A Life Remembered: UI Campus Rec director 'a mentor and a friend' to many

A Life Remembered: UI Campus Rec director 'a mentor and a friend' to many

Many words can be used to describe Tony Clements.

Talented. Funny. Mentor.

The list goes on and on. But but above all, Tony Clements was a friend.

"He didn't know a stranger," said Terry Elmore, associate director of University of Illinois Campus Recreation.

Friday was a tough day for the many friends he had made over the years as news spread that Mr. Clements, longtime director of Campus Recreation and the official scorer at Illini basketball games, passed away that morning at the age of 68, following a long battle with cancer.

"I lost a good friend today," said Edgar Brummett, who replaced Mr. Clements as official scorer. "This is a real hard one for a lot of people."

Mr. Clements was born Jesse Anthony Clements in Raleigh, N.C. In 1966, he arrived at the UI, where he played football and basketball for the Illini while earning a bachelor's degree in what is now known as Recreation, Sport and Tourism. He'd later earn a master's degree and work for Campus Recreation. In 1979, he was named its director, one of the first black men to hold that position at a major university in the United States.

Elmore first met Mr. Clements in 1999, while working for the UI athletic department. He was responsible for event management at Illinois basketball games while Mr. Clements was working on the scorer's bench.

"He's had tremendous impact in my life as far as my recreation career the last 10 years," Elmore said. "He gave me an opportunity to be successful here at Campus Recreation and make a difference for students. He was a mentor and a friend."

Live from the White House

Mike Haile, the general manager of WDWS, WHMS and WKIO radio stations, had been close friends with Mr. Clements since being introduced by Gene Honda in 1980.

Haile and Mr. Clements quickly learned they had at least one thing in common — their love of the Kansas City Chiefs. The two began taking annual road trips to Kansas City together to watch the Chiefs in person, and for the past decade, those trips included Haile's son, Christopher.

"We would leave when I got off the air in the morning, take my son out of school and the three of us would laugh nonstop for two and a half days," Haile said.

Haile and Mr. Clements traveled together often, visiting one another's hometowns as well as producing radio shows from various parts of the world. The two broadcast from England, Scotland and New Orleans, among other spots.

"We did a show from a train platform in Brighton, England," Haile said. "We did a show up at the Chicago Hilton while they were shooting the final scenes for 'The Fugitive.' We were within a foot and a half of Harrison Ford. Once, we saw Princess Diana at a hotel we were at."

And in 1998, Haile and Mr. Clements made a bit of history broadcasting a show from the grounds of the White House.

"No other music-oriented radio show has ever done their radio program from the grounds of the White House," Haile said. "We were next to all the TV reporters doing the show."

But of all the trips, nothing topped those annual trips to Kansas City, the most recent jaunt including a stop in Lawrence, Kan., to visit with former Illinois basketball coach Bill Self.

Self "rolled out the red carpet for Tony, and it was really a lot of fun, a great time," Haile said.

Weber: 'He loved Illinois'

In addition to his work with UI Athletics and Campus Recreation, Mr. Clements served on the board of the United Way and later filled in as president and CEO of the organization. He was also a comedian, performing a standup routine at the Comedy Cafe and at various events around town.

"I didn't even know he was a comedian when I first went to the (scorer's) table," Brummett said. "I just thought he was a funny dude. When I found out he was a comedian, I immediately went to one of his shows at the Virginia. He was fun to work with; he kept us laughing."

Mr. Clements would often visit with Brummett outside of work, and he and fellow bench crew member Bruce Swartz would occasionally show up at a Centennial girls' basketball game to watch Brummett's daughter, Zsayla, play for the Chargers.

"When he considered you a friend, that's just what you were and that's how he treated you," Brummett said.

Former Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber, now the coach at Kansas State, remembers Mr. Clements for his positive attitude through good and bad times.

"He wanted the players to be successful and our program to be successful, and he was always there to do whatever he could to help our program come out on the winning end," Weber said. "He loved Illinois, loved the university, loved the community, the teams, the players."

Friends say Mr. Clements' ability to make people laugh, his smile and his talent will all be missed.

"I loved having him on the radio because he is the most creative person human being I have ever met," Haile said.

Services for Mr. Clements will be held next week. Visitation will take place 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Owens Funeral Home. Mr. Clements' funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Stone Creek Church in Urbana.