Mac

Most of all, I’ll remember the laugh.

It was infectious. And it was loud. Real loud.

The sound of that laugh coming from down the hall always made me smile.

Mac Sisson of Arkadelphia died Monday morning of a heart attack at the far-too-young age of 62. He was a mentor. He was a friend. He was one of those salt-of-the-earth people who make me glad to live in Arkansas.

Mac, a Crossett native, was a fixture for years at my alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University. He directed the news bureau, the sports information department, the photo lab and more. Mac was a man who seemingly wore 100 hats. But he did it all with a smile on his face and a genuine concern for the students. Mac was, in fact, one of the main reasons I attended Ouachita.

When I was in high school in Arkadelphia, I was hired as the sports editor of the Southern Standard, a weekly newspaper that no longer exists. It was a dream opportunity for someone who wanted nothing more at the time than to be a sports journalist. With Arkadelphia being a two-college town, I would be able to cover college sports on a regular basis. I would, however, have to farm out the coverage of the high school football team since I was actually playing in those games.

Mac immediately made me feel important even though I was just 17. He treated me as professionally as he treated the full-time writers who would come down from Little Rock to cover the Ouachita games for the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette. Yes, Mac was a pro, and he made me feel like one.

During my senior year in high school, I decided I was going to be different. You see, everyone in town assumed I would attend Ouachita. I had grown up just down the street from the school. My father had graduated from Ouachita. My mother had graduated from Ouachita. My sister had graduated from Ouachita. I was going to go against the grain, though, and attend either Vanderbilt or Ole Miss.

Mac never put any pressure on me. He just quietly made the point that if I were to decide to stay in Arkadelphia and attend Ouachita, I would be his student assistant and broadcast Ouachita games on the radio. He also worked behind the scenes to get me the sports editor’s job at the city’s daily newspaper, the Daily Siftings Herald, and the sports director’s job at radio stations KVRC-KDEL.

For someone wanting to become a sports journalist, the practical experience would prove invaluable. I would spend my college years as a daily newspaper sports editor, a radio sports director and a student assistant sports information director — all at the same time. It was thanks to Mac Sisson. Fortunately, I didn’t need much sleep back in those days.

Many hours were spent sitting on that old couch in Mac’s office, comparing notes, discussing stories and making plans. Like Mac, I talked loudly and laughed loudly. Agnes Coppenger, the saint who had the office across the hall where she served as Ouachita’s director of alumni affairs, would often walk over to say: “You don’t have to scream at each other. You’re in the same room.”

At some point during my days as a student, Mac became much more than a mentor. He became a close friend. I can never remember us having an argument.

My wife, who grew up in a huge state (Texas) and went to a huge school (Texas State at San Marcos), is constantly amazed by all the “Ouachita people” I run into everywhere we go.

“What’s the enrollment of that school again?” she will often ask.

“About 1,500,” I’ll reply.

“It seems more like 150,000,” she will shoot back.

I believe that in a small state and at a small school, the personal relationships tend to be deeper. So it is that I’ve spent much of this Monday fielding phone calls and answering e-mails from fellow members of the Ouachita family.

The memories have come flooding back.

– Memories of long van trips through the night as we returned from Ouachita football games (which I’m still broadcasting after more than three decades along with dear friend Jeff Root) in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Mississippi and elsewhere. To keep us awake on the drive home, we would tune the AM radio to WWL in New Orleans to listen to the LSU game with John Ferguson or to WSB in Atlanta to listen to Larry Munson call the Georgia game. If it were really late, there was always the midnight replay of the Iowa game on WHO in Des Moines. How I loved those trips.

– Memories of Mac’s reputation for never driving over the speed limit. Often, long after I had graduated, his student assistants would ask, “Mac, are you sure you aren’t getting tired? Don’t you want Rex to drive?” In other words, Rex drives a lot faster and will get us home more quickly. I’ll never forget the sheer delight of everyone in the vehicle when Mac received a speeding ticket one day in Oklahoma. We never thought we would see the day.

– Memories of Mac’s love of local diners, aka greasy spoons. Mac and I made it a point never to eat at a chain restaurant. We wanted to try out the local fare in places such as Durant, Okla., and Seguin, Texas. We used to love afternoon games against East Central University in Ada, Okla., so we could do what we called “the double J.D.” That meant we would have lunch before the game at a placed called J.D.’s and supper after the game at the same spot. If the parking lot was filled with pickup trucks — and there were always plenty of pickups at J.D.’s — Mac wanted to give it a try. He also would drive us by the local attractions such as the World’s Largest Peanut in Durant and the World’s Largest Pecan in Seguin. There actually were street signs in Durant that simply said “Big Peanut.”

I drove to Mac and Donna’s home on the June 2008 Saturday when they learned that their son, Alan, had been killed in an automobile accident at the age of 33. Alan, who was an Army sergeant, had survived a tour of duty in Iraq in 2006-07. How sad and how ironic that after surviving Iraq, his life would end in Killeen, Texas.

On that day, Mac was the strongest man in the house. His faith in God had never been more evident. Mac never had to wear his Christian values on his sleeve. That’s because he lived them.

One last story: My wedding was on a Saturday in October 1989. I’m not sure what I was thinking to let my wife schedule our wedding on a college football Saturday. Did she not realize that fall Saturdays are high holy days for those of us who love college football?

At any rate, it seems to me that every Baptist church has a little ol’ lady who runs the weddings. She acts as a drill sergeant of sorts. The First Baptist Church of Corpus Christi had one of those drill sergeants. I sat in a room with my groomsmen late on that Saturday afternoon, awaiting the early evening start of my wedding. And, yes, I was nervous.

The drill sergeant walked into the room.

“You just received a phone call from Arkansas,” she said matter of factly. “I told them you were not to be bothered, but he insisted I pass along the message.”

It scared me at first. Was someone in my family seriously ill?

The drill sergeant then gave us the message.

“It was a Mr. Mac Sisson,” she said. “He wanted you to know that Ouachita defeated UAM this afternoon.”

She rolled her eyes, turned around and exited the room.

The tension was broken. My groomsmen and I cheered. I did a “Tiger roll” (you will have to ask one of the groomsmen to describe that).

Early this afternoon, my wife called. I had informed her this morning of the sad news.

“Guess what?” she said. “You have a large envelope in the mail from Mac Sisson.”

I haven’t been home yet to open it. But he was thinking of me still.

I know I will bask in the warm glow of memories like these in the years to come. But it’s still too fresh. My body aches on this Monday afternoon. Writing this has been somewhat of a catharsis I guess, but I want more than memories. I want to talk to Mac. I want to hear that laugh.

I don’t want to be selfish in my grief. There are a lot of people hurting today. I do know his family is hurting more now than we can realize.

Donna and Stephanie, we love you and are praying for you. Mac loved you dearly.

It was too soon to go, Mac. Way too soon.

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67 Responses to “Mac”

  1. Donna Roberton says:

    Mac Sisson helped me believe in the power of a well-written story. Sitting here now, with tears streaming down my face, I find it very fitting that Rex, and all of us who have responded to this blog, are using the very words Mac taught us to craft from the heart to describe his well-written story.

    Yes, the laugh. How that laugh could right the axis of my world. Even years later when I would stop by the News Bureau to see him, it would still work its magic. And the hours spent with him in the press box spotting football games, watching the Miss America pageant through his eyes, learning more about politics and history than any class ever taught me, sitting on that old, old couch in his office……

    I was a writer when I came to Mac in the News Bureau. I was a storyteller when I left. The stories I tell today are all rooted in a man who loved his God, his family and his people. And I am grateful to have been one of those people. Thank you, Mac, for believing in me. I never put a story to bed without thinking of you. -30-

  2. Tammie O'Bryant-Himmelsbach says:

    I was introduced to Mac my Sophmore year in high school while attending summer journalish camps at OBU. I don’t know how he did it but everyone is right about him NEVER forgetting you, your family members names, your likes, dislikes…..his memory was awesome. And when he inquired about you are & your life he was really concerned & cared about you. I decided to attend OBU mostly because of Mac & the rest when Steve Patterson told me, “Don’t worry about college, Mac will take care of you.” And he certainly did. Mac treated me like I was his daughter. I got more involved in pageants & he was the best coach & he cheered you on or help any girl who sought his help wheter she was representing OBU or any school. The pageant system there & certainly OBU will never be the same with out Mac Daddy. I know he’s in Heaven finally getting some much needed rest.
    Love you always Mac & to Donna & the Sisson family, thank you for sharing Mac with us & God’s peace to you all.

  3. Chris Babb says:

    These comments have been great to read.

    I find it ironic, though, that all of these comments about Mac are found on a blog.

    I can hear his voice at a high pitch and see his smiling cheeks now as he leaned back in his chair in the news bureau:”A blog? What in the world is a blog? Elvis would not have approved of people communicating that way.”

  4. Don Purdy says:

    It seems as though everyone had Mac’s number, I don’t think I can say anything about Mac that has not been said. He was a friend to all, a sports enthusiast who could give you information on anyone and everyone who ever played for OBU. Alway’s smiling, alway’s the encourager, that was Mac. We will all miss him and we will all cherish those moments we had with him. May God bless and be with Donna and family.

  5. Leslie (Moore) Elledge says:

    Thank you for your memories, Rex. I just found out about Mac this morning, and my heart is broken. I’m not sure if I ever took the time to tell him how much he meant to me. I worked for Mac in the News Bureau and SID Office all four years at OBU. I learned so much in those years. It was work…but he made it so much fun, it didn’t seem like work! How could stuffing thousands of envelopes with press releases be fun? Somehow, it was!

    I have never fogotten some of his sayings when it came to writing. “Trust No One, Assume Nothing” and “Keep Your Ducks in a Row.” These sayings have served me well over the years!

    Mac even let a few of us ride along with your gang to away football games. The season I remember doing that is when OBU won the AIC championship – 1982, I think. What memories! I also sold football programs for some extra cash, and ran the stats at halftime on that stencil duplicator in the press box…I can’t remember the name of that machine, but I remember the smell and the color of stain it would leave on my fingers!

    Mac was a one-of-a-kind man, and I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to know him. He truly was a mentor. I just wish he was here for me to let him know how much of an impact he had on my life.

    May God comfort you, Donna and Stephanie…you are loved.

  6. Daphne Davis Moore says:

    What a perfect tribute for an incredible man who influenced so many. Rex, as I read this I could hear Mac’s laugh; I could completely see that decades old couch; and I could vividly remember how that he made a college student feel like his colleague and equal teaching me all the while. Mac will be so missed, but his thumbprint is on so many of us, myself included who have seen our professional and personal lives guided (often behind the scenes) by him. I am blessed to have known and worked with Mac and indebted to him always.

  7. Patrick Netherton says:

    Man, this isn’t easy. How do you encapsulate a guy you saw pretty much every day of your life for four years? A guy who never had a cross word to say to or about anyone. A guy who always carried a smile, a piece of homespun advice or a photo of an engaged couple superimposed over a champagne flute? From the infamous white envelopes to the “Pickup Truck Rule” to determine if a restaurant was fit for consumption to Elvis to the most comfortable and most orange couches in the world.

    I remember the first time I heard Mac had an email address. I just laughed, partly because I was a member of the group herding him toward modern technology. No longer would scores of student workers (“secretaries) show up to stuff releases and mail them old school…soon it was faxing and then finally emailing.

    As Mac grew into modern technology, I grew into adulthood. And Mac was one of the great teachers I had on my way. As Jeff Root said, Mac taught lessons without a syllabus, imparted wisdom without saying a word.

    And if it were not for Mac Sisson, I would never have known (and still know) the words to the Crossett High School fight song.

    “Eagles fly high!”

  8. Susan Coppenger Akin says:

    Mac was always interested, always friendly, and pretty much always loud. When mother (Agnes Coppenger) was serving as Alumni and Placement Secretary she loved sharing Mac, Bill Downs and John Slaughter (the Print Shop guy) stories and comments. She loved mixing it up with those three in Flenniken Memorial. She was the fiesty, gray-headed mother figure trying to make them all behave and be nice. “Forget about that!”

    Mac’s smile, hug and memory for family names and events made me think I was his favorite. Dadgum! Now I see he was that way with everybody.

    Mary “Queen” King keeps us updated on news from Ouachita Hills and FBC, Arkadelphia. She reported that Mac was ushering and taking the offering, as usual, at First Baptist last Sunday. Well done, Mac! Faithful to the end. I’m sure Mother is so proud of you.

    And Donna has been a thoughtful and sensitive friend through the years. How we’ve appreciated her gentle spirit, humor, advice and handwritten notes at the bottom of each notice of OBU memorials for Mother, Anne and now Daddy.

    Dear Donna & Stephanie,
    We love your family. We love what you’ve meant and continue to mean to our family. We’re holding you in our hearts. We do not grieve as those without hope!

  9. Charlie Fuller says:

    Thanks to all for the wonderful stories and memories and such a wonderful professional and friend. I didn’t know Mac the way you guys did, but I worked for many years in the same building. As a music professor, it was a nightly occurrence to work late after a recital and it was also pretty normal for me to come in early in the morning. Mac’s old car was almost always there when I left late at night and there when I returned the next morning. Nobody in my entire life had the work ethic of Mac. And we all remember when he finally got rid of that old orange/brown car!

    Rex, thanks for doing such a great job at the service today! And, yes, the White Pig Inn is not in any way a chain restaurant!

  10. Bill Vining Jr. says:

    Mac was fun and dedicated to his Job, Lord and Savior, and family. What more can you ask. He will be missed.

  11. Ray Brookings says:

    I grew up with Mac in Crossett. He was a great man with that large laugh. It is odd that I thought of him not too long ago. The mark of a good man is how many lives he touched while he was here.
    Thanks for the stories about Mac. He will be missed by many people.

  12. Mitch Bettis says:

    Thanks, Rex. This was terrific.

  13. My brother’s and I have so many great memories of Mac. This was a great way to remember the man we all knew and loved. Thank Rex!

  14. Samuel Stricklin says:

    Being a part of the communications department and serving for two years as editor of the Signal it was a joy and honor to have a person like Mac Sisson as an invaluable ally. Am so sorry to hear of his death.

  15. Donna and Stephanie…i am truly heartbroken to find of Mac’s passing tonight. I love you and you are in my prayers. You all, along with Mac were a great blessing in my life…Mac was such a great coach and mentor as I had the honor of being Miss OBU and first-runner-up to Miss Arkansas in 1983…Mac always lifted me up in prayer, encouraged me and helped me be the best I could be in every phase of competition. Your home was shared with me on many occasions and many dinners as we fellowshipped and prepared…your friendships will always remain in my heart. Mac didn’t just talk the talk …he truly walked the walk and I know Heaven is soooooo much richer because Precious Mac Sisson is now a resident. I know he has many rewards that he is partaking in as he loved everyone no matter who they were or what they possessed…what a wonderful Husband, Father and Friend…He will be missed greatly.

  16. What a wonderful tribute to an amazing man! I only learned of Mac’s passing tonight… DeAnna let me know. So sorry I hadn’t heard before now… My prayers are with Donna, Stephanie, and all his loved ones. He was definitely a special, special man!

  17. Steve Edwards says:

    I can’t believe that I am only now hearing of Mac’s passing. I was one of his roomies our freshman year at OBU, along with Alan Pye. I can’t write much right now, as I am in total shock. I feel awful that I had been out of touch for such a long time. I will always recall his wonderful laugh, visiting in his parents’ home in Crossett, and lulling him and Alan to sleep with my all night typing of papers (for hire)–he commented on one occasion when I had stopped typing, that he immediately woke up, and insisted I continue typing—he’d gotten so used to the noise that he helped him sleep! He even commented to me that his children were “sort of” named in reference to his first roomies: me and Alan. Steve(n) Edwards (formerly of Hurst, TX; now a professor in LaGrange, GA)

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