Ernie McCray blogs

Ernie McCray: Living fully in Nancy’s place

Ernie McCray

Ernie McCray

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for before the site ceased current-events operations earlier this year. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with about Arizona Wildcats athletics. McCray also writes blogs for

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Nancy left these shores on the 22nd of July, five years ago, and my son wrote some pretty words about her on Facebook that brought tears to my eyes, the soft tears that flow from memories held dear.

Ernie McCray sharing a laughing with his late wife Nancy (McCray family photo)

Ernie McCray sharing a laughing with his late wife Nancy (McCray family photo)

He says, of her passing, “It was not the last time I’ve heard her wisdom, felt her spirit, followed her counsel or shared a smile with her. I am motivated each day to bring change and happiness to this world and my mother is one of the motivations.”

Then he says, “Laurel (his wonderful partner in life) gave me a beautiful card this morning with a quote she chose that embodies how I’ve coped with the reality that I can never dance with my mother at my wedding, cry on her shoulder, or feel her hugs.” The card says, “The greatest gift we can give to those who have left us is to live fully in their place.”

I so agree and it’s pleasing to see how Carlos is truly living in his mother’s place. Like her, he is a doer – and that woman was about the doing-est person I’ve ever known. Paper on the ground, she’s picking it up. Recycling program needed at the school. Done. Animal down and struggling, well, I don’t know how many times I’ve suddenly heard “Stop the car, Ernie?” and I’m going “What? What? Did I run over somebody? Is somebody dangling on the hood?” and she says something like “No, no, there’s a bird over there with a broken wing” or “It looks like that squirrel is hobbling.” We’ve missed appointments taking a wounded creature to Project Wildlife. Carlos suggests, on his timeline, that we all, in his mother’s memory, “pick up some trash that isn’t ours and feed an animal that isn’t ours… recycle everything and reuse anything we can…count to three in 80 languages and take photos of whatever you see…” He, then, gives in to “I find I cannot decide how to end this as she has no end to me…”

Another picture of Ernie and Nancy McCray shows the special bond they had (McCray family photo)

Another picture of Ernie and Nancy McCray shows the special bond they had (McCray family photo)

I know what he means as Nancy is very much a part of me. I see her every time I look our grandson in the eye with his Dumbo ears. Every time I pick an avocado from the tree she started in a little pot. Every time I see a mixed doubles team in tennis. Every time I hear a camera click. When ever I see a killer whale, jumping through hoops, way outside what’s natural for it to do.

“So live on I shall,” Carlos writes, “and continue to listen to my mother’s words I will,” never, ever forgetting “the woman who cancelled a trip to Jamaica to, instead, go visit me, a stranger, at the hospital and then bring me home,” giving “me my shot at the life I’m living and it will not be wasted.”

Oh, write away, my son. He is so his mother’s boy. And what a mother she was. I relish every minute we had as a mom and dad. Bringing Tawny and Nyla home one cold windy rainy February day and then, four years later, bringing Carlos home as our dearly adopted son, are days I will cherish forever. Helping them and then seeing them become the loving and caring human beings they happen to be, Nancy and I did agree, is the most satisfying experience we’ve enjoyed in life.

My thoughts of her on the recent anniversary of the saddest day of my life, have been sunny and bright. I looked for a picture that would best describe our lives together and found one of us laughing. It jumped out at me because I don’t think a day passed in our time together that we didn’t literally crack up about something. It could be over something Richard Pryor said like “People will get out your way if you’re running down the street on fire…”

It could come about, in a moment, when we happened to conjure up images of when we’d let Carlos sucker us into one of those big verbal battles we had with him and we’d look up at each other and realize we were practically cross-eyed, foaming at the mouth and cursing in tongues. …

It could be the result of looking at a video of Tawny and Nyla, as little girls, when one of them says, to the other, in an Elmer Fudd-like voice: “Your hair is gleaming…”

It could be due to recalling a day when we were lost in El Cajon speeding along some street as though we knew where we were going, wondering why some people were looking at us funny, and all of a sudden the street just abruptly ended and we had to hit our brakes and then turn around and head back the other way, still trying to front like we knew where we were going…

Ahh, it’s so nice to be able to put some words about our dear Nancy together without buckling from sheer emotional pain. Our daughter, Nyla, in Vegas, wrote “She’s still very much with me. But I miss her physical presence terribly,” in response to her brother’s message.” Tawny, her twin, took a dip in the ocean, for both of them, in her mother’s name. And nothing could honor a woman who swam miles a week in the ocean, claiming she had been a halibut in a former life, more than playing in the waves in her memory.

We will forever live fully in her place. It’s our gift to her for all the love she gave us — unconditionally.


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