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Rudy Dillard dedicated more than 30 years of his life to high school and middle school athletes.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Back problems in recent years often prevented Rudy Dillard from standing up straight.
However, to those who knew the longtime William Fleming boys track and field and cross country coach, he was a stand-up guy.
Dillard stood for dedication to high school and middle school athletes in Roanoke for more than three decades, until Monday, when the Fleming coach died suddenly at his home at age 66.
Former Fleming coaching colleague Sherley Stuart said Dillard suffered a heart attack and was discovered by a relative Monday afternoon.
“They found him out in the back yard,” Stuart said. “I was over there for a couple of hours last night.”
Fleming girls track and field coach Robert Vineyard said Dillard suffered some health problems this spring.
William Fleming swept the Western Valley District outdoor track championships in May, with Dillard leading the Colonels to the boys title.
“He had something going on with his blood,” Vineyard said. “This was right before the state meet. They were doing some kinds of tests.”
Dillard was scheduled to be a volunteer assistant under new Fleming cross country coach Morgan Hill this fall. Workouts began Thursday, but Hill said Dillard did not attend any of them.
Fleming athletic director T.J. Shepardson said Dillard planned to return as part of the Colonels’ outdoor track coaching staff in the spring. Dillard also coached boys indoor track and field at Fleming and was a former girls outdoor track head coach.
Vineyard, who recently underwent ankle surgery, said he had not seen Dillard since June.
However, just two weeks ago Dillard assumed the post he held for two decades as the director of the track and field competition for the Commonwealth Games.
“He had been our coordinator for as long as I’ve been here,” said Pete Lampman, the president of Virginia Amateur Sports, which runs the Commonwealth Games. “He was just a wonderful man. Those will be hard shoes to fill for whoever fills them.”
Dillard was a Martinsville native who graduated from Albert Harris High School in 1965.
His wife, Mary Ruth, died in 2009. Dillard suffered another loss two years later when boyhood friend James King, a longtime public address announcer at Fleming, died.
“His first wife and my wife were sisters,” Dillard said of King in a 2011 Roanoke Times interview. “He introduced me to my wife.”
Dillard also lost another close friend, James Earl Jones, a longtime Roanoke track and field coach who died in 2012.
Friends and colleagues watched Dillard maintain his schedule despite the emotional blows and his physical ailments.
“I’m not sure he ever had time to grieve,” said former Fleming football coach George Miller. “He told me one time that track was something he held on to, to get through it. He was a hard worker. He just kept going.”
Dillard succeeded Stuart as Fleming’s boys track coach in the late 1980s, but he made his imprint on the varsity programs at Fleming and Patrick Henry much earlier, coaching in Roanoke’s middle school programs.
“When he was at the middle school, he followed through and always made sure the guys that competed for him moved on and stayed with us,” Miller said. “He was a good man. He was all about the student athlete.”
Dillard helped Fleming maintain a reputation as one of Timesland’s premier outdoor track programs.
Fleming won a share of the VHSL Group AAA boys outdoor track championship in 1985 under Stuart after finishing as the state runner-up in 1975 under former coach Bob Sandy. The Colonels were the 2006 Group AA girls outdoor runners-up.
Fleming was poised to win the Group AA boys championship in 2005 under Dillard before a dropped baton in the 1,600-meter relay cost the Colonels the title.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Dillard said after the meet. “The sun’s going to come up tomorrow. They’ll be all right. This is not going to be the worst disappointment they see in their life.”
Dillard also helped Fleming begin the Colonel Classic invitational meet in 2011, when the school debuted a new eight-lane track facility on its campus.
“It’s almost like having a new kid, a new baby or something,” he said at the time. “You come up here every day and you see it, and it makes you just want to keep doing what you’re doing.”
Timesland’s fraternity of track coaches was hit hard by Dillard’s death.
“He was the face of their program,” Patrick Henry coach Chad Cox said. “For young coaches coming up, it’s a reference. If you went to him with a question, he was one of the guys that had all the answers.”
Vineyard said Dillard’s constant presence at Fleming was crucial to maintaining the program’s success begun by his predecessors.
“Longevity is important,” Vineyard said. “Track is a sport where you have to get kids at a young age. If you’re still there when the kid gets to the high school level, then they know you and they know the program. You end up being a father figure to a kid.”
Or sometimes a grandfather figure.
“That’s what some of the kids called him, ‘Granddad,’ ” Vineyard said. “He would do anything for anybody at any time. It’s a big loss.”
Funeral services for Dillard will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Loudon Avenue Christian Church. Visitation is from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday at Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home.
Stuart said Dillard is survived by a daughter, who lives in Charlotte, N.C.
“His family was small, at least blood relatives,” Stuart said. “But he had a big family — as many kids whose lives he touched over the years.”
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