In particular, some of you came from a long way away…both coasts even. It’s very meaningful to us.
And to our friends and family who planned on coming to mourn and we actually gave you jobs. You helped us figure out printing, audio and video, venue…all that. Much, much appreciated.
I knew a long time ago that the day would come when I’d be in front of this group, speaking on behalf of my father.
I just hoped that, when the time came, I wouldn’t freeze up, that I’d be able to pick the right words to build the sentences that would honorably pay tribute to my father’s life and put his 70 years in perspective in a way that we could all value and learn from.
I knew it would be hard. In part, because I’m the son. But also because – as his son – I know what a wonderfully complicated man my father was.
There is an old Indian parable, it’s been told a few different ways, but the basic story is of several blind men surrounding an elephant, each with their hand on a different part… the trunk, the side, the tail and so on.
And then the blind men commence to having a discussion about what an elephant must look like. But because each of their experiences was so different, no one can come to an agreement about what it is that is right in front of each one of them.
You all come today to pay your respects to an educator, a coach, a father, husband, a friend, an athlete, a beer drinking buddy or maybe just “Bobby Joe.”
My dad had many sides and everyone saw something different. Some people saw more and some saw less and I’ll always wonder if anyone saw everything there was to see.
Beau mentioned Bob was born in Great Falls, South Carolina. My dad would say ‘Great Falls’ because that’s actually a place on a map.
But as many of you know, he’d tell you he’s really from Flop Eye, South Carolina. He was born in Great Falls because Great Falls actually had a hospital.
And listen…South Carolina has got a lot of nice places…Charleston, Isle of Palms. Flop Eye wasn’t one of them.
Where my father grew up was and still is the poor, deep, south.
My father’s dad – my grandfather – Roy, was a soldier in WWII. He was discharged from the Army for medical reasons. He had been hit in the head with shrapnel and later developed a brain tumor.
Eventually the tumor got the best of him and Roy died when he was only 32 and my dad was just boy.
Losing his father at such a young age had a profound effect on my dad.
See the Army wouldn’t acknowledge that the injury Roy had sustained in battle had anything to do with the brain tumor, even though he had metal in his head in the same place as the cancer.
That meant my dad’s mom, Mabel, was going to have to raise two young boys – my dad and his brother Richard without any help.
And that meant she’d be at the cotton mill at her loom making denim for sometimes 20 hours a day.
So my father and his younger brother spent a lot of time without either parent being around.
And, because he was the older brother, my dad inherited being the man of the house before he ever even knew what that meant.
It was tough on my dad, and he acted out. After his father died – he got in trouble. For fighting. For drinking. You name it. Just generally for being wild.
I talked to his brother this week – specifically about that period of his life. We laughed. We cried. And at the end of the call I said “Richard…think back to when my dad was a boy. How would you summarize him back then?”
He paused for a second, then he said “Meanness.”
I said “Meanness?” And told me…
“Mm hmm. Bubba I remember when we was boys and walkin home from school. Mabel had given us a nickel to get a ice cream at the five and dime and we was eatin it and walkin.
This boy from round the block, he was older, he come up and said ‘Bobby Joe let me get a lick of that ice cream.’
And you know when you young you want the older boys to take a likin to you. Bobby gave him a lick and that boy put half the cone in his mouth and took a big ol bite…ate like half of it.
You know most kids would real upset with somethin like that, go cryin to their mama and see about getting a new cone. But your daddy…his eyes got all narrow and he looked up at that boy and said ‘Some day I’m gonna be bigger than you and when I am I’m gonna come back and kick your ass!’
Later on your daddy was workin at the school store and that boy come back around. I’m sure he forgot all about that ice cream, but Bobby didn’t forget anything. He’d been working out and playin ball and he weighed like 200 pounds.
That boy come up to the store and said ‘Gimmee a Baby Ruth’. And your daddy turned around, took that candy off the shelf, unwrapped it and shoved half of it in his mouth. Then he handed that boy the other half and said ‘That’s for my ice cream son of a bitch.’”
I thought about that story a lot. Even though the person Richard was describing was a teenager from 50 years ago, I knew that person. That person that didn’t forget anything, that wasn’t going to let someone walk over him, that wouldn’t back down from a challenge – ever.
And I understood what Richard was communicating when he said “Meanness”, but as I reflect on my father’s life I know it wasn’t meanness that was in his heart when he was a boy. He wasn’t mean. He was angry.
He was angry that his father had a traumatic brain injury that gave him an incinerating temper and he’d take it out on whoever happened to be in front of him.
And he was angry that, in order to provide for her two boys, his mom wasn’t around anymore. She was working her fingers to the bone at the local mill, sometimes working back to back shifts without coming home.
It was that anger resulted in my dad getting in a lot of trouble when he was a boy.
And I think – without a father to protect him – that he was probably a little scared of the world, too.
Because at an early age my dad was dead set on being big enough and strong enough that no one would ever mess with him and he wouldn’t back down from a challenge and he wouldn’t back down from a fight – not from anyone. Not ever.
But even though he was an unbridled teen and a bit wild. He was fortunate in that he had a mentor or two in coaches.
And they helped him channel his anger into boxing, weightlifting, and eventually military school. No doubt they thought he could benefit from a little structure, a little discipline.
And that’s when the opportunities for my Bob Nunnery started to materialize.
A fire had started to burn in his belly and that fire was a raging desire to get out of the south.
See he loved the south for making him who he was. But he hated it because it gave him so many painful memories.
I asked my dad once how he got to Colorado. Why Colorado State? “It was pretty simple,” he said.
He told me, “I didn’t know where Colorado was. I didn’t know where anywhere was, really. As recruitment letters and scholarship offers came in, I’d go to the map, find the state and put a pin in it. Then when it was time to make a decision, Colorado was the furthest away from the south. And I wanted out of the south son. I needed to get out or I was going to end up in prison. So I went to Colorado.”
He came out here as a scholarship football athlete and attended CSU.
Truthfully, I don’t know that my dad ever had a plan for college by itself. Football, sure. But school? Not so sure.
I’ll tell you – My mother and father met and CSU and when they did, she was a freshman and he was a junior. Then when she graduated, she was a college graduate and my dad was a senior.
It took him awhile. Let me tell you why that was, because the reason is very much related to my dad’s time in his south.
Never backing down from a challenge was one of the characteristics he carried with him on his journey out of Great Falls
He’d played two seasons at CSU and one day was in the weight room working out. And that’s when his coach bet him a pitcher of beer for every curl he could do with 200 pounds from his knees.
I don’t know how much beer he actually won before he injured his back, eventually needing to get a laminectomy, which is when they remove part of the spine.
But that’s when his career as a football player ended
So it took him awhile to finish school because he didn’t have a scholarship anymore. He had to go to work to earn money and pay tuition.
He also had to learn how to walk again and he and my mother would take walks across campus, taking little steps, remembering how to put one foot in front of the other.
But he did finish college and shortly after my mom and dad got married and the two of them got started building their family and their careers.
That was 1966 and a few years later, I came along in 1971.
If you’re wondering how hard it was for my dad to not play football anymore, I think the answer is – hard, but better when he found out his first born was going to be a son.
In thinking about this event, I figured now was as good of a time as any to get to the bottom of just how in the hell I ended up with the name Bubba.
I said to my mom the other night… “So mom…I know there has always been this story about my name, that I sat in the hospital for three days with no name because Dad wanted to name me Bubba and you weren’t going to have it. But how much of that is just good story telling and how much is the truth?”
She looked at me – rather flatly – and said “It’s all true. No way was I going to agree to that name for my baby!”
But for my father, what a surefire way to add vitality to his southern legacy and, at the same time, create an empty football stereotype for a young son to grow into, right? Name him Bubba.
Eventually he wore my mom down and she agreed to my name, with the stipulation that she get to retain the rights to naming my sister – Kim – who was born just four years later.
Not many people know what the other names on the table were. One was Wardell. The other one was LD – just the letters LD. That wasn’t short for anything. Just the letters. So, in all actuality, I got off easy.
And so, we spent the next 25 years together as a family. My parents were both educators so we had Spring Break, summers and Christmas off. We’d travel to Europe, Mexico…really anywhere that had a beach was Bob’s first choice. He loved the sun and the water.
And my dad found an unexpected role model and father figure in my mom’s Dad, Paul. The two of them would do projects together, my grandfather teaching my Dad some of the things he missed in his own childhood.
And that was our life – my sister and I churning though school and my parents both serving as teaches than administrators.
Yes, let’s talk about that.
In his early years, as a coach, he’d bring expert know-how to the game of football. He knew how to play and he knew how to teach that and get the best out of his players.
Then as the Athletic Director, he’d invest in sports programs like no one ever had before. Some of you have seen the weight room at Northglenn. It’s bigger than a 24 Hour Fitness. Football players from CU would come work out at our high school weight room.
But as the Dean of Students and later Assistant Principle…that’s where my dad found his true calling.
I mean consider for a moment that man as a disciplinarian. He was big and imposing.
A friend and I were recently reflecting on our aging fathers. He said, “Do you remember the point – that instance in time – where you realized that you could finally kick your dad’s butt?”
I thought about it for a few seconds and turned to him. “No. No I don’t remember that at all.”
But he wasn’t just big. He’d swear and yell. He had a paddle in his office – that he used – remember, this was a different time in education. But he also had piranhas, a whole tank of them. And if you were sitting in his office, they’d be swimming back and forth behind you. He might even feed them while you were in there.
That was my dad as a disciplinarian – always calculated for maximum impact.
And this was a different time 10, 20, 30 years ago. Let me tell you – Bob didn’t necessarily feel like the school rules always were the best option. So sometimes he’d make up new rules.
If he knew he had to suspend someone, but thought there time at home wouldn’t be such a bad thing, he’d suspend them and make them sit in his office for three days, right next to him.
Or he’d call the parents and work out some kind of punishment at home that was exponentially worse than anything he’d be able to come up with at school.
His driving mission was always simple – to identify what’s going to get this kid’s attention and make it happen and he tackled that role with such zeal.
He was particularly drawn to kids in need, kids on the fringe.
And now that you all know a little bit about where my dad came from, you can probably understand what was going on.
It was when he saw himself in a student, a struggling young person with minimal opportunities but maybe a lot of unbridled potential…when Bob saw those kids…the investment he was willing to make in that person was limitless.
It’s because he was looking at himself and knew that without that pat on the back or kick in the ass the outcome was not going to be good.
And that same interest in kids didn’t stop at school. It extended to every place in Bob’s life. And, as friends of mine will recall, his surrogate parenting and life-coaching extended to them as well, often playing out in sessions on our porch with my dad holding court, admiring all his yard work.
I’m not going to lie to you all, it could be frustrating for us, having a parent so invested in other kids and so admired by everyone when, a lot of the time, what we really wanted was his focus to be on us.
He used to tell me “I don’t worry about you Moose. You’re going to be just fine.”
And I finally understand where that blind confidence came from. It was because, in his eyes, we had so much more than he ever did. We had both parents. We had some money. We had more opportunities.
In his eyes, his role was to be finding the kids that were like him – close to falling by the way side and get them back on track.
And that was tough on us at times.
Things were going well for my Dad. He was a respected educator at Northglenn, a role that really made him a local community icon.
He had a great wife, two kids, a good job and a house on the hill and he got the chance to show it all to his mama and his brother, who still resided in Flop Eye.
But even so, he seemed to have a hard time enjoying everything for what it was.
Because no matter how well things were going, he had an uncanny ability to quickly veer in the opposite direction and act against his own self-interest.
There were times when we would just want to grab him by each ear and say “God Damn it! What are you doing?!”
I think there was a part of him that always felt like he didn’t deserve everything he had…like this poor kid from the south had stepped into someone else’s life, and not earned his own.
Let me share something with you all about being man – and I apologize for making such a cavalier statement in front of so many people that are a little longer in the tooth than I am…in some cases, a lot longer.
When we’re brought into this world, we’re given the simple mission to go out and conquer.
When we’re young, we’re driven to be the funniest, the fastest, the best – whatever that might mean.
And we spend our lives acquiring news roles, so we can be somebody, and we try to be the best at every role we take on.
We’re boys then men, students then graduates, workers then bosses, leaders, husbands, parents, teachers, administrators…and a whole slew of other things.
And as we grow into these roles, we become confident and eventually these roles become the fabric of our character. They become who we are.
But then something happens. There comes a time in older adulthood – when all the roles that we’ve taken on, the things that we’ve become in life, begin to peel away.
And it is a very difficult reality for us men to deal with.
That was my father’s arc. He grew from a boy to the man of the house and then became all these incredible things in his life. And then… those things began to peel away.
He wasn’t a football star anymore. But he used to be.
He was no longer a coach or an administrator. Because he retired those roles.
He wasn’t the fastest or the strongest anymore. But he could show you that he once was.
Even as a parent, us kids had reached the point where – although we always wanteded his approval – we’re grown now and we no longer had to have it.
I don’t know how many of you interacted with my dad later in life. But let me tell you who he was in older adulthood, when all those layers were removed and he’d been stripped down to his core.
He was a content husband and companion.
And he still had a hard time expressing himself through words, but he’d do it through acts of service and we’d know what he was trying to tell us.
He loved traveling, in particular going to Mexico and taking cruises with Kathy and their friends.
He was a proud father.
He was a doting grandfather.
He still struggled with some hauntings from his childhood in the south and they’d come out of him at different times, in different ways. But he wasn’t spending any more time running from them. He was getting to know them. And he was talking about them.
He never did break up with Johnny Walker.
He still pissed us off sometimes.
He was funny. Loud. Obnoxious at times. And he always had a joke for you.
He really struggled with the erosion of his physical self. He really fought against it. But the recipe he’d always used for success was just outdated. It just didn’t work anymore.
Like lifting weights and benching 400 pounds is impressive. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you’re 50 and you’re tearing your rotator cuff…again. Or having back surgery…again.
Still, it was the recipe that he knew. To Bob, that’s who he was.
In his eyes, if you were strong enough, you could just overcome and adapt and you’d be ok. And it was crushing him that he couldn’t still do that.
Even, after he’d retired, he went to work at the airport. “I just need to do something physical,” he’d say. “I hope they just give me a job where I can throw bags.”
He’d tell you proudly that he’d had 19 major surgeries. But you could see each one took a little more out of him than the last.
And he was a terrible patient. Too proud to do the rehab he needed for his knees, for his back, his shoulders and hips.
He still loved the south. Still hated it too.
He was reflective. Sometimes a little sad.
He knew he was imperfect, but he was trying to be better, trying to use everything he knew to be better.
My father did a lot of things right. But he did a lot of things we wish he’d done differently as well – and he knew that too.
But Bob Nunnery died a proud man, a deceptively complex man, a loving man. He was an intriguing person and we’ll miss him.
Some people said “Well, he was an educator and an athlete. A scholarship for student athletes could make a lot of sense.”
But there are a lot of scholarships for student athletes. Furthermore, my father was an athlete…but I’m not sure about the student part.
But most importantly, the truth is that student athletes aren’t who my father sought out and they aren’t necessarily the kids who heard his voice, his true voice.
The voice of a young, wayward, poor boy from the south who lost his father when he was 13, who rose above with a little help from others and ended up touching and influencing thousands of people.
I’m going to close with a little story and I apologize in advance for putting someone here on the spot.
Scott Smith is a good friend of mine, of many of us here. We met when we were kids and we’ve been a tight unit for years.
As a kid, Scott lived in a small trailer with his mom and his younger brother. His mom wasn’t around much. She was had to work a lot. Scott could pretty much do what he wanted. And he did.
In the spring of 1988 we were juniors at Northglenn. Scott was over at my house after school and we were doing whatever it was we did. When my dad came home, he saw Scott and said “Well hey there Scott.” Scott said “Hi Mr. Nunnery,” and then my Dad followed with something curious. He said “Hey I’m glad you’re here. You saved me a trip.”
Neither of us knew what he meant, but Scott was staying for dinner and while we were eating he had the chance to ask. “Mr. Nunnery, what did you mean when you said I saved you a trip?”
“Well funny you ask,” my Dad said – in a way that made us both kind of uncomfortable. “Let me ask you – how familiar are you with the attendance policy at Northglenn?”
That made him squirm. “Not very,” he said.
“Yeah I figured as much,” my Dad said. “At Northglenn, three unexcused absences are grounds for expulsion. That is to say, if you miss three times without a valid excuse, you can be expelled. Maybe you won’t be but you could be.”
And then the kill shot: “Do you know how many you have Scott?”
“Well you have 157. So when I said you saved me a trip, I meant that I was glad to see you because I don’t have to come find you to kick your ass out of school tomorrow. I’m just going to do it right here tonight.”
And then we ate dinner. In silence. The most uncomfortable dinner there ever was. And that’s my Dad – every move perfectly calculated for maximum impact.
He ended up telling Scott to show up in his office the next morning. “8am sharp,” he said. “Don’t be late.”
When Scott arrived my Dad was just hanging up the telephone.
“That was your mom,” he said. “And she just gave me permission to kick your ass!”
He proceeded to tell Scott that he’d looked at his records and it was pointless for him to stay in school. He said “Scott, the only way you could possibly get enough credits to graduate is if you go periods one through eight next year and pass everything. No lunch, no sports. And frankly, I don’t think you can do it son.”
But he did do it. He went periods one through eight the next year and he finished high school, went on to more school and jobs and a family and is a role model to all of us.
Ten days ago I sat down with Scott.
He made the first – and I should add, significant – contribution to the Bob Nunnery Memorial Scholarship Fund.
I thought about talking him out of it. He’s got three kids and a wife…a crazy dog.
But instead, we just looked at each other. I said “You know, don’t you?”
And he said “Yes. That’s my scholarship.”
Thank you for that Scott.
And Kathy I want to thank you for accepting my father and giving him your companionship later in life.
You knew my Dad was imperfect. And you accepted him for all of his strengths, and all of his weaknesses.
He softened in his later years.
I believe it was your nurturing that made him able to relax, made it safe for him to revisit the earlier parts of his life and make amends with others…with himself.
And thank you again to everyone else. Take care of yourselves. The people who love you want you around.