Life Stories

Zebulon man devoted himself to coaching others

CORRESPONDENTJanuary 25, 2012 

  • Born: Sept. 13, 1937

    1955-1959: Serves in the U.S. Army

    1960: Begins working at Fred Whitaker Co.

    Sept. 8, 1963: Marries Betty Kimball Fuller

    1999: Retires from Fred Whitaker

    Died: Dec. 8

When his children were growing up, Gene Fuller was about as involved in their extracurricular activities as a father could be.

His three sons played baseball, basketball and football, and he was either coaching, cheering or pulling the chains along the football field.

He went on to do the same for his grandchildren, and in recent years he was even seen pulling the chains for games at Zebulon Middle School - just because he wanted to.

He worked more than 40 years at Fred Whitaker Co., the cotton mill in Raleigh, but he was never too tired to throw a ball in the backyard or make a practice.

"If he was available, he was going to coach us," said his youngest son, Don Fuller.

"My dad probably coached most of my graduating class" at Zebulon High School, he said.

Fuller died last month at 74. He had been battling esophageal cancer but suffered a blood clot that formed following a successful surgery.

"He was just a well-liked, ordinary man. There was nothing fancy" about him, said Betty Fuller, 73, his wife of 48 years.

Still, the condolence cards keep pouring in.

Fuller was born in Zebulon, but after his parents separated when he was about 8, his wife said, he spent time with an aunt and uncle in Selma. They had some land, and his uncle was the first to take him hunting.

It became such a passion for him that when he could have moved back with his mother, he opted to stay with his aunt and uncle.

"It was in his blood," his wife said with a chuckle. "His blood ran 'hunting.' "

He always owned beagles and often organized father-son hunting outings, long after his own sons were grown. He would take fellow members of Wakefield Central Baptist Church and encourage the men to bring their boys along.

"Gene kind of became a surrogate father" to some men in the congregation who had lost their own fathers, said Keith Wagner, the church's pastor. "Gene was the kind of guy who was very community oriented."

When he wasn't running his beagles, Fuller was tending to the menagerie within his own yard.

The more, the merrier

Before he died, the Fullers owned a goat, pony, chickens, guineas, rabbits, beagles, a mixed breed dog and six cats. Many of the animals were pets his grandchildren had lost interest in, but he was happy to take them in and even built the grandkids a petting zoo of sorts.

When his oldest granddaughter was young, he would walk the pony down to Zebulon Elementary School during her recess for a visit. He lived next door to the school.

Since he died, his wife has scaled things down - it's too much to manage on her own.

He was thought to have been the most practiced as a baseball player, having played on a semi-pro team out of high school, according to his wife. He threw curve balls his sons couldn't hit.

But in his heart, he was a football fan, Don Fuller said.

Generous to all

Fuller was known around Zebulon as someone ready to help out, Wagner said.

He kept a large kitchen garden and planted more than he and his wife ever needed, Don Fuller said. He would check on the neighbors with his freshly pulled veggies and give them vegetables he thought would complement their meal.

But perhaps Fuller's greatest legacy was being a hands-on father and grandfather.

When Fuller heard his youngest son had mowed his large lawn with a push mower, he insisted on giving him his rider mower the next day. He also would clean their cars for them, just to be nice.

"I don't think he ever let me pick up a check," Don Fuller said.

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