Tennessee has lost a genuine Vol for Life, a highly respected former athlete and educator.
Bobby Gratz, 73, expert on living, died on Dec. 28 after a war with cancer.
He was born in Morristown and grew up to be a starting guard and alternate captain on Doug Dickey’s 1965 team that won eight games and “prevailed” in the historic 7-7 tie with Alabama.
Those were the Volunteers who defeated UCLA in Memphis and Tulsa in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
At about that same time, Bobby was also president of the UT chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Gratz later became president of the UT lettermen’s club. He remained on the board of directors and stayed in touch with dozens of former players.
With his health in rapid decline, old Vols Robbie Franklin, Reggie Jellicorse, J. R. McKelvy, Dewey Warren, Mike Price, Jerry Smith, Harold Stancell, Jerry Holloway and Johnny Mills gathered to say goodbye. They ended up as part of storytime.
“We went to see him one last time,” said Holloway, former tackle.
They thought they might bring some cheer and lift Bobby’s and wife Brenda’s spirits.
“To a man, we admitted that the visit turned out to be the other way around,” said Holloway. “Captain Gratz was cheerful and engaging in each ‘I remember when’ story.”
Holloway said the old Vols didn’t shed a single tear until they were out of Bobby’s room and completely out of sight.
“If you don’t believe a dying man can lift those around him, you should have been there.”
Best I can tell, Gratz, in visits with other former teammates, had the most meaningful line. He quoted a treasured gospel song, “I’m going to have a little talk with Jesus.”
Beyond Vol football, Gratz earned a UT master’s degree in education and touched hundreds of lives as a coach, teacher or administrator in the Knox County Schools system. Former Bearden High, Powell High and Doyle High students have him among their memories. He also worked at Carter, Gresham, South Doyle, Holston and Halls Middle schools.
He retired in 2006 as director of middle schools but continued to teach future teachers at South College and Carson-Newman.
Among the survivors are wife Brenda Gratz, daughter Stephanie Conner, brother Ron and sister Becky Hickman.
Gratz was a member of Fountain City United Methodist Church. The family will receive friends there on Friday from 5-7 with a celebration of life to follow. Dr. Randy Frye, the Rev. Amy Aycock and the Rev. Bill Kilday will officiate.
(Marvin West would like to hear your stories about Bobby Gratz. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org)