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. The university reportedly will honor McCray by adding him to its Ring of Honor. 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 column for now-defunct TucsonCitizen.com and has agreed to continue to offer his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com. McCray also writes columns for SanDiegoFreePress.org.
Oh, it’s quite a shock when you check into Facebook and the first entry on your timeline says: “My brother, Elton Harris, is gone.”
The absolutely last thing I was ready for was hearing that a friend had died.
Elton was quite a man and I missed a lot of his life when his aunt, my first wife, and I, broke up. I’d hear about him every now and then, though, as he was my son, Guy’s, favorite cousin and close friend.
What little I heard was mostly negative, but without any details, so I never made any judgments about him. He just became somebody who was out of sight and out of mind, as they say.
And then one day, not too many years ago, when I was in Tucson for a reunion of some kind, I stopped at Al’s Barber Shop to catch up with a childhood friend and, as Al and I reminisced about old times, I hear “Hey, uncle. How you doing man? Elton. Aunt Sweet’s nephew.”
I appreciated that because I recognized his face but the name wasn’t coming to mind and I hate it when you see somebody you know and remember well, and their moniker escapes you in the moment, and they say “Bet, you don’t remember me” and you say “Yes I do” and they say “What’s my name?” Leaving you feeling lame.
With Elton not doing that I thought of him as a considerate and caring person. And since then I’ve found that he truly was such a human being.
We talked briefly about what he was up to, his music and his religious awakening, and I knew then that whatever his problems were in his youth he was past that and way on the right track. “A down brotha” I remember thinking.
The next time I saw Elton he was at my daughter Debbie’s memorial and then, not too much later, at services for my son. On those occasions I observed how personable he was, how easy he was with people, as he comforted those of us drowning in our sadness, greeting everybody with a smile. No one seemed a stranger to him.
It’s been as Facebook friends that I’ve really gotten to know him, observing his good deeds and seeing him with his kids, feeling the love he has for his family and for me, reading his memes, admiring how he argues with folks respectfully, finding it cool that we have similar tastes musically, as I, like him, love me some Marvin Gaye and the Temps and Rose Royce and Earth Wind and Fire and Lionel Richey and Etta James and the Pointer Sisters and the list goes on…
Dude was right on!
The last thing I wrote on his timeline was in response to a post he shared about Ma Rainey, “The Mother of the Blues” getting her due. I told him how I played “Slow Drag,” Ma Rainey’s bassist, on stage, in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” how I had to learn some bass licks to open the second act.
He gave me the Facebook white-against-a-blue-background-thumb-up “Like.”
The last time I saw him was in Tucson last January when he was performing with “Voices of Harmony” at a gospel musical festival.
I don’t profess to have deep religious insights but when the group opened with Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” I could tell the way he played chords on his keyboard, the way he was all the way into the sounds he was making, that he was truly one of the folks who had the faith “to hear the diesel’s hummin’” in the “train” that Curtis used to sing about that’s “a comin’”: “You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”
Following Elton, I know, as one of his last posts pointed out, that he had faith that God “knows what is best for your life.”
I can only say that, if there is a Heaven, Elton certainly deserves to be there and my wish for him is that the Lord whispers in his ear: “Well, done, my son. Well done.”
Elton gave his love to the world and no more should be expected of anyone.
I will miss this wonderful man until my days are done.