Thursday, June 21, 2018

Remembering Dr. James King, Grandson of Ralph Hay

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Dr. James F. King, Grandson of Ralph Hay
(Courtesy: Chris Willis)
Yesterday I heard the news that this past Monday, on June 18th, that Dr. James F. King had passed away from a heart attack at the age of 81. If you don't know the name, then you probably know his famous grandfather, Ralph Hay. It was Mr. Hay who owned the Canton Bulldogs and who called the NFL's first organizational meeting in his automobile showroom on September 17, 1920. Hearing this news was very difficult for me since it was just two months ago I had spent a week staying with Dr. King and his charming wife Charlene (they have been married for 59 years), while I did research at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in King's hometown of Canton, Ohio.
Ralph Hay, Owner of Canton Bulldogs (1919-1922)
(Courtesy: of King Family)
I've known Dr. King for nearly twenty years. I was able to interview him for NFL Films back in 2003 so we could get his grandfather's story preserved in our Archives. Out of that interview I was able to write an article for the Coffin Corner, the official publication of the Professional Football Researchers Association.

Over the years I have been able to pick King's brain to learn more about his grandfather. Ralph Hay was a pivotal figure in the founding of the NFL, so I wanted to learn more about the man. Every time I talked to him I learned something new. This past April I was able to sit down with Dr. King and ask more questions. I interviewed him for over an hour. He was always warm, toughtful, interesting and passionate.

When I first met Dr. King he told me one of his favorite stories. He loved talking about Jim Thorpe, one of his grandfather's closest friends. He first told me how his middle name was the same as Thorpe. James Francis King. He also told me about how Thorpe would visit the family in Canton and how Thorpe would babysit him. He showed me a photo of himself as a young baby being held by Thorpe. He kept this photo in his wallet for decades.
Jim Thorpe, holding Dr. James King
(Courtesy: King Family)
I will always remember how Dr. King treated me and how he helped me with my research projects. It was a sad day yesterday hearing the news, especially with the NFL about to celebrate its 100th season in the fall of 2019. I know next year I will be remembering Ralph Hay, as well as Dr. James King, during that celebration season.

My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family. I will miss my friend, Dr. James F. King. But I will not forget him or his generosity to others.

Dr. James King Obituary Canton Repository

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