JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Former KAIT Sports Director Dick Clay died August 6 after having complications from heart surgery. Clay was 78.
Clay is widely known in northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri as the face of sports in the region on KAIT and later with his Dick Clay Sports Magazine that also aired on KAIT. Clay held the title of Sports Director from 1970 to 1998.
Dick Clay was born and raised in Portageville, Missouri. Clay loved talking sports and outdoors with everyone, many times using favorite catch phrases, such as 'barnburner' to describe a close game.
One story Clay loved to tell was the time in the 1970s when he discovered a snake wrapped in the rafters above his head while he was on the air. As Dick told the story he hated snakes, but kept going. He even made mention of it on the air.
'Dickie-Bird' had a larger than life personality on Region 8 News, he was always a favorite on-air and behind the scenes. Gaining the respect of players and coaches alike, as well as a multitude of Region 8 sports fans, it was Clay's coverage of his beloved alma mater, Arkansas State University that helped make him a legend.
Two former A-State coaches that Dick interviewed in good times and bad shared their fond memories. Former men's basketball coach, Nelson Catalina, noted three things that identified Dick Clay to him, "he's an icon of NE Arkansas sports world when I was growing up, very personable, and A-State." Catalina continues to say that, "everybody knew Dick and watched sports because of him."
Former football coach, Larry Lacewell said, "He was just so great for Arkansas State, there's just never been anybody involved in the sports world, from television, that has meant more to Arkansas State than Dick Clay."
Behind the scenes, Dickie-Bird's caring and personable demeanor, day-in and day-out, meant just as much to his cohorts on the anchor desk and staff at KAIT. Current anchor, Diana Davis describes him in this way, "I was privileged to work with him for 10 years, and he was a real gem. A friend who truly cared about you, made you laugh, and left this world a better place that when he found it."
Former weatherman Terry Wood, also shared fond memories of Clay, having worked with him the longest from 1976 until Clay's retirement in 1998. Wood remembers, "Channel 8 begin to change, and got better and better, and Dick Clay was a big part of that, because he was so professional and so good on the air. When I went to work at Channel 8 in 1976, I felt like I was beside a movie star."
Former news anchor Tony Brooks, who shared the newscasts with Clay and Wood during much of the same time adds, "I think that the viewers could sense that we loved each other, that we enjoyed each other, and we enjoyed being with each other."
All agree it was hard for the KAIT staff to say goodbye to Dickie-Bird at his retirement in 1998. Wood's on-air, emotional acknowledgement during that night's newscast, summed it up with, "I want to thank him for all the times he made me laugh, and the one time he made me cry. Good luck, buddy."
Dick Clay's obituary can be found at this link.