Royal's community says goodbye

AUSTIN, Texas -- The "Eyes of Texas" played low and slow Wednesday. Radio stations interrupted their programming to play the beloved Texas fight song.

It was Darrell Royal's taps.

"Darrell Royal was a coaching icon and the face of football in the Lone Star State for a generation of Texans," Texas governor Rick Perry said.

"It's certainly a great loss for our campus, Austin and all of Texas, and we grieve that loss," University of Texas president Bill Powers said.

It was the same all over the city the former Texas coach called home for 55 of his 88 years. Those who knew or simply knew of the coach were mourning. Those close to him had known the end was near. Edith, his wife of more than six decades, was open and honest in letting people know her husband didn't have much longer to live.

But when close family friend Jenna McEachern got the call from Edith at 6 a.m. today, there was shock and sadness.

"I was so upset I didn't even ask how he had died," McEachern said.

It was not Alzheimers, she later learned, but an ongoing heart condition that had finally broken Royal. His spirit, however, remains unbowed among those in brunt orange and white and in Austin.

"He was simply the foundation, the beginning," UT athletics director DeLoss Dodds said. "Anywhere you look today, on this campus, you see his fingerprints."

That's what will be celebrated moving forward. That spirit will be present as the Longhorns line up in Royal's wishbone to start the game against Iowa State, wearing "DKR" stickers on their helmets. A memorial service tentatively planned for Tuesday at the Frank Erwin Center will further that celebration. Everyone from those who shared a basket of chips and a beer with him at Las Palomas to those who only knew him from afar will be there to share memories to be carried into the next generation.

And McEachern had to remember to call the Longhorn Band to make sure they could be at the Frank Erwin Center. That's what it was like today. They all knew the end was near. But now they are preparing for final goodbyes. It's not easy when someone has been saying hello and much more to so many people for so many years.

That was Coach Royal, though -- when he met a person he wanted to know that person.

"He could remember names and faces … he would never forget you after that first time he met you," said McEachern, who worked with Edith for years on "DKR: The Royal Scrapbook."

"To watch him travel this road, to not remember who he had breakfast with or who won last week's game, it has been very tough," McEachern said. "And for Edith, she has had to make all these decisions by herself. Suddenly it is just her, trying to take care of herself and Coach Royal. It has been very, very difficult to watch her struggle."

Even in death there were decisions that had to be made. Dodds called early to let Edith know the university wanted to do all it could to honor the former coach. But it was still too early. Edith was still too shaken, not ready to give firm answers.

There are those she can lean on now. Former players and friends of Coach Royal have been steadfast in their support. Even after he fell a few weeks back and was confined to a wheelchair, they were still there, having breakfast with the coach at Querencia Barton Creek, where the Royals have lived for the past few years. They would pick him up for lunch -- Mexican food and a beer, his favorites, McEachern said -- and just come spend time with the coach and man who had meant so much in their lives.

Those were the moments that mattered. But those moments soon escaped from Coach Royal's mind. It became hard for him to retain anything near the end. But still there was love and support, because that is what Coach Royal had given to so may through the years.

"It's hard to find the words to describe how much people loved this couple and how much they meant to so many people," McEachern said.

In the coming days words will be found and shared among those who knew Coach Royal and those who admired. And what will never be lost are the memories that he made for so many.