Liberty Bowl field rededicated for Rex Dockery - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Liberty Bowl field rededicated for Rex Dockery

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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December will mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy that took the lives of four people, including then Memphis State Head Football Coach Rex Dockery.

But it was a celebration designed to commemorate their lives which drew more than 100 family, friends and admirers to the Liberty Bowl Wednesday afternoon for a rededication of the field that bears the late coach's name.

MORE: Dockery to be honored with Liberty Bowl field rededication
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In another life as a sportscaster I remember being among those shocked and saddened on a rainy December night in 1983. Having moved to Memphis just a few months earlier I had the pleasure of watching Dockery resurrect a football program, which in one stretch had gone winless for 17 straight games.

For those who met him, time has not dimmed our memories of Dockery.

It has only served to enhance it.

English theologian and writer Robert Anderson once penned, "Death ends a life, but not a relationship." The meaning is reflective of the idea emotional bonds and friendships can often remain vivid and lasting in the years or decades that follow the loss of a loved one.

For Wallene Dockery Leek, the former widow of the revered former Memphis State head football coach, a rededication ceremony of the playing field named in his honor, nearly 30 years after his death, brought home full circle the sincerity of the ties that have bound his family, friends and past players by one encompassing motto.

"Players love players. layers love coaches. Coaches love players. Coaches love coaches," she said. "He cared about those players. He was hard on them. He was strict on them. But, boy, they knew he cared about them."

"I think what he was trying to teach us is you care about each other first and that's winning, really," said Clyde Avant, former Memphis State football player. "The scoreboard sometimes doesn't matter as much as how you played the game."

The occasion, was not meant to and thankfully did not dwell, on the tragic circumstances of Dockery's death on Dec. 12, 1983. Eighteen days after the completion of the Tigers' magical 6-4-1 1983 season, Dockery, along with offensive coordinator Chris Faros and star freshman cornerback Charles Greenhill, boarded a twin engine plane piloted by Glenn Jones to fly to an awards dinner in Lawrenceburg, Tenn.

The Piper Seneca, fighting rain and fog, crashed. All aboard died. News of their deaths sent shockwaves across the city that had embraced the exuberant and winning philosophy the third year coach and his team had generated. The outpouring of overwhelming grief compelled civic and city leaders to take unprecedented action.

"A group of Memphians that really cared for Rex," said Bob Winn, University of Memphis assistant athletic director. "Those friends of the program, friends of Tennessee's program, got together and went to city council and got the field dedicated in Rex's name."

"I think in my lifetime, I think one of the most significant things I've ever done, was to go to the park commission that next week and say, 'We ought to do this,'" said John Elkington, former Memphis parks commission member. "They said, 'Well, let's wait.' I said, 'Well, if you want to vote against it, go vote against it. But, I'm going to make the motion and we were fortunate enough to get the votes.'"

For Dockery's youngest son, Dee, just 8 at the time of his father's death, and the mother and nieces of Greenhill, the emotions stirred by the plaque dedication ceremony were bittersweet.

"Opens up memories that after 30 years you kind of closed the book up a little bit," said Dee Dockery, son. "But, you'll never forget. It feels good to open them up again."

"One just walked up to me and said, "Nanah, I really didn't know my uncle,'" said Sylvia Greenhill, Charles Greenhill's mother. "But, now I started crying. I feel like when I saw that picture now I really know. I really know my uncle. Man, he was somebody."

"He loved us. We understood it," Avant added. "When you love first, it'll never leave. Cause God is love and that's what Rex was to us."

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