By DAVID LOPEZ
Three-time Olympic gold medalist and San Benito native Bobby Joe Morrow died Saturday at the age of 84 at his home in Harlingen. Born on October 15, 1935, Morrow achieved world recognition when he competed in the 1956 Melbourne, Australia Olympics and brought home the gold.
He was the first American to win three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics since Jesse Owens did in 1936. Morrow was honored as “Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated in 1956.
Former San Benito Mayor Joe Hernandez recalls honoring Morrow with a proclamation before the dedication of the high school stadium in 2006.
“Before anyone did, he placed not only San Benito but the Rio Grande Valley on the world map, and I’m so happy that I met the man.”
Morrow’s oldest grandchild, Christian Zanca, son of Lynn Zanca Morrow, fondly remembers “grandpa Bob” as a John Wayne Figure.
“Grandpa Bob came off as a really tough, quiet old man, but he was a gentle soul,” said Zanca. “The memories I have that I hold the dearest are going out to his farm, when he would let us ‘drive’ his tractor, drinking the sweetest sweet tea you’ve ever had,” he said.
Zanca, 24, mentioned being with Morrow the Friday night before he passed at his home.
“He was brave to the end, and surrounded by his family.”
Morrow’s granddaughter, Mattie Kelton, recalls her and her grandfather as incredibly close.
“I enjoyed listening to his stories and eating ice-cream with him,” she said. “He was just an all-around great dude.”
Kelton, 17, is the daughter of Morrow’s youngest daughter Elizabeth Kelton.
“The funeral procession was beautiful; I think it helped put everybody at peace,” she said. “I’ll miss his laugh most; it was contagious. Everybody would laugh once he did.”
Lastly, Christian Zanca reflected on his grandfather’s impact, not only on the world of sports but on his family’s legacy.
“Towards the end of his life, he let on that his legacy meant more to him than he mentioned before,” said Zanca. “For me, seeing my grandfather as the keynote speaker honoring Nolan Ryan and Byron Nelson into the Centennial Hall of Fame was the moment I said, ‘Whoa, who was grandpa Bob?’ The experiences he had, the aura he emitted…he was larger than life. He was John Wayne.”
Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length. To read the full story, click here or make sure to grab a copy of the June 5-11, 2020 issue of the NEWS.