Sad news to pass along to those who haven’t already heard, as Western Kentucky’s fourth president Dr. Dero Downing passed away at 89 years of age Monday.
Downing was obviously influential on the school as a whole, having served as university president, but he was also a major figure in the athletic department as well.
A basketball letter winner under famed coach E.A. Diddle, Downing knew more about WKU athletics than most people around this area have forgotten.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Downing on the phone several times throughout my short four years of covering WKU athletics at the Daily News, and every conversation left me with a new piece of information I hadn’t already known and a new perspective on something.
I can recall the first time he called me here at the office, as it was sometime during my first year on the beat.
I had written a story about the expansion of Houchens-Smith Stadium and had made the mistake of describing the previous facility as something along the lines of a ‘half stadium.’
As you may imagine, Dr. Downing had other ideas about the old L.T. Smith Stadium – and had no problem sharing them with me.
But in no way was it a cruel conversation. Downing could tell I was young and not from the area, perhaps by the tone and sound of my voice (and I was, of course, at just 24 fresh out of the car from Michigan) and in turn gave me a needed history lesson on not just the origins of the stadium itself – but also the WKU football program as a whole.
I learned more about WKU football in that half hour phone conversation than I had at any time during my previous several months on the job.
Over the past four years I had several other phone conversations with Dr. Downing just like that first one – ranging from WKU football, Hilltopper basketball, E.A. Diddle, Ed Stansbury, Jim McDaniels, John Oldham, Jimmy Feix and most recently a column I had written about Steffphon Pettigrew.
Dero Downing lived and breathed Western Kentucky University – and he’ll surely be missed inside every corner of that campus.
As for me – I’ll miss the phone calls. The pats on the back, the history lessons and even the occasional slap on the wrist.
Thanks for reading Dr. Downing, and forever rest in peace.