By any definition, Don Roberts lived a successful life. 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 didn’t have him for biology, yet the man still knew my name my freshman year of high school. Later, he became assistant principal at Opelika High School.
By the time my senior year rolled around, he was our principal. I have 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 student body.
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 would 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 at the end. Later in the day, word spread that I was being 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, just three weeks ago.
He attended countless events where I spoke and without fail always came up to me afterwards and told me how proud he was of me. 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 isn’t about how long you’re here. It’s about what you do while you’re here. In our eyes, he 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, yet 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. He loved all his students.
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.
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