R.L. (Buddy) Patey

February 7, 1926April 23, 2021

R.L. (Buddy) Patey was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on February 7, 1926.

After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he was offered a scholarship to play football at Ole Miss, but with all the great athletes returning from military service and joining college teams in then record numbers due to the War, Buddy knew his playing time at Ole Miss might be limited. Coaches from Union University traveled throughout the surrounding states to recruit GI’s who had been former notable high school athletes which lead to Buddy choosing to come to Jackson, Tennessee to play college athletics on scholarship at Union University, where Buddy excelled as a tailback on Union’s football team and a shortstop on Union’s baseball team. Only a few years earlier, his beloved future wife, Mary Gish, likewise became a Jacksonian when her family moved from Memphis to Jackson. It was with those circumstances that the stars aligned for Buddy and Mary to meet and to begin their wonderful journey in Jackson, Tennessee when they were married on June 7, 1947. From that point forward Buddy called Jackson, Tennessee “Home” and dedicated himself in service to his community.

Again, the move to Jackson would obviously change Buddy’s life. In college, Buddy met Mary Gish while he was at Union and she was a Senior at Jackson High School. According to Buddy and Mary it was love at first sight and they were inseparable thereafter. Mary Gish was known to be a very humble, sweet, and popular member of the then high school scene, having been chosen as the reigning “Football Queen” at the time that they first met. Notably, early in their marriage and likewise during the early years of the Miss Tennessee Pageants, Mary was crowned Miss Tennessee at the Jackson Pageant which was considered statewide as “the” Miss Tennessee Pageant in which the newspapers across the state enjoyed publishing the story that this young 18-year old beauty was “married”. This included the then Memphis Press-Scimitar (the main rival to The Commercial Appeal) to prominently feature a story the next day with the headline “Miss Tennessee is a Mrs.”. Mary and Buddy were happily married for nearly 50 years, having two sons, Pat and Mark, and later two wonderful grandchildren, Madison and Hayden.

Following college and a few initial job positions, such as at Quaker Oats and with State Farm, Buddy was offered an opportunity with the Milan Army Ammunition Plant (Milan Arsenal) in Safety Engineering where he thrived and loved the camaraderie among the people that he worked with at the Arsenal. Buddy also began to gain notoriety as a public speaker and in civic involvement, as well as in continuing to play amateur athletics. He had an obvious natural way of connecting with people in a unique and likeable way that began to be noticed by everyone. This led some of the then notable Jackson “City Fathers” to approach Buddy about entering politics. He agreed to run and was elected as Jackson’s Commissioner of Health, Education, Parks and Public Property, for which he also concurrently served as the Vice Mayor of Jackson, Tennessee. It is respectfully noteworthy that as Commissioner of Education Buddy found himself unfortunately in an era of our Nation that he did not in any way personally agree with (segregation). During those difficult days he was blessed to have the opportunity to work with local historic African American Leaders and the NAACP in the much needed peaceful integration of the Jackson School System. Buddy was later greatly humbled to receive a cherished recognition when he was honored in receiving the “Warrior of the Struggle Citation” by the Jackson Chapter of the NAACP, and thereafter in 2014 at the annual NAACP Banquet Buddy’s heart was made even more full when he was recognized among the “Gallery of Legends” for which he considered that evening as one of the pinnacle moments in his life of service to his Community. Buddy often recounted and made clear that most importantly it was the three African American students that entered Tigrett Junior High School who were the sole and true brave Heroes of desegregation in Jackson on that historic day of January 25, 1962. There were other community achievements by Buddy as Vice Mayor in the areas of infrastructure, Health Department advancements, and recreationally in the building of many public athletic fields and even in the City providing some of Jackson’s first lighted outdoor athletic facilities.

Following politics, Buddy was again presented a career opportunity at the Milan Arsenal and he happily returned to what was often referred to as “The Plant” in which he then began his long professional career in the area of Industrial Human Resources. He was ultimately promoted to Personnel Director and concluded his adult life career in that top Human Resources position of Milan Army Ammunition Plant. During these years he was known both locally and regionally as an innovator in the area of human resources and founded the West Tennessee Personnel Directors Association to bring together all industrial and manufacturing human resource executives to share ideas in the area and betterment of human resources and employment relations.

Away from his “day job”, Buddy’s real personal passion was working on the football field where he was a game official. He worked over 800 games at the junior varsity, junior high (middle school), and high school level, and worked over 300 college games in the OVC and Southeastern Conference (SEC). He officiated in 15 high school bowl games and became the first high school Supervisor of Football Officials in Tennessee. He coordinated the officiating crews for the TSSAA state high school football championships in all Divisions for 16 years.

Buddy began his college officiating career as an Umpire in the Ohio Valley Conference at age 26, making him one of the youngest college football officials in the country. At only age 30 he was accepted and became an official with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 1956, making him the youngest college football official of the major conferences in the nation at that time. As a football official for 44 years in total, he was notably selected to be the Chief Umpire in both the SEC and OVC Conferences. He officiated in countless regular season prime-time televised “big” games and was selected to work seven of the then only eight post-season Collegiate Bowl games that took place in that era.

After retiring from on-field action as a major college football official in 1977, he was selected as Supervisor of Football Officials for the Ohio Valley Conference, a position he held for 22 years in which he selected, hired and assigned all of the football officials to every OVC college football game. After retiring from this position, he returned to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) as a Technical Advisor, concentrating on training, mentoring and advising SEC officials on rules, proper techniques and conduct, as well as overseeing the SEC’s complex annual Rules Exam for all SEC officials. Moreover, he served for the NCAA on the Rules Committee for many, many years in literally personally writing countless Rules changes into each upcoming season’s NCAA college football Rules. In that regard, Buddy was considered as one of the nation’s leading experts on the Rules of College Football. Certainly, he could dissect complex rules for both officials and coaches, but he could also simplify the rules for the average person to understand. He even had the opportunity to author a highly popular children’s book titled “The Illustrated Rules of Football for Children” in which he participated in many bookstore book signings around the region and it not only sold quite well but often became a staple in elementary and middle school libraries. Additionally, later in life, Buddy worked for the National Football League (NFL) as a Scout of College Football Officials who were applicants seeking to become NFL Officials, in which he would be assigned to attend college games in order to assess the applicant’s performance on the field and make his recommendations to the NFL’s Supervisor of Officials.

Buddy wrote a syndicated newspaper column titled “Ask the Ref” in which people would write questions regarding football rules and he would prepare a monthly column to answer those questions, in which newspapers around the nation picked up this column for national syndication over several years. Buddy always enjoyed talking and so it should not be surprising that he hosted and/or co-hosted several local television sports shows over the years as well as weekly radio shows. Buddy continued to be a guest of local sports radio programs even up to his most recent 95th birthday. Moreover, over the years, Buddy was featured in numerous national articles and also in REFEREE Magazine.

Buddy was elected to and became a member of the following Sports Halls of Fame: TSSAA Hall of Fame, Jackson- Madison County Hall of Fame, Ohio Valley Conference Hall of Fame, All American Football Foundation Hall of Fame, CCA Commissioner’s Officiating Hall of Fame, Recognized as an SEC (Southeastern Conference) Icon – Hall of Fame, Union University Athletic Hall of Fame, The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and most impressively the pinnacle of all college athletics - The College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2003 at the Waldorff Astoria event ceremony in New York City.

Buddy was a big supporter of youth sports, including youth baseball in Jackson and across the state. He was a longtime Little League coach and he was also later Commissioner of the Tennessee Babe Ruth Baseball organization for seven years, during which time it became the fifth-largest Chapter in youth Babe Ruth Baseball internationally.

For decades, Buddy was in high demand as an after-dinner and motivational speaker. He spoke at corporate team-building events and other such internal corporate gatherings, as well as civic clubs, large banquets and conventions, including national/international corporate conventions, and of course football and other athletic booster clubs. One of his favorite conventions that he was honored to speak at several times was the annual National Postmasters Convention. He further emceed and offered humor (given his tremendous repository of “jokes and stories”) at various events, beauty pageants, and even an occasional fiddler contest. There was no type of gathering or event, small or large that Buddy would ever say “no” to. If Buddy was asked to speak, whether paid or not, he always gladly and with a smile said “Yes, I would love to”.

Long active in civic affairs, Buddy was Area Governor for Toastmasters International, Commander of American Legion Post 12, Advisory Board Member for the State Vocational and Industrial Clubs of America, and President of the Union University Alumni Association. He served on the boards for Jackson Area Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Jackson Family YMCA, Jackson Boys & Girls Club, Polio Foundation, Jackson Mental Health Association, and West Tennessee Council of Boy Scouts of America, and many others. He chaired numerous charity and non-profit fundraising campaigns, including: March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, and the Jackson-Madison County Board of Health. He was past president and a perineal coach of the YMCA Church Basketball League, President of the Hub City Toastmasters, and President and a Founding Member of the Jackson Tennis Association.

Buddy was a Christian and served as a longtime member and supporter of First Baptist Church, having also been a Sunday School Superintendent for many years in the Junior Department.

R. L. (Buddy) Patey was preceded in death by his father, Ralph Patey, his mother, Kathleen Patey, sisters Janelle and Maxine, and his beloved wife, Mary Gish Patey. Buddy is survived by his sons Patrick Patey of Jackson, TN and Mark Patey (Carolyn) of Jackson, TN; and the “apples of his eye”, his grandchildren who called him “P-Poppy” or “Poppy”, Madison Claire Patey (fiancé – Austin Bryant) of Nashville, TN, and his “best buddy” Hayden Tyler Patey of Memphis, TN.

Arrangements will be directed by George A. Smith & Sons Funeral Home. A memorial funeral service for Buddy will be held on May 4th, 2021 at 1:00 PM at First Baptist Church, 627 North Highland Avenue, Jackson, TN 38301, with Dr. Justin Wainscott and Mark Pendergrass as Co-Officiating Pastors. Floral Arrangements can be sent to the Smith Funeral Home’s North Chapel, 2812 North Highland Avenue, Jackson, TN 38305; and, in lieu of flowers, please feel free to make a donation to the charity of your choice.

Active pallbearers are Hayden Patey, Mickey Marley, Mike Taylor, Dr. Roy Appleton, Sammie Arnold, Warren Wiltshire, Bobby Gaston, Jerry Smith, Tom Mapes, Jimmy Wallace, Bo Deaton, Harrell Carter (President, NAACP), Curtis Mansfield, Rickey Brown, Bob Byrd, and Blair Hill.

Honorary pallbearers are Mayor Scott Conger, City of Jackson, Vice-Mayor Johnny Dodd, City of Jackson, Mayor Jimmy Harris, Madison County, Sen. Ed Jackson, Jimmy Eldridge, Reggie Smith, Farrell Roe, Greg Thomas, Russ Pulley, Eddie Hayes, Kenny Pack, Bob Parchman, Wayne McCreight, and Jim Cox

Also serving as honorary pallbearers are Buddy's TV, Radio, and Media Family: Dan Reeves, Jamey Parker (Sea Bass), Joe Holloway, Keith Sherley, Tom Britt, Steve Bowers, Dave Thomas, and Steve Beverly; Bob Mabry and all of Buddy's "Ye Olde Pipe Shoppe" family; and all current and former TSSAA, OVC and SEC football officials.


  • The Funeral Service

    Tuesday, May 4, 2021


R.L. (Buddy) Patey

have a memory or condolence to add?

Steve Bowers

May 3, 2021

A community treasure. Buddy always a great interview on everything from sports to the City of Jackson! The challenge - always more stories than time allowed! Had this community in his heart!

Gene Dearmitt

May 1, 2021

Buddy helped me as a football official and later as a football supervisor for TSSAA Northwest Association. Many great stories dealing with Buddy and football. He was a great individual and he will be missed. By prayers for the family. R.I.P. my dear friend.