Four men knelt on a blanket around a drum Saturday afternoon in Rock Hill as friends and family paid respects to Buck George, a Catawba Indian Nation leader and former Clemson University football player who died last Sunday.
The drum’s solid booms rang out across Grandview Memorial Park as the men sang the American Indian Movement song, an inter-tribal anthem used by many Indian tribes across the nation.
Evans “Buck” George Jr., who served as the Catawba tribe’s assistant chief for 33 years, was buried at age 81 under a tree at Grandview around 2 p.m.
On Saturday, he was remembered by the Rev. Jamie Burdette, his pastor at First Baptist Church of Rock Hill, as a “gentle soul” who loved bluegrass music, had a dry sense of humor and adored his Bluetick Hound, Belle.
His friend of nearly 50 years, David Angel Sr., recalled George’s playing days at Clemson as a star halfback. Over the years, the men were golfing buddies, loved watched sports together, and vacationed together with their families.
In the early 1950s, George was the first nonwhite player to join the Tigers’ football squad. He still holds Clemson’s school record for the longest run from the scrimmage line – a record he set in 1951 against Furman University.
He was inducted into the York County Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and recently received a key to the city from Rock Hill’s City Council in recognition of his contribution’s to the city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism department.
At his the end of George’s funeral service, “Tiger Rag” – Clemson’s athletic fight song – was played as visitors stood to recognize George’s family. On his casket laid a big bouquet of purple and orange flowers, the university’s colors.
George, or “Buck Buck,” as many friends called him, was widely admired for his talents on the gridiron, but those closest to him knew him in a deeper way – as “a man with integrity,” said Carson Blue.
As a friend, tribal colleague and relative, Blue said George was “honest, just and loyal.”
When a four-piece bluegrass group performed “I Saw the Light” at Saturday’s funeral, Blue said he could “almost see Buck’s toe jumping in the casket.”
George loved music so much he once tried to convince his five grandchildren to start a band, Burdette said. One year for Christmas, he bought them music lessons and several instruments.
He was the “perfect example,” Blue said, of someone trying to be the best husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather he could be.
He loved to plant – especially tomatoes, potatoes and melons – and eat, Blue said.
But George hated to fly. He had a phobia about planes, Blue said.
On Saturday, Blue remembered a funny story about flying with George from Atlanta to Charlotte. Their plane had “technical difficulties” and was forced to land shortly after takeoff. George had “white knuckles” from gripping his seat, Blue said.
George was a key part of the Catawba Indian Nation gaining state and federal recognition. George served as a member of the tribe’s executive committee, which met with national leaders before signing a settlement agreement in 1993.
“Wherever he went, he got respect,” Blue said.
He approached his life and work with great enthusiasm and passion, friends remembered.
Clemson fans often saw that work ethic on display, Blue said, when George would “run like somebody was chasing him.
“I don’t know who it was, but he could run.”
In his private life, Blue said, George was just as passionate.
He loved his wife, Kay, and his family immensely, he said, and had a strong relationship with Jesus Christ.
His marriage of 60 years set a great example for all who knew him, Blue said.
In addition to his wife, Kay Merchant George, he is survived by his two daughters, Wenonah George Haire and Wanda George-Warren; five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
“There’s much to be sad about,” George’s pastor told the family on Saturday. Your “hearts will feel empty.”
But their loved one, he said, is with them, and “Buck is celebrating being home.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068