Son Honors Late Father By Attending Baylor Class Reunion

Friday, October 11, 2013 - by John Shearer

When the Baylor School Class of 1978 gathered for its 35-year reunion last weekend, several dozen classmates spent time catching up with each other and reliving the past.

One person connected to the group also gathered with them, but his goal was simply to learn about the past.

Austin Royal, the son of the late class member Ken Royal, decided to come to honor and learn more about his father, a Marine captain and helicopter pilot who had died along with nine others on Oct. 25, 1988, in a collision crash near Yuma, Az.

The accident during a training exercise had come just days after his Baylor class had gathered for its 10-year reunion.

Some authorities at the time questioned if the then-controversial night vision goggles the unit was using might have played a role in the crash.

But for the younger Mr. Royal, he could see clearly that coming to the 35-year reunion was a worthwhile experience.

“It was an absolute honor to be there to see my dad’s classmates and hear stories about him and his personality,” said Mr. Royal, who was born to former Chattanoogan Ebbie Rowe Royal three months to the day after his father’s death.

“Everyone was really great and it helped me in trying to understand him a lot better and understanding why things happened and getting past it.”

His visit had come about after a class member suggested inviting the younger Mr. Royal and his mother, now Ebbie Cruddas, to the reunion to let all the class members meet him.

A similar situation had occurred when the group held its 30th reunion in 2008, and family members of the late classmate Rob McRae attended.

Class reunion planners Mark Hudson and Doug Dyer sent out an invitation, but Mr. Royal and Mrs. Cruddas had actually already been thinking as well that coming to a reunion might be good for him.

“I had already thought that this might be a time to do it, and that cemented it,” said Mrs. Cruddas about the invitation.

The two not only came from their hometown of Jacksonville, N.C., but Mr. Royal also wore in the stands his father’s No. 58 football jersey during the Baylor-McCallie game, won by Baylor, 38-14, in a slight surprise.

The grandson of Mrs. James Royal and Dr. and Mrs. Bill Rowe of Chattanooga said he always heard a lot of stories from his extended family about his father, and his paternal grandmother has given him a number of his father’s childhood belongings.

But attending the class’ Friday pregame tailgate reunion and a gathering Saturday night at Jefferson’s downtown for members of the Baylor, McCallie and Girl Preparatory Schools’ classes of 1978 gave him new insight into his father, he said.

“There is always so much you can learn from the family, but when it comes to friends and those around him, you get a different side of him,” he said.

Mrs. Cruddas, who later remarried and works in the health insurance business in the Camp LeJeune/New River Air Station area of Eastern North Carolina where Mr. Royal was stationed at the time of his death, said her son was overcome with emotion toward the end of the Saturday night gathering.

“He is real emotional about Ken, and I think it caught him off guard,” she said.

But just as his father used to protect Baylor ball carriers physically on the football field, his father’s classmate, Larry “Buddy” Fogo, soon offered some emotional support as well by consoling and comforting him afterward, according to observers who were there.

Part of the reason for the emotion is that the younger Mr. Royal has recently started a family with the birth of a daughter, and he knows the situation will be different from what he experienced as a child without his natural father.

“I am trying to give my daughter something I grew up without,” he said.

While at Baylor as a six-year day student in the 1970s, the older Mr. Royal was known for his freckly face, sandy and reddish hair, and smiling, friendly and outgoing personality.

Although not an overly large player, he used his bulging forearms and slightly muscular frame to become an effective center as Baylor finished second in the state in football his senior year – when public and private schools were in the same division.

Among his good friends was classmate and teammate Doug Dyer, who was later a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity big brother at UTC after the older Mr. Royal transferred from Marion Institute in Alabama. After college, the two stayed in close contact until Mr. Royal’s unfortunate death.  

Mr. Dyer’s wife, Kate, is also longtime close friend of Mrs. Cruddas dating back to their days at Bright School and GPS, so the Dyers have kept up with the younger Mr. Royal, who attended summer camp at both Baylor and McCallie in his younger years.

Mr. Dyer also spent a lot of time with the younger Mr. Royal over the weekend and thinks the time was meaningful for the class as well as for Mr. Royal.

“The first thing I noticed about Austin was the pride he carried in himself and his father while carrying around his dad’s old football jersey,” he said. “He seemed right at home visiting with Ken’s old friends. And it was obvious he was enjoying the visit, and our classmates were enjoying having part of their old classmate back with us.

“The exclamation point came when he wore his father’s old jersey to the game.”

Mr. Royal attended The Citadel for a period after high school, and said he has done landscaping and restaurant work, and recently started working at a GNC store. He has also pondered joining the Marines like his father, and has talked off and on to a recruiter, he said.

Like many 24 year olds, he is admittedly still looking for the working career he wants to pursue for life.

But what is for sure is that, this past weekend, he found a part of his father.

“It definitely helped out,” he said. “I saw different sides of him from his friends’ standpoint. What I kept hearing was that, if you had known him, you would have liked him.”

Mr. Royal apparently found a little of himself as well.

As Mr. Dyer observed, “My take on the whole weekend was that, for the very first time ever, Austin confronted his heritage, who he was and where he came from. I believe he enjoyed it, he embraced it and was proud of a father he never knew.”

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


Celebration Of Human Rights Day Is Dec. 10

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948. It represents the universal recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all human beings, inalienable and equally applicable to everyone, and that every one of us is born free and equal in dignity and rights. The community is invited to come to the Eastdale Village ... (click for more)

Chattanooga International Human Rights Day 2016 Commemoration To Be Held Dec. 10

The Chattanooga Human Rights Day Committee, in conjunction with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, will host the Chattanooga International Human Rights Day 2016 Commemoration, on  Saturday, Dec. 10, at 10 a.m. , at the Eastdale Village UMC Church. For more details, call  423 320-8598 . (click for more)

Signal Mountain Council Looking Into Taking Over Schools

A new group of Signal Mountain Town Council members is looking into taking over county schools within the town boundaries.   Two newly elected board members, Amy Speek and Dan Landrum, joined the council Friday afternoon at the first work session after the election. The election of mayor and vice mayor for the next two years came first on the agenda. Dick Gee, mayor ... (click for more)

East Ridge Meth Dealer Gets 168 Months In Federal Prison

A man that agents said was dealing large quantities of meth from his East Ridge residence has been sentenced to serve 168 months in federal prison. Kenneth Lemons appeared before Judge Curtis Collier. Agents said they made several controlled drugs buys from Lemons at his residence in 2015. On Oct. 27, 2015, he drove up to a residence where DEA agents were making a controlled ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Couldn't Manage Public Education

I have been reading the buzz about Signal Mountain and other small municipalities considering a move to form their own school district within their municipal boundaries.  It is quite the comedy hour considering the notion that small cities that for decades could not even manage small sewer systems or 911 districts, are somehow going to do a better job with public education ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Among The Worst In U.S.

Bobby Bragan, who was the first manager of Major League Baseball’s Braves when they moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, had a great view on statistics: “Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable.” I am about to make you uncomfortable with some lousy statistics. Earlier this ... (click for more)