The line was a familiar one in Clem McSpadden's rodeo repertoire: "fast horses and pretty women.” But I laughed every time I heard it after his wife Donna McSpadden and son Bart McSpadden told me they were just waiting for the day he confused the two: pretty horses and fast women. I asked Clem late in his life if it had ever happened, and he gave me the Clem part politician/part rodeo announcer pat answer "Awhhh Bryan, not that I recall.” What really breaks my heart is that I can hear that voice — the one I've heard since those years my parents took to me the Enid Shrine Rodeo — as clear and deep as a blue-sky Oklahoma day, and yet I know I can no longer talk with him. He died Monday night at age 82 at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after a lengthy battle with cancer. For 16 seasons I covered professional rodeos, and I didn't need a media guide as long as Clem was by my side or as long as I had his phone number. He didn't just know it, he'd seen it. The first time I ever approached Clem as a reporter was in an announcer's stand at a ranch rodeo in Amarillo, Texas. You could have played "The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on my nerves as I climbed those steps. I didn't have as hard a time talking to Tom Landry or Nolan Ryan or George Strait. But somehow I blurted out an introduction and gushed about seeing him since my childhood and he said, "Awhhh shoot, those were good rodeos” and then stuck out one of those tan bear paws he called hands and welcomed me into his life. Clem had a story about everyone and everyone in rodeo seemed to have a story about Clem. Here's one of my favorites. Jack Ward Jr. was vying for the Bareback Riding World Champion title at the 1978 National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. In the 11th round, there's only 10 rounds now adays, Royce Smith was about three ahead of him in the order. The story goes that Smith was slammed to the arena floor. They stabilized him, got him in an ambulance and then returned to action. Well, Ward had drawn Reg Kesler's Three Cheers and the horse really got in the air. The ride was a good one, but the cowboy had thought ahead to what he was going to do at the end. The 11th round was the last, and Ward was sore so he was going to part ways from the big bay horse as soon after the eight second whistle as possible. So when he heard it he started to get off on the right side. But, his hand hung in the bareback riggin', often compared to a suitcase handle, for a split second. When he hit the ground his head bounced off the dirt arena floor. He wasn't unconscious but when he looked up, State Fair Arena was spinning. A bunch of cowboys came out and told him to lay still for a minute. That might have been the popular plan, but it wasn't the plan everyone had in mind. "Then I looked up and saw Clem McSpadden looking down at me,” Ward said. "He said, ‘Jack, Jack?' "What?” I said. "He said, ‘Jack you've got to get up; we don't have another ambulance.' "I looked at him and I said, ‘OK, just give me a second and I'll get up,'” Ward said. "I did and they helped me to the side, but I was still a little wobbly. That was funny.” And funny is something those who knew and appreciate Clem need right now. He was a big man, who just left a big void in our lives. He used to joke at the Timed Event Championship of the World at the Lazy E Arena that he had to root for those cowboys who wore size 44 and above waists in Wrangler jeans. He could do that with such ease — make me laugh. He did it last week, the last time we talked. I knew he'd just left a restaurant, so I said "Clem, did you put white gravy on everything?” As it turned out the doctors didn't want him doing that. "No, but I did put my eggs on top of my pancakes,” he said. "That's a poor man's gravy.” One time I was at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductions in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Clem was scheduled to introduce one of the inductees. Since he was working a rodeo in another state that weekend, he had to catch a flight and then was going to have to return. He arrived at the ceremonies with no time to spare and said, "Well I missed the national anthem, but made it for the bareback riding,” referring to the event which usually led off a rodeo. But unfortunately we're not talking about the start now. We've come to that point where in rodeo the last bull just went through the end-gate and the sound man started playing "Happy Trails.” I don't like this part, Clem. But for decades, during afternoon and evening performances, in the chill of winter and the heat of summer, you prepared us all by closing your Cowboy Prayer with the following: "So, when we make that last ride, that we know is inevitable, to the country up there where the grass is green and lush and stirrup-high, and the water runs crystal clear and deep, You will tell us, as we enter that Arena, our entry fees are paid.” Well, I just have one bit of advice Clem. Just remember when you're working in that Arena up there, it's fast horses and pretty women.
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MemorialsIn lieu of flowers, the family is asking that memorials be made to the Clem McSpadden Endowed Scholarship Fund at Oklahoma State University. McSpadden was named a Graduate of Distinction at OSU and also was inducted into the OSU Hall of Fame. Recipients of the scholarship must be enrolled as a full-time students within the department of animal science at OSU, and must have a 2.5 GPA or above. Preference shall be given to, but not limited to, students from northeastern Oklahoma. Memorial gifts/donations should be sent directly to the OSU Foundation — PO Box 1749, Stillwater, OK 74076-1749. Checks should be made payable to the OSU Foundation. Family and friends should indicate on their check, or on an enclosed note, that their gift be directed to the Clem McSpadden Endowed Scholarship Fund.