After graduating from Robert E. Lee High School in 1964, I enrolled at Tyler Junior College the following September. It was a great decision that changed my life and paved the way to attend UT Austin and then Baylor Law School. I got a solid education at TJC that prepared me very well for wherever life would take me. I have so many fond memories of TJC and still recommend it to everyone.
When I came back to Tyler in January, 1971, after graduating from Baylor and passing the bar exam, I went to work as an Assistant District Attorney for one year before I applied and got the job as the first full-time City Attorney. From there, I was appointed municipal court judge, where I served for five years before being elected as District Attorney in 1982. I was elected to six terms and served as District Attorney before being appointed to fill Judge Diane DeVasto’s unexpired term as Judge of the 241st District Court in 2003. It is my honor to have been elected to remain in that position ever since.
As a District Attorney and now as a District Judge, I’ve been involved in many significant trials in my time, and many of them have stayed with me over the years, especially the capital murder cases. It has been both a great privilege and a great responsibility to have served as a district attorney and now as district judge. I have always done my best to meet the duties of these elected offices.
Memories of TJC have also stayed with me over the years, and they make me smile when I need a lift. One of my favorite TJC recollections goes back to the spring of 1965, when four of us decided we’d like to start a golf team. We had to clear it with Coach Wagstaff, who was athletic director at the time. His office was intimidating because it was covered with championship football and basketball pictures and trophies everywhere. We felt a little out of place being there, hoping to start a golf team. One of us got the nerve to ask the question, and after a short pause, he stood up and said, “If you want to form a team, we’ll do it!” He assigned us to Coach Mack Reynolds, who was assistant football coach at the time. When we talked to Coach Reynolds, he told us he didn’t know anything about golf, but he’d drive us to tournaments in the white TJC station wagon and bring us back. That worked well for us, but we noticed that Coach Reynolds never took off his jacket when he took us to our tournaments that proudly said “Football – Tyler Junior College”. We won the conference that year and got an impressive trophy. Coach Reynolds told us we had done a good job, but that his job as our golf coach was over and we should go talk to Coach Wagstaff again.
Our visit with Coach Wagstaff was a good one. He told us he was proud and that we were going to the national tournament in Grand Rapids, Michigan! None of us had been out of Texas and we thought we might get to fly on a plane. Those hopes were dashed when he told us to meet him behind the gym with our luggage and golf clubs at 3:00 a.m. so we could drive to the tournament in the TJC station wagon. He drove straight from Tyler to Grand Rapids, stopping only for gas. At one point, Coach Wagstaff asked if any of us had ever been to Chicago. We got our hopes up for a side trip until he pointed off to the east and said, “See those lights over there? That’s Chicago.”
We arrived in Grand Rapids and he dropped us off at the YMCA where we were staying. Coach stayed at a nearby Howard Johnson’s and picked us up every morning. He walked the course with one of us every day of the four-day tournament, and if he saw something we could improve on, he would tell us. We were leading midway through the tournament, and we finished third. Coach Wagstaff told us we had done a great job and he was going to take us sightseeing. He drove us to one of the Great Lakes and told us to get out of the car and look at the lake. He asked us if we had ever seen a lake where we couldn’t see the opposite shore because we were looking at one. Then he got us back in the car and we drove straight home. We brought with us a large trophy from the Nationals and it was placed in the TJC trophy case at Wagstaff Gym.
We didn’t know how tight funds were and that it took a lot for Coach Wag to support our dream to start a TJC golf team. It took even more to allow us to compete in a national tournament. He personally drove us over 2,200 miles and well over 32 hours in the TJC station wagon so we could compete.
Apparently even that small, unbudgeted extra expense caught up to the athletic department. Dean Potter told Coach Wag that he had to cut out the golf team because the administration thought it had cost the school too much money! Still we were proud of our success while it lasted and I still smile about our trip with “Wag” and his idea of sightseeing! I’m forever a big fan of TJC, and it is good to see all the TJC teams - athletic, performing arts, and academic teams - doing so well today.
- TJC Hero and Friend Jack Skeen, Jr. has served 34 years in elected office. He and his wife, Barbara, a paralegal, have been married for 24 years and they have two sons. Jack will graduate from Texas A&M University in May, and Carter is attending the University of Oklahoma. [All attended TJC].