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It's Been Ten Years Since Lee Roy Selmon Passed. I Still Miss Him.

Thank you for just being you, Lee Roy.

(Collin wrote this in 2014 - we just updated the title for the tenth anniversary of Lee Roy's passing so we could repost it to the front page.)


Theoretically there are no perfect people. But I worked for and with Lee Roy Selmon for five years, and I never, ever saw him do anything that wasn't flawless. Seriously, nothing.

I could tell tons of Lee Roy stories, but they all end the same way; he always did the right thing. He was unbelievably, incredibly kind. He was more generous with his time than any human being should ever be. He was more humble than should ever have been expected of someone that accomplished so much. An Academic and Athletic All-American football player, a first overall draft pick that ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame, followed by a successful career in banking. He then spent the last years of his life working in education. Not because it paid well or for some kind of glory, but because he believed in it so much.

Yes he made Bulls football possible, but his work with USF was because of the opportunity an education would provide young people. It was always about education, and football was just a means to an end. It got him and his brothers out of poverty in Oklahoma, and he wanted as many young people as possible to have the same chance he was given.

He had an innate kindness that radiated through him like no one else I have ever met. It made you feel better about yourself, and challenged you to be a better person. Not because he tried to do that, but because it just happened. I still ask myself "what would Lee Roy do?" whenever I'm faced with any crisis or conundrum. I try (and often fail) to do what I think he would do, but I don't even try to do it how he would. He handled challenges not only more wisely than I could ever dream, but with a grace and humility that will always escape me.

I am deeply sarcastic with a very dark sense of humor, and I have trouble putting away that caustic lens. Lee Roy and I couldn't have been further apart in this way, but somehow I understood his perspective instantly. He was so pure of heart and kind that you couldn't ever question from where his upbeat perspective on life came. His dedication to his family, his faith, and the world around him was beautiful.

A bad word never crossed his lips, which would make me feel instantly guilty when my sailor mouth said one in front of him. Not because he would take me to task for it, but because it just felt so wrong when he was around. His was a presence that could be so quiet, but so meaningful. It came in handy when about 15 of us students went to Cincinnati for the C-USA Tournament in '02 and had a run-in with the arena staff before the game. This was before I worked for USF, but Lee Roy took a rather fired up friend of mine and simply said "hey, come sit over here." He sat next to him for the rest of the game, and his mere presence took all the toxicity out of what could have been such a volatile situation. That ability to disarm served him well his entire life, and it served the world well too.

The reverence with which everyone held him was apparent at all times, but he also had a wonderful sense of humor. Lee Roy could be legitimately funny when he wanted to be, mostly with a raised eyebrow or an askance look, and he had a laugh that's embedded on my soul. It was so pure, and came from such a bright and loving place.

I worked with Lee Roy in development, so I saw the patience of a saint he exhibited on a daily basis. When you're literally the most popular man in town, there's no shortage of people asking you to attend this or lend your name to that. He handled every single request with a graciousness that was almost beyond human. Some of them were so outrageous I would have to suppress a cackle when I heard people ask him, but he always smiled and made that person feel like they were the most important in the room.

I told him that if he had run for mayor not only would he win, but everyone else would have dropped out immediately. I kidded Lee Roy a lot, but on that one I wasn't joking. I once called him from his restaurant, and left him this message: "It's Collin. They took the cornbread casserole off the menu here. Did you know this, and if so, why do you hate your customers?" If you've had the cornbread at Selmon's, you know why I did. I saw him a couple days later, and said I was going to quit unless he fixed this. I'm sure I wasn't the only complainer, but it was back on the menu two weeks later. He put up with my odd sense of humor and goofiness, and always with a smile. I think he thought I was funny, but even if he didn't, he made me feel like he did. That was his gift.

I was with Lee Roy in plenty of meetings and normal office days, and the most amazing thing about him is he was the exact same person behind closed doors as in public. Every single second of every single day. If you were ever lucky enough to meet Lee Roy anywhere, that's the man he was. There wasn't a scintilla of pomposity or ego or conceit about him 24 hours a day and seven days a week. And I still don't know how he did it. The burden of being Lee Roy Selmon would have broken a lesser man. But a lesser man wouldn't have been Lee Roy Selmon in the first place.

There's a great video of him holding up the middle of the USF donor tent at the Army game in '03, where a huge thunderstorm came in right before kickoff. With chaos and insanity reigning around him, Lee Roy just calmly stood in the middle and weathered the storm as a pillar holding everything upright. It's the perfect analogy of the man.

Even in his fifties, he was just a wall of a human physically. His frame was more linebacker than defensive end as he got older, but if it wasn't for the graying hair he looked like he could still terrorize a quarterback from the outside of a 3-4. But you could see what football had done to him. The stairs in the USF Athletics building now named after him weren't that punishing, but he would often take the elevator on days when he was hurting. He looked the picture of health as he shook your hand, his massive one engulfing yours easily, but you could sometimes see the pain that he dealt with every day. He never complained however; he just carried on with that smile that could light up any room blessed with his presence.

I was in Chicago when I found out Lee Roy passed away. It was the day after USF beat Notre Dame in football, and I was in a Wrigleyville bar after a Cubs game with a few people that knew him. We had just done a toast to him a few minutes earlier knowing he was in the hospital back home. There was an awful back and forth on Twitter saying he was no longer with us, then that he was, and then that he wasn't again. We had no idea what to think. Yes we knew he was having some health problems, but there's no way he wouldn't pull through this. He still looked strong as an ox so of course he'd be OK. It was Lee Roy. He'd be around to guide us forever.

In the craziest coincidence of my life, that morning I also found out my father had passed away. I never really knew him, and hadn't seen him since I was a very small child. My reaction to my father's death was kind of a shrug and an "OK... let's go to the Cubs game." He was always kind of a ghost anyway.

But I couldn't get through writing this about Lee Roy without breaking down over and over, and it's been ten years. I was lucky to have two men in my life to show me right from wrong. That showed me how to treat people. That lived it every single day: My grandfather and Lee Roy Selmon. I may not have had a father, but I had great examples. And for that I will forever be grateful.

Thanks for everything, Lee Roy. For showing me that better people exist. That better men exist. I will never be what you were, but I'll never stop trying to get as close as I can.

I love you. We all still love you.