I hate it when people get old, retire and die and I admit it’s partially for selfish reasons. Every time we do an obit, I’m reminded that I’m no spring chicken myself. Today, American culture lost two greats: legendary TV host Dick Clark, 82, dying from a heart attack and Pat Summit stepping down as the coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols. Even as these icons age and move on, they’re still leading, taking the path none of us are prepared to travel ourselves.
Few people in America live to become allusions, their names known and understood without an explanation needed, but Clark was one. Self-proclaimed as “America’s Oldest Teenager,” his name was synonymous with two things: music and New Year’s celebrations. if you’re old enough (I am), then you know Clark played an important role in making music the mainstream force it is. The best way to state his importance to anyone over the age of 30 came from Twitter, where user Suede referred to the legendary American Bandstand host and Don Cornelius as the “bookends to our musical upbringing.” The two men dominated Saturday mornings, filling them with fresh, new music and paved the way for so many other media outlets by doing so.
And if you weren’t around during Bandstand’s heydey, there’s a chance you’ve rung in a New Year’s Eve by counting down the ball drop with Clark. Truth be told, the host’s role was limited as his health diminished but he still held tradition, showing up annually to be the first TV personality to say goodbye to one year and hello to the next.
“Should Pat Summit retire?” was an ongoing storyline after her announcement that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I knew Pat well, being a native Volunteer and having both grown up and married into households where women’s basketball dominated the TV as much as men’s. Both my dad and wife coach girls teams but they stand as polar opposites – my dad being a staunch Summit supporter, my wife waving the flag for nemesis Geno Auriemma and UConn. But like anyone who follows women’s basketball, they both held Pat Summit in the highest of regards. After a 38-year career, Summit’s fingerprints linger all over the sport and many coaches and players can trace their roots and influences back to her Lady Vols teams, whether they drew inspiration from or rooted against her squads.
So, I’m getting older. The people who once stood as pillars to me are, too. And it’s by watching the names and faces you knew as constants stepping away that can be a jarring reminder to live more and work harder in order to leave an impact as great as theirs.