Bill Little commentary: A tree is gone
Aug. 15, 2012
Bill Little,Texas Media Relations
The news, for many, wouldn't matter. But for those to whom it mattered, it will matter a lot.
Mike Korth died Wednesday morning. He wasn't a legendary athlete, or a coach whose teams won a bunch of games. He never made a lot of money, and for almost a third of his life of 49 years he bravely battled a disease that would kill him.
The reason Mike Korth is important is that he represents dozens of employees in Texas athletics who go about their business every day, toiling - not for the fame or the glory or the money - but because of a commitment to excellence and a loyalty that transcends most other things.
Mike Korth was special because he drew his energy from the people. He loved being Mike Korth. From the athletes to the staff to the cheerleaders to anyone who came his way, he worked - not for The University - but for human kind.
A native of Rockdale, Mike came to The University from Blinn Junior College in the early 1980s. He earned a letter as a track manager and began working part-time for the athletics department. That was 29 years ago. For the next 15 years, every time anybody needed anything done around the athletics department, the simple answer was "call Korth." Need something assembled (instructions not included)? Call Korth. Need somebody to stay late to turn on the stadium lights for a TV shoot? Call Korth. Errands, work detail, organization? Call Korth.
As his indomitable spirit passes to another dimension, you have to figure God needed somebody to take charge of miracles. That is how we saw him. You ask, and you knew it would be done.
It was soon after Mack Brown became the Texas head football coach in the spring of 1998 that Mike was diagnosed with a brain tumor. They told him he had six months to live. That was 14 years ago. It is safe to say that no one ever fought harder to live than Mike Korth. Every so often, there would be another setback, and yet, there he would be, perhaps walking more slowly, but always on the job.
When the cancer took much of his eyesight and made it unsafe to drive, Mike rode the bus to St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital to see his friend and my son David Little as David fought through the effects of a stroke four years ago.
And still there was always the greeting:
"How ya doin' Mike?"
By the end, he needed a cane and his brisk walk had become a shuffle. His once-athletic frame was showing the effects of long years of serious medication.
In 2009, Mike was recognized as the honorary referee at the Texas Relays. Last fall, he was inducted into the Rockdale Sports Hall of Honor in his home town. Those were nice, but Mike Korth's reward was more likely seeing young people happy. To that, he would flash an impish smile and politely move on to the next challenge.
As I said at the beginning of this, the reason Mike is significant is that he is a reflection of so many, many people who serve in the same way every single day. Our late, great friend Dick Dozier, who with his wife Marian owned every Taco Bell as far as the eye could see from Austin, always lived by a motto of "Here to Serve."
Those who worked with Mike and those who knew him understand that. He was part of an era here in the athletics department that included so many young people who came here as a way station on life's journey and stayed and kept working because this is a hard place to say goodbye to. Following in their footsteps are dozens of young college graduates who are just starting out in this profession of college athletics, determined to keep this athletics department on the cutting edge of the future, while preserving the great tradition which is inbred within us all.
They, like Mike, do not have the high profile of some of us. But it is their energy, and their commitment, that creates what this university stands for. Universities are not made of bricks and mortar. They are made of people. There are over 12,000 staff workers at UT who are not at the level of administrators or professors, but who bust their tails every day to do their job well.
I have told this story before, but when I was a kid growing up in Winters, Texas, I had returned home from college in Austin for the summer. I went with my Dad to what I remember as being the best fishing hole in Runnels County, and as we approached the creek, you couldn't help but notice that the giant pecan tree which had shaded the bank was gone - a victim of age and a storm.
And yet as I stood there and looked at the scene from a distance, I could still see that tree, hanging like a portrait in the hallways of the mind.
So it will be with Mike Korth. In so many ways, he will always be there. On patrol, looking for the next job to do. And behind him will be all those who have followed...determined to live a life where pride is reflected in a job well done, and gratification came, not for what somebody did for you, but from what you did for others.