It was a difficult drive on Wednesday to the northern part of Texas to celebrate the life of Wendi Jones who passed away after a second battle with breast cancer. As I pulled into Keller United Methodist Church I for some reason parked towards the back and entered on the side. Walking through the door I found myself on the church basketball court.
How ironic! It was basketball that first introduced me to Wendi.
I was a member of Dale Brown’s staff at LSU while Wendi played for the Lady Tigers. There was a such a great respect for both programs and we supported each other in every way imaginable. The women would practice from 12:30 until 3:00 PM while we would take the floor at immediately after. I loved watching Coach Sue Gunter teach and would often head over to the gym well before our practice time to watch the Lady Tigers. Their teams in that era were excellent. Three things I remembered about Wendi was that she had an element of toughness, she played extremely hard, and she was a wonderful teammate — always with a great attitude. These intangibles would served her well through life.
Later when Coach Brown retired, I had the opportunity to join Coach Gunter’s staff and one of my responsibilities was alumni relations. My conversations with Wendi turned to alumni weekend visits and updates on her life and family.
The next link to my relationship with Wendi came about through breast cancer. My wife Sherie, was diagnosed in 2007. We made a decision to be public in our fight and see if we could raise awareness and money. I think it was because we went public that Wendi’s husband Trent felt comfortable reaching out to me when she was first diagnosed.
Over the course of the next few years there would be various conversations, text messages and communication through Facebook. I never ended one without thinking what an amazing attitude Wendi possessed. I rallied our Lady Tiger family around her reaching out to our professional players as well. Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Temeka Johnson and others reached out to her and sent her things like their pink WNBA game shoes, head bands and more.
The last time I physically saw Wendi was at an LSU basketball game two years ago — alumni weekend. I was by then on the staff at Texas A&M but couldn’t wait to see her and for the first time meet her son Ryan. On that day, I wore a special pink Breast Cancer Awareness tie in her honor while she and Ryan were decked out on purple and gold. It was a great day.
I was out of town a few weeks ago when Trent let me know that Wendi’s time was near and that she was at peace with everything. I couldn’t help think how fortunate she had been to have Trent along for this journey. Unless you have held down the responsibility of caregiver, it’s hard to understand the energy, effort and toll it takes. Trent was amazing and I have so much respect for him.
It was a beautiful service with teammates Barbara Henderson and Shelly Raines there. Barbara spoke and told some stories about Wendi that brought out her caring nature and her sense of humor as well.
As I looked around the church, it was at near capacity — a testament within itself. As Coach Don Meyer would say, “You can tell more about someone at the funeral than you can their wedding.” Among those in attendance were many junior high and high school students — too many to count. Wendi was a teacher — it would be shared by her friend Lisa Bradley that was named Teacher-of-the-Year three times though it was already obvious how well she did her job by those students in the pews.
I thought of the quote by Henry Brooks Adam, "A teacher effects eternity, and you can never tell where the influence stops." Looking at all these young faces I knew that the lessons they learned in Wendi's classrooms were important but the example she lead will be with them forever.
Wendi had also coached and Lisa gave great insight as to why she was a great teacher by saying “Wendi enjoyed practices far more than games.”
The family asked that in lieu of flowers that we “donate to a Breast Cancer charity of your choice.” Today I will make one to the Kay Yow Fund in Wendi’s name.
I would ask that all of us that knew Wendi do one other thing. I firmly believe that the best way to honor someone you’ve lost is by the life you live. Wendi has given us all a great blueprint in her servant leadership example.
Thank you Wendi. You will be missed but certainly not forgotten. For as Barbara Henderson reminded us, Sue Gunter taught us the on the court or off the court is it always US.