Rick died in 2008 in San Rafael, California, at the age of 49. Among the things mentioned at his going-home service was his love for the University of Georgia and his friendship with a Hall of Fame football coach named Vince Dooley that sustained him in the tough times.

Vince Dooley was there for me and my family, also. When we lost our grandson, Zack, one of the first calls I got was from Vince. When son, Ken, was hospitalized in New York and facing serious surgery, Vince called with a pep talk.

Speaking of phone calls, we used to laugh about my calls to him during his coaching days at the direction of my boss, Jasper Dorsey, vice president of Southern Bell’s Georgia operations and an ardent Bulldog. I dutifully relayed Mr. Dorsey’s thoughts on what could have been done better in last week’s game and suggestions for the next one. Had I been Vince Dooley, I would not have taken the calls, but he always did. He was kind to me even back then.

Of course, there was the high-profile controversy with university president Michael Adams, a petty and egomaniacal person who couldn’t abide having someone around with a higher profile than his. I tried to help Vince through that sad episode but to no avail. The political deck was stacked against us. Adams won that battle but eventually lost the war. History will treat Vince Dooley much kinder than Michael Adams.

Success has a thousand fathers and everybody is high-fiving themselves these days at getting the field at Sanford Stadium named for Vince Dooley. But they were sitting on their hands during the years I was beating the drum for that recognition in this space along with former all-SEC UGA linebacker Dr. Tommy Lawhorne, a retired vascular surgeon. Vince knew how hard we were trying and was grateful for our efforts. Vince Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium did become a reality and the credit belongs to Athens native Gov. Brian Kemp, a boyhood friend of the Dooley family. Gov. Kemp has done a lot of good things during his time in office but none better than getting the Board of Regents to make it happen while Vince was around to appreciate it.

There are so many more things I could say about my life and times with this kind man but suffice it to say I am honored to have had him as a friend. I will miss him very much. Vince Dooley. Rest in peace.