I’ve been invited to serve on many boards, even some that pay, but the only board on which I serve is the Tyler Junior College Board of Trustees, and I do so gladly for free. It is a small way for me to try to give back for the great gifts I’ve received in life.
Without TJC, I don’t know where I’d be, but I know that I probably wouldn’t be a physician and I wouldn’t have learned the life lessons I needed to be successful in medical school and beyond.
I grew up in Pineland Texas, the youngest of five. My siblings were high achievers but by the time I came along, my mother was often sick and not much was expected of me. I started doing chores at an early age and spent most of my free time with my dog. My mom rode horseback and took me along before I was even two. By age six, I had broken my first horse. In those days, we were turned loose at daylight and came home at dark. I loved to fish and hunt and went everywhere barefoot until I finally had to wear shoes for school.
My dad was a world class sprinter who had gotten a college scholarship, and all three older brothers were fast, but after Dad came to see me at a track meet, he was very kind and encouraged me toward basketball. Later, Coach Wagstaff offered me a scholarship to play at TJC and it changed my life.
Coach Wag invented tough love. He’d tell a 260-pound guard that he was going to knock the xxx out of him and the guard would say “Yes, Sir!” I wasn’t outstanding, but I got to play because I’d pass the ball from our All-American guard to our All-American center (they’d never pass to each other!).
Wag became a second father to me and TJC’s academics made up for the gaps I had from high school. Math is key to science but my high school math teacher was also the bus driver. He gave us the answers and we got good grades without learning anything. Sadly, when I got to TJC, I thought logarithms had something to do with lumber. TJC changed all that and helped prepare me academically to compete anywhere.
I was told that the admissions test scores for medical school didn’t much matter so I quickly finished the test and then almost didn’t get admitted because of that test. The Legislature had mandated they admit 100 more but the admissions counselor told me they wouldn’t graduate any more than before. He said I would be weeded out and should consider another career. Coach Wag and my TJC teachers had taught me to compete so after I graduated near the top of my medical school class, I went back to tell that counselor what I thought of his advice.
In Coach Wag’s later years, I used to bring him to my ranch, especially after his wife died and he needed some cheering up. He’d visit with Mary and I’d take him around the ranch. He still had his colorful speech and would tell me in unprintable terms about the things I needed to fix up, the weeds that needed clearing and the gates that needed fixing. To get him some exercise and movement, I’d have him open the gates. There was one broken gate in particular that he always cussed about the most. I finally bought a brand new gate and put a sign on it that said “Wag’s Gate” and couldn’t’ wait to surprise him on his next visit. It was getting dark and he said it was too late and he was too hungry and tired to go out to the pasture, but I told him I needed to get something. When he saw that shiny new gate with his name on it, he said “I’ve been in three halls of fame and I’ve got a gym named after me but I think I’m more proud of this (xxx expletive) gate than anything!” I cherished that man. It’s still known as Wag’s gate and Wag’s pasture.
- TJC Hero & Friend, Dr. Joe Prud’homme is a Tyler based physician and surgeon who has served on TJC’s Board of Trustees since 2004. At TJC, he distinguished himself both as an athlete and a scholar. He has also distinguished himself as a dedicated board member and supporter. Joe’s lifetime partner, Mary, has recently passed away. They met when they were 3 and 4 years old at church in Hemphill, Texas. He didn’t like her much then, but something changed when she was 15 and they were married four years later.