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Residents honor retiring Gladewater mayor

By Christina Lane
May 15, 2012 at 11 p.m.

GLADEWATER - It was 1974 when a new family moved to town and a young Morris Wells began running track at Gladewater High School.

A man named Walter Derrick was his coach.

"I saw right then what kind of person he was," the boy's father, Harold Wells, said. "He always encouraged him to run, run, run. He ran track for three years. The Derrick family was always there. More than anything, he was a friend."

Whether they knew him as a coach, an educator, a mayor, a father figure, or simply a friend, the Gladewater community joined together Tuesday evening to celebrate the legacy of retiring Mayor Walter Derrick.

Derrick will hand over his gavel to Gladewater's newly elected mayor - Wells - on Thursday.

"My life is full of gratitude to you and to God for you," Derrick told a room overflowing with people Tuesday. "My life has been a remarkable journey because of you."

For his dedication to Gladewater, he was bestowed with honors from the city; Gregg County - which proclaimed May 15 as Walter Derrick Day, Upshur County; Sen. Kevin Eltife's office, which presented him a flag flown over the state capitol; U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert's office, which presented a flag flown over Washington D.C.; and Gov. Rick Perry's office.

And just when all the honors Tuesday evening seemed to have ceased, Gladewater Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Robert Johnson, councilwoman-elect Lana Niemann, and Councilman J.D. Shipp presented Derrick with a bass guitar. Johnson, who plays guitar, said Derrick has mentioned wanting to learn how to play bass and has admired Johnson's guitar.

"I never know what to expect," Derrick said as he accepted the guitar.

Derrick served for about 40 years as a coach and educator, retiring from Gladewater ISD prior to being appointed in 1990 to the Gladewater City Council. He was the school's first black coach.

Derrick held a variety of hats in the school district, teaching everything from math to history and coaching football, basketball and track.

"One time I was playing and I got knocked out," Danny Sorrells, a former athlete of Derrick's, recalled. "He came over and he said, 'Get up, don't let 'em know you're hurt.' ... It didn't matter if you were the best one on the team, the worst one on the team, the ugliest one on the team, or the prettiest one on the team - he treated everyone the same. I thank God I got to play with Coach Derrick."

Derrick has the longest tenure of any person ever to serve the city, giving the past 22 years of his life to being on the council and representing Gladewater as its mayor. He was first elected mayor in 2008. He was the city's first black mayor.

"His character transcends our differences and unites us into one common citizenry," city Secretary Melba Haralson said.

Councilmen Scott Owens and Wells, as well as Haralson credited Derrick with being a peacemaker, "the calm in the storm."

Derrick was instrumental in the creation of Gladewater's "Bumblebee Park," participation in the HOME Grant Program, in the planning for Gladewater's new water treatment plant and the Main Street Project. He serves with Gladewater's Meals on Wheels and reads to students at Gay Avenue Elementary School.

A member of the East Texas Council of Governments, he was active as a member of the East Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Gregg County Crimestoppers, Gladewater Habitat for Humanity and Manna House. He is a member, treasurer and Deacon Board Chairman at Pine Grove Baptist Church in Gilmer.

A product of East Texas, Derrick graduated as valedictorian of Weldon High School in Gladewater, studied at Huston-Tillotson College, Stephen F. Austin State University, East Tennessee State University and the University of Texas at Tyler. He earned bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees from Texas College in Tyler.

Though Derrick noted he has never been a singer, if he could sing he left the audience Tuesday night with these words:

"The truth is, didn't you know that you are my heroes. If I flew high, it was because you were the wing beneath my wings."



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