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Stories abound in remembrance of Chuck Ross

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
by Mark McGee

Lipscomb and Nashville super fan Chuck Ross passed away Friday, Sept. 13.  His memorial service was held Tuesday morning at Hillsboro Church of Christ.  The Bisons will honor Ross with a "Celebration of Life" ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 29 at Allen Arena on the Lipscomb Campus at 1 p.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – There is no question that Chuck Ross is enjoying eternal life in heaven. But he also has immortality on earth as long as those who remember him and were touched by him on so many different levels come together and tell stories about him.

Chuck, Lipscomb’s and Nashville’s Super Sports Fan, was buried Tuesday in a purple and gold vault. His funeral at Hillsboro Church of Christ was filled with stories of his life and his interaction with those around him. Perhaps Philip Hutcheson, Lipscomb athletic director and former standout basketball player, summed it up best when he said he felt more nostalgic than sad about Chuck’s departure from his earthly existence.

We would like to think, as Walt Leaver said, that Chuck is sitting in the most luxurious of luxury boxes in heaven cheering all of us on down here on Earth.

The stories are legendary from his canceling a Lipscomb baseball game because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to attend a Lipscomb Academy game to hounding late Tennessean sports editor John Bibb to ask the late Paul “Bear” Bryant why he went for two points on a final touchdown play to cap off a rout of Vanderbilt.

On a personal note, I remember when he called me and my then wife on the phone on our honeymoon night. As Leaver said, “Chuck was transparent”. And when he wanted to talk with someone he didn’t want to have to wait.

There are so many other stories. Here is a sampling. There will be many more in preparation for the “Celebration of Life” in honor of Chuck at 2 p.m. Sept. 29 at Allen Arena.

Hutcheson spoke for everyone when he said he wished we could all hear his voice one more time.

I've known Chuck for over 30 years and even here today, I am still hearing stories about Chuck that I've never heard before from people I had no idea that he knew.  He was certainly Lipscomb, and Nashville's, most famous fan and he will be missed by all of us who knew him.

“Chuck truly loved people unconditionally and I believe that is why so many loved him too.   While he always urged us to do our best and to "beat 'em and beat 'em bad", at the end of the game, Chuck was in our corner win or lose.  And it was that unconditional love that I believe is what made him loved by so many.  He was a great example of what a true fan, and more importantly a true friend, should be.  Even though he probably couldn't limit it to just one, I sure would like to get one more call from, as he'd say, "your ol' buddy, Chuck Ross". 

Jimmy Davy, a longtime sports writer for the Tennessee wrote a biography of Chuck called “Beat’em and Beat’em Bad”.  Here are a couple of stories that Davy remembered that were not included in the book.

“My first encounter with Chuck Ross was a portent of things to come for many years.  Chuck loved the media from a very early age.

“As a budding sports reporter for The Tennessean more than 50 years ago, I was serving as official bookkeeper for a junior high basketball tournament at the Isaac Litton High School gymnasium.

“At some point in time (it was a one-day, all-day event) a big chunk of concrete and wire ceiling came down, barely missing the scoring table and crew, as well as a few mothers and fathers.

“I stopped keeping score and went to find a telephone to report the incident to my newspaper city desk. When I found it, there was already a line for its usage. The problem was a slightly overweight young student who was dialing number after number of local radio stations that would pay $5 for a news tip.

“The amazing thing was that he didn’t refer to his arm load of papers while making these calls. He knew the tip lines from memory. It was my first introduction to one of the few savants I have known in a lifetime. If Chuck heard your phone number once, it was his for a lifetime of unusual conversations.

“Oh, yes. The Tennessean was the last to report the incident by the time Chuck had called every radio station within a day’s drive.”

Chuck was known for calling people on the phone, often multiple times in a day. Davy recalled one late night exchange with Chuck.

“For years Chuck would spend days at the old Nashville Airport, looking for celebrities and especially athletic teams coming to play Vanderbilt in football or basketball. His favorite visiting team was the Tennessee football team that would unload at a regular ramp and the team would walk through the airport.

“Often he knew the arrival time, but when he didn’t there was no way to avoid being a part of his search for this information.

“One fall, my phone rang sometime after midnight and Chuck was on the other end, inquiring if I knew the time of the arrival of the Vols football team at the airport. It required at least 30 minutes convincing him that I didn’t know or care when the team arrived.

“Shortly, he calls again, saying Coach Battle says the team will be here at 1:30. Chuck knew the Knoxville home phone of then coach Bill Battle and had gotten in touch with him on Eastern Time.”

Frank Bennett, associate athletic director for internal affairs and former Lipscomb women’s basketball coach and athlete, first crossed paths with Chuck in high school. He has several memories of Chuck, but here a few of his favorites.

“I don't know how long Chuck has been Lipscomb's No. 1 fan. Chuck, from time to time, would talk about watching me play high school basketball. He would have probably been 22 or 23 at the time. We used to tease him saying that if he really saw me play, who did I play with? He would say, "Ernie Smith", "Paul Compton", "Cooper Wood", etc., but sometimes he would say, "Clyde Lee". Clyde graduated seven years before I did so I never played with him. If he watched Clyde he probably would have been 15 or 16.

“One Saturday we had a road trip and we were going to leave at noon. I came into the old lobby (before 1990) of McQuiddy about 10:30 to get ready for the trip. I noticed a couple of our players at the far end of the lobby with their hair soaking wet. Then, a couple of others came in & their hair was the same. I asked them why they were there so early with soaking wet hair. They said, "Chuck called the dorm and said the bus is leaving in 10 minutes and if you don't get here you will be in big trouble.

“Chuck was famous for leaving hilarious phone messages whether at the office or at home. He used to leave messages for my wife, Jan, and for my kids, Franklin, Lee, and Laura, as well. We used to share messages on the office phones with our staff and with Sherie Eubanks, our administrative assistant. One day he left a lengthy message that started as usual with "Hey Frank, how are you doing buddy? He asked about several things, but as the message got longer he started having longer pauses between sentences and started breathing heavier and heavier. After that went on for a few minutes he started snoring. He had fallen asleep!

People from all over the country responded to Chuck’s passing. Greg Brown, a veteran radio and television announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, sent along this remembrance:

“I announced for the Buffalo Bisons with Pete Weber from 1989-1993.

We had taken a very early flight to Nashville and as soon as we checked into the hotel.  All I could think about was getting a couple hours of sleep before heading to Greer. It was about 8 a.m. by the time I hit the pillow and I was OUT....for about half-an-hour. The phone in the hotel was right next to the bed on a night stand and when it rang, I about hit the ceiling! I had no idea where I was or what time it was but picked up the phone as I gathered my thoughts and cleared my throat.

"Hello?”

"Hello, is this Greg Brown?"

"Yes. Who's this?"  

"This is Chuck"

(Chuck? Chuck? Oh, Chuck Lamar! The Pirates Director of Minor League Operations! But why is he calling me at 8:30 in the morning? )

"Well, hi Chuck. How are you?"

"What time you comin' to the ballpark,  Greg?" (An odd question at this hour.  And why would Chuck Lamar care anyway?)

"Gee, I don't know Chuck.  I was thinking later this afternoon I would take the van. I think it leaves at 2:00."

"About 2 o'clock? "

"Yeah, about 2 o'clock.  Do you need me there earlier or is there something I can do for you, Chuck"

"Is Pete Weber comin' to the ballpark, Greg? " (Wow! Now this is getting really strange.  What does Chuck Lamar care whether Pete and I are coming to the ballpark? )

"Well, yes, Chuck.  He's here. He'll probably be going over with me"

"About 2 o'clock?"

"Yes. About 2 o'clock! "

"Is Tom Prince coming to the ballpark? " ( o.k. NOW this crazy!! Tom is a minor league catcher who plays for the Bisons. If Chuck Lamar wants to know about Tom Prince, why isn't he calling the manager??!!)

"Chuck,  you know this is Greg Brown you called, the announcer"

"Uh huh. Yes. I know. What time you say you’re comin' to the ballpark, Greg Brown?"

"Who is this?"

"This is Chuck......Chuck Ross"

And as a side story, every once in a great while I will run into a former player or colleague and one of us will say, "What time you comin' to the ballpark?”  

This happened in St. Louis last week when former outfielder, Scott Little was in attendance at the Pirates- Cardinals game. He was on the field during batting practice and I hadn't seen him in at least a dozen years.  When he saw me he yelled, "What time you comin' to the ballpark, Greg Brown?"

 What a truly wonderful, wonderful person Chuck was. Every season I would try to send him a new Pirates media guide. The little things meant so much to him.”

Pete Weber, better known to Nashville sports fans for his television and radio work with the Predators, used to make regular trips to Greer Stadium as a radio announcer for the Buffalo Bisons. His stories about Chuck could fill a book, but here are some of the highlights.

“In 1986 (Buffalo's second year in the American Association with the Sounds), I was in town with Buffalo and came to the ballpark straight from having dinner with Bob and Susan Jamison (Bob, was the former radio announcer for the Sounds) for that night's game. As we were walking in the third base gate, up atop the stands is Chuck Ross looking down on us as we walked in. Chuck calls out: "Hey Bob Jamison, I know who that is — that's your Dad!" 

“In 1990, we had another of our rain delays at Greer. The press box windows were steamed over, and it was difficult to see the bullpens. I was working with Greg Brown and we were wondering who was warming up, since we could only see the faint outline of a pitcher throwing. ("Can you see who's throwing in the Sounds' bullpen Greg?….No, I really can't") Next thing we hear clearly as possible: "Hey there, Charlie Mitchell!" Chuckling, I could only say: "Greg, Chuck Ross says that's Charlie Mitchell warming up!"

In 1994, the Sounds hosted the Triple-A All Star Game. The MLB All Star Game was in Pittsburgh, and Greg Brown got married during that All-Star break. We were driving back to Buffalo from Pittsburgh, listening to Steve Carroll's broadcast of the Triple A game…and from what we heard, Chuck was Steve's color man that night, again he was loud and clear!

While everyone will remember Chuck’s penchant for telephone calls, he will also be remembered for his loyalty to his favorite sports teams. Joe Biddle, former sports editor of the Nashville Banner, dealt with Chuck on several levels.

“For years, Chuck Ross would call the Nashville Banner and The Tennessean sports departments. He would call each department approximately 20-30 times, all during the day and night, until his mother made him go to bed.

“If he would ask for me, I would disguise my voice and tell him Joe Biddle isn’t here. Where is he, Chuck would ask. When he would figure out he was talking to me, he would say in his high pitched voice, “Whadda you doing, buddy?’’ I would answer him with the same question. He would ask such questions as to what time do the Bisons play, or who is pitching for the Sounds? I’m convinced he knew the answer to every question he ever asked.

“Chuck was the ultimate sports fan. He was often referred to as a Superfan. When Chuck became a fan of your team, he would be faithful from that point forward.

“His two favorite teams were the Nashville Sounds and Lipscomb University athletics, particularly the men’s basketball team and the baseball team at a time when Don Meyer was coaching basketball and the late Ken Dugan was baseball coach.

“No athlete wanted to win worse than Chuck. Meyer used to let Chuck give a pregame pep talk to the team. I sat in on a few of them and it was classic Chuck. He was as passionate as they come.

“At Sounds games he would arrive at Greer Stadium hours before the game. He and his late mother had regular seats. Before they built a new press box, Chuck sat right in front of the open-air press box where the late Tom Squires and I would keep a running dialogue going with him. “Get ‘em up, Chuck,’’ one of us would say. “Get ‘em up, Squeaky Squires,’’ he would say in an endless stream.

“At one game, George Plaster and I came to the Sounds game after our radio show. We walked down the aisle on the left side of the press box, and knew Chuck sat on the opposite aisle.

He spotted me instantly. I heard, “Get ‘em up, Joe Biddle.’’

“I pretended I didn’t hear him. His voice would grow louder each time. We sat down. By then Chuck was rather loud. I pretended I heard him, but didn’t know where he was. I would look in every other direction and Chuck would yell, “Over here, Joe Biddle. Over here.’’

“I kept it up until a man came over to us and asked, “Joe, would you say hello to Chuck? We sit right front of him and he’s driving us crazy.’’

“That was my boy, Chuck -- a fan for all the right reasons.”

Buck Showalter, a former Sounds player and the current manager of the Baltimore Orioles, summed up the way the players viewed Chuck.

“We could all tell just how much Chuck lived for coming to the Sounds games,” Showalter said. “He touched every player’s life that was fortunate enough to come through Nashville.  He always had good words and a kind smile to share.  He will be missed.”

Yes, he will. But he will long be remembered.