By Jody Fuller
My friend summed it up best. “He made a difference in thousands of lives. As a husband, father, grandfather, son, uncle, cousin, friend, teacher, coach, principal and headmaster, Don impacted lives with his positive, kind, gentle personality, his love for life and his genuine love for his fellowman – all of ‘em,” she wrote.
By any definition, Don Roberts lived a successful life. His impact and reach was and will continue to be limitless. He’s almost like Obi Wan Kenobi in the sense that he’ll have even greater impact and influence on us now as we strive to be more like him. Maybe it’s The Force.
He loved God. He loved his family, friends, and former students. He loved teaching and coaching. He loved being a leader. He was everything a leader should be. He also loved food. Boy, did he love food! Many people followed his “Dining with Don” exploits on social media.
Even though he attained his Ph. D., I always addressed him as “coach.” That was not a sign of disrespect; that’s just how I was introduced to him more than 30 years ago.
I never played ball for him, and I didn’t have him for biology, yet the man still knew me by name my freshman year of high school. How is that even possible? Later, he became assistant principal at Opelika High School. He was positive, kind, and gentle but could still make his point without using profanity or getting ugly.
By the time my senior year rolled around, we had a new principal, and his name was Don Roberts. I have so many memories of Coach Roberts, but one of the earliest and most personal memories was following a Student Government Association speech I made in front of the entire freshman, sophomore, and junior classes during my senior year.
I introduced my friend Brandon who was running for class president. This was during a time when 1-900 hotlines were all the rage and children were told to get their parents’ permission before calling. At the conclusion of my speech, I said, “If you have any questions or would just like more information on Brandon, please feel free to dial the Brandon hotline at 1-900-BRA-NDON. Again, that number is one-nine hundred-bra-undone. Freshman, please make sure your parents know you’re calling.”
The students loved the speech, although the freshmen slightly jeered about at the slight slight of their class. Later in the day, rumor spread that I was going to be suspended for saying “Bra Undone,” which was nothing more than a rumor. Coach Roberts, in fact, loved the speech. He thought it was great and couldn’t stop laughing. He encouraged me that day to follow my dreams and continued to do so until the last time I saw him, which was only three short weeks ago.
He attended countless events where I spoke or performed comedy and without fail always came up to me afterwards and shook my hand, hugged me, and told me how proud he was of me. That always meant so much to me, and I’m tearing up right now just thinking about him and his impact. I am just one person. My story is one of thousands.
Life is not about how long you’re here. It’s about what you do while you’re here. In our eyes, Coach Roberts was taken from us far too soon, but the reality is that he did more than most of us could ever do in a hundred lifetimes.
During that last encounter, he admitted that he was not feeling very well, but he still had that smile on his face. I told him what he meant to me and that I loved him. He said he loved me, too, and I know he did. Whether it was at Benjamin Russell, Opelika, Harris County, Ga., or Lee Scott, he loved all his former students, and they loved him, too.
I messaged his daughter a few days before his passing. He was in the hospital on visitor restriction, but she was optimistic that he’d be going home soon. Well, he did. He no doubt went home. He’s free of cancer. He’s free of pain. He’s in a place where most of us strive to be one day. He’s now dining with God. What a feast that must be.
The Force is strong with Coach Roberts.
Jody Fuller is from Opelika. He is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit www.jodyfuller.com