Former Football Official and Officiating Supervisor for High Schools & Colleges
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Paris Parkins.
R.L. (Buddy) Patey grew up in Tupelo, MS, but he has lived most of his 90 years in Jackson after service in the U.S. Air Force in World War II. He enrolled in Union University where he played football. Following graduation he was employed for two years in sales with the Quaker Oats Company, and he served as Vice Mayor and Commissioner of Education for the City of Jackson while in his early thirties. Following those positions, he had a career with Martin Marietta Corporation, the operator of Milan Army Ammunition Plant, as Director of Human Resources. Buddy was a member of the National Speakers Bureau and he spoke at a myriad of management meetings, conventions, civic clubs and athletic banquets around the United States.
Officiating football was Buddy’s passion. He worked more than 800 junior varsity, junior high and high school games, and more than 300 college games. He was chief umpire in both the Southeastern Conference and the Ohio Valley Conference.
Now retired, Buddy stays involved on the sports scene where he has been a mentor of numerous high school and college football officials. His long career on the field as an official is epitomized by his induction into eight Sports Hall of Fames including the College Football Hall of Fame. To say that Buddy is a people person is an understatement and he continues to enjoy his diverse friends, both those associated with sports and friends from all walks of life.
VIP: When did you move from Tupelo, MS to Jackson, TN and why?
Buddy Patey: I came to Jackson in 1946 to play football at Union University. I was a running back and I had seen the great Union running back, James (Casey) Jones. I had a war time scholarship at Ole Miss, but I graduated from Tupelo High School in 1944 and joined the U.S. Air Force. Coming out of the Air Force, I knew I could not play at Ole Miss during normal times, so I came to Union and later met my beautiful Mary (She was Homecoming Queen and a majorette at Jackson High School.) and once we saw each other the die was cast. I made my home here. I loved Jackson and still DO!!
VIP: What inspired you to become a football official and later mentor, trainer and supervisor of officials?
BP: Ever since I was big enough to know about football from “sandlot,” junior high, high school, to college— football was a passion with me. Following my career at Union I had seen some fellows officiate, and I got interested in officiating and the rest is history.
VIP: What advice would you offer to aspiring football officials?
BP: Register with TSSAA, join an association that assigns officials, find in the group a veteran official and ask him to advise you, watch you officiate, share with you and in your earliest years work every type of game you are assigned—Junior Pro, Junior High, High School “B” Team, and High School Junior Varsity. Officiate as much as you can until you have the experience to officiate high school games.
VIP: How would you like to spend your so-called “retirement” days? What are your hobbies?
BP: I officiated in high school and I soon wanted to officiate college games. I started in the Ohio Valley and 3 years later, at age 28, advanced to the Southeastern Conference for 21 years. I was only 49 when I retired as one of the top ranked officials. I had begun to have a little problem with my knee. I wanted to leave at the right time. I had seen some of the great officials stay too long and go down in the rankings. I wanted to be remembered at a time when I was still doing an excellent job of officiating and concurrently since I was also officiating high school and assigning high school officials in conjunction with officiating, I wanted to do that in college. That’s what prompted me to leave at the right time and be a college supervisor, which I did with the Ohio Valley. I stayed there 22 years, retired from there, and I went back to the SEC as an Officiating Advisor with my close friend Bobby Gaston for 7 years. Then we both retired in 2006.
My hobbies today are tennis, watching sports on TV and attending live games. I enjoy going to high school games in an unofficial capacity and assisting officials with post game comments. I still do a little of this at the request of Steve Shaw, the Supervisor of the SEC. This year I’m doing two games—one at Ole Miss and one at Vanderbilt—to watch an umpire and give my view about him to Steve.
I couldn’t play golf if you put a pro with me, but I had a natural affinity for tennis. We used to have quite a tennis organization here. I was president of the Tennis Association. We brought in Junior and Senior Players and Club Pros for tournaments here in Jackson. My avocations were tennis and playing Semi-Pro Baseball.
VIP: Tell me about your family.
BP: My wife, Mary, is deceased. I have two sons— Mark Patey and Patrick Craig Patey (The late Mary Craig and her husband, Mack, were my son’s godparents.). Mark is an attorney and Patrick is an administrator for the Salvation Army in Dallas. Both sons graduated from Union University.
I have two grandchildren—Hayden, a sophomore at Ole Miss, and Madison, a third year law student at the University of Memphis.
VIP: Do you have a typical day? If so, describe it.
BP: I don’t really have a typical day. The boys kid me. They say “Dad, you’re just popcorning around.” I used to go to Johnsey’s Sporting Goods a lot, but it has closed. I do things around the house, watch a little TV (I particularly like PBS). I leisurely go out to lunch and see folks. I love to read, especially books about sports and history. I have a lot of autographed books from friends and acquaintances from over the years.
VIP: Do you enjoy travel? Do you have favorite destinations?
BP: I enjoy travel although it’s been a while since I traveled. I have been in 46 of the 50 states plus Italy, Germany (I went to Frankfurt, Germany in both 2000 and 2001 to conduct Officiating Training Clinics for the German Football League Officials), the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, and Hawaii, and I want to go to the Land of Erin (Ireland). I don’t know if I will get to do that.
VIP: What do you most enjoy about living in Jackson?
BP: The people—the good folks from Jackson. It’s a friendly city, and I love people. I’m blessed with a lot of friends, and I enjoy them so much!
VIP: What did the tribute held on August 9 at Union University in Jackson mean to you?
BP: I wish I could describe it to you. It warmed my heart. My happiness and excitement went out the roof! It just thrilled me to death it was just so heartwarming and wonderful to see people including you (I have known you since you were a child.)—not just football folks but every genre.
Note: Plenty of people wanted to speak on behalf of Buddy at his roast/toast—twenty-four to be exact. Coach Boots Donnelley of Nashville had this to say about Buddy: “If talking were an Olympic sport, Buddy would win them all!”
VIP: What would you like to see in Jackson that is not currently here?
BP: I gave a lot of thought to this question. I would like to see an outdoor roller skating rink here in a good location like the Fairgrounds with plenty of space. It would be another recreation center. When I was growing up in Tupelo, every summer a company would bring a portable skating rink. Skaters would be under a tent with a roof and drop cloths on the side in case of rain. I was a skate boy. They played music and you learned to skate and dance skate.
VIP: You have been richly blessed with many talents that you continue to use. You remain active in the football world, and you are an encourager and a motivator. What would you enjoy doing the next five years?
BP: There is a new injection for worn-out knees like mine. I’m researching this as I would love to play tennis again. I’m 90 years old, but I remember reading that the King of Sweden, King Gustav, played tennis when he was 81 years old, and I think that is fantastic. New knees would allow me to move about again.
VIP: Why is the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling your favorite poem?
BP: When I was the Commissioner of Education and the Vice Mayor of Jackson from 1959 to 1962, Mayor Ben West was the Mayor of Nashville and became my good friend. He typed this poem, framed it and gave it to me as a gift. It has been a favorite poem of mine ever since. I must have made 500 or more speeches around the country and I concluded most of them with “If.”
From "If" by Rudyard Kipling