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Vince Staten: Kingsport lost a mighty good man when Eddie Durham died

VINCE STATEN • May 7, 2013 at 7:46 PM

Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard about Eddie Durham.

You know about Eddie’s devotion to coaching and kids. He was still in high school when he started coaching. Over the years his teams won all manner of championships, from his Rotary team in Midget League baseball to his Wildcats team in Pee Wee League basketball. He was coaching the D-B golf team as recently as two years ago.

But the story you haven’t heard before happened in the summer of 1966. Eddie and his friend Mike Dickerson were at a neighbor’s apartment on C Street in Highland, watching a baseball game on TV, when Eddie thought he smelled beans burning.

He went outside and saw flames pouring out of another apartment in the building. One of the occupants, 61-year-old Sally Wagner, who was wheelchair-bound, had managed to maneuver her chair to the porch but then flames began leaping out the porch window.

Eddie picked up Lucas, wheelchair and all, and carried her to a neighbor’s home. Then he went back to rescue Wagner’s father, Isom Wagner, who was bedridden and paralyzed.

Eddie and Dickerson were trying to hoist the 81-year-old Wagner from his bed when firemen arrived and took over the task.

The reason you haven’t heard the story is because Eddie never told it. Eddie wasn’t a braggart. But on that boiling hot summer afternoon in 1966, he was a hero.

Eddie once told me that his goal was just once he wanted to get the first haircut of the day at Claude Russell’s Barbershop. Claude opened at 5 a.m., and Eddie said he would get there at 5 and somebody would already be in the chair. He’d get there before 5 and still somebody would have arrived even earlier. Eddie said he finally got his wish but it took years. It was after one of Claude’s shut downs for surgery and before his business had bounced back.

I knew Eddie long before he knew me. I remember when I was in junior high, going to D-B games. Eddie would be there, on the sideline or on the bench, rooting on the Indians. He was D-B’s number one fan.

And when I moved back to Kingsport and began writing this column, Eddie was one of the first people to send me a note, welcoming me back home.

Kingsport lost a mighty good man when Eddie died last week.


I was in Memphis over the weekend for that modern rite of passage, kindergarten graduation. Seventeen kids, 34 parents, assorted step-parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, all with cellphone cameras, quite a hullabaloo for, uh, kindergarten graduation.

Memphis was all aflutter over the success of its professional basketball team, the Grizzlies, which had just won its first-round match in the NBA playoffs.

One of the days I was in Memphis the entire front page of the Memphis paper was devoted to NBA coverage.

I’ve been a lukewarm NBA fan, at best, since my favorite player Bill Russell retired back in the late ’60s.

But I have kept up enough that I can tell you when it comes to geography, the NBA flunks.

Take the Memphis Grizzlies. The only grizzly bear anywhere around Memphis is in the Memphis Zoo. The grizzly hasn’t been found south of Montana in years. The name is a holdover from when the team was based in Vancouver, Canada, which is home to the grizzly bear.

When you think of Los Angeles, do you think of its lakes? Of course not. The name Los Angeles Lakers dates to the ’50s when the team was based in Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Worst of all is the Utah Jazz. Utah and Jazz? Huh? Is there something I don’t know about the Osmonds? A previous incarnation of the team was in New Orleans and New Orleans Jazz does make sense.

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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