sportswriter Mitch Albom wrote a book called Tuesdays
With Morrie. Albom, while sitting out a newspaper
strike, found himself free on Tuesdays. He spent fourteen of
those days visiting with his old professor who was dying of
ALS - a disease it is said that "leaves your soul perfectly
awake." That book touched me. It touched me because I had
someone like Morrie. Not just for fourteen days though, but
for fifty years. His name was Jerry Lytle.
Jerry was born in the East Texas town of Commerce. He
went to high school there, worked at his daddy's dairy,
played football, and during all that time, his team never
won a game. After graduating from high school, he enrolled
at the local East Texas State University and played football
as well. During his time there, his team never lost a game.
A bruising all-conference fullback, he also led the nation
in punting in the early fifties. After receiving his degree,
he taught school and coached for a number of years before
returning to his alma mater. After a time, a new program
opened at the university and Jerry was selected to be the
administrator. The position was called "Director of
Financial Aids." A short time later, Jerry Lytle fell right
in the middle of my life. The year was 1969, and I wish I
had another word for this but there is only one...I was just
At age 18, I had achieved the rank of "rodeo bum" and
not a very good one at that. Blessed with really good
parents, I was an irresponsible ne'er do well. Not evil, not
in trouble with the law (well, not much) but silly,
immature, and completely without focus. I had achieved one
thing though. Somehow after attending college for two years,
I had managed to make thirteen...13...consecutive Fs. Still
a record somewhere, I'm sure. Then my daddy died suddenly at
a very young age. Black despair.
If there was one thing my father wanted more than
anything on this earth, it was for me to do well in school.
I never did that for him. He never saw me do that. Sliding
down into a frightening grief after his death that was
lasting too long, I came up with a plan. I would make it up
to him! (A bit late you might say, and I agree, but a
typical plan for an 18 year old.) So I loaded my cowboy hat
in my old truck, along with two pairs of jeans, two shirts,
and my boots and set sail for East Texas State 100 miles to
the west. I arrived at 5:00 p. m. on a Friday afternoon.
I made my way to the Financial Aids Office and asked
the pretty lady there behind the desk if I might talk with a
counselor. She informed me everyone was gone for the weekend
and I should come back Monday. As I turned away for two more
nights in my truck, a voice said, "I'll talk with you." That
was the first time I saw him.
He was a handsome young red-haired man - maybe ten
years older than me. You could tell from the way he carried
himself that surely he had been an athlete considering that
powerful body. "Come on in and sit down," he said. Let me
stop here and ask you a question...
How many people do you know at any university, business,
or large church who would talk to a rather unkempt 18 year
old at 5:00 o'clock on a Friday afternoon?
For the next hour I told him my story. I concluded by
saying, "That's it, Mr. Lytle. I want to make my daddy
proud." He hadn't said a word the entire time. He just
listened. Finally he said, "Let's take a ride." We got in
his truck and drove eight miles out in the surrounding
country finally coming to rest at an old farmhouse.
Hay was visible jutting from most windows.
"This is mine and my daddy's," he said. "We can move
that hay out this weekend. It's not a bad place at all. This
old house has running water, electricity, and heat. We have
two large ponds on this place. You can catch some fish.
There's plenty of rabbits and squirrel if you want. I'll pay
you a dollar an hour to help us work cattle. It's really
more fun than it is work. Lot's of people come to help.
There's my farm gas tank over there. Don't steal me blind,
but you can get enough to make it to class. I'll come get
you Monday morning and we will start work on your financial
As he spoke those words so fresh in my memory now and
so long ago then, thoughts ran through my mind..."Why is
he saying these things? Why is he doing this? If I could run
a hundred in ten flat, I could see it. If I was a math whiz,
yes. If I was a violin prodigy...but I have nothing. I truly
am the least of these. The only thing I have is 13 Fs. Why
is he doing this?" Little did I know that now five
decades later, I would still wonder about his words and on
this day, still feel the magic and mystery in me I felt
then. And on that day as we were about to leave, he turned
to me and said, "You know what we are going to do?"
"No sir," I said. "What are we going to do?"
He was standing next to a small tree in front of that
old house. I drive out there sometimes now...where the house
was and that little tree was. They are both gone now, but
not while I'm standing there remembering they're not. He
pointed his finger at me and he smiled.
"I'll tell you what we're gonna' do," he said.
"We are going to make your daddy proud."
And now it's today, fifty years from that first day
with him. I'm sitting beside his hospice bed. His grown
children I have loved all my life are in the room. The room
is still and quiet. We are all thinking about our time with
him. My thoughts are about breakfast with him most every day
for the last ten years at the local cafe where all the old
cowboys go. I notice that red hair is gone now. So is that
athletic body. Parkinsons and dementia have taken them both.
He opens his eyes and points at me. He wants to tell me
something. I lean down to hear him whisper. "You are a
good boy," he says.
I take his hand and kiss it for the longest time. "If I am a
I say back to him, "it is because of you."
Ed. note - In 1969 Michael began his journey with Jerry
Lytle. In three years Michael graduated with his Bachelors
With Honors in Psychology. After receiving his Masters from
Texas A&M in Kingsville, he returned to Texas A&M Commerce
for his doctorate in 1974. After eight books, two national
literary awards, and 1200 stage presentations to educators
about the value they have in the lives of others, in 2008
Michael was named a Distinguished Alum of Texas A&M -
Commerce University. The award has been given to
approximately 100 of the 100,000 graduates of the
At the presentation ceremony, Dr. Jerry Lytle sat on the
"Like the Son of Man, he did not come to be served but to
serve. To give his life as a ransom so that others could be
In honor and memory
of Dr. Jerry Lytle.
October 1933 - August 2019
BLUE and MIGUEL