By DAVID BROCK
11:14 AM EDT, September 19, 2011
Small deeds after a loss — a garage painted and a lawn mowed for a grieving mother.
They were jobs Lou Ann Abbott’s late son, Tim, a basketball coach and educational aide, might have done, but they were finished Wednesday by his players.
As part of the Heart of Kentucky United Way Day of Action, the entire varsity basketball team from Burgin High School gathered at Lou Ann’s Danville home to do what didn’t feel like work.
“If all our young people were like that, there would truly be hope for the world,” Lou Ann said.
On the afternoon of Aug. 2, Burgin Independent School's first day of classes, Tim Abbott, 45, died of an apparent heart attack while walking his dogs at Millennium Park in Danville. The weeks that followed have brought sorrow and attempts at healing for those who loved him.
Last week, some who know Lou Ann decided to turn the tables on the longtime United Way volunteer.
“It’s never something I thought about,” she said about the idea of going from Day of Action project leader to the recipient of a boost. “(Tim) was my handyman. He took care of my lawn; if I had a problem, he took care of that, no matter what.”
Lou Ann started the Special Persons Advocacy Network while working for Pioneer Vocational Industrial Services in 1997 to help people with special needs, including Tim’s brother, Steve Abbott, 44, and their families. SPAN offers recreation and opportunities to socialize for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and encourages their involvement in the community.
The organization has grown into a support system for a large group of people and was also important to Tim. Lou Ann said he often helped her with her work with SPAN, including proofreading correspondence for her. Memorial contributions for him have gone in part to support the group.
The call to action was more sudden for the teens from Burgin, most of whom had known Tim since middle school or earlier.
“It was a good feeling because it had meaning,” said senior Austin Shewmaker. “We had everyone on the team there working together, and he would have enjoyed that.”
Lou Ann said Tim found his niche in working with Burgin students and athletes the last eight years.
After working as an engineer in his native Paintsville, he moved to be closer to her and Steve. Burgin Superintendent Dick Webb encouraged him to work as a substitute in the schools and said Tim took to it quickly.
“We quickly realized Tim had a rapport with the kids and saw that he was a hard worker,” Webb said. “He had the unique ability to be a friend to a kid, but also a mentor and coach who they would listen to.”
Tim came of age as an athlete playing basketball for Paintsville High School coach Bill Mike Runyon and was also a standout baseball player.
Not long after Tim took a job working in the elementary school at Burgin, he was introduced to Burgin head basketball coach Don Irvine by Irvine’s wife.
“We pretty much instantly hit it off,” Irvine said. “We brought him on as the freshman coach and then JV and assistant for the varsity, and we became very close. When you spend that much time with someone in competition and you both go through that, especially at a small school, you form a bond.”
Irvine said Tim was known to use a tough love approach with players, many of whom took his death the hardest.
Irvine likes to tell the story about his own son, Zach, now a student at Eastern Kentucky University, reaching out to his right-hand man.
According to Irvine, after one of the Bulldogs’ tougher losses, he and Tim sat and stewed in the head coach’s office. Eventually Tim left. But when Irvine called him back later to run one last coaching point past him, Tim said he would have to call him back: the coach’s son, reluctant to talk to his dad, was on the other line seeking counsel.
Both Lou Ann and the team had heard enough to know Tim was more excited for this season than any other in light of the experience and talent returning for the small school in Mercer County.
“He talked about it all summer, about how special we could be,” Shewmaker, the senior, said.
The team came together quickly after learning of Tim’s death on a day when many of them worked out with him as part of a weight training program he oversaw. Irvine said he was honest with the team about his own difficulty grappling with the loss of his friend and fellow coach.
The way forward is not certain for a mother without her son and a team made up mostly of young people who have never experienced so great a loss, but there is a strengthened connection between them.
When the players realized there was another project to be done at Lou Ann’s home, another portion of the garage in need of repair, a group of them decided to return today.
More small deeds.
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