A Shared Loss

April 21, 2005

By: John Dell
Winston-Salem Journal

Winston-Salem, NC-Clara Gaines, with her two grown children by her side, welcomed each and every visitor yesterday to their modest brick home on East End Boulevard in East Winston-Salem.

The death of her husband, Clarence "Big House" Gaines, from complications of a stroke on Monday nigh, has been tough on the family, but Clara says that the visitors and the stories they have shared will help in the grieving process.

"I'm just real tired because it was a tough weekend," Clara said as yet another visitor shared a memory of her husband, the former basketball coach, athletics director and teacher at WSSU.

Gaines, who was 81, touched many lives during his more than 50 years of association with WSSU.

One of the visitors yesterday was Allean Sims, the self-appointed No. 1 fan of WSSU and a 1969 graduate.

Sims, who was wearing a Big House Gaines T-shirt, along with red pants and a red jacket, said she was up most of Monday night because one of her favorite people in the whole world had died.

"Coach Gaines was the one who allowed me to graduate on time," Sims said. "I needed just one hour, and he helped me do the right thing, and take the class, and I was able to graduate. I'll never forget the way he always had time for people, and even after he retired from coaching, he still had time for you."

Clarence Jr., who lives in Los Angeles, arrived yesterday morning and wasn't at all shocked by the number of visitors at the house he grew up in just a short distance from the WSSU campus.

"My dad touched a lot of people's lives, so this is very much expected," Clarence Jr. said. "A lot of people have been coming by to make sure you are all right and to show their appreciation and love for him."

Lisa Gaines McDonald, who lives in Chicago, is the oldest of the two children and admits that she didn't follow the fortunes of her father's teams all that often. She went to countless games while growing up but socialized more than watched.

She shed some light on what her father liked to do off the court. He was a big St. Louis Cardinals' fan because while Big House was growing up in Paducah, Ky., his father would take the family to baseball games in St. Louis at least once a year.

McDonald said that when she thinks about what her father meant to so many people, she finds it amazing.

"What I think about more is his love of people," McDonald said. "And his acceptance of people. That's what I remember the most."

McDonald admits that growing up she was sometimes jealous of the time her father spent coaching basketball, but she later understood that just about every one of his players learned something from him.

"He has a whole other family with his players, and they would always call to check up on him," McDonald said. "They watched over him, and it was a blessing."

Clarence Jr. has memories of being a ball boy for the team and even getting to travel on the road trips. It's something he loved doing, especially because he got to be closer to his father.

"It was a lot of fun being a coach's son," he said. "He'd bring me along to the gym or the cafeteria and even on road trips I'd go along.

"He always tells the story of putting me up in the baggage compartment on the bus because I was so small. I always asked him later, 'Do you ever think what would have happened if the bus crashed?' But he liked telling that story."

Clara said that one of the things she hopes is that well wishers who want to send flowers would instead donate money to the Big House Gaines Scholarship Fund at WSSU. The fund is set up to help with athletics scholarships, and she said that it's something her husband believed in a lot.

"He wasn't big on flowers," Clara said.

McDonald said: "He wouldn't want flowers. He would rather the folks spend money on helping build the scholarship fund over there at the school because that's what he would want to grow."