RAY TANNER, THE newly hired baseball coach, met Tom Price, the veteran of South Carolina’s department of athletics, for the first time, and he started the conversation by exchanging the usual get-acquainted small talk.
“I have heard a lot of good things about you,” Tanner said, turning the calendar back to the summer of 1996.
Price quickly replied, “I know a lot about you, too, including what you hit your senior season in college.”
Tanner recounted the story Monday at the celebration of Tom Price’s life, and mourners filled the chapel with laughter.
The story is so Tom, the Gamecocks’ sports information director and historian for almost a half-century who died Friday at age 81.
Yet, there is far more to remember about Thomas Hart Price than his amazing recall of statistics, athletes and games.
There is his work helping develop the sports information field.
“A founding father,” Georgia sports communications director Claude Felton said.
There is his teaching, which those he guided into the field recounted, and his “being like family,” said King Dixon, a former football star and director of athletics at South Carolina.
And there is his devotion to the school, which Tanner summed up in these words: “I am not sure anybody had the passion and love for the garnet and black that Tom had.”
‘A real building block.’ If the measure of the man is lives he touches and the respect he commanded, Tom Price died with the wealth of Croesus.
The South Carolina family — administrators, former coaches and athletes — turned out for the Monday morning service. Members of the media joined friends in saying farewell.
More significantly, the mourners included a number of sports information colleagues who came from near and far.
Haywood Harris and Bud Ford drove in from the University of Tennessee. Felton came from Georgia and Charles Bloom, who was introduced to the profession by Price as a student, made the trek from the Southeastern Conference office in Birmingham, Ala.
Clemson representatives included Tim Bourret and Louise Bradley, widow of the Tigers’ information pioneer Bob Bradley. Tony Ciuffo from the College of Charleston attended, as did Bill Hamilton from South Carolina State. The list went on and on.
There is a reason so many SIDs attended, Felton said.
“People throw the word ‘legend’ around a lot, but the word with him is an understatement,” he said. “He was a great mentor to some of us in the profession, one of the real building blocks.”
Of course, Price’s remarkable memory earned mention, and Felton pointed out an often-overlooked attribute.
“He was a great ambassador for college sports,” Felton said. “He loved his baseball, and you never questioned Tom on anything involving baseball.”
Loyalty beyond games. Conference officials honored Price at the 2007 SEC baseball tournament — with good reason. He watched every game, even those that did not include the Gamecocks.
“You would walk into a press box hours before a game, and Tom was the first person you would see,” Bloom said. “He had such great stories; you might be there 45 minutes or an hour, but it was well worth the time to listen.”
Dixon, a USC football star in the 1950s who later headed the athletics department, got away from the world of games in talking about Price.
“We go back so far in years,” he said. “Margaret (Price’s wife of 57 years) does really good needlework, and she was the one who put initials on all of our grandchildren’s baptismal dresses. All the other things are important, but he’s family to us.”
Johnny Gregory, a former player and Columbia attorney, struck the same chord.
“His loyalty to Gamecock brothers and sisters did not stop when they graduated,” he said. “He stayed with us later. He always wanted to know about our families. He took just as much pride in a youngster finishing law school or opening a retail establishment as he did the guy catching a touchdown pass or hitting a single in the ninth inning to win a game.”
Added Bloom, “I don’t know of anyone who loved Carolina more than Tom Price.”
The garnet and black ribbons that some wore Monday told of that Tom Price. Remember him. His kind are so rare.