Former mayor to receive 2013 Lou Brissie Award
As I open Volume 1 of "The History of North Augusta," scan the table of contents and turn the page to begin reading The Early Years of North Augusta, the first picture I see of individuals who have had a significant impact upon the City of North Augusta contains the gentleman who will be the first recipient, other than Lou Brissie, to receive the most prestigious "Lou Brissie Award" at the 2013 North Augusta Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet.
This month, Raymond L. Walters Sr. will be recognized with this award.
Lou Brissie, the award's namesake, personifies the definition of "America's greatest generation." This World War II hero was a U.S. Army Corporal, a paratrooper with the "Blue Devils" 88th, the squadron leader for G Company of the 351st Infantry Regiment, and recipient of the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. His squadron was under fierce artillery attack, when a 170 mm German shell exploded near his feet, shattering his left leg into more than 30 pieces.
Brissie's character, resolve, faith and trust in Godliness, unselfishness, courage, determination, perseverance, love of his country and love of his fellow man enabled him to survive 23 operations, 40 blood transfusions and to see God's hand at work, as his left leg was reconstructed and saved. By God's grace and with his God-given talents, the left-handed hurler joined major league baseball and played for Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics, as well as with Bob Feller and the Cleveland Indians. Brissie retired from professional baseball in 1953 with 44 wins, 29 saves and 436 strikeouts.
Walters exemplifies the tenacity, the character traits and qualities displayed by Brissie. Both Brissie and Walters have seen and shared potentially devastating and destructive personal tragedies in their individual journeys through life. Despite their temporary setbacks and with God's help, they have both stood strong in their Godliness, their faith, their determination, courage and resolve to make this world a better place.
I have no doubt that Brissie and Walters are kindred spirits and completely understand these two powerful statements once spoken by Brissie: One: "It was painful and it was hard. But I believe in my heart that I'm probably the luckiest guy ever to get to the big leagues." Two: "If someone tells you that you can't climb the mountain, then you set out to find a way to do it!"
Walters is a 1942 graduate of Columbus High School in Columbus, Ga. Due to his God-given athletic abilities, he was offered scholarships to the University of Georgia, Auburn University and Vanderbilt University. But instead, he chose to play collegiate baseball at the University of North Carolina. There, he signed a commitment to play professional baseball with the Boston Red Sox, a team later bought out by the Philadelphia Phillies.
While at UNC, he became an outstanding athlete, lettering in football, baseball, basketball and was elected president of the UNC Athletic Association. During his collegiate career at UNC, Walters was a peer and competed with future legends and Hall of Fame inductees Ted Williams, Heisman Trophy winner Doc Blanchard and Otto Graham. He was one of the 70 selected from among 700 applicants to participate and become a member of the U.S. Navy ROTC. For a year, Walters served as an Ensign during World War II.
He played the physically demanding and tough position of catcher for several minor league clubs, including The Wilmington Delaware Blue Rocks, the Utica, N.Y., Blue Sox, The Schenectady, N.Y., Blue Jays, The Danville, Va., Leafs and the Americus, Ga., Phillies.
When playing with the Schenectady, N.Y., Blue Jays, he caught for his roommate, future Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. While he called the game day pitches for Lasorda, after the game, Lasorda would teach his catcher the real Italian way of eating spaghetti, with a fork and large spoon.
While with the Schenectady team, he became acquainted with the future coach of the L.A. Lakers, N.Y. Knicks and the Miami Heat, Pat Riley. During one of his games, he and his teammates had the opportunity to meet Yankees legend and Hall of Fame inductee George Herman "Babe" Ruth. While playing with the Americus Phillies, he carried an impressive .343 batting average, and in 1947, he led the Georgia Florida Minor Leagues in hitting.
Unfortunately, this talented catcher's future major league dreams were shattered while defending home plate, when a collision at the plate severely broke his right wrist in five places and ended his baseball career. But like Brissie, this man was from "America's greatest generation," and he was not about to let some physical handicap separate him from his love for "America's favorite past time." So during the 1960s, he turned his eyes and efforts to coaching, managing and, most importantly, mentoring many of North Augusta's "Boys of Summer," who played Dixie Boys Baseball at the Mealing Field Complex.
He sponsored and coached one of the Dixie Boys competitive baseball teams playing at the Mealing Field Complex - Walters Oil Company. After each game, Walters and his players became familiar and regular guests at North Augusta's Sno-Cap; as he would treat all his players to a root beer float, whether they had won or lost that night's game. He was selected as one of the North Augusta Dixie Boys All Star coaches, personally transporting many of North Augusta's "Boys of Summer" to district and State All-Star tournaments in the Barnwell and Bamberg areas.
In 1967, Coach Walters led North Augusta's All Stars through several bracketed tournaments, all the way to Jackson, Miss., bringing back the winning team's trophy from the Dixie Boys World Series Tournament to their hometown of North Augusta. It was an outstanding, distinctive and unmatched sports achievement for North Augusta, which was not approached again until 2005, when once again, North Augusta's "Boys of Summer" won a second World Series title in Ponchatoula, La. After Walters' World Series success, he was recruited in 1968 as a coach for the North Augusta High School baseball team.
From mentoring many of North Augusta's youth in baseball, he expanded his talents into the political arena as a North Augusta public servant. He was elected to North Augusta's City Council and served as a councilman from 1967 through 1971. He was then elected and served as one of North Augusta's most distinguished mayors from 1972 to 1975. During his tenure, he had the wisdom, the foresight and the future vision to procure and purchase, through a state and national grant, one of the most important pieces of property for North Augusta: Riverview Park.
As North Augusta's city attorney, Kelly Zier recalls one of his very first directives from Mayor Walters was to develop and draw up a contract for the City of North Augusta to purchase a parcel of cornfield property that would later become one of South Carolina's finest youth sports facilities and known statewide as "The Riverview Athletic Activities Complex."
This was a site that potentially could have become just another North Augusta subdivision, an apartment complex or a shopping center. But due to Walters' wisdom, his vision and resolve, it became a sports complex - a training ground and a home to thousands of the "Boys of Summer" as well as some of the inductees already in the North Augusta Sports Hall of Fame. Walters' prior involvement with North Augusta's youth sports programs at Mealing Field enabled him to think outside the box, to see the growing need and to be a visionary for expanding the city's youth activities and sports program for future generations.
Walters has and always will be considered one of North Augusta's finest, most honorable and most distinguished citizens. He is a Southern gentleman of integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, humbleness, unselfishness, accountability, responsibility, sincerity and, most importantly, a strong Christian man who loves the Lord, his country, his community and his family. He is a man who does not just talk the talk, but rather he is a man of character who "walks the talk" of these qualities. He is recognized by numerous people as not only a pillar of his beloved Grace United Methodist Church but a pillar to the residents and the entire community of North Augusta.
Walters is most deserving of this prestigious recognition for his outstanding contributions to North Augusta and his remarkable accomplishments in both baseball and for the athletic sports programs in our community.
Walters will be the 2013 recipient of the Lou Brissie Award during the eighth annual North Augusta Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet. The banquet will be held in the Grace United Methodist Church Wesley Center on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m.
Please also take an opportunity to visit Walters' wonderful baseball and Riverview Complex memorabilia and historical display, located at the Municipal Building on the second floor of the North Augusta Arts and Heritage Center in The North Augusta Sports Hall of Fame area. It is currently on display and can be viewed now or during the reception for all 2013 inductees, to be held on Feb. 15 from 5 to 8 p.m.
We look forward to seeing many North Augustans for this exciting event and a most memorable evening. You are encouraged to purchase tickets prior to Saturday for $18 at the following locations: Parks Pharmacy, SMS Sports World, Meybohm Realty or from the Sertoma Club. My thanks and appreciation is extended to the entire Walters' family and to David Hargrove for their most valuable contributions and input.