• 77°

BOB WEST ON GOLF — W.L. Pate Jr. was an amazing ambassador for Babe Zaharias

Babe Zaharias was no doubt at the forefront of heaven’s welcoming committee for W.L. Pate Jr., 73, but his unexpected and far-too-premature passing is going to leave gigantic shoes to fill in relation to keeping Babe’s remarkable legacy out front.

Pate, following in the footsteps of his father, was a relentless advocate when it came to leaving no stone unturned where it came to Zaharias’ argument as the greatest female athlete of all time.

I was blessed to watch it up close and personal for nearly 50 years and never ceased to marvel at the tireless devotion exhibited.

The crowning glory was the success of his ongoing push to get Babe the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When that happened in January, and W.L. was able to speak on Babe’s behalf at the White House, in front of President Trump, Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam, I was as happy for him as I was relieved Zaharias finally got her due.

W.L. Pate, left, president of the Babe Zaharias Foundation, looks on as President Donald Trump signs a proclamation in January awarded the late Babe Zaharias with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the Whitehouse. George Grimes, Babe’s nephew, second to right, and his wife Mary Grimes also attended the ceremony. (Courtesy Photo)

If anybody was more impressed than me over Pate’s love and non-stop devotion to all things Zaharias, it was Pulitzer Prize winning author Don Van Natta, who now works for ESPN.

Pate was an invaluable resource for Van Natta on Wonder Girl – his masterpiece about Babe’s life that fairly screams to be made into a movie.

Here’s what a heartbroken Van Natta had to say upon learning of Pate’s death.

“W.L. lit up all of Southeast Texas with his gigantic love for the great Babe Didrikson Zaharias. He wanted everyone to know how great she was. No one on Earth did more to keep her memory alive.

“When I embarked on my biography of Babe in 2004 from my home in London, the first person I spoke with was WL. His infectious enthusiasm for Babe’s legacy was so big that it made me even more determined to tell her story to a new generation of young readers.

“He then served as my fun, tireless tour guide to Beaumont, helping me understand what Babe meant. When Wonder Girl was published in 2011, WL graciously hosted a book-signing for me at Babe’s museum and beamed with pride. You would have thought he had published my book.

“I last spoke with WL a few weeks ago as he toured Babe’s museum with two film producers interested in creating a limited series for Netflix or Amazon Prime about Babe’s magnificent sporting life – a hard fought goal of WL’s for decades. ‘We may finally get this done, huh pal?’ he asked me, his Texas drawl sizzling with excitement.

“WL was smart, funny as hell and had an enormous heart. He was also one of the best storytellers I’ve ever known. I will miss him greatly.”

Closer to home, Port Neches-Groves golf coach Jerry Honza, who worked closely with Pate for 10 years on the Babe Zaharias Junior Golf Awards, also offered up warm and heartfelt thoughts.

“There are so many things I will miss about W.L.,” Honza said. “He had a genuine affection for people in general and, of course, he took it as his personal “life quest” to promote the name and legacy of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

“Babe built her storied career one great achievement at a time, but other than family no one worked harder to keep her name, story, achievements and legacy alive than W.L. Pate.”

From Houston, Astros Sr. VP and General Counsel Giles Kibbe, a major Zaharias Foundation donor partly because of Pate, offered these thoughts.

“WL was such a great leader of the Babe Zaharias Foundation. He was a great historian and endless promoter of the Babe’s legacy and Southeast Texas. We will truly miss him.”

Unfortunately, space does not permit me to go deeper into all the things I saw WL do on Babe’s behalf, but there will be more opportunities down the line.

For now, I’ll wrap it up by saying “rest in peace my friend. And tell Babe hello for me.”

Bob West can be reached at rdwest@usa.net.