I can still hear the bellowing old guy from just behind my right ear. He resembled a cross between Burl Ives, Santa Claus, and anybody’s cuddly grandfather. The man wore a gold golf shirt and suspenders, with a litany of VCU buttons crawling up the elastic. He carried a certain twinkle in his eye, the kind of spark that drew you in. He was gracious with my fiance, and sweet with my daughter. You knew this guy was full of positivity and warmth and light and you wanted to be around him.
But make no mistake, when a basketball official made a questionable call against the home team, the fiery part of that spark emerged.
“Come on…….cooommmeee oooonnnnnnn! Gracious! COME! ON!”
That was as profane as Dr. Gene Hunt would allow himself to get, but it was plenty harsh, strong enough to draw the ire of his wife Honey.
“Oh sit down and watch the game Gene,” she would fire. It was as ironic as it was effective, and certainly hilarious. You always know when Honey Hunt means business. That sweet woman is as gentle as a spring breeze, but she would stare down Dracula.
Dr. Gene Hunt, whose jersey would hang from the Siegel Center rafters if he were a VCU player, passed away last night after a long illness, and that’s sad.
I’m going to spare the cheap “cheering from heaven” and “God got the greatest Rams fan” metaphors. They don’t do Dr. Hunt justice. We shared arenas from Charleston to Wilmington, Buffalo to Boston, and San Juan to San Antonio. There was more than one bus ride to Harrisonburg. Every single time I saw that man, and the woman by his side, I smiled. Dr. Hunt always had something uplifting to say, even if it was his sharp, self-deprecating humor. Gene Hunt didn’t have bad days, only variations of good days.
The man knew his basketball, but he never tried to know too much. He would ask questions and we would talk, exchanging viewpoints and opinions and facts. I knew when to pay attention, too. Every time he opened a conversation with “Let me tell you something…” and pointed his index finger, I knew to shut up. Being around that man was simply joyous. Even after I traded my seats next to him for my seat to Robby, I made it a point to bring him a copy of the night’s game notes, both teams. Dr. Hunt enjoyed those when we sat together, and he was damn sure going to enjoy them when we didn’t.
He cared, truly cared, and it was not impacted by wins and losses. He was relentlessly positive, giving of himself, and only wanted the best things for everybody associated with the program. He didn’t have time for drama or agendas. Gene Hunt was interested in one thing: an all-encompassing greatness for VCU athletics.
No, VCU did not lose its greatest fan. Sports lost what a fan should be.
Here’s what I’d like you to do, my humble request in memory of Dr. Gene Hunt, my show of respect to a man that has earned more than he will receive: ask people around you about their interactions with Dr. Hunt and pay attention to the answers. You will be a better fan, and a better human.