Faculty/Staff News - Passing of former University School Director/Coach

University School Faculty & Staff would like to express our condolences on the passing of former Director, Dr. Robert Paynter.  The following obituary was printed in the Johnson City Press Chronicle on October 18, 2011:

Dr. Robert H. ‘Doc’ Paynter

Beloved father and grandfather; longtime coach, teacher, mentor, and friend Dr. Robert H. (Doc) Paynter went home to the Lord on Sunday October 16, 2011. He was 85.

Bob was born November 25, 1925, in Richmond, KY to Howard and Bessie Mae Todd Paynter. Doc grew up during the great depression attending Madison KY High School where he lettered in basketball and football, as well as, was the King of the Prom. He graduated in 1942 at the age of 16. Too young to join the military, he went a year to Eastern Kentucky University. In 1943, Doc enlisted in the Navy and qualified for the V-12 program which is similar to the ROTC programs of today.

The Navy started Bob’s officer training at Iowa State. He was only there for a couple of months before the Navy transferred him to St. Mary’s in Winona, Minnesota. His first year at St. Mary’s, 1944, he played basketball and football, lettering in both. In 1945, the Navy transferred him to Marquette University where he lettered in basketball during the 1946 season. While at Marquette, he played against the first real basketball big man, George Mikan of DePaul University and later the Minneapolis Lakers. At the end of the war in 1946, Doc decided to transfer back to St. Mary’s.

His last two years at St. Mary’s he lettered in basketball and football and was a captain of both teams. He also earned All-Minnesota honors in football and basketball, as well as, All-American honors in 1947. Upon graduation from St. Mary’s he earned a Bachelors of Social Studies, Phys Ed, and Sociology. In 1948, he went back to Eastern and earned Master’s degrees in Education Administration and Sociology. During this time he continued to play basketball in an AAU and American Legion Leagues. After graduation from Eastern in 1949, Doc took his first head coaching position at the East Tennessee University High School in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Doc took a team at University High that was winless the season before and went 8-15. It was his only losing season in 14 years of coaching. During that first year, Doc had two very special assistant coaches. They were Buck Van Huss and Charlie Bayless. Again while he was coaching, he continued to play competitive basketball. He played for teams in an AAU league, the American Legion League, and a semi-pro team that played in the Southern Textile League.

It was while playing for Paty Lumber Company that Doc met his wife Wilma Bogan. She was a fine athlete herself earning All-State honors at Paragould High School. She went on to play at Sunflower, JR College in Mississippi for two years, before she signed a pro contract to play for former Redhead’s star Hazel Walker’s Arkansas Travelers. Bob and Wilma met while playing an exhibition game in Kingsport Tennessee. They guarded each other, though she bested him as the Travelers won the game. It was love at first sight and during the next year anytime Wilma was within 150 miles, Bob was in the bleachers. In 1950, Doc’s team won the Kentucky Championship and went to the National Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. It just so happened that Wilma and the Travelers were playing in Kansas City and he asked her to marry him. They were married in 1950 in Paragould and she returned to University High as not only as Bob’s wife but also the Senior High Girls coach. Her coaching career only lasted two years. After that she became Bob’s cheerleader, confidant, and critic. She helped keep the books for the high school team, as well as, the teams Doc played for. Though she never coached actively again, she was always deeply involved in Doc’s career.

The reason her coaching career ended is because in 1953 Doc was selected as an exchange teacher. Bob and Wilma packed up and crossed the Atlantic so he could teach a year in Leeds, England. He taught education in the 1953-54 school year. True to form, he continued to play competitive basketball for both Leeds University and a semi-pro team in England. They returned to University High in 1954.

Doc coached University High for 14 years from 1949 to 1963 turning in an overall record of 312-141 with only one losing season and 4 regional tournaments and one state tournament. They finished fourth in that state tournament and that was before they had classifications. University High was a very small school playing the likes of Memphis and Knoxville high schools.

From 1963-1968, Doc put down the whistle to become Director of the University School. Additionally, during this time he was attending the University of Tennessee ay Knoxville working on his Doctorate. He finished up his education with a Doctorate of both Education and Sociology. Additionally during this time, Bob and Wilma became parents of a son, Todd. With his education completed but also with a heavy heart Bob and Wilma left the University School in 1968 for a position at the University of Tennessee at Martin in Martin Tennessee.

In 1968 Bob took the position of Assistant to the Chancellor at UTM. He held that position until 1971. In 1971 Bob was named the Athletics Director and the head basketball coach of the Pacers. His two most successful seasons were the ’75-’76 and ’76-’77 seasons when the Pacers competed for a Gulf South Conference Championship and a berth in the NCAA Division II tournament, falling short both years. During the late 1970s Doc was growing tired of the demands of being a college basketball coach and Athletic Director. He stayed in Martin until 1980, but in his heart he was looking for a position back in high school basketball because he knew that was where he could have a real impact on young men’s lives. In 1980 Doc left both positions at UTM with a 108-120 record.

Doc found that high school position, unlikely as it may seem, back in Wilma’s old stomping grounds. In 1980 Doc became the head basketball coach for Paragould High School. During his time at the helm of Paragould basketball, Doc guided them through many transitions. Paragould High was a AA school in 1980 and were known as the Bulldogs. In his twenty-five years at Paragould, he would take them through two name changes and jumps in classifications from AAA to AAAA and finally AAAAA. The names changed from the Bulldogs to the Ridgecrest Rams and finally as they are known now, the Paragould Rams. However, no matter what name was on the front of the jersey or what classification the school was in, Doc always put competitive teams on the floor. With his easy manner, always sitting on the bench with legs crossed, Doc led the teams he coached to 12 state tournament berths, and 7 regional tournament berths. He took five of those teams to the state quarterfinals. He only had four losing seasons in his 25 years at Paragould. His final record when he stepped down in 2004 was 483-254. Doc passed the whistle in 2004 but he did not retire. Doc continued as a teacher evaluator assisting the principals from 2004-2007. The only reason he retired then was because his beloved Wilma was stricken with Alzheimer’s. Showing total devotion to his wife, Doc retired in 2007 so he could spend as many moments with Wilma as the Lord would allow.

Doc’s final record as a coach was 903-515. At the time he achieved that in 2004, he was only the 15th. boys only coach in the country to win over 900 games. Two of those other 15 coaches started with Doc at the Training School. Buck Van Huss won over 1000 games and Charlie Bayless, who is still coaching and is in his eighties, has won over 900. Those three young men who started their coaching careers in 1949 at a very small school in East Tennessee have accumulated almost 3000 wins. According to the AAA State Farm record book, Doc is the 7th. winningest coach in the state and the first in boys only. In 2004 he was the Lowell Manning award winner as the Coach of the Year in the state of Arkansas. Additionally that year, he was also named Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association.

Doc was always selfless and humble. His quiet manner and his cool calmness in which he coached led many to believe that Doc wasn’t giving it his all to win a game. On the contrary, the reason he could be that way is his teams were always prepared to play. No matter the opponent nor the setting, Doc’s teams were ready before the ball was ever tossed in the air to start the game. Doc was a quiet leader, a leader by example. He taught kids the game of basketball and through basketball taught those same kids about life. Many of his players may not have realized it at the time but Doc wasn’t preparing them only to win championships but also to be good men, good fathers, good employers and good employees. He took a relatively simple game and turned it into a teaching tool to prepare boys to become men. Once asked after his retirement by a reporter from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette if he was ever sorry that he never won a state championship. Doc pondered the question a little while and said, “It would have been nice {to win a state championship} but I never lost any sleep over it. I was more concerned about the positive effect I was having on those boy’s lives.” We will miss you Coach. You made the world a better place and left your impressions on many. No higher honor can be bestowed on a man then to have his legacy to live on in others.

Bob was preceded in death by his dad Howard and his mother Bessie Mae, as well as, his wife of 57 years, Wilma. Dr. Paynter is survived by his only son Todd, Todd’s wife Holly and their two children, Matthew and Sarah all of the home.



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