With the passing of Carlton Waskey this past weekend, Roanoke lost a model of civility and fortitude, as well as a true sportsman, his friends and family attest.
Waskey, 79, a standout football player at Roanoke’s Jefferson High School who played on two bowl teams at Georgia Tech, passed away this past weekend after a four-decade-long battle with multiple sclerosis.
“He was stricken when he was 38,” son Stephen Waskey said Monday. “MS strikes you in middle age; that’s a typical time. I don’t think he ever thought he would have lived this long.
“It wasn’t till recently that he couldn’t talk as much or communicate with you.”
Carlton Waskey came from an athletic family and raised one. His father, Raymond, started the first sandlot football team in Roanoke and was a volunteer coach at Jefferson, which closed in 1974, and Cave Spring.
Raymond Waskey officiated in the first ACC men’s basketball tournament, according to Stephen Waskey.
After his graduation from Georgia Tech, Carlton Waskey followed in his dad’s footsteps and became a football official.
“He started officiating college ball in the ODAC,” said Dan Woolridge, a former ACC men’s basketball official and commissioner of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. “It wasn’t very long before the Southern Conference picked him up. He didn’t work for the Southern for more than a few years before he went to the ACC.
“He had established himself as one of the top guys in the ACC.”
It was during his time as an ACC official that Waskey first noticed vision problems.
“I think he told me it was a game at Clemson,” Stephen Waskey said. “His vision kind of fluttered out on him. It started with some tingling and numbness in his hands.
“He kind of played that off as nothing and then he had the vision episode. He said: ‘I finished up the game but I shouldn’t have,’ and then told the head of officials that he needed to back off.”
Waskey had been recommended to the ACC by former Virginia football coach Dick Bestwick, who had been on the Georgia Tech staff when Waskey played for legendary Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Dodd.
Once stricken, Waskey continued to work for Wheat, First Securities in Roanoke.
“He was extremely bright,” said Chan Bolling, who met Waskey when they were sophomores at Jefferson, where Waskey was a co-captain on the 1957 state championship team. “I promise you, if he hadn’t gotten this disease, he would have been the president of the company.”
Physical issues didn’t prevent Waskey and wife, Mary Ann, from following their sons — and later their grandchildren — in an assortment of athletic endeavors.
“He was in a wheelchair for a real long time,” Bolling said. “It was hard to do, but we got him around. He never complained about anything. He fought a hell of a fight.”
Looking back at Waskey’s playing career, its a wonder how he played on the offensive line when he weighed 185 pounds in high school, and probably no more than 220 or 225 in college.
Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “heavy” that even Roanoke buddies like Bolling would toss at him.
“He didn’t have a neck so he looked big at the time,” Steven Waskey said.
Waskey wasn’t the only Roanoker of his generation to play for the Yellow Jackets, whose benefactors included Bill Adams of the Adams Construction Company of Roanoke.
“He went to Georgia Tech and there were several people from Roanoke who went to Georgia Tech — Paul Rotenberry and Walter Howard — before him,” Stephen Waskey said, “and, so, there was a little pipeline to Georgia Tech from Roanoke.
“And, plus, he got to play for Bobby Dodd.”
The late Dodd, a Galax native, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player (at Tennessee) and coach.
Carlton Waskey never coached in an official capacity, but his son said it was smart to listen to him.
“I remember when I was leaving for summer camp in my first year [at Hampden-Sydney], he told me, ‘Good luck and if you play any, we’ll come and see one of your games,’ ” Steven said. “They might have missed one game in four years.”
Family, friends, ex-teammates and other associates are planning to attend Thursday’s funeral at Second Presbyterian in Roanoke. Howard will be coming from South Florida.
“I was two years in front of Carlton,” Howard said Monday. “My sophomore year, I was getting ready to go back to Roanoke and Coach Dodd called me and said, ‘You know, we’ve signed two of the finest high school athletes in Virginia, Tracy Callis and Carlton Waskey,’ and he said, ‘Make sure they come down here in the back seat of your car.’ ”
Although Callis eventually enrolled at Virginia Tech, Waskey went on to graduate from Georgia Tech and endow a scholarship.
“I’ve just never seen anybody in my whole life who’s had the attitude he has with the adversity he’s faced,” Howard said. “I’ve talked to Carlton every two or three weeks or month for all these years and you would never know that there was ever anything wrong with him. What a marvelous inspiration he’s been to a lot of people!”