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Faithful love

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College sweethearts Gill Gideon and the former Sara Hudson Gill married May 31, 1947. Two months shy of their 69th wedding anniversary, Mrs. Gideon died April 1 at Sumner Regional Hospital in Gallatin. She was followed 17 hours later by her beloved husband. During their lengthy marriage, Mr. Gideon awakened first in the morning to make breakfast for his mate. Photo submitted
This photo captures the Sara and Gill Gideon in the mid-1980s. Mr. Gideon served as executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) from 1971 until 1986. Mrs. Gideon taught school for 29 years in Lexington, Jackson, Humboldt and Lebanon, Tenn. Photo submitted
A corpsman in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Gill Gideon landed with the Marines on the South Pacific islands of Eniwetok, Guam and Okinawa. This photo was taken of him on Guam when he was 20. The image has since appeared in numerous publications including the official Marine book about the 22nd Division of WWII and in U.S. News & World Report. Photo submitted
Gill Gideon played halfback on offense and on defense for the Union University football team during the 1942, 1946, 1947 and 1948 seasons and served as co-captain of the squad his senior year. He also starred as shortstop on the school’s baseball team and sported a batting average over .400 his senior season. Photo submitted

Sara Gideon bid farewell to this world on April 1. Seventeen hours later, her husband Gill slipped his earthly ties to rejoin his mate in eternity.

Their love story began through providence when they were seated beside one another as college students. Romance bloomed and remained vibrant to the end as they spent their final five days together and died in the same room at Gallatin's Sumner Regional Hospital. She was 87. He was 91.

"Mother was still talking to him up until the last few hours," said their son, Rev. Stephen Gideon, Pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin. "She prayed with him I know, and she would have prayed the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm and the 100th Psalm. She was holding his hand when she prayed with him.

"Mother was conscious until the end. I'm not sure how much Daddy actually understood because he had dementia. I think he knew it when she died. I saw in his eyes the stress, but we don't know for sure."

Among other survivors of the couple are son Robert Gideon and his wife Lorrie of Gallatin, three grandchildren and one great-grandson.

"They certainly had a good long marriage together," Stephen said. When they married he was 23. She was 18 and a freshman in college. He was back from the war. He met her and just said, 'Well, you're going to be my wife.' At the end of that school year they got married on May 31, 1947.

"They were both students at Union University in Jackson. They had to go to chapel every day. Everybody sat in alphabetical order. My father was Gill Gideon. My mother was Sara Gill. His first name was her last name. But because of G-I-D and G-I-L, they were seated next to each other. That's how they met."

LHS educator and TSSAA director

A lifelong educator, Mrs. Gideon was born Oct. 31, 1928, in Tampa, Florida, and graduated from West End High School in Nashville in 1946. After attending Union University, she completed her college work at Bethel College in McKenzie in 1956.

She taught in Lexington from 1955 until 1962, in Jackson from 1962 until 1966, in Humboldt from 1966 until 1970, and then taught in Lebanon before retiring in 1984.

Mr. Gill was born in Lexington and graduated from Whiteville High School in 1942. Serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was attached to the Marine Corps as a corpsman and participated in the landings at Eniwetok, Guam, and Okinawa. He received two Purple Hearts from his service on Okinawa.

He graduated from Union University in 1949 and received his master's degree from George Peabody College in Nashville in 1952. Mr. Gideon taught and coached football, boys and girls basketball and baseball at Lexington High School from 1949 until 1962. During those 13 years his football teams went 78-28-3, and his boys' basketball teams advanced to the state tournament three times and his girls' basketball team advanced once.

In 1962, he went to Jackson's Tigrett Junior High School as a football and basketball coach and assistant principal and two years later became principal of Alexander Elementary School in Jackson. In 1966 he became the assistant director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, and from 1971 until 1986 served as the executive director of the TSSAA.

After their retirement the couple moved to Vero Beach, Florida, where Mrs. Gideon worked as a volunteer in a number of charitable activities, including Indian River County Schools. Mr. Gideon worked with the Los Angeles Dodgers at their training and rehabilitation facilities for 13 to 14 years.

Mr. Gideon was inducted into TSSAA Hall of Fame in 1985 and into Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.

In 2004, chased out of Florida by back-to-back hurricanes, the two returned to Tennessee in 2004 to be near their family.

'Truly a couple'

Son Stephen said of his parents' marriage, "They were always really truly a couple. They showed great respect for each other. They were very committed to one another, and they were always a team. You could never play one off against the other. They never argued in front of us.

"They were always very disciplined, always very responsible, just good parents and good role models. Our home was always so well organized. We always did things as a family. When my father was coaching football and basketball, we always ate every night as a family. If that meant we ate at 4:30, we had dinner at 4:30.

"My father would get up every morning and make my mother breakfast. She would get up and join him, and they would have breakfast. Then my mother would come and wake us up, and my father would feed my brother and I breakfast while my mother was getting dressed to go to school. My father would iron his own shirts. That was his way of helping her. She was always the one who helped us with our homework."

Gideon served as corpsman

Of his father's military career, Stephen shared that after his freshman year at Union, Mr. Gideon joined the Navy. As a corpsman assigned to the Marines, he was wounded on Okinawa.

He noted, "In Europe, Germans, Americans and British did not shoot each other's corpsmen because the corpsmen were supposed to treat the wounded on both sides. So the corpsman didn't carry weapons, and they wore the red cross, but in the South Pacific the Japanese would kill the corpsman first, so they did not wear the red cross, and they did carry weapons.

"Sometimes he would treat young fellows who were shot up even when he knew there was no hope, but there was such comradeship between his brothers that they would insist he do something, try to save them. They would protect him because he was their lifeline even though he was just 19 years old, just a kid. They called him 'Doc' during the war because he was a corpsman."

Background as an athlete

After the war and after earning his college degree, Mr. Gill taught and coached in Lexington for 13 years.

"That was sort of his lifelong dream because he had wanted to play football in high school, and he wanted to go back to Lexington because they had a football team," said Stephen. "The little town, Whiteville, where he was going to high school, didn't have a football team, so he didn't play football in high school.

"But at Union he was good enough that they gave him a football scholarship. He became the star halfback in football, and [as shortstop on the Union baseball team] he had the highest baseball batting average in the country of any collegiate player, batting over .400.

"When he graduated from Union he was offered to be able to play for the Detroit Tigers, but back then a little coach in Lexington, Tennessee, made more money than a professional baseball player.

"When my father was in Lexington he coached boys' basketball, girls' basketball, football and baseball, and he was the only coach paid by the county. He had an assistant on occasion. After football games he washed all the uniforms himself."

From Jackson the Gideons moved to Trenton, Tennessee, in 1966 because it was the headquarters of the TSSAA. Mr. Gideon served as assistant to Mr. A.F. Bridges, the first executive director. The organization moved its offices to Hermitage in 1970, and in 1971 he took the reign as executive director until 1986.

"They never lost a court case when he was executive director. They had a lot of challenges because back then as there were a lot of issues," Stephen said. "Of course, integration was going on, and also there was controversy over half-court or full-court girls' basketball. They would get different directives from different government agencies that would seem contradictory, and go to court, but he never lost in court, and sometimes they went all the way to the Supreme Court."

Football playoffs, sports gender equality

Former Tennessean sportswriter Larry Taft, who covered high school sports for decades and later worked at TSSAA, observed Mr. Gideon's administration.

Taft said, "Gill was in an almost impossible position when he became executive secretary (as it was called then) of the TSSAA. He was replacing A.F. Bridges, who headed up the TSSAA since its inception. Mr. Bridges was so respected than no one was going to be 'as good as Mr. Bridges' in the mind of school administrators, coaches and/or officials. And, Mr. Bridges was almost like a dictator and pretty well needed to be in the early days of TSSAA because he had to establish the independent authority of TSSAA.

"By the time Gill took over, our culture was changing and no one could be the czar that Mr. Bridges had been. School folks knew Gill from his time as Mr. Bridges' assistant, and he was reasonably well respected. He grew into the role so well, and eventually the comparisons between him and Mr. Bridges went away."

Taft was the first media person who regularly covered the TSSAA Board of Control and Legislative Council meetings and noted that he was not well received initially. Things were testy at times as he questioned the board, council and Mr. Gideon's actions, but over a period of several years, the two made their peace.

"I know that I respected him for the job he had. and I think he respected me and came to understand that it wasn't entirely personal.

"Gill did a lot more than most people realize as TSSAA Executive Director," Taft said. "He instituted the football playoffs and was at the forefront of equality, adding softball to give girls another chance for participation. He was a bit old school, but he was a good shepherd of high school sports in Tennessee, and he attempted to do everything by the book, whether it was popular or not."

Couple touches thousands

Pat Climer, who taught at Lebanon High School and later served as assistant principal, worked with Mrs. Gideon from 1977 to 1984 and observed her work with the vocational improvement program where she taught communication skills to eleventh and twelfth-graders.

Climer said, "She was always very professional. One thing stood out, she was always very calm and put the students first. She made a difference in the lives of students and always had a pleasant way about her."

Taft said, "I did not know Sara as well as Gill, but I know from what I was told she was a good and dedicated classroom teacher, and I can attest that she was a very quiet, gentle and supportive wife."

While in semi-retirement in Florida from the late 1980s into the early 2000s, Mr. Gideon worked at Dodgertown in Vero Beach during spring training as a driver for the players as well as for the O'Malleys, who owned the team. He spent much of that time chauffeuring the younger players, who were trying to make it to the big leagues. Among his favorites, before they made it to the major leagues, were outfield Shane Victorino and pitcher Orel Hershiser.

Of the legacy of Sara and Gill Gideon, son Stephen said, "We always went to church. We always prayed every night before we went to bed. They lived life the way it was supposed to be lived, especially in the '50s before the world went crazy. It was just the normal, traditional American family.

"I think they touched a lot of people's lives. You think if people live long enough there won't be anybody at their funeral, but the church holds 300 people, and it was full."

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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