ATHENS — The majority of you who read this probably won’t know who Aubrey Garrison is. I suppose it’s more accurate to say who he was.
Garrison passed away this past Friday after a long battle with a heart ailment and he was laid to rest yesterday following a beautiful ceremony at Bernstein’s Funeral Home. He was 73.
While you may not be familiar with Garrison, anybody and everybody who played basketball for the Georgia Bulldogs or had anything to do with the program the last three decades or so certainly did. That was evidenced Tuesday by the many men who had to duck their heads as they passed through the threshold of the double-doors to find a place in the full-to-overflowing sanctuary inside the funeral home.
Garrison, you see, was the ultimate UGA hoops fan. In the time he was a fervent supporter of the program, he endured seven coaching changes and three 20-loss seasons, as former Georgia assistant coach Mark Slonaker pointed out during his remarks. But Garrison also was on hand for the Bulldogs’ one-and-only Final Four, for their only SEC championship and for both of their SEC Tournament titles, one of which happened to be interrupted by a tornado.
Surely there was no greater optimist than Aubrey Sutton Garrison.
Before I explain why I’m telling you about Garrison today, I want to share a few beautiful moments from the ceremony.
First, family and close friends — which included former Bulldog Charles Claxton and his family — wore bright red Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star high tops in Garrison’s honor. That was long his footwear of choice. Those who couldn’t find any “Chucks” just wore red shoes of whatever kind they had Monday.
And certainly the most moving moment was when Georgia’s most famous basketball twins, Jarvis and Jonas Hayes, walked to the front of the room with their mother, Yvonne Hayes, and arm-in-arm sang a cappella a most beautiful version of the hymn “It Is Well” to the teary-eyed congregation. Who knew that these legendary UGA figures not only could play hoops and recruit, but also croon at an all-star level?
Current Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean came by to pay his respects during visitation, a speaking engagement in South Georgia not allowing him to stay for the service. And the former Bulldogs in the room were too many to count, but mostly from the 1980s and ’90s, including Rod Cole, Shaun Golden and, Garrison’s proclaimed favorite, Reggie Tinch. Former coach Hugh Durham, the person to whom Garrison was closest and the one responsible for bringing him close into the fold, could not make it up from Ponte Vedra, unfortunately.
The whole scene reminded me that there is indeed honor in being a great fan. All these former players and coaches and managers recognized that. There certainly are many more in football, so many that they kind of melt away into the background, but they’re every bit as important and necessary. All provide the bones around which any and every sports program needs to build.
I got to know Aubrey personally first because he was always around the team, and later because his sweet wife Mary taught my daughter in school. Garrison was always encouraging me and prodding me to write more about basketball. Perhaps it was his public relations background in business, but he always knew the stories behind the stories and would tip me off to the good ones.
Garrison was never with the team in an official capacity, but through his donations of time, energy and money, he was very much a part of those teams. He always had a seat on the plane or an invitation to watch practice.
Garrison’s death got me to thinking about all those individuals it takes for athletic programs to thrive. It’s been a tough month or so in that regard for the Bulldogs.
Freddy Jones, UGA’s longtime ticket manager, passed away on April 8 in Baton Rouge. Warren Morris, the esteemed athletic trainer from whom us reporters used to get the daily “Warren Report” on football injuries going back to Vince Dooley’s days as head coach, died on May 1.
There will be a memorial service for Morris on June 2 at Sanford Stadium. I’m sure they’ll need every bit of space that West End Zone venue will provide considering all the Bulldogs that Morris came in contact with and treated over many years.
And that’s the thing about individuals such as Garrison and Jones and Morris. The Bulldogs’ coaches and players come and go in never-ending cycles, but the fans and employees that support them are the true backbone, the true constants.
I raise a glass today to those guys today, and to Georgia’s fans and our readers. You’re the constants. Thanks for always being there.