Mac Engel

Herb Stephens: the man who made Fort Worth and TCU a better place

In a life where everyone is too busy to do anything, Herb Stephens fit it all, and everyone, in.

In doing so much, most didn’t even notice how much time he made for others, and how much he did for an entire community.

Herb Stephens lived a life where he made his home, your home, and everyone in Fort Worth’s home, better.

On Thursday afternoon at University Christian Church, located next to his beloved alma mater, TCU, the former Fort Worth ISD athletic director, FWISD employee, Paschal High School coach and teacher was eulogized, celebrated, and, more than anything else, missed.

In attendance included, among others, former FWISD athletic director Paul Galvan, FWISD superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner, former TCU athletic director Eric Hyman, ex-TCU basketball players Alex Robinson and Brandon Parrish, and dozens of Stephens’ former students and athletes he coached and taught at Paschal.

Stephens died last week at the age of 72. He had battled health issues for the past several years, including a stroke, and always successfully navigated them until he finally no longer could.

There are many sad elements to his passing, of course, among them the fact that he never had a chance to hear all of the kind words and thoughts expressed about him on Thursday. It’s one the cruelties of any memorial service.

Such sentiments would likely have embarrassed Stephens, but he deserved to hear a few kind thoughts.

Looking at the diverse audience sitting in the pews represented the cross section of people Herb influenced; it was both enviable, and inspirational. The audience speaks to the eternal power of a good teacher; of a good coach. Of “a good guy.”

Because that’s what Herb was, just a good guy. A good husband to Kathy. A good dad to daughter, Stephanie. A good grandparent to Stephanie’s son, Payne.

A good teacher to his Biology students. A caring coach to his players, from golf to basketball.

Everyone was here because they knew Herb cared about them. And there were thousands more who simply could not make it.

Stephens was a guy who came from a small town in West Virginia, and worked his way up, and down, all the way to Fort Worth where he built a life based on the premise of simply being there for others, of helping, or pushing those who needed it.

He did it mostly through sport, and the military. He served in the U.S. Air Force for four years before playing basketball at TCU. He graduated from TCU in 1974, and earned his Master’s Degree in Education from there in 1979.

He then went on to a long career in FWISD, and served as golf coach and biology teacher at Paschal, and an administrator.

“He was a man ahead of his time in his championing of girls sports,” long-time friend Darryl Zeller said.

Herb loved to fish. Almost as much as he loved to give his friends a hard time.

He was musically inclined, and would return to his native West Virginia once or twice a year and, if the time worked, would practice with his old high school band. Later in life, he took up the bag pipes.

He loved to play golf. He could talk and coach basketball for a month.

After surviving a stroke, he started a stroke survivor’s group.

When his daughter, Stephanie, lost her husband, Jamie Wellman, Herb filled as much of that role as he could for her son.

There was just so much he did, and so many people he positively affected.

His was a life worth living, worth celebrating, and one that will simply be missed.

“It hurts me,” said former TCU basketball coach Trent Johnson in a phone interview. Johnson is now an assistant at California. “He was a basketball coach to the fullest, but, for me, it was that he was genuine and transparent. I loved talking to him. There was no agenda. It was all about the players. He would come to practice all the time and we’d just talk. There are not enough guys like him.”

Amen and amen.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram