Reprinted here with permission of Mr. Jim Stewart in the Media Department of Furman University, is an article on Red Dobson, who you may remember gave his name to the gymnasium at Spartanburg High School. The article first appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of Furman Magazine.
The Measure of a Man
by Ronald Hyatt
My introduction to Hubert Ray “Red” Dobson came in
the fall of 1951, when as a freshman at Furman I enrolled
in one of his physical education activity classes. On
the fi rst day he entered the room, introduced himself
and began going over the class rules:
“We’re going to be OT-OT: on target, on time and ready for the kickoff.”
“We will never laugh at you, but we will laugh with you.”
“In this course, everybody is somebody.”
He went on to say, “We’re going to learn sports skills and how to make
friends. We’re going to take a clean shower and smell like a flower, because
even your friends will tell you when you don’t smell good.”
He then informed us that the hot water was out in the gymnasium.
We would soon discover that this was not an unusual occurrence. But
we followed him into the shower room, turned on the water and, as he
said, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, run through the water, it’s quite a trick.”
Furman faced many challenges after World War II.
Its student body had been depleted by the war, its facilities were aging, and both
its academic and athletic programs were in need of an overhaul.
One of the people the university asked to help it regain its footing
was Red Dobson. A 1925 Furman graduate, all-Southern Conference
football player and four-sport letterman, Dobson had been a highly
successful teacher and coach at Spartanburg High School. His football
teams lost only fi ve home games in 19 years and finished unbeaten four
times, and his basketball teams won six state championships.
Spartanburg was not happy to lose Dobson, who was a beloved figure
in the community. Indeed, word came that the city had agreed merely
to “loan” Dobson to Furman. Before he departed he was named Spartanburg’s
most valuable citizen.
And no wonder. He was extroverted and caring, a man of strong
faith and character who developed strong character in his students.
He never used profanity and modeled ethical behavior.
Bobby Morrow ’51, a longtime Southern Baptist minister, recalled that
Dobson once stopped a Furman gym class when a boy uttered an oath while
playing basketball. Morrow says, “Mr. Dobson blew the whistle, turned to
me and said, ‘Bobby, I don’t believe that boy said that, do you? He is too
good a young man to say that. I don’t believe he said it.’ And then he
gave us a 15-minute address on clean speech.”
Another story, from Dobson’s Spartanburg High days: During a faculty
meeting, the subject of improper grammar came up. An English instructor
suggested that “in every school activity, good English should be emphasized.”
Dobson stood, cleared his throat and said, “I have too much trouble
in the gym keeping them from saying ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ to worry about
them saying ‘ain’t’ and ‘nary.’ ”
Students looked up to Dobson, and he did not let them down.
He was a little bit of what every boy wanted to be when he grew up,
and a lot of what grown men wished they had become.
At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he was strong and sturdy, as befit an expert
gymnast and superior swimmer. With his red hair, rugged face, football
nose, bright eyes and excellent teeth, he cut quite a figure.
I had the honor of being an intramural student manager at Furman
under Red Dobson. My job was to set the schedules, organize tournaments,
see that the games started “OT” (on time) and ensure that students had
fun — and that they played “in a clean, wholesome setting according
to the rules.”
On game days the managers would load the equipment bags into
Dobson’s red Buick, preparing to head out to the playing fields. Dobson
would hop in with his bulldog, Rex, who always sat in the front passenger
seat, wearing a cap. The managers sat in the back.
Once I suggested that I had been a pretty good fellow all week,
all year in fact, and that I deserved to ride in the front. “Oh no,” Dobson
said. “Rex means king, and a king should be given the seat of honor.”
So we’d ride around campus, with Dobson and Rex stopping to chat
with passers-by while the managers hid so the girls wouldn’t see us. One
day a member of the staff laughed at me and, calling me by my nickname,
said, “Hunkie, unless that dog dies you’re never going to get to ride in the
He was right. I never did sit in the front seat, at least while Rex
Hubert Ray Dobson was born in 1900 in Duplin County, N.C.
During his youth his family, which included four children, moved first
to Teachey and then to Smithfield, where his father died in a fall. They
eventually settled in Wilmington, where his mother opened a boarding
Wilmington was a railroad, logging, shipyard and seaport town that
hugged the Cape Fear River. Dobson struggled academically in high school.
He entertained the university community at campus events. He loved to sing.
And at the end of every performance, if Laura Mae was in the audience,
he would close by dedicating the song “Have I Told You Lately That
I Love You?” to her.
Years ago I had planned to write a book about Dobson,
and in preparation I contacted many of his former students
and colleagues for their recollections. They offered a stream
of stories and superlatives.
Donny Wilder ’54, a former South Carolina state representative and
a retired journalist, recalled “the bounce in [Dobson’s] step” and how “the
energy that radiated from him was catching. Even college students who
were trying on a cloak of cynicism for the first time usually succumbed to
his enthusiasm.” Frank Selvy ’54, the legendary basketball star, described
Dobson as “one of the greatest men I ever knew.”
Bill Cox ’54 remembered occasionally “snickering a little behind his
back at some of his statements or demonstrations, but not one of us would
have wanted him any other way. No one ever doubted that he was sincere
in all he did and that he would do anything to help us.” And Boyd Ayers
’50 described the sensitivity that Dobson showed when Boyd’s first child
was born — and Dobson overpaid him for his week’s work at camp. Boyd
said, “He was a giant among men.”
Dobson’s colleagues on the Furman faculty were equally effusive.
Winston Babb, the noted history professor, said, “I remember Red as the
one man whom I have known who never had anything bad to say of
anyone. I remember the enthusiasm and drive with which he approached
everything he did.” English professor Edward P. Vandiver said, “Coach
Dobson’s smile and friendliness are what I especially remember, and those
qualities would be valued highly in a world where too much sarcasm and
too little sincere friendship exist.”
Dean Olivia Futch recalled his “friendliness and genuine interest in
people.” She told of how once, on a trip to Florida, Dobson had stopped
in to see her mother in Alachua, “just to give her a personal greeting
because he knew me. This was his own idea, not a request from me.
I always appreciated his thoughtfulness.”
And this from history professor Albert Sanders: “Red Dobson was
a gentle man with a great concern to keep people from being defi led by
the ugliness in the world. He deplored intolerance, unfairness and bad
language. He was the most sincere lover of his fellow man — and lived
by that philosophy — that I have ever known.”
Dobson served Furman as athletic director, intramural director
and instructor in physical education.
When he arrived in 1946, the university was ready to initiate a program in physical education
and coaching, and he had just earned a master’s degree from Columbia
University with a focus on professional preparation for physical education.
During his years at Furman, Dobson enjoyed the love of students and
the respect of his colleagues — and, each summer, the adoration of a new
group of campers. All seemed right in his world until early 1959, when
Dobson began missing classes. This was cause for concern, because no
one could recall Dobson ever being sick.
He had begun having severe headaches. Laura Mae said, “He didn’t
complain, but his sight wasn’t as good as it had been, nor was his driving.”
Finally, as the headaches worsened, Dobson visited a doctor. The
news was bad: a brain tumor. He underwent surgery, but his illness had
progressed too far. On March 25, 1959, Red Dobson died at the age of 58.
Area newspapers were filled with tributes to Dobson’s integrity,
character and influence. Dan Foster ’49, sports editor of the Greenville
Piedmont at the time, wrote, “Among the big men in the athletic world,
he was a big man. . . . In athletic travels from New York to Miami to
Oklahoma City, wherever a Furman identity was made, the question
of ‘How is Red Dobson?’ was inevitable, and it was warm and asked
“It is just as true that he was a character and that he was unique —
and that he is irreplaceable.”
In the April 1959 issue of The Furman University Magazine, editor
Fletcher Allen wrote, “Truly great men need not be great according to
national or international standards. They need only to be consecrated
to God and dedicated to their fellow man. The rest falls into place.
Such a man was Red Dobson.”
Services were conducted at a mortuary in Greenville, after which
his body was taken to Spartanburg for burial. The hearse moved slowly
through the rain toward a large group of people standing at the city limits.
Neville Holcombe, mayor of Spartanburg, walked to Laura Mae’s car and
said, “We just wanted to welcome Red Dobson back home.”
The 200-car funeral caravan headed down Main Street, which was
lined with people who were there to pay homage to their beloved
friend. During the graveside service, the rain stopped — and a rainbow
broke through the clouds.
After finishing Furman, I went on to teach on the secondary and
I wound up at the University of North Carolina, where I
have worked since 1966. I directed the intra mural program at UNC for
many years, applying the principles and philosophies I learned under Red
Dobson. I also wrote a book on intramural sports, which I dedicated to him.
But I never did write that biography of Dobson. I suppose this article
will have to do.
As a point of personal privilege, I have reserved the epilogue for myself.
I did not grow up a man of means, and during my years at Furman I held
a number of jobs to help pay for my education. Aside from my position with
the intramural program, I worked in the dining hall, drove buses between
classes, and took the night shift at Campbell’s Pharmacy in downtown
Greenville. I sent what money I could home to support my mother and
grandmother in Latta, S.C.
One year, Furman notified me that I owed the university $80 and that
unless I paid it, I would not be allowed to take my final exams. For me,
this was the last straw. I was tired of worrying about finances.
I decided to leave. I took my two loads of clothes, put them in the
car, said goodbye to my roommates, and went to tell Mr. Dobson goodbye.
He said, “I’m glad you came by. Come with me, I have to visit some places
And for what may have been the only time, I rode in the front seat
of the red Buick.
We made several stops, and after about 30 minutes returned to his
office in the gym. There he handed me a receipt marked “Paid in Full —
Furman Business Office.” Without my knowledge, he had taken care
of my bill.
For the first time in my life, I got angry with Mr. Dobson. “I didn’t
come by here for money from you or anybody,” I said. “I’m going home to
Latta, and I’ll be OK.”
He looked me straight in the eye and said, “No, Ronald, you’re going to
stay in school, and you’re going to finish Furman, and you’re going to make
something out of yourself.”
So I returned to my dorm room. And for the past 50 years, I have been
trying to make something out of myself.
When I was green and needed to be educated, I met a man who made
all the difference in the world to me and to countless others, a man of
character and faith and humility who demonstrated unwavering love
for his students and his institution.
His name was Hubert Ray “Red” Dobson, and he was a man
A profile of the author, who graduated from Furman in 1956, appeared
in the summer issue of Furman magazine.