Roy Exum: Get Durby In The Game!

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The letter was one of many accolades presented to retired General Sessions Judge Ron Durby on Wednesday. Earlier Court Room 6 at the Justice Building was “standing room only” as a beautiful portrait was unveiled, it capturing his warmth, compassion and good nature.

But at a surprise party two hours later, it was a letter from former Alabama teammate Steve Sloan that brought down the house. Sloan, the former coach and athletic director who retired from UT-Chattanooga, was once an All-American quarterback at Alabama after a banner high-school career in Cleveland, Tenn.

Sloan’s letter, handwritten, lavished praise on Durby early and noted Ron was “an outstanding player, although you may have played out of position. I know you secretly wanted to play quarterback, however you had to settle for guard. As you know the guard protects the quarterback, which served you well as you protected so many people in your legal career and as a judge,” Sloan wrote. “Your life is full of outstanding deeds and as a judge you were known to be good and fair but … you are still just a guard. Your teammate, Steve Sloan.”

The letter, read by former UTC All-American Bucky Wofford, captured Sloan’s great sense of humor and the honoree, who received commemorative footballs from Bill Battle and Nick Saban, laughed the hardest at Sloan’s zinger. As a matter of fact, the judge laughed with delight for most of the day.

The courthouse ceremony, with longtime friends Clarence Shattuck and Sam Payne holding forth, was a warm testament to Durby’s lengthy career on the bench with many lawyers, judges, and out-of-town dignitaries joining the General Sessions Court family. “If the Fire Marshall stops by we’ll all get arrested for having this many people in one room,” Judge Shattuck quipped.

State Rep. Mike Carter, himself a former judge, was delightful as he shared only a few of the many “Durby stories” that are often told at the courthouse and the retired judge squirmed a little, hopeful Rep. Carter would omit some of the best – and funny tales. The judge’s wife, Vicka, and their children – Mark and Michelle -- laughed the loudest, too.

A handful of Judge Durby’s lunchtime buddies, Kurt Schmissrauter, Sam Woolwine and Alan Presley, arranged for a private gathering to be held after the courthouse reception in the Northshore One clubhouse and the Durby family was whisked away from the justice building in a limousine with a heavy police escort. “Where are you taking me?” the judge asked his wife, “To an expensive restaurant … and you are picking up the tab!” she replied.

But when Judge Durby walked into the room and saw so many of his lifetime friends, it appeared for a moment his heart might melt. There was Harold Wilkes, Lacy Colston, Buddy Nix and George McDowell from the UTC family. Attorneys Lee Davis and Stan Lanzo, who spearheaded the portrait committee, mixed with Judges Shattuck, Christie Sell, and many lawyers who took time to honor the “fair and good” man who has done so much in his career.

A native of Memphis, Durby’s childhood chum, Ted Gatewood Sr., was among those who gave the judge his second standing ovation of the day and Alabama memorabilia – one picture showing Durby and Joe Namath side by side – was on every table.

Larry McGill, who was a freshman recruit with Durby at Alabama in 1961, drove up from Dothan, Ala., to be at the party and said his fondest memory of playing with Durby was “that we survived. Our freshman team went to New Orleans to play Tulane and none of us knew Coach (Bear) Bryant was flying down to watch us. When we got back to Tuscaloosa, we had the hardest practice I have ever experienced for 2 ½ hours. Then the varsity took the field and we practiced against then for another 2 ½ hours. Twelve guys quit football the next day. Coach Bryant did not like to lose.”

Durby smiled at the story, admitting it was awful at times, “but I wouldn’t trade the world for it.” McGill, who played fullback and linebacker, was a member of the 1961 national champions while Durby, red-shirted that year, played on the 1964 national champion team with Joe Namath and Steve Sloan.

“I remember Coach Bryant coming up to Chattanooga for the Scrappy Moore Banquet or something,” said Judge Shattuck. “He saw Ron sitting at a nearby table and yelled, ‘Well, if it isn’t ole Durby … you played better with the worst talent I ever saw!’”

Tim Miller remembered the classic story of Bryant yelling to an assistant to “get Durby in the game!” When somebody finally got up enough nerve to tell the legendary coach that Ron Durby had graduated two years before, Bryant fumed, “So, don’t give me a history lesson; I’m trying to win this game!”

While becoming one a history’s greatest college coaches, Bryant produced an uncommon number of what he used to call “winners”  and Durby was always a favorite. As his life was played before him yesterday, and people talked about his contributions to the Prison Ministry, the FCA and the years he spent coaching, the judge was his charming yet humble self. “Vicka and I have been blessed, but today,” he smiled, “has been pretty special.”

royexum@aol.com

Ron and Vicka Durby
Ron and Vicka Durby
- Photo2 by Wes Schultz

True Revenue Situation

My honorable and respected friend Roy Exum tells us again today, “It has been 12 years since the county fathers have approved a tax increase ... .” I’ll take his word for that, but want some more information. “No tax increase for 12 years” is just the chorus; I want to hear the rest of the song, the specific verses that really tell the tale. The fact is, although Roy’s bare ... (click for more)

Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to  news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

Judge Walter Williams May Go Back On The Bench As Administrative Hearing Officer

One of the city's most colorful judges may go back on the bench. The City Council on Tuesday is set to vote on the nomination of former City Court Judge Walter Williams as administrative hearing officer - a new city position. The law license of the former judge was transferred to disability inactive status in August of 2015 after he suffered a stroke early in the year.  ... (click for more)

Body Believed To Be That Of McCallie Student Jackson Standefer Recovered In Colorado River

A body believed to be that of a McCallie School student who was swept away in a creek in the Grand Canyon was recovered on Friday. The Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center said it was notified by a commercial river trip that they located a body on the Colorado River at River Mile 152. Park rangers responded and recovered the body, which was transported to the rim ... (click for more)

Bucs Nip Silverdale In Error-Plagued Baseball

The Boyd-Buchanan Buccaneers and the Silverdale Baptist Academy Seahawks played a crucial baseball doubleheader on Saturday with first place in District 5-A on the line. Both teams entered play for the first game at Silverdale sporting identical 6-0 district records, but you would never have known it by the way that first game was played. In a see-saw game where the side was ... (click for more)

McCallie Earns 3-1 Soccer Win Over Rival Baylor

When his team needed him the most, McCallie senior Drew Viscomi did what he does best. Two minutes after the Blue Tornado allowed an equalizer to rival Baylor in the Division II Mid-East Region soccer match on the Red Raiders’ home field, Viscomi’s strike put his team back on top. Five minutes later, the All-American and school single-season scoring leader ... (click for more)