AUBURN, Ala. (WSFA) - An emotional public memorial service was held Thursday afternoon for Rod and Paula Bramblett.
Six people spoke from behind a podium embossed with a vintage logo of the Auburn mascot. They included Dr. George Mathison, Barbara Helms, Sonny Smith, Debbie Wood, Bruce Pearl and Andy Burcham.
Each held back their emotions as they shared memories and never-before-heard stories of their times with the Brambletts, their love of family, each other and the Auburn Family.
Barbara Helms, who worked along side Paula for 26 years in Auburn University’s IT department, said it didn’t matter how she changed or rearranged her words, “they could never convey how I really feel inside or what a special person Paula was.”
“She and I clicked from the start,” Helms said. “With her great organizational skills and an attention to detail, she played an important role in our team at [The Office of Information Technology].”
As news of the couple’s deaths spread, much of the focus was on Rod, who was in the spotlight as the voice of the Auburn Tigers.
“Many of you may have never met Paula,” Helms said, "and only know her as “Rod’s wife.” And if the attention to Rod appears to put her in Rod’s shadow, please know that Paula was very happy to be there. She didn’t want the attention. She was the light that was shining beside Rod.
Helms, who recently retired, spoke of the everyday things in her own life that will keep Paula in her memory.
“I will always think of her when I hear a Bon Jovi song, eat a piece of chocolate candy, drink a diet coke, go to Disney World or Universal Studios, see a chocolate PopTart, cut out a box top for education, go in a Dollar Tree, order unsweet tea with plenty of ice and Splenda packs in a restaurant, or look at a picture of an old country church.”
“Rod Bramblett was a dreamer. He was a dreamer with confidence,” Sonny Smith said in his opening words. The former Auburn head basketball coach from 1978-89 recalled several stories and jokes that made Rod laugh, and in recounting them brought joy and laughter to those in the audience.
“He was great. Not good, great,” Smith explained, saying anyone who ever worked with Rod thought he was their best friend. Then he transitioned into several jokes Rod loved hearing.
Speaking of their time broadcasting together, Smith said he remembered how Rod would sign-off from a broadcast: “I’m Rod Bramblett, so long, everybody.”
“So long to Rod Bramblett,” Smith said. “He made my life so much better. I loved the man. I really did.”
Debbie Wood, a close family friend, recalled many personal aspects of Rod and Paula’s lives, how they met, started dating, and even that it was Paula that the Auburn Family had to thank for even knowing who Rod was. She revealed that Rod was planning to go to Georgia, but it was Paula, transferring to Auburn, that set him on the path to become the voice of the Auburn Tigers.
She spoke of their “love story,” and said it was Paula who was the outspoken one, and it was Rod who was shy.
“When Rod finally got up the courage to ask her out... he came to pick her up. What you don’t know is...[Paula’s father] was sitting on the porch with a gun cleaning it when Rod came to pick her up,” Wood said.
She added the Brambletts were goofy people in love, but that most people didn’t see that because they weren’t very affectionate in public. She revealed they’d had two miscarriages before the birth of their daughter Shelby on Rod’s birthday.
Wood spoke of Paula’s wit and how she kept Rod humble. When people would ask for his autograph following the Kick Six, she would roll her eyes and jokingly tell him he was taking out the trash when they got home.
Debbie and her husband were the last to see the Brambletts before their deaths, calling it a blessing she’ll never forget. They’d come Saturday to see her baby granddaughter. As they were leaving, standing at the door, they agreed to see each other again soon.
Scheduling conflicts were to keep them from visiting for Father’s Day, but Paula revealed they needed to see each other again soon. She was preparing to retire and they were about to take a trip to Italy in July.
“It was going to be their trip," Wood said, adding, "they’re on a different trip right now...”
Bruce Pearl, Auburn basketball’s current head coach, spoke on behalf of all the university’s coaches. He held his emotions as he talked of Rod’s professionalism.
“It’ll never be the same,” he said with a long pause. “I’m not looking forward to my first interview 90 minutes before the game,” something Rod would have helmed.
But Pearl wanted people in the audience to smile. He recalled one of Rod’s signature phrases he’d utter when a game appeared to be in the bag. “NIGHT NIGHT!”
“Look at this place. Just look at this place,” Rod would say when a game was just “going crazy” Pearl recalled. Pearl asked the audience to stand, look around them, and give a brief applause “in honor of our friends.”
“Rod was a homer,” Pearl smiled, “and he never apologized for it... He loved Auburn Athletics. He loved Auburn University.”
Looking at the Bramblett’s children, Pearl said, “One of the things I want Shelby and Josh to know, Rod hated being away from you. He didn’t like being away from Paula, either... Rod worked as hard and as long as any of us coaches." He added, “you guys had to give your dad up a little bit, your mom did, too, so he could have the job of his dreams. He was grateful to you guys for that.”
And longtime friend and broadcast partner Andy Burcham recalled the numerous trips he and Rod took around the SEC, the places they would eat, and how he’d once been told by a since-deceased co-worker simply that “I love you.” That act touched him, but he lamented that he’d never shared those words with Rod and Paula.
“For 25 years I worked with Rod calling Auburn Baseball,” Burchman said. “For the last 15 years, Rod and Paula were [his and his wife’s] Fred and Ethel,” he added, telling younger members of the laughing audience to ask their parents to explain further.
“My call to you today," Burchman concluded, "is to tell someone close to you today, a friend, a colleague, wife, husband, partner, daughter, mom, dad, brother, sister, someone close to you ‘I love you'. Don’t wait to do this.”
DR. GEORGE MATHISON
Mathison gave the funeral sermon, recalling it was both a second and a first in his own life. It was the second funeral he’d conducted at Auburn Arena within days, referring to that of Auburn Officer William Buechner on Friday. And it was the first time he’d ever officiated a husband and wife’s double funeral in his more than 50 years in the ministry, a span that’s covered more than 3,000 funerals.
“They were not only a good couple,” Mathison said, “they were a godly couple.”
“Many of their dates as young people were to the Nazarene and Methodist churches in the valley," Mathison explained. “Rod told me, ‘Brother George, I loved dating Paula and going to church with her. It was a cheap date and did not cost me anything,’ although I’m sure Rod did put some money in the collection plate,” he jokingly went on to audience laughter.
Mathison revealed something he hadn’t intended to share it during his message. During the Kick Six, as Rod was caught up in the emotion of Chris Davis taking the football 109 yards to the other end zone, it was on the back of his tongue and in his thoughts, though he didn’t say it.
“He [Chris Davis] got into Auburn territory, and was at the 50, the 45, the 35, the 30, and before he reached the end zone, Rod said ‘I nearly and I wanted to say ‘help him sweet Jesus, help him,’.” To laughter, Mathison said Rod wasn’t sure what “the higher ups” would have thought of that and without skipping a beat, Mathison replied, “Brother Rod, I don’t know what the higher ups and others would have thought, either, but I’ll tell you this. I, sweet Jesus, and Brother Chris would have been mighty proud of you that day.”
As the service ended, the Kick Six with Rod’s commentary was played in his honor. It was followed by John Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” for Paula.
A private burial service took place after the memorial service.
A memorial fund has been set up to assist the Bramblett’s children. Neither was involved in the crash.