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.