Rick Karle: A letter to Pat Sullivan, from everyone
We hope you don’t mind if we take a few minutes to tell you how much you mean to us. In the coming days, I know that many will be speaking about your class and your courage, and we’re honored to be among them.
When we heard the news, our heart sank. It was early Sunday morning when you closed your eyes and went to the Lord. And while we know that you must be busy getting reacquainted with old coaches, friends and family members in your new home, we want to remind you what you meant to us here on earth.
It’s hard to believe that is was fifty years ago that you starred in football, basketball and baseball at John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham. We always knew that you had big things ahead — and you took your special talents to Auburn, a college you picked over Alabama, Notre Dame and many others.
We always knew that while you were setting records at Auburn, your heart melted when that young lady named Jean Hicks was in your presence. And you knew that Jean was special — that’s why the two of you were married halfway through college.
The kind of man that you were was evident in 1971: after receiving a call that you had won the Heisman Trophy, you told the folks in New York that you would not travel to Manhattan to receive the award when they requested, telling them that Thanksgiving weekend was for family. Of course you gladly went to New York the following weekend and picked up your trophy while making one of the classiest acceptance speeches ever.
Pat, if you only knew how many people feel blessed to have known you — how many lives were enriched because of you: your former NFL teammates, your former players when you were an assistant coach at Auburn and UAB and a head coach at TCU and Samford are better men because of you.
Yet, after all of those years as a football player and coach; Birmingham businessman and civic leader; husband and father; the best example of your class and resilience began in 2003.
You told us last summer that you wouldn’t wish your daily struggles on anyone but made sure to finish by saying, “I’m blessed.” Sixteen years of fighting the effects of throat cancer drained your body but never drained your spirit. You didn’t complain, you didn’t mope, you simply fought the fight like not many could.
We want you to know that while we are mourning, we are also hopeful — hopeful that you can breath again, hopeful that you are no longer in pain and hopeful that you realize the number of those who loved you.
I imagine that you are worried about Jean. Allow us to remind you that Jean is surrounded by your three beautiful children, Kim, Kelly and Pat. And your grandchildren? While they are heartbroken, they know that you are in a special place. Kisses and hugs from Alex, Jay, Mallory, Joseph, Taylor, Lucy, John Michael and Claire will come your way daily until you are reunited. And Darryl DuBose, your longtime medical assistant who for years stood by your side? His life will forever be enriched by knowing you.
We’re already missing you terribly, Pat. But we want you to know that every once in a while, God sends us a gift, and often times our lives get so busy that we forget about that a special person is among us. Auburn fans and college football fans everywhere know that YOU were that gift.
Hold down the fort until we see you again our friend, and remember that our lives have been blessed with you in it. Despite our sadness, we are comforted in knowing that Heaven has gained an angel.
Note: *I was honored to be chosen by Pat and Jean last April to produce and edit Pat’s public service announcement for “Oral Cancer Awareness Week.” Pat wanted to leave a legacy of, among many other things, championing the fight against cancer.
I know that Pat would want you to hear his message, so I’ve included the spot below: