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48 years after a grandfather’s death

The calendar says 48 years.

But that can’t be possible.

It can’t be 48 years, plus one day, since the phone rang and a shaky voice said, “He’s gone.”

The Legal Genealogist didn’t need to ask who.

Just the tone of my mother’s voice told me all I needed to know.

That Monday, 48 years ago yesterday, was the day we lost my grandfather.1

Clay Rex Cottrell — the man we all called Daddy Clay — was the only grandfather I’d ever known. My father’s parents were gone before I was born, but I’d never felt that I’d missed out — my mother’s parents were there. Always there. There for me.

Until, all of a sudden, one of them wasn’t.

This image is how I remember Daddy Clay best.

Clay Cottrell

A little scruffy. With that little bit of a beard. That little bit of a smile.

And he was always always there for me. One of my greatest treasures is a letter he sent my mother after we’d returned home to Colorado from a visit when I wasn’t even six months old. In it, he said: “How are you & how’s my baby? You know I have always threatened to burn the room (your sister) uses when she is here because she leaves it in such a mess that it doesn’t look possible to clean it up but this time I wanted to burn the room Judy was in because I couldn’t look in that door with that crib gone for a long time. I sure missed her and still do. …”

Born in Iowa Park, Texas, in April 1898,2 he was the youngest of 10 children, eight of whom lived to adulthood.3 His parents split up when he was just 11,4 and his mother died when he was just 14.5

He spent time with older sisters in Oklahoma and an older brother in South Dakota, never finished high school, and ran away to Texas as a teenager to marry the sweetheart whose mother swore she would never consent to the marriage.6 By the time he was 21, he was a father twice over,7 had been drafted in one of the last call-ups of World War I8 … and had already buried a child.9

He was a grandfather years before he fathered the last of his own 12 children,10 had a raucous and impish sense of humor, and was as stubborn a cuss as ever walked the face of this earth. He once fell off a tractor when the chain he was using to pull a car off some logs it had rolled over tightened suddenly and jerked him backwards. The tractor rolled over his leg and he came out screaming that it was broken in two places. It took us two years to get him to agree to go to the doctor.

There’s so much I want to remember about my grandfather. So many stories to tell about his life. But the story we all need to remember the most is the one told by these two pictures, taken well into the marriage to my grandmother Opal (Robertson) Cottrell that her family said would never last.

The way he looked at her.

Daddy and Mama Clay

And the way she looked at him.

Mama and Daddy Clay

Rest in peace, Daddy Clay.

We miss you.

We always will.


  1. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 70-026729, Clay Rex Cottrell (21 Sep 1970); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  2. See Virginia Dept. of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 70-026729, Clay Rex Cottrell (21 Sep 1970).
  3. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  4. See 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, population schedule, Frederick Ward 1, enumeration district (ED) 248, p. 41(A) (stamped), sheet 4(A), dwelling 71, family 74, Mattie Cottrell household; digital image, ( : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275.
  5. Linda Norman Garrison, Tillman County Personals: Abstracts from Frederick, OK Newspapers May 1902-June 1911 (Lawton, Okla. : Southwest Oklahoma Genealogical Society, 2009), citing Frederick (Okla.) Enterprise, 16 Apr 1909.
  6. For the marriage, see Wichita County, Texas Marriage Book 5:388, Cottrell-Robertson, 16 Oct 1916, marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls.
  7. Their first-born child, my aunt Ruth, was born in 1917; my uncle Billy in 1919. For Ruth, “Oklahoma State Vital Records Index,” entry for female Cottrell child born 12 Aug 1917, OK2Explore ( : accessed 21 Sep 2018). For Billy, see ibid., entry for Billie Rex Cottrell, 8 Nov 1919.
  8. “Fifty-Eight to Leave for Camp on August 28th,” Wichita Falls (Tex.) Times, 26 August 1918, p.3, col. 1.
  9. That first-born child, my aunt Ruth, died in 1918. See Dutton Funeral Home (Iowa Park, Texas), Record of Funeral, Baby Cottrell, 22 February 1918; digital copy privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  10. My cousin Bobette was born in 1940. “Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997,” entry for Bobette Staples, 31 Jan 1940, FamilySearch ( : accessed 21 Sep 2018). Our youngest aunt was born — well, let’s just say some years later. After all, it’s not polite to tell a lady’s age, right?
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