Garrison is Golden

Published 8:48 pm Monday, September 15, 2008

MURFREESBORO – Imagine working 50 years at a job you love and then you will understand the life of James G. Garrison.

Better known as Jim Garrison, or even better as Coach Garrison, this living legend was honored by Chowan University on Saturday for his half century of service to that educational institution.

So, how does a college go about paying tribute to a man of such magnitude? In Chowan’s case, they named the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in his honor.

Additionally, the university, based on a decision made earlier this summer by the Chowan Sports Hall of Fame committee, presented Garrison with an artistical rendition of his lifelong body of work at Chowan. A copy of that beautiful 16×20 portrait will forever be displayed at Chowan.

“Fifty years at one institution…wow,” exclaimed current Chowan University Director of Athletics Dennis Helsel. “Jim Garrison has been Mr. Chowan for 50 years. He bleeds Chowan blue.”

It was estimated that over the years, Garrison has helped shape the lives of 4,000 young men.

“He has commanded armies during his career,” Helsel noted, “and he still has the respect of those athletic soldiers. He is as proud of them as they are of their coach. To this day, I still see his eyes light-up when he talks to one of his former players, either in person or on the telephone.”

The normally talkative Garrison was initially at a lost for words upon being presented the portrait.

“I’m flabbergasted,” he said upon accepting the honor from Helsel and Chowan University President Dr. Chris White during Saturday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Thomas Cafeteria.

Garrison used the opportunity to explain what made him “tick.”

“Why do I do the things that I do,” he asked the crowd. “What is it that makes Jim Garrison tick?”

Garrison explained that due to family circumstances in the post-Great Depression era, he and his youngest brother were sent to the Mills Home in Thomasville (NC), part of the North Carolina Baptist Children’s Home facilities.

“I cried myself to sleep many a night there,” Garrison recalled. “Then I found out why those people at the home cared so much for me…they wanted to give people like me a chance, an opportunity, to be successful in life. They loved me and cared deeply for me.”

That love for a stranger proved as the foundation on which Garrison later built his life.

“I felt the best way to re-pay what was done for me as a child was to go out and help young men, show them there is someone, other than their own family, that loves them and cares for them,” he said. “I wish I could do that for 50 more years.”

It was obvious from listening to Garrison on Saturday evening that the love and passion he has for young athletes still burns within his soul.

“Some folks will say that old Garrison over there at Chowan had twenty-some players complete in professional football and had thirty-some players become football All-Americans,” he stated. “While I’m proud of those who achieve those goals, I’m just as proud of the thousands of other players who went on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers, bankers, musicians and the like. They are enjoying successful lives and it all started for them right here at Chowan University.”

Garrison said he was humbled for what Chowan University had done for him and his family.

“Chowan has been my life,” he said. “This is where my family grew-up. I can’t picture myself anywhere else.”

He added that he couldn’t see his name “in lights” anywhere else.

“I would never want my name on any thing other than Chowan University,” Garrison concluded.

Garrison began his body of work at Chowan on June 1, 1958 as Director of Athletics and Head Football Coach. In the early years, he also coached basketball, golf and tennis.

During his 37 years as Chowan’s football coach, Garrison won an impressive 185 games.

What is even more impressive is that he has been inducted into five Halls of Fame, including Chowan, Gardner-Webb University and Western Carolina University. He is also enshrined in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

Although he retired in 1998 as Chowan’s Athletic Director and Head Football Coach, Garrison continues to serve the university as a special assistant, a fund-raiser and as an advisor to the football program where his title is “Coach Emeritus.”

The football stadium on Chowan’s campus also bears his name.

All but one of his four children attended Saturday’s tribute. Also in attendance was his wife, Joyce, and several of his 10 grandchildren.