Considering Rip Ripley’s life of love and devotion and affinity for signature phrases might cause those who knew him to honorably say his legacy is the “greatest thing since drop-seat underwear.” Unforgettable quotes like this accompany the remarkable life lived by James Leon ‘Rip’ Ripley, a humble and amazing man who went to be with his Lord on October 18, 2020.
Rip was born on May 24th, 1926, to Leon and Erma Ripley in Greenville, Texas.
He grew up in Greenville, where he was such an outstanding athlete in football and basketball at Greenville High School, he was asked to stay another year after graduation to play sports. He was inducted into the Greenville High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984.
Rip married Eva Pippin on February 17, 1945, and the couple celebrated their 75th anniversary earlier this year.
Soon after his marriage, Rip enlisted in the Army and was sent to Germany in 1946. That may have been the only boat ride this avid fisherman didn’t enjoy. Still, displaying the bravery, patriotism, and sense of duty that defined Rip and his fellow soldiers, known as America’s Greatest Generation, Private Ripley served his country with honor during World War II. Arriving as the war was ending, he was assigned to guard duty during the Nuremberg trials.
After returning from the war, Rip and Eva welcomed their daughter Rebecca and their son Steve into the world in Greenville, Texas.
Rip hit the road in the sales and service industry, beginning his career as a bread delivery man. He followed that up working as a milkman. Soon, though, Rip found his career calling in selling sporting goods. He began in team sales in San Angelo, working for Angelo Sporting Goods. Rip moved his family of four to Abilene, where he and his partner Mose McCook, purchased Athletic Supply in 1957. Rip eventually partnered with his son Steve and continued to serve and sell to schools, leagues, and the public all across the Big Country as owner of Athletic Supply. Athletic Supply’s popularity and expertise throughout West Texas was only bested by that of its owner - Rip, and the team he assembled and led with honesty, dependability, and hard work.
Rip and Eva were very active in their support of Abilene Christian University, so much so that Rip was inducted into the ACU Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Rip and Mud (a loving epithet Rip, and others, adopted for Eva) enjoyed spending time in Alto, New Mexico, where Rip would entertain (and usually beat) friends and family on the golf course. Later in life, Rip would let the other members of his golfing parties tee off first, laughing as their drives would soar way down the course and into the woods, sand, or water. Then he would step up to the tee, forgo any practice swings, and drive it a little shorter but right down the middle, always landing in the fairway. As the party would shake their heads, Rip would say, “It ain’t far, but Ray Charles could find it.”
Rip was at home on the water, spending time fishing and running trotlines with close friends, family, and, well, just about anyone who would go with him. Some of his most joyous moments weren’t when he brought in big catches, but rather watching his grandkids and great-grandkids reel one in. As a result of this passion and his generosity, Rip’s backyard fish-fries were legendary.
Rip had nicknames for nearly everyone he knew, and even a few he didn’t know very well. A staple figure at the coffee shop in the warehouse of Athletic Supply, Rip traded stories and solved the world’s problems every morning with the likes of Vossy, Shorty, Peaches, Slim, Top, Dub, Spud and many people named “Sonny” or “Coach,” and a whole host of cast and characters from all walks of life.
Having another nickname of his own, Rip was lovingly called “Papaw” by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A more dedicated family man would be difficult to find. Pap spent his most enjoyable times cheering on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren as they competed and performed and found their places in life.
Preceding Rip in death were his parents Erma and Leon, and his sister, Flora Wilson.
Rip is survived by his wife of 75 years, Eva and sister, Katie Bagby. He is also survived by daughter Becky and her husband Bob Bearden; and son Steve and his wife Jan, all of Abilene. Rip is survived by Harold Nutall of Plano. While Nutall may not have been born of Rip’s blood, he was most definitely a son to Rip, and Rip his father.
He is also survived by grandchildren Emily Bearden Overbay and her husband Walt of Lexington, SC; Stoney Bearden and his wife Amber of Abilene; Meredith and her husband Major Hunter Grunden of Aix en Provence, France; and Clayton Ripley and his wife Jennifer of Austin.
Finally, Rip is survived by great-grandchildren Jay and Jamie Overbay; Grayson, Jake, and Tripp Bearden; Grant and Josie Ripley; and Layne and Sydney Grunden.
The family requests that memorial donations be sent to the Wally Bullington Endowed Scholarship at Abilene Christian University. Please make gift payable to ‘Abilene Christian University’ and directed to: Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699 or give online at acu.ed/giveonline
Visitation will be from 5:00-7:00, on Wednesday, October 21, at Hamil Family Funeral Home on Buffalo Gap Road and a graveside service will be on Thursday, October 22, at 10:30 am at Elmwood Memorial Park at 5750 US-277 S, in Abilene. Charles Copeland will be officiating.
Memories may be shared and condolences submitted online at www.HamilFamilyFuneralHome.com