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Jim Waldrip’s legacy: Living one’s life for others

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Can’t decide who to cheer for like Jim Waldrip? No problem, he cheered for both schools, just look at his jacket. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)

John 15:13 tells us “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Perhaps even greater is to live one’s life for others. This is the legacy of Jim Waldrip.

Waldrip died just eight days shy of his 90th birthday. He was surrounded by loved ones, and had long-term friends stop by to visit with him in his last days. There could never be a full accounting of the thousands of lives he had blessed in his 89 years.

Waldrip moved to Roswell to play baseball for the Roswell Rockets, from 1955 through 1957. He’d been recruited by his friend Joe Bauman. Waldrip and his wife JoAnne made Roswell their home, and they settled in to raise Suzie, Debbie, Beth and Ted. He lost JoAnne on Sept. 22, 2009. Friends said he was never the same.

Waldrip spent his high school and college summers working in the oil fields. He went to Oklahoma University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geology. He minored in physics and chemistry. He remained at OU to earn a master’s degree in geology and science education. He graduated in 1954.

Waldrip enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 and completed Officer Candidate School in 1952. He left the Air Force and joined the Air Force Reserve shortly thereafter. He served at Walker, Cannon, Holloman and Kirtland Air Force bases. He also served as liaison officer for ROTC and Academy recruitment. He retired a Lieutenant Colonel on Nov. 28, 1988, his 60th birthday.

Waldrip served in many ways over 63 years. He was a coach, a high school and college teacher, a high school principal, and twice he was director of the planetarium. He took his responsibility to educate and support others very much to heart. He earned the respect of students and peers alike.

“Coach Waldrip was brave enough to have me join the boys’ golf team in 1976,” Lauren Greenwade said. “It was two years after Nancy Lopez had finished her phenomenal time on the team. He was supportive, tough and funny. He never called me Lauren, it was always Greenwade. I will always appreciate him being brave enough (again) to let a girl on the boys’ team before high schools even thought about creating girls golf teams. Rest in peace, sweet man!”

“Jim’s enjoyment of the sciences expanded his students’ knowledge and interests,” colleague Dr. Peggy Brewer said. “He always took time to know his students and often would celebrate their successes long after being in his class. His stories of people, places and events were not only entertaining but informative. Mr. Waldrip was a special person and I am honored to have known him.”

“I spent 40 years as a biology teacher and coach,” Doug Ragsdale said, “primarily due to Coach Waldrip’s influence on me as one of his students.”

Waldrip was well-known for his excellent memory, especially regarding sports statistics. When he first met Barry Stone, he surprised Stone by quoting some long past personal stats about his new friend.

“The first time we met, he recited what I’d done athletically,” Stone said. “I said, ‘That happened a hundred years ago.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but you did it.’ I had held the state high jump record for some time. We became very good friends and it lasted all this time.”

Waldrip was not above friendly competition.

“He was a big fan of Oklahoma University football,” Stone said. “We were on opposite sides. When his team would win, he’d give me the crumpled horns.”

Waldrip made many of his life-long friendships through the Roswell Rotary Club. Stone, Steve Henderson and Morgan Nelson are among them.

“At Rotary meetings,” Stone said, “he’d get up, without invitation, and start giving us the forecast for the stars and the planets and a short course on astronomy. I’d tease him by saying, ‘Oh no, not another astronomy lesson.’ It never fazed him.”

“We always sang, ‘The 12 days of Christmas,’” Henderson remembered. “We had all the props that went with it. He assigned those to each table.”

“I did the French hen and wore a beret,” Nelson said. “He had the jingle bells, gold rings and all the rest and he passed those out to us and took them back after. I think he enjoyed it more than the rest of us.”

Henderson remembered getting to know Waldrip and his family.

“I first got acquainted with Jim and Joanne when their daughter Beth and our son John got together,” Henderson said. “They went to Texas Christian University together. That relationship didn’t work out. I don’t know whether Beth and John were disappointed, but I was.”

Nelson enjoyed his friendship with Waldrip through their shared military time.

“We were in the Air Force Reserve together,” Nelson said. “Since he didn’t make World War II — he only made the Korean War — he was the junior officer. There were three colonels and one lieutenant. We joked about him knowing his place. When we’d go to celebrate a birthday or something at Holloman, he’d arrange everything. It was important to him to help people.

“I never saw him in an argument. He was diplomatic, but he wasn’t a swallow-tail coat diplomat. He was a sincere man.”

Waldrip served on the RISD School Board as well as the board of directors for ENMU-Roswell. He was an active member of educational associations at the local, state and national levels. He served the community through many benevolent social organizations.

Jim Waldrip knew the importance of giving. He gave support, education and love to many generations of Roswellites and will be fondly remembered for years to come.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 21 at Pueblo Auditorium, 300 N. Kentucky Ave. In lieu of flowers, the family is setting up a memorial fund with the RMAC (Roswell Museum and Art Center) foundation to bus school children to the planetarium and the museum. Contact Cyndy Torrez, foundation director, at macfound@qwestoffice.net.