August 17, 2005

Starkey remembers Sue Gunter

Sue Gunter was laid to rest in her hometown of Walnut Grove, Miss. on Tuesday, Aug. 9 next to her parents.

The legendary coach passed away on Thursday Aug. 4 at her Baton Rouge home. She was 66 years old.

Gunter, a 40-year coaching veteran, won over 700 games in storied career, but her battle with lung disease came to an end a year and a half after leaving the bench. In the days since Gunter’s passing, those who knew her best have spent time reflecting on the many memories of the hall of fame coach.

No group of people knew Gunter than her coaching staff at LSU. Pokey Chatman, who succeeded Gunter as head coach, and assistant coaches Bob Starkey and Carla Berry spent a large portion of their lives with Gunter both on the court and off. After years of working together, it seemed appropriate for Chatman, Berry and Starkey to be in charge of paying the final respects to their fallen mentor.

With no family locally, her parents deceased and no children, Chatman and her assistant coaches made most of the arrangements for Gunter’s final services. Starkey said it was somewhat surreal acting as the only family Gunter had so to speak.

“It was both difficult and at the same time an honor, if that makes any sense at all,” Starkey said. “For coach Gunter, we were very meticulous with the details. She deserved to have the best sendoff possible.”

Starkey said due to Gunter’s lengthy illness, the veteran coach had a hand in her own arrangements.

“Because of her condition, a great deal of things had already been done, lots of things put in place,” Starkey said. “We had already met with the minister and arranged the church. We had started working on the memorial program because unfortunately we knew the time was drawing near for her. Coach Gunter actually had a say in some of things. She picked out some hymns that she wanted sung. It was different.”

While many feared the worst when Gunter fell ill in January of 2004 and most knew the inevitable, Starkey said when Gunter finally passed it was still a shock. In the hours following her passing, Starkey said the staff was flooded with an outpouring of emotion.

“It was almost like an onslaught from various angles,” Starkey said. “We had former players from LSU and Stephen F. Austin coming forward. We even had a couple of players from Middle Tennessee State – coaches from around the country, high school and college everywhere. Our season ticket holders, the LSU family, lots of people calling in. Some just wanted to call and talk asking if there was anything we could do.”

When the time came for the formality of visitations and funerals, Starkey said the attendance was staggering. With the likes of basketball greats such as Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt, Billie Moore and Ann Meyers present, basketball dignitaries turned out in droves as well as former players and coaches plus adoring fans.

“I can recall back to coach Gunter’s retirement dinner and Skip (Bertman) made a comment that night,” Starkey said. “He said ‘only greatness can bring greatness together like this.’ I think because of who she was is why we had such a response.”

A Sunday visitation was held in downtown Baton Rouge and a funeral service was held Monday afternoon at First United Methodist. Tuesday, Gunter’s body was transported to Walnut Grove for burial.

Starkey and the staff made the trip as well.

“I know driving back from Mississippi, I was in the car with Pokey and (administrative assistant) Joe Carvilhido and we shared a lot of goods stories about coach Gunter,” Starkey said. “I think we saw a lot of that over the past week with the former players and coaches coming in. I think all of those stories were kind of therapeutic.”

Starkey said the stories and memories as well as the tears flowed during that long car ride back from Gunter’s hometown.

“We talked about coach Gunter a lot,” Starkey said. “She has touched our lives in many different ways. But the most unique thing about Mississippi was that was her family and her friends growing up. It was interesting to meet some of those people for the first time. Her high school coach was there. Her junior college coach was there. Some of her childhood friends were there telling stories about coach Gunter as a child, some stories we had never heard before. We found out about coach Gunter the child, teenager and college student. It was comforting to see so much love from that part of her life.”

Starkey added some plans are underway for a memorial to be built for Gunter, but the details a full-blown tribute have not been finalized as of yet.

“We haven’t had much time to give that adequate thought yet,” he said. “I have been asked will we wear the black patch on the arm. We have actually been working on a tribute monument that will go in our locker room complex. It is large and it is beautiful and is pretty much for the players’ eyes only.

With a new freshman class already on campus in preparation for the upcoming season, Starkey said the staff will make a point of passing on stories and traditions to help newcomers to the program understand what Gunter meant to the LSU program as well as the women’s game as a whole. Starkey added he feels there is no better person to carry Gunter’s torch than Chatman.

“I think her greatest legacy will come through Pokey Chatman,” Starkey said. “I am close enough to both of them to see a lot of Sue in Pokey. There are some things that Pokey brings from other parts of her life that makes her special. But I think the way we conduct this program, with integrity and class with that competitive fire is absolutely the best legacy we can leave in coach Gunter’s honor and I think that is the on she would want.”

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