Saying a tearful goodbye to ‘Gip,’ and having a tough time understanding why these things have to happen

We’ve lost so many dear friends from our Conroe High Class of ’78, which boasted over 1,000 members. Some I didn’t know at all, some I knew of but didn’t know personally, some I knew pretty well, and some I had close personal relationships with. Some of the losses hurt more than others, but they’re all significant, because your graduating class is a family.

This one has caused tears to flow today and left me stunned, asking out loud why such amazing gifts have to be taken from us so soon, so unfairly young. Just when he was having the time of his life, was building a future with the new love, Melissa, whom he found several years ago, and was cherishing every moment of the brief time we all have together.

Mike Gipson was truly one of the kindest, smartest, giving, most genuine souls I’ve ever known, a friend to every person he ever encountered. Father to two amazing adult kids, Molly and Kyle, he had the most radiant smile, it lit up every photo ever taken of him. And now he’s gone, having apparently suffered a heart attack at age 61 Sunday morning at home in Austin.

Mike “Gip” Gipson and his beloved fiancee, Melissa LeBoeuf Tothero, whom he met about seven years ago.

Why, God? Why? Why do good people have to die when they still have more good to do, more of your people to care for, more of your world to see, more of your plans to embrace, more of their lives to live to the fullest?

Although Gip and I didn’t really know each other at Washington Junior High, we became friends at Conroe High, north of Houston, where he was a photographer and sports editor on the Flare yearbook staff, served on the student council, was student body vice president and a member of the National Honor Society.

Mike distinguished himself so much as a Conroe Tiger that he was listed among 24 “Outstanding Seniors of 1978” in that year’s Flare — a grand distinction, considering the massive size of our graduating class.

Mike’s “Outstanding Seniors of 1978” listing in the Conroe High School Flare yearbook.

Mike also played basketball as a freshman and ran track his first two years. I remember competing against him in basketball when we played in the Conroe YMCA league as seniors. Gip had a heck of a silky-smooth outside shot.

Although he got there a year ahead of me because I stayed home and went to junior college for a year, we both became Aggies at Texas A&M, where Mike studied electrical engineering and I majored in journalism. We ran into each other only a handful of times, along with his best friend and roommate Jeff Henke, who was a quarterback on our football team at CHS and our class valedictorian. (It was Jeff’s Facebook post this morning where I first learned of Mike’s passing.)

Mike with his two beautiful grown-up kids, Molly and Kyle, of whom he’s always been so proud.

As I struggle to understand an unexpected loss like this, I think of the happiness Mike brought to so many people simply by being who he was. I remember visiting with him for about 10 minutes at our 40-year class reunion in 2018, as he told me about his new love, his work, and his daughter’s impending move to Belgium for graduate school. Mike couldn’t stop smiling during our entire conversation — but then again, Mike was always smiling and making others smile with him.

Although we didn’t get to talk about it at the reunion, I remember that as an adult, Mike became a musician, learning to play guitar and performing in a band for a while. He did so much to get the most out of life, and you can see that shining through in his photos with Melissa, his kids and her kids.

I realized in talking to him that, in 40 years, Mike had not changed a bit. He was still the same easygoing, charming, soft-spoken, affable guy everyone loved at Conroe High because he made them feel comfortable and they cherished his company and friendship.

Mike with Jeff Henke, Conroe High quarterback and Class of ’78 valedictorian. These two have been inseparable friends since our days at Washington Junior High.

As beloved as Mike was, so were his parents — his late father, Elmer Gipson, a former Conroe High coach known for his beautiful singing voice leading the alma mater at pep rallies and football games, and Mike’s late mother, Portia, a teacher at Washington Jr. High.

Something happened tonight that I wanted to share (it ties in to Mike): While I was working (I’m a copy editor for The Dallas Morning News, and we’ve been working remotely for over a year), I was phone-monitoring the score of the No. 2-seeded Texas A&M women’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament game against Iowa State. In the second half, with the Aggies trailing by nine, I texted my brother Crys — the oldest of the three full birth siblings I found 16 years ago — and as I knew he would be, he was watching the game (we don’t get ESPN at our house). Because he’s amazing, he started texting me a play-by-play, which was faster than the updates I was getting on my phone.

By the time 10 seconds remained, the Aggies had rallied within two, 75-73. I have no idea if Mike would’ve been invested in the game, but out loud, I said, “Come on, Ags, do it for Gip, do it for Gip, do it for Gip.” With six seconds left, A&M sophomore guard Jordan Nixon scored the tying basket, and the game went into overtime. With time winding down in the extra period, Nixon came up with a steal, drove the length of the court and sank the game-winner as time ran out — A&M’s first lead of the game — for an 84-82 overtime win and a trip to the Sweet 16. Jordan scored a career-high 35 points.

For you, Gip. 🏀

Although we’d had some contact over the years and in helping organize class reunions, I wish we’d had much more. As I told Jeff in a message earlier today, Mike’s a special kind of person who comes around once in a lifetime. I was honored to know him and hope our cross paths in heaven. ❤

The Conroe High 1978 Flare yearbook staff in a photo taken at the late, great AstroWorld amusement park next to the Astrodome in Houston. Of course, Mike is easy to spot at front right, and sitting next to him is a dear friend of mine from Tiger Band, Liz Neighbor, one of the many folks devastated by his passing. Other dear friends and classmates of ours are in this photo, including Donna Duggan Patchell (blonde front left), Aileen Ussery Graybill (third row left, blue turtleneck, another bandmate), Jim Grigsby, Lili Rivera, Hailey Billingslea and Bret Wingert, along with bandmates Lisa Stapler and Pam Ward (both a year behind us and too hard to point out in the photo).


4 thoughts on “Saying a tearful goodbye to ‘Gip,’ and having a tough time understanding why these things have to happen

  1. Very nice tribute Frank, you captured the essence of Mike perfectly. Thanks so very much for all you’ve done this week, and my condolences for your and our loss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeff. Glad you found the post, and I appreciate your reading it. When tough things happen, it helps me to write about them and try to express how I’m feeling, although I don’t always get it all out. I hoped I’d done right by Mike. I hope there’ll be a chance for a bunch of us to get together and share memories of him, because I think we all need that, and I think he’d love it if we did. Maybe not right away, but when the initial shock and pain have eased a bit. See you soon.

      Like

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