Simply known as “Coach,” Don Austin was known for his kind words and his ever present smile.
Coach Austin, 70, passed away Monday morning following complications from two strokes in February and July. His son, John Todd Austin, says he loved kids and teaching. He also loved sports and the values it teaches children.
“He thought that sports were real important,” he said. “If you could make it through the sports, then you could succeed in life, and he’s a real big believer in sports and how it helped people and the discipline that went with it.”
He coached girls’ basketball for more than 30 years, and his wife, Wanda Austin, says he just had a knack for junior high aged children.
“He was a gifted junior high teacher,” she said. “God gave him a gift; it was a gift for him. I taught, but I did not have the gift for teaching – he did. He loved it, and he stayed there the whole time, for 40 years.”
He taught Louisiana History, and even after retirement, he continued to substitute teach as well as teaching adult education.
He played golf with a small group once a week; John Todd Austin says his father had a competitive spirit and told the camaraderie that came with it. He was also an avid fisher and duck hunter.
Don Austin was known for his life as an educator and coach, but he was also a family man.
“He was a big influence in my life,” John Todd Austin said. “He helped in the decision that I made to become an educator. He also introduced me to my wife. My dad could always find encouraging words to tell people, to lift them up, and he always found the good in everybody he came in contact with.”
He loved God, he said, adding that he put God first, no matter what.
“He exemplified that in everything he did,” he said. “He put God first and he made sure we were putting God first.”
He served as a deacon at Heflin Baptist Church for about 30 years and as a Sunday school teacher.
Every Sunday, the family comes together for lunch after church.
“He would always sit at the head of the table, and you never touched your plate until he said a blessing, or one of his grandkids said a blessing,” he said. “He was all about his grandkids.”
While he was not exactly a “handyman,” he loved to grow fruit trees, Wanda Austin said.
“We sold peaches for several years, and after we quit, we still had people calling us for peaches,” she said.
Wanda Austin says she was blessed to have him as her husband.
“He was my best friend, and I’m going to miss him terribly,” she said. “He was concerned and compassionate.”
Don and Wanda Austin were married 47 years and have three sons and eight grandchildren.