Vanderbilt Athletics

Athletics stalwart John Rich passes away

May 21, 2013

John Rich knew very little about Vanderbilt University while growing up as a youth in Mississippi, but once he donned the black and gold as a member of Vanderbilt's football team in 1945, he never wanted to take it off.

He didn't know it when he arrived on campus, but Vanderbilt and the Nashville community would quickly become Rich's home, and he would go on to dedicate countless hours of his life lending his expertise and sharing resources all toward the betterment of the university he grew to love.

On Monday night, Rich passed away at his home in Nashville at the age of 85.

Rich lettered for the Commodore football team in 1945 and also earned three varsity letters in baseball, leading the 1949 squad in batting as a third baseman.

However, his time as an undergrad was almost cut short. He was on the verge of expulsion, but was provided a second chance by the Dean of Students. He never forgot that opportunity and lived his life trying to repay his beloved university.

Upon graduation Rich founded Delta Coals, Incorporated and became actively involved in a number of university and athletic initiatives.

Rich was a strong advocate for the Vanderbilt athletic program. As a member of the steering committee for the Athletics campaign, Rich provided leadership for major Vanderbilt capital projects, including the expansion of McGugin Center and the 1982 construction of Vanderbilt Stadium.

In 2002, Vanderbilt officials recognized Rich for his years of dedication by renaming its renovated football practice facilities adjoining McGugin Center in his honor.

Rich also joined the Board of Trust in 1988 and was named trustee emeritus in 2003. He was also a member of the Dean's Council, Blair Patrons, Own Associates and Friends of the Children's Hospital.

In 2008, Rich was enshrined in the inaugural Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame class.


Visitation for John W. Rich will be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church Thursday, May 23 from 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. The memorial service will be held on Friday, May 24 at 11:00 a.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church.


Nicholas S. Zeppos
Vanderbilt University Chancellor
"John Rich was a true giant of a man. His immense capacity for faithfulness and determination was a continuous thread interwoven throughout his life. After completing his freshman year at Vanderbilt, he was called to serve in the U.S. Army, but returned after his military service to finish his degree. His path was not a straightforward continuum from point A to point B, but he taught us all a valuable life lesson: it's not where you begin, but the choices that you make along the journey.

"From the rural town of Marks, MS, he came to a Vanderbilt of the 1940s, and saw the university change and grow in significant ways. He was a devoted and caring mentor and role model for the younger trustees. He understood on a deep level what it meant to be fully engaged as a trustee. Although he was not always in full agreement with every decision - no one is - he was always deeply faithful in his love of the university.

"He had a passion for Vanderbilt Athletics, and here too his support was unflagging. Even during periods when the football program was not particularly strong, John's enthusiasm was contagious. Everyone looked forward to the annual John Rich picnic, which unofficially signaled the beginning of the football season.

"However, like John himself, his support for and engagement in the life of the university was multi-faceted and layered. In addition to funding athletics facilities and scholarships, his philanthropy supported the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Blair School of Music.

"For me personally, I will always remember John as a great friend and mentor. I learned more about life and the world in an hour at Delta Coal than a day in formal meetings."

David Williams
Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director
"Vanderbilt University has lost a giant with the passing of our dear friend, John Rich. John came to Vanderbilt from Marks, Mississippi in the 1940s as a student-athlete playing football and baseball. He immediately fell in love with the university and rose to become chair of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust athletics committee as well as a member of our Athletic Hall of Fame. All the while, Mr. Rich was an ardent booster of Commodore athletics in deed and spirit. He was extremely generous in sharing his resources and he was a most familiar face attending games at Dudley Field or Memorial Gymnasium. John was a friend and close advisor who loved and cared for the Commodores as much as anyone.

"We will greatly miss his wisdom, his friendship, his story telling and his support, but most of all we will miss him. We are all saddened by his passing but will always remember what he has meant to us. God bless you and thank you, John Rich. When one speaks about all that is good about Vanderbilt Athletics, one speaks about John Rich. To his wonderful family we have you in our thoughts and prayers."

James Franklin
Vanderbilt Head Football Coach
"I'm so thankful for the private conversations I've shared with Mr. Rich since arriving in Nashville. From our first meeting to the most recent, he was a man who loved to talk about the program and hear how things were going with our team.

"From my introduction, I instantly realized the enormous pride Mr. Rich had in our program. He was extremely proud of what our guys were accomplishing, on and off the field.

"John Rich was an absolute pillar. He lived Vanderbilt athletics, then gave his all to nurture it with a lifetime of service and commitment. To me, that's an awesome legacy.

"Every Vanderbilt coach, student-athlete and staffer owes Mr. Rich a debt of gratitude. Maybe we can never fully repay Mr. Rich for what he gave to Vanderbilt University, but we can forever honor him by giving our very best every day. That's the tribute John Rich deserves more than any."

John Ingram
Member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, ardent Commodore supporter
"He was a man that cared deeply about Vanderbilt and the athletes, and he was a product of that. He certainly was the flag bearer over there and I give him full credit, because he did it at a harder time. He was firm in his convictions. I'm just sad he's not going to be around for another 10 years with the athletic success we're having now.

"I'm not sure if we would still be playing major sports at Vanderbilt if John Rich hadn't stood up for it. Mr. Rich was a guy from Marks, Miss., who came to Vanderbilt to play sports and earn an education, then parlayed it into success in business.

"John took great pride in seeing the surge in athletic results over the years. And no one deserved it more than Mr. Rich.

"John Rich and I shared a friendship and a mutual love of Vanderbilt Athletics, and I'll miss him very much."

Lew Conner
Nashville attorney, Vanderbilt Class of 1960
"Vanderbilt has lost a giant in John W. Rich. He was deeply involved in every facet of the university, but his ultimate love was athletics. John was totally committed to Vanderbilt athletics in every way.

"John Rich believed in the student-athlete concept and how important it was to the fabric of Vanderbilt University.

"To his final days, John always was upbeat about the program. I can assure you that nobody, absolutely nobody, has enjoyed our recent successes in so many sports more than John Rich.

"John's support of Vanderbilt athletics was unwavering. It was one of the loves of his life. As a member of the Board of Trust, John Rich and (former) board chairman John Hall provided great leadership when some in our community believed Vanderbilt's best interest would be served by de-emphasizing its athletic program."

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