Minister during MU plane crash dies
HUNTINGTON -- Father Robert Scott had a penchant for helping people through difficult times right to the very end of his life.
Scott, campus minister at Marshall University in 1970 and chaplain for the football team, offered much-needed comfort to many following the plane crash on Nov. 14 that claimed the lives of 75 football players, coaches and fans.
"He was critically important to all of us after the crash in the healing process," Jim Farley, former president of the Marshall Alumni Association, said Monday in a telephone interview from Cincinnati, where he is president and CEO of Nursing Care Management of America.
More recently, at St. Joseph's Home for the Elderly in Totowa, N.J., Scott went about doing his job despite failing health. He would partner up with Ray LaConte for three meals each day. He would give a blessing to Bette LaConte each day at the center until she died last year.
"As soon as we met, we took a strong liking to him," Bob LaConte, son of Ray and Bette, said Monday in a telephone interview from Woodland, N.J. "We all bonded."
LaConte said he and his father would visit with Scott in his room. Five days ago, LaConte, along with his three sisters, made his final visit to Scott. He called it special because he sensed Scott's time was short.
"I held his hand for a few moments and he squeezed it with the little bit of strength he had left," LaConte said. "Our hands stayed together and I felt that squeeze for maybe 15 seconds as we held eye contact and I told him how much he was loved. He always seemed to have that twinkle in his eye. God love him."
LaConte said his family and Scott knew one another about a year. "We miss him already," LaConte said.
Scott died Monday at St. Joseph's Home. He was 90. A wake service will be held there from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. A Mass of the Resurrection will be offered at 10 a.m. July 19 at St. Joseph's. He will be buried in the Paulist Fathers section of St. Thomas the Apostle Cemetery in Oak Ridge, N.J.
While the Huntington community knew Scott as a priest, counselor, comforter and chaplain, Mary Scott of West Orange, N.J. knew him as "Uncle Bob," her father's younger brother.
"He was funny, spiritual, easy to talk to and good counsel," Mary Scott said.
Mary Scott said her uncle always struggled with the plane crash and the days that followed.
"That was a dark time for him," she said. "It was painful (for him). He never really got over it."
She said her uncle had a simple strategy to get past any tragedy.
"Just give it to the Holy Spirit," she said of his plan. "Our faith is our hope."
Farley had contact with Scott in two ways when he served as assistant director for Cabell Huntington Hospital. Scott did chaplain work there and also was involved with Marshall athletics.
"He was an exceptional person. He loved young people and athletics," Farley said. "He was passionate in everything he did."
Scott normally traveled with the football team. He elected to stay home the weekend of the East Carolina game on Nov. 14, 1970. The chartered jet bringing the team, coaches, staff and fans back from Greenville, N.C., crashed short of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Kenova. All 75 aboard died.
Scott left his residence and headed to the campus chapel to be with those in need. He worked non-stop for days after the crash and took part in the memorial service at Fairfield Stadium the following Saturday. The Herd was supposed to play at Ohio University that day, but the game was canceled.
"He was a pillar of strength," Farley said. "I can say that on a personal basis. I was shell shocked. When I would get emotional and was on the verge of tears, he had time for Jim Farley."
A month after the crash, the Marshall Memorial Invitational basketball tournament was held at Veterans Memorial Field House. With the loss of Dr. Ray Hagely and Dr. Pete Proctor in the crash, Farley and Dr. Robert Alexander put the pieces together and kept the tournament alive. Scott did invocations at center court each night.
"He felt we had to go on with it to help the healing process," Farley said. "He poured his heart and soul into it."
Marshall decided to keep the football program going after the crash. In 1971, Jack Lengyel served as the first coach of the Young Thundering Herd.
"He was an important part of the rebuilding process," Lengyel said in a telephone interview from his home in Surprise, Ariz. "He was the first man I met when I got to town (St. Patrick's Day, 1970). He was the finest man and Catholic priest I had the opportunity to meet."
On Sept. 25, 1971, Marshall scored on the final play of the game to beat Xavier, 15-13, at Fairfield Stadium. It was the team's first home game after the crash. Scott charged across the field to celebrate with fans.
"We threw him in the shower with the team," Lengyel said. "He didn't mind."
Lengyel said Scott baptized his wife Sandy, daughter Julie and son Peter. He also was the minister at Julie's wedding.
"He was loved by everybody everywhere he went," Lengyel said. "Wherever he went, he always was invited back."
Scott's hobbies included music, golf and tennis. He played golf well into his 80s.
Mary Scott said one of her uncle's favorite songs was John Denver's "Country Roads." At his 90th birthday celebration last year, Scott belted out, "Country Roads, take me home..."
"The hills of West Virginia were his favorite place," she said.
Staff writer Lee Ann Welch contributed to this report.