August 11, 2005

Former LSU coach laid to rest in Walnut Grove

Gunter remembered as authentic person as well as women's basketball legend

CARTHAGE — Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning knew exactly why it began to rain during the funeral procession of longtime colleague Sue Gunter.

"I'm sure Sue was laughing while we were driving out here," said Fanning. "She was up there saying, 'I am putting y'all through the weather.' When I think of Sue Gunter, I think of that laugh and her humor. She could always make you laugh and was just a friend to everyone and a tremendous encourager."

Fanning was one of about 200 people paying their final respects to Gunter, a Walnut Grove native and former LSU coach who died Thursday at 66 after battling emphysema.

Gunter was also honored Monday in a Baton Rouge memorial service attended by around 500 people.

As accomplished as Gunter was as a coach — a Women's Basketball Hall of Famer, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, and recently voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame — it was her presence off the floor that was talked about the most Tuesday.

"She was a wonderful player that made me look good a lot of times when I didn't deserve to," said Ed Logan, Gunter's high school coach. "But the most important thing wasn't her basketball ability. She was a wonderful person. She was nice, respectful, a good student, and a hard worker. I started to call her a bad loser, but she never did hardly lose."

As a player, Gunter's high school team went undefeated two straight years and her winning ways didn't stop there. Her 708-308 career coaching record ranks third all-time among women's basketball coaches, trailing only Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Jody Conradt of Texas.

LSU coach Pokey Chatman said plenty about the coach she replaced in 2004.

"She's been everything," said Chatman about Gunter's role in her life. "She has been a part of my maturation process. Sue is embedded in my fabric and I can take so much from her than just basketball.

"The beauty of Sue was that she was consistently Sue and was such a relationship builder," Chatman said. "She was a master at that because she was real. I hope I am half as good as she was."

Former LSU player Temeka Johnson described Gunter — who had no children of her own — as a motherly figure.

"The basketball stuff was a given, but she broadened my horizons to a lot of things and helped raise me to be the young woman that I am today," said Johnson, now playing with the WNBA's Washington Mystics. "She was a fighter, she was loving, and she was caring."

Several of Gunter's high school teammates were also in attendance, including Jackye Britt, who now lives in Grenada.

"We always kept up with her," Britt said. "She was a fine person and a basketball person all the way. I'd imagine she's the most famous person to ever come out of Walnut Grove."

Gunter returned to Walnut Grove Tuesday, where she was buried beside her parents at the Mount Zion Cemetery.

Jill Upton, a lifelong friend and former teammate of Gunter's, fought through tears moments after the graveside service.

"You were very unfortunate if you didn't know Sue," said Upton. "She was born to lead with a special gift. The ripple effect that she has had will definitely live on. I'll be buried about 20 feet from her. I told her that when I get there, we'll both get up at midnight and play a one-on-one game of basketball."

Moments later, the rain had slowed to a slight drizzle. A soft clap of thunder was heard in the Leake County sky: One final applause for a Mississippi legend.

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