State of the Hogs: Ed Beshara

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There are few things as tough as carrying someone's casket, especially if that someone was like a father to you. My "second father" happened to be Nolan Richardson's second father, too.

Earlier this week, I served as a pallbearer and Nolan Richardson delivered the eulogy when Ed Beshara Sr. of Tulsa was laid to rest. Ed lived a full 91 years and was a father figure to me the last 29.

Arkansas basketball fans will remember Ed as the little, one-eyed man with the red tam hat sitting in the first row just behind Coach Richardson. He owned the best clothing store in the midwest. He supplied Nolan with all of those fine silk suits.

I spent many a day with Ed. It started in 1978 when Bill Connors, my boss at the Tulsa World, sent me to Ed's shop on south Harvard to pick up a tuxedo for my trip to New York City to cover the Heisman Trophy dinner when Billy Sims won. A few years later I took over the golf beat at the newspaper and began to cover Ed's charity tournament at Cedar Ridge Country Club.

My house was just a few blocks from Ed's, and not much further from his store. More and more often, Ed would call me to eat lunch or play golf. Then, when Nolan became coach at Arkansas, Ed would ride with me to see the Razorbacks play.

When the NCAA tournament rolled around, Ed usually stayed in my hotel room. He'd introduce me as his son and I never minded. Ed loved Nolan as a son, too. He "adopted" Nolan when he became head coach at Tulsa in 1981. As a mover and shaker in Tulsa athletics, Ed was sought by some other big boosters to try and oust Nolan because they didn't want a black coach. That backfired as Ed reached out to become Nolan's friend.

"He called me to come to his store almost every day for several weeks," Nolan said in his eulogy at Ed's funeral. "I walked in and he said, ‘How you doing, Hoss?' I knew I was going to like this man. That's what my grandfather used to call people. Ed told me he was going to be my guardian angel."

The funeral mass for Ed at St. Mary's Church was perfect. An opera singer performed the music Ed had chosen for his service. Nolan delivered a stirring message about his best friend. Nolan and I sat beside each other and shared stories about Ed, one of which Nolan mentioned in his eulogy. He thanked me in his message for driving Ed to all of those games in Fayetteville when I was at the Tulsa World. That was at the start and I cried most of the rest of the way.

It was a tough day, but special too. One of the things I hold close to my heart are the many times Ed told me that he loved me and kissed my cheek. You just don't get that from grown men. He said it was "old country stuff." I always knew he meant it.

Another thing I will never forget is the way he treated the word "hate." It was the worst of four-letter words to him. If you were eating lunch and there were vegetables on your plate that you didn't care for, if you said, "I hate peas," he took that as an opportunity to preach. "Don't ever say hate, my son," Ed would say. "Don't hate anything. Don't hate things and don't hate people. Don't even use that word. Wipe it out of your mind and keep it from ever coming from your lips."

He'd preach it hard and strong. He'd be stern as he said it and he'd shake his finger at you and squint at you with his one good eye.

As Nolan said in his eulogy, if more people felt that way, there would be no wars, no arguments. The world would be a better place. I believe that, too.

It was a tough day for Nolan for several reasons. Obviously, he considered Ed Beshara his absolute best friend. He said Ed did something his father didn't do on a regular basis.

"I lost my father and grandfather when I was 12," Nolan said. "Then I got to Tulsa and Ed adopted me. He kissed me and told me he loved me every time we saw each other. I needed that. I hadn't had it for so long."

But there was another reason it was tough for Nolan. The funeral for his daughter, Yvonne, was in the same church on May 1, 1987.

"It was 20 years ago to the day that we had Yvonne's funeral here," Nolan said. "Ed made all the arrangements for that service. That shows you how close and dear he is to me."

Ed wasn't perfect. He'd tell you about his vices. He gambled hard and he cussed often. But he provided so many lessons in life and he made sure that you listened. It served you well to listen. Nolan cried as he finished his remarks. He said he promised Ed that he would not cry at his funeral, but he said he could not hold back the tears. Sometimes it's good to cry.

I've been lucky. I've had men in my life that have been great role models. Many of you knew my real father. Some who have spent time in Oklahoma may have also known Bill Connors, the late sports editor of the Tulsa World. I served as a pallbearer at his service just a few years ago. I'd rate Ed with those two as those who formed my beliefs for 53 years.

The memories that Ed left with me are wonderful. I've had fun sharing some of the stories this week. It helps to laugh when you lose someone close. Some of the stories are more serious and touching, like the time he took care of my family in a time of need.

It was the first Christmas we didn't go home to DeWitt to be with my wife's family. To tell the truth, we were struggling and didn't have the money for the trip. To our surprise, the in-laws decided they would come to Tulsa instead. That presented problems, too. It meant we had to prepare more meals than we could afford.

I didn't think anyone knew we were struggling. But Ed knew. He showed up about two or three days before Christmas and brought in more groceries than we could ever eat, including a huge turkey and a ham. Ed did a lot of things like that for others without anyone ever knowing. He was blessed and knew how to give back.

He loved taking friends to play golf at Cedar Ridge where he was a charter member. For years, Nolan was his partner in the member-guest, the Ridge Run, then I had to step in when that week started falling on the same date as the Nike summer basketball camp. Ed and I didn't do too well, but still had fun. Ed's ability to play golf was long gone by then, but he still liked to compete and expected you to give it your best.

It wasn't long after that when Ed decided to give up golf. It was during the Ridge Run. He hit a ball into a ditch on the third hole. By then, he was in his mid-80s.

Two youngsters were serving as fore caddies. They found his ball and then helped him retrieve it. He first tried to hit it from the mud and splashed his clothes with brown spots. He muttered a few of his favorite cuss words, then turned to the youngsters and said, "I'm pitiful, the worst golfer in this club."

One of them replied, "No, sir, don't feel bad. My dad plays here and he says Ed Beshara is the worst golfer in the club."

Ed laughed and laughed.

I recall the time Ed left his wife Laura at the club one Saturday night. Ed, blind in his right eye, would let the valet bring the car to the front door and would walk around to the driver's side as Laura took her place. That night, Laura turned back to speak to friends and Ed was quick to get behind the wheel. He said something to Laura and when she didn't respond, he decided to give her the silent treatment on the way home.

Ed never looked at her on the 15-mile journey, pulled into the garage and then said, "Thanks for the conversation."

That's when he finally turned to his right and saw an empty seat. The whole time Ed was driving back to the club, folks at Cedar Ridge were rolling in laughter as Laura told everyone there that Ed had driven home without her.

I'll never forget going to a very large Catholic church in Charlotte, N.C., the day before the NCAA championship game in 1994. Ed had on just slacks and a golf shirt, one of the few times he was ever under dressed. I had on a suit. We sat in the third row.

Ed kept looking around at all the folks in their finest clothes and all the ladies with hats. He said, "At home, people don't dress up so much for Mass like they do here."

Finally, I leaned over and whispered, "Ed, it's Easter Sunday."

Ed didn't know how to whisper. "(Expletive deleted)," he said, "why didn't you tell me it was Easter?" Everyone in the church heard him and laughter rolled through the sanctuary.

Ed always had a way of being heard. He'd be front and center in every conversation. I was lucky to be involved in so many of them. My goal is to be to others what Ed Beshara, Bill Connors and Orville Henry have been for me.

I didn't sleep much earlier this week. I think I will sleep well tonight. Ed Beshara is resting now and for that I am thankful.

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