The 1948 Pasco High School yearbook is such a treasure the librarians in Dade City keep it in a secure room. You have to ask for it.
Eddie Gasque is featured on several pages — captain of the football team, vice president of the Future Farmers of America, glee club member.
The senior class called their most popular students King and Queen, and Eddie posed alongside his girlfriend, a quiet, slender blonde named Mary Alice Jones. Her daddy worked at the cypress lumber mill in Lacoochee. Eddie would go see her on the weekends if he could borrow a truck.
The other day I called Mary Alice. She's been Mary Alice Copeland since she married a citrus executive named Warren Copeland in 1950 and moved to Lakeland. As we talked about the old days, she recalled picnics with Eddie on the banks of the Withlacoochee River. I read her a quote from Eddie in a section of the yearbook where seniors willed their favorite things to underclassmen: "I will my love for Lacoochee to anyone who appreciates beauty the way I do.''
"He wrote that for me!'' Mrs. Copeland squealed.
For a moment, she was young again.
"Eddie was my first love,'' she confided. "He had those beautiful deep blue eyes. He took care of his family. He was such a good person.''
Sixty-three years after Eddie Gasque earned the title King of his high school, few people in Dade City know his story — or the heroism that led to his murder 50 years ago Oct. 26.
With that anniversary in mind, I set out in August to learn about him. You can read the story on 1A of today's paper. It mainly deals with Eddie's years after high school; his pro baseball career and the two years with the Florida Highway Patrol. It examines how his death reverberates all these years later through his widow, daughter and his killer, who at age 83 remains in prison.
But it does not include some other elements I'd like to share with you, recollections of people like Mary Alice Copeland who described a simpler time when the Dade City breezes carried the fresh scent of oranges and teenagers danced and swam at Lake Iola.
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Jim Hudson, 80, played quarterback on the Pasco High football team that lost one game in four years. Eddie Gasque, bigger than most of the other boys at 200 pounds, cleared the way as a guard. His teammates made him captain.
"We played South Sumter one Friday night, and we were walking all over them,'' said Hudson, who retired from the citrus business and Withlacoochee Electric and stayed in town. "Eddie said, 'Who hasn't scored yet?' I raised my hand. He said, 'Just receive the snap and follow me.' I ran right over his butt into the end zone.''
Hudson's dad was the city police chief. His mom operated the telephone switchboard and talked regularly to just about everyone in town. "Needless to say, if we did something bad, word traveled fast.''
By "bad,'' he meant throwing green oranges or putting trash cans on top of street light poles. Not exactly high crime. "Nobody locked their cars or homes back then,'' Hudson said. "We worked, went fishing, played sports.''
• • •
Two of Eddie's four sisters remain. Carole Jensen, 76, is the baby. She's a widow and lives in Nevada. Mary Louise Brock, 79, is in a Zephyrhills nursing home.
Hutch Brock, a Dade City lawyer and former mayor, is Mary Louise's son. When he learned I was working on a story about his Uncle Eddie, he knew exactly how to illustrate it. He went home and took a favorite picture from its frame — Eddie with baseball legend Roger Maris. They were roommates in Indianapolis before Maris became a star.
"Today, without a doubt, Eddie would have signed with the major leagues right out of school,'' Brock said, noting that the number of teams have doubled since then.
"I had to catch Eddie once in a game a year after he went to the University of Tampa and set a strikeout record,'' recalled Jim Hudson. "I didn't touch the first two or three pitches he threw. I called timeout and walked to the mound. He said, 'My fastball hops a little bit.' It hopped right over my mitt. My god, he could throw you some smoke.
"He was a great athlete and a good man.''