BOTETOURT – I was sad to learn of the recent passing of Otis Timberlake. He was a great guy and one of the first people I got to know when I started in this business.
I was hired by the Salem Times-Register in the summer of 1974, and for the fall football preview edition I did interviews with all the area coaches, just to get to know them. Otis was coaching at Lord Botetourt at the time and we hit it off immediately. He was a very nice guy and he had me laughing right off the bat. He was the kind of guy you sought out to sit with in a crowd of people.
I got to know him really well when he became wrestling coach at James River, as I talked to him every week during the wrestling season for many years. Rick Anderson was his long-time assistant, coaching together for 16 years, and they were a great pair. Otis was the organizer and motivator and Rick was the strategist, and they sent many wrestlers, and a few state champions, to what Otis liked to call “the Big Dance” at the Salem Civic Center.
I ran into Rick at the “River Rumble” wrestling tournament at Staunton River last weekend and he struggling with the news of Otis’ death. Timberlake had some heart problems, but Rick talked to him the night before Thanksgiving, just three days before he died of a heart attack.
“We talked about the holidays and old times and going to state, and stuff like that,” said Anderson. “He seemed to be fine. I was shocked when I found out he had died.”
Otis had moved to Ft. Myers, Florida in 2002 and had been living there since, although he made an annual trip to Salem for the state wrestling tournament. When he moved, Anderson moved into Otis’ house.
“I always liked his house and when he moved he gave me first shot at it,” said Anderson. “I’ve been living there for nine years now. He was a good friend.”
When you’d bring up Timberlake’s name, no matter who it was, you’d get the same response as to his character. He was honest with you and believed in doing things the right way.
“He was straight with you, and he was a very honest person,” said Anderson. “You always knew where he was coming from. He believed in good sportsmanship and he also had strong principles. He used to tell us if you were good to people, they would be good to you. He was a good friend to the community.”
Otis was a Virginia native, born in New Kent. After graduating from East Carolina he coached at Parry McCluer for three years before coming to Lord Botetourt 1973. He coached at LB for nine years and no one has come close to that length of service ever since. In fact Tater Benson, who recently resigned as coach, had a six year run and that’s been the longest since Otis was at LB.
After coaching at LB Otis moved over to James River, where he was on Doug Ross’ football staff while serving as head wrestling coach. He built the wrestling team into a state contender, getting large numbers out for the team, especially for a Group A school. Anderson said it was because the boys had fun and enjoyed being on the team.
“We had a lot of fun at practice,” he said. “Otis loved to have fun. We’d sit and talk on the chairs in the corner and he’d have me cracking up, then he’d say, ‘now don’t get me in trouble, Rick’.”
Timberlake was 67. He was cremated and there was a memorial service in Florida this week, and Anderson notes that there will be another service for his friends in Botetourt County in the spring.
For all who knew him, Otis Timberlake will be long remembered and missed.