Ras  Bilbrey  made a big difference
in the lives of his many friends here

 

spider2.jpg (7019 bytes)Gary Collier gave a beautiful eulogy for Ras Bilbrey at his memorial service Tuesday. What Gary said about Ras making a difference in the lives of his many friends was accurate.

I first met Ras in 1946 when I was 16, and I can say he did make a difference to my life; he taught me respect for others.

It was a December morning and, the night before, the Cottage Grove High basketball team, for which I was starting center, played Grove High at the city auditorium.

Like all farm boys, I relished the chance to come to town on Saturday, just to get away from the corn fields, the pastures and smelly hog lot, and to stare in the windows of five-and-dime stores, the many downtown restaurants and clothing shops.

There were several of the Grove Blue Devil players standing in front of Sullivan's Drugs. I recognized John Hooper and, of course, Dan King, because King had towered over me like a skyscraper at center jump the night before.

In those days when the county had seven high schools, city boys from Grove thumbed their noses when players from Cottage Grove, Buchanan, etc., walked by proudly sporting their letter jackets or sweaters. At least that is what some of us believed.

When the Cardinals ran on the court at the auditorium that Friday night, the Grove cheering section mocked, "Plow boys!, Plow boys! Did you slop the hogs before you left?"

You can bet I was uneasy when I walked by Sullivan's, which was located on Market Street adjacent to the present side of Jack Jones Florists. I veered toward the curb to avoid  brushing shoulders with the sea of blue and white jackets that blocked the sidewalk.

Just then, a Grove player of medium stature called my name from within the crowd. Ras Bilbrey hadn't played much the night before; the Cardinals had given Coach Bob Jelks' Blue Devils a scrap before bowing by seven points.

But that's when I got to know Ras Bilbrey, and our long friendship continued to the end of his life as we reminisced over coffee at the Kitchen Table most mornings.

Once Ras broke the ice, I found myself laughing and chatting with the other Blue Devils, fellow native Henry County friends whom I foolishly thought "too citified or stuck up." But that was how Ras made a difference in my life.Many of the Blue Devils, whom I cheered for on the football field through the years, sat sorrowfully at Ras' memorial Tuesday.

Like Gary said, Ras made a difference in their lives and, because of it, we all became better. Because of  Ras, I became long-time friends with the others who came to pay their respects Tuesday.

I recall so many good moments with Ras Bilbrey, but one more incident came to mind as I mourned with his friends.

In 1950, I think it was, I was stationed on a Navy ship in San Diego. Having liberty, I ventured to an amusement park located by the Pacific Ocean.

I remember just getting off a roller coaster when I saw a mob of sailors and civilians cheering loudly. I asked a fellow, "What is all the excitement?" He replied that a young sailor with a Rebel accent was doing tricks on roller skates that were out of this world.

I knew immediately it was my friend, the friend who had broke the ice between some cocky city boys and this clumsy country boy at Sullivans Drug Store that day.

Old friends sometimes recall, "Ras was just a beautiful skater at the skating rink on Ogburn Street."

At Ras' memorial, Stanley Cooper, one of the great Blue Devil players, recalled referring to Ras once as "swivel hips," a tribute to Bilbrey's talents as a Grove tailback.

Ras Bilbrey deserves to be in the Henry County Sports Hall of Fame. Not on his uncanny athletic ability alone, but more importantly because of his excellent character, integrity and love of humanity.

pi_sm3.jpg (3087 bytes)
From the P-I ~ used by permission.
November 8, 2002  Edition
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Column Scan  by TED  JENKINS

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