The death notice in the Austin American-Statesman was brief and to the point - Lawrence M. Britton Sr., 82, of Austin, passed away on May 6, 2002.
It took barely 13 lines to tell us of the services, the time and the place and a window of time set aside for "reflections."
My first full-time job was covering high school sports for the Austin American-Statesman and one of my beats was old Anderson High School, the all-African-American secondary school in east Austin. It was there that I met Raymond Timmons, a giant of a man whose heart was bigger than he was and he was considerable. Working with him, step-for-step and kid-by-kid, was a wiry little man named Lawrence Britton.
"They were like daddys to those kids," remembers Rooster Andrews, who as a young sporting goods salesman called on Timmons, Britton and Lonnie Jackson, the Anderson coaches, as well as their predecessor, W. E. Pigford. "Mr. Pigford had become the principal and Hobie Gaines was the assistant principal."
Anderson was a football power second to none in the old Negro Interscholastic League, which was operated by Prairie View A&M. In the 27 years the league operated, Anderson won four outright State Championships, the only school to do so.
In other areas of the state, Willie Ray Smith, whose sons Bubba and Tody became big-time college and professional stars, and Alexander Durley and Pat Patterson to name a few, were leaders among the black coaches.
However, in Austin, as a young reporter, I will always remember Britton, Timmons and Jackson.
It was 1964 and integration had begun to dilute the talent that "Mr. Timmons" and his small staff had to work with. If he had 40 kids out for football, 20 probably were wanna-bes. The other 20, however, could have played for anybody.
Anderson produced the late Dick "Night Train" Lane, who went on to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. John Harvey, who arguably was the greatest Austin athlete of his era, was the first African-American player ever to sign with The University of Texas. Fate, however, would play its hand in that, as Harvey didn't qualify for admission and instead went to junior college and later to UT-Arlington before becoming a standout in the Canadian Football League.
Harvey was perhaps as good an example as any of the guidance provided by the men of Anderson High. The coaches knew he had rare talent and weren't afraid to use tough love discipline in the form of a well-worn paddle. Gaines would go by Harvey's house every morning to get him out of bed and make sure he was in school.
I remember Timmons looking out on the practice field, talking about kids, life and family, the reason for caring and the cause for discipline. He understood more than any counselor I have ever known.
Britton spent his years as an assistant coach in football, head coach in track & field, and later, as the head basketball coach. In the old gym on the east side, he would spend hours with kids, some of whom in another time might have earned college scholarships.
Most however, were simply young men traveling through life in a unique time in America. The burning sense I came away with from my time with those coaches was the pride in the community. The loyalty to each other, the belief in a common bond. That was something you cannot teach. It's the difference between logic and emotion, from being in your head or being in your heart.
Darrell Royal, who was the head coach at Texas during the turbulent years of the 1960s, remembers the men of Anderson High and also smiles with pride as he looks at Mack Brown's staff at Texas today.
"I have a lot of great friends who were pioneers as black coaches and could have coached at any level," Royal said. "I remember them well and I am also really proud that we're reaching the point where the color of person's skin doesn't make any difference to anybody. I know it never did for me. I grew up appreciating people for who they were, not for what they could do for me. I also think there is a whole lot of positive in being proud of your roots."
On Brown's football staff, Associate Athletics Director Cleve Bryant, who is perhaps Brown's closest associate, was one of the first African-American men to become a head coach at the NCAA Division I-A level when he mentored his alma mater, Ohio University. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake does a tremendous job with some of the nation's most talented football players and Bruce Chambers was a high school athletics director and head coach at Dallas Carter High before joining the Texas staff.
Then there's Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden, who is the Assistant Athletics Director in charge of the entire strength and conditioning program at Texas. Jean Bryant, Cleve's wife, is in charge of the life skills program for football. They are all a big part of the football family of Brown, who has a healthy feeling of history when it comes to coaching.
"Jake Gaither at Florida A&M and Eddie Robinson at Grambling were two of the men I looked up to in coaching," Brown said. "It wasn't just that they won most of their games, it was how they approached the game and the players. I would hope that someday the kids who have played for us will look back with the same love and loyalty that I sense their players did. They had a way of making the game fun and of teaching values that would carry way beyond the playing field or the basketball court."
As a young reporter, I really didn't realize the great gift those coaches had given me until years later, when I reflected on the time and place. They taught us all that the color of a man's skin made no difference in his mind or heart. Of all of the men I covered, those coaches never complained about their circumstances or the odds against success in the arena. It was never about that for them, nor is it for the men and women on Brown's staff who are fortunate to work in one of the greatest environments in collegiate athletics.
Britton is important because he represents all of the coaches in all of the towns and all of the colleges who have won games and lost games, but more importantly, have saved lives and helped young people to learn and grown so they could go out and make a difference.
With the mandated end to segregation, the original Austin Anderson High School closed in 1971 and for years the building sat alone on Neal Street in east Austin. Then, the Austin Independent School District opened an alternative school in the building and new life was back where only the ghosts had lived. There was another change as well.
Among the Anderson graduates was Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, who, after being a great player for the Dallas Cowboys, fought through an odyssey of drugs and alcohol. Henderson has since not only rehabilitated himself, but he also has given his life to rehabilitating others, particularly the kids of east Austin. His cause was helped immensely when he purchased a lottery ticket at Nau's Drug and won $28 million.
That is why the old fields and track where Pigford and Timmons coached football and Britton and Jackson coached track are now in use for youngsters. Through the work there, new green grass and fresh faces will have a different but still positive memory of what Anderson High School was all about.
I hope they will tell the kids about Britton and get to know Cleve, Darryl, Bruce, Mad Dog, Jean and all of the African-American coaches and players who now reside at the big University across I-35 from the east aide. For all the right reasons, times have changed.
When they reflected on Britton during a special service Friday night, they remembered a role model on whom futures were built. They will recalled the discipline, the same fierce loyalty and the kind of support that lasted a long time after the kids left the game.