He was a good ‘un.
Those were words said often by Irby Raines. Today, those words are repeated countless times as students across the country remember their former coach and teacher who passed away Monday morning at the age of 76.
Born into an athletic heritage, it was no surprise that Irby and his two brothers were destined to make their careers in sports.
Brother Eddie Raines would coach high school sports in Winnsboro while June Raines would go on to coach baseball at the University of South Carolina.
Their parents, the late Irby Sr. and Pauline Raines, were their biggest fans.
Irby Raines Jr. graduated from Whitmire High School and later earned degrees from Newberry College and Winthrop University. His first professional position landed him in Greer, but he got back to Whitmire High School as fast as he could, settling back at his alma mater in the late 1960s.
Irby Raines married fellow Whitmire graduate Phyllis Rankin and they became the parents of two children, Abby and Mark. Both children and their families live in Whitmire with Abby Carroll’s husband, Tim Carroll, currently serving as mayor of the town.
A sense of place was important to Raines and no place was more special than Whitmire and its small, close-knit high school.
He even wrote in a departing seniors’ yearbook some two decades ago, “Never forget where you came from.”
It wasn’t long after his return to Wolverine country that his team won its first basketball state championship in 1970. A decade later, another of his talented teams would capture the 1980 state championship. A cabinet full of conference championship trophies stood testament in the halls of Whitmire High to his coaching abilities and to the talent of small town athletes.
As word spread across social media of his passing, Facebook lit up with tributes from former students and players.
Memories of his K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid) theory to “Keys in hand” from his drivers education students, were remembered from as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania.
Even “Irbyisms” like “codzillion” and “never assume” brought smiles amidst a feeling of great loss.
Irby Raines didn’t prepare his students and athletes for a Harvard education. There were others to take care of that.
Coach Raines prepared his students for life. Honesty, integrity and teamwork were values he instilled in those who passed through his classroom.
Irby Raines had a big heart. Lisa Hill Taylor has a special memory of just how big his heart was.
“I have many memories of Coach Raines, but there is one that is forever etched in my memory. My mother passed away in 1981. It was Coach Raines who came and got me out of class that day and told me she was gone. It was he who stood alone in that silent hallway and held me as I cried and wiped the tears from my eyes all the while assuring me everything would be okay. For many days and weeks afterward he would countless times come and pull me aside and ask if I was okay and if I needed anything. He was always there willing to listen and be a comfort to a 16-year-old girl who had just lost her mother and felt so alone and frightened. I will forever be grateful to Coach Irby for being there for me when I needed a friend the most. I know that now he is in heaven and I know my mother will thank him for taking such special care of her little girl,” Taylor said after learning of his death.
His love for Whitmire did not begin or end on the campus of Whitmire High School. He will forever be remembered for greeting fellow parishioners on Sunday mornings at First United Methodist Church in his classic “Masters Green” sports coat. Or tending the greens of Whitmire’s nine hole golf course where he spent many hours in his retirement years.
And then there was his beloved North Carolina Tar Heels basketball teams. Any student knew the way to distract him from the day’s lesson plan was to strike up a conversation about basketball or football. And Raines was convinced God was a Tar Heels fan. As the bumper sticker on his car proclaimed, “Why else would He paint the sky Carolina blue.”
He also set an example of the importance of strong friendships. Floyd Caldwell and William “Lefty” Johnson, former Whitmire High School principal and coach of the 1978 state championship football team, sat side by side at Gray Funeral Home in Whitmire Wednesday evening and shared “war stories” from their lifelong friendship with Raines.
The hundreds who filed past them knew they had lost more than just a friend.
Irby Raines gave 36 years to education in South Carolina, most of those years to his alma mater. His legacy will live on for generations through the countless lives he touched along the way.
He was truly one of a kind.
To borrow a few words from a song we sang so often, “Here’s a toast to Whitmire High School. Alma Mater Hail!” Today Wolverines lift their glasses in a toast to Coach Irby Raines. He will never be forgotten.