Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ten Years Burning Down the Road

"Ten years burning down the road..."

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Johnny Weaver on
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling
It's hard to believe it has been ten years today since the passing of one of the all-time great legends in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, Johnny Weaver. Johnny passed away on February 15, 2008, sitting at his computer desk in his kitchen that morning. Just 24 hours earlier, he had been sending out Valentine's Day e-cards, one of them to his longtime friend Peggy Lathan.

It was Peggy that had introduced me to Johnny about four years earlier, and along with Peggy and the rest of the "Mid-Atlantic mafia", David Chappell and I were blessed with the opportunity to develop a friendship with Johnny over the last several years of his life. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, and contributed both here as well at a little website I developed for him where we posted memorabilia and memories about his career in pro wrestling.

The Birthday Cake (November 2007)
My best memory with Johnny was the weekend we threw a surprise birthday party for him in November of 2007 in Rocky Mount, VA - - three months before his death as it turned out. Several friends from his wrestling days were there (Sandy Scott, Don and Wally Kernodle, Jim Nelson, Rick McCord, Mike Weddle) as well as all of the mafia and we had a wonderful time (along with one of the best looking Mid-Atlantic Wrestling birthday cakes you've ever seen.) The highlight for me? Getting to sing "Turn out the Lights, the Party's Over" with Johnny at the party. That was Johnny's tip of the hat to "Dandy" Don Meridith from Monday Night Football years earlier. Johnny used to sing that song once a week on "World Wide Wrestling" at the end of one of the matches. Little did we know as we sang together that night in Rocky Mount that the party would indeed be over soon.

Deputy Sheriff Johnny Weaver
Mecklenburg County, NC
Since Johnny's death, I've had the pleasure to get to know and become friends with Johnny's daughter Wendi (who gave me one of Johnny's ring jackets several years later - something I treasure to be sure), as well as Capt. Mike Smith of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Department, where Johnny served as a deputy sheriff from the time he left wrestling right up until the time of his death. Capt. Smith was not only Johnny's boss, but one his closest friends, and gave a moving eulogy for him at his funeral. He writes us almost every year around the anniversary of Johnny's death. It was nice to hear from him again this year and when I opened his email last week, it hit me like a ton of bricks that it had been ten years. Time passes us by so quickly.

"Tonight I have been watching the videos of Johnny back in his days," Capt. Smith wrote me.  "One thing I think about and remember and see very clearly is the day we lost him and the time we spent honoring him in the end. It is all way too clear. The good part is we remember and cherish those times we did have together even more."

Johnny Weaver with William L. Cross
at the Weaver Cup Tournament in 2005
CWF Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, one of the country's top independent wrestling outfits based out of Burlington, NC, presents an annual "Johnny Weaver Cup" wrestling tournament, something that began several years before Johnny died. Johnny attended several of those early tournaments and presented the trophy to the winner. The tournament has continued as a memorial event and just completed its 14th year.

I am posting some links below to a few of the tributes from various people that we posted in the weeks after Johnny's death. This weekend I plan to re-post in its entirety one my favorites, an interview I did with Blackjack Mulligan that included his tribute and memories of the man he affectionately called "J-Dub."

So ten years burning down the road, we salute his memory on this, the tenth anniversary of his death. We miss you, Sleeperman.

"One of the lasting memories I will have of that day was topping each hill on the way to graveside and seeing stretched out before me a line of seemingly endless patrol cars with blue lights flashing, slowing winding through Mecklenburg County on their way to see Johnny laid to rest. It was a jolting reminder that a brotherhood of officers had lost one of their own. And they were there in force to say goodbye." - Dick Bourne, "Saying Goodbye"
"So as I am proceeding to Johnny’s house under the sound of the siren and for some odd reason I heard a Rolling Stones song on my car radio. I leaned over turned up the volume and thought to myself as the adrenaline increased,"wow I wonder if this is what they listened to as they all road together in Johnny’s Cadillac from show to I pulled up to Johnny’s house I saw the expressions on their face and it confirmed what I already knew and it was not good. The second thing I saw was that old Cadillac still sitting in the driveway holding all the good times to itself and then I said to myself, “well Johnny, what do you think about that ride we just took? That was some pretty good driving on my part." - Capt. Michael Smith, "Thanks, Kid."
"I don’t remember a lot of those Saturdays in front of my black and white TV in the 60s, or even how I wandered onto Channel 6 in Richmond at 5:00 for All-Star Wrestling. I do remember that my Dad used to watch the World Series of Golf from the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio with me at 4:00 on those Saturday afternoons way back when. And I remember when that show ended, All-Star Wrestling came on. While I don’t remember much about that time, I do remember one wrestler, and his name was Johnny Weaver." - David Chappell, "Mr. Mid-Atlantic"
"The highlight of 1967 for me was Johnny Weaver winning the Southern Heavyweight belt from the Missouri Mauler. This match was broadcast on WBTV 3 Charlotte on Saturday Oct. 28. Several months earlier, my two brothers and I had talked it over and agreed to save our money from working in tobacco to a buy color TV so we could see Johnny’s matches in color. We managed to buy a 19 inch General Electric for $369 which was seemed like a fortune to three kids in 1967." - Carroll Hall, "Remembering a Legend"
"From Charleston to Norfolk and all points in between, it was a territory that thrived on unique characters who could make people believe and have them coming back each week for more. Many of those names from that bygone era are gone now, leaving behind memories that will last a lifetime for those who were lucky enough to be around that special time. No name was bigger, and no wrestler was more beloved, than Johnny Weaver." - Mike Mooneyham,
“We were close, we shared so much on the road.” Jack told me. “The best times were in 1978 traveling with J-Dub and Dickey Murdoch all around the Mid-Atlantic territory. We spent a lot of time and rode a lot of miles, Johnny always chewing tobacco, listening to 8-track tapes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Ernest Tubb...Over and over and over again, those tapes would play, I got so sick of Merle Haggard,” Jack laughed as he told me. “I was into the new Southern Rock...and Johnny liked that old traditional stuff. Of course, all those guys Johnny loved, those guys are all on my iPod now,” he laughed, “but wow, he used to wear those 8-track tapes out!” - Blackjack Mulligan, as told to Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway "The Greatest Finish Man Ever"
"Normally, funerals don’t have a lasting impact on me, as I rarely show my emotions. However, Johnny’s funeral has impacted me to this day and at times when I read stories about him or watch videos of him, I still get teary eyed. When my wife finds old pictures of Johnny and I on the World Wide Wrestling TV set, I just stare at them and fondly remember the time we had together." - Rich Landrum, "Goodbye to the Dean"
"When I first came to Charlotte in 1980, Johnny just went out his way to help teach me in that wrestling ring....Johnny had been a hero to me, he always put the match first. He once told me,"Kid, You are only as good as the guy you are workin' with." I never did forget that. He was so right, too." Jim Nelson (aka Boris Zhukov), "So Long, Johnny"

"Johnny was one of the first wrestlers I ever talked to and soon became not only my hero, but also my friend. I saw him every week, sometimes several times a week, and he'd always give me a hug and ask how things were going for me, and would ask about my Mom and Grandmother, who also attended the matches with me. He was just a sweet, kind person who was so easy to talk to and was always so available to the fans. ... That's why so many loved him, and why so many are mourning his passing. When you can make a connection with your hero, you never forget it." - Peggy Lathan, "Hard to Handle"