Those Were the Days: The Gentle Giant


Randy Matson…I had never met him until I moved back to Pampa so my wife, Jon, and I could help take care of her mother, Nathelee Smith, who was dying of cancer. 

The doctors at M.D. Anderson in Houston gave Mammo (the enduring name I gave her) a year; she died a year and one day later.

During that year, I got a job with the Prudential Insurance Company as a salesman, allowing me to manage my time each day. 

That year was 1963, easy to remember because that was the year President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

In October, I received a phone call from Coach Terry Culley, head basketball coach of the Pampa Harvesters. He asked me if there was any way I could help him! 

He then explained that he needed someone tall to give one of his players, Randy Matson, some competition. 

He told me his tallest player was 6’1”, and Randy could score anytime he got the ball.

Wellsir, I had three years as a Harvester, four years as a Rice Owl, three years coaching at Spring Branch High School in Houston, and three years playing Industrial League ball in Houston at night after coaching all day. Oh, and I could jump 38” off the floor! But I weighed only 185 pounds. 

So, when Culley called me to see if I could help, I was more than happy to tell him, “YES, I can!”

It would be great to meet and work with this 6’7” weighing 230 pounds Pampa Harvester named Randy Matson. It was his senior year, and the Harvesters had a great team.

Randy was only scoring 12 to 15 points a game, and he should have been scoring in the 20s or 30s! 

My job was to make him more aggressive by teaching him all that I had been taught or learned as a player/coach.

Randy and I became good friends during those two hours each day. 

My only complaint was whenever he would knock me down, this giant of a man would stick his hand out to help me up and, in doing so, would say, “Are you okay, Mr. Griffin?” 

I would reply, “Randy, would you call me Gary or Grif?” And he would answer “Okay” but he never did! I was always Mr. Griffin to this very day. 

Randy went on to become the World Record Holder in the shotput and discus and two-time Southwest Champions at Texas A&M in basketball. 

He retired after a 25-year career at Texas A&M.

Randy and I live in the same town, College Station. We still see each other often. 

He is still soft-spoken, polite, and always considerate of others, and I think of him as a “gentle giant.”

Ahhh, those were the days.