With an erudite demeanor and an iconic subject, Jay Wilkinson was the guest speaker at the Tulsa Sports Charities June luncheon at the Marriott Tulsa Hotel Southern Hills.
Wilkinson shared insights of his father and discussed passages from his 2012 book “Dear Jay, Love Dad: Bud Wilkinson’s Letters to His Son.”
A motivational speaker with a national reputation, Jay Wilkinson is a transcendent communicator, much like his father, the late University of Oklahoma Hall of Fame football coach.
In the 188-page, hard-cover book published by University of Oklahoma Press, Jay Wilkinson shares 47 letters his father wrote to him while he was a student-athlete at Duke University and in graduate school. Spanning most of the 1960s, the letters – 47 letters represent the record 47 straight victories Bud Wilkinson amassed in the 1950s at OU – reveal Bud’s love for his son, as well as the philosophy and values that led to his success in sports and in life.
Jay Wilkinson referenced many of those letters and ideals during his eloquent 25-minute talk to some two dozen luncheon guests.
At one point, Jay read a passage from the book’s foreword, written by Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski: “I love the manner in which Coach Wilkinson explained his philosophy of life. He was able to teach and not preach lessons on a value-based life. He knew that when these lessons were embraced by his son, they would lead to success and happiness. It seems so simple: ‘Do what is right and be confident enough to follow your instincts. I will always be there for you.’ Coach Wilkinson was.”
Jay, the younger of Bud’s two sons, was an outstanding high school athlete in Norman, graduating in 1959 as the state’s top quarterback recruit.
He made the decision to bypass OU, accepting the scholarship offer from Duke University. Freshmen were not permitted to play on the varsity in 1959, and Jay quarterbacked his freshman team to a 4-1 finish.
By 1960, he switched to wide receiver and punt returner. It proved a fortuitous move. Following his senior season in 1963, he was a unanimous All-American selection, earning Player of the Year honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The 1963 Look magazine All-American team – one of the most prestigious at the time – included Wilkinson and such standouts as Roger Staubach, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus.
Jay also authored, along with Gretchen Hirsch, in 1994 the book “Bud Wilkinson: An Intimate Portrait of an American Legend.”
Referring to his 2012 book, Jay said that the letters from his father “provided me with reassurance and clarity, something not always achieved in a phone call or even a face-to-face discussion.”
Jay wrote in his book that Bud’s hand-penned words “reveal a father’s consistent love, compassion, and understanding.”
“They demonstrate his efforts to build a son’s confidence and to help that son find his own path for the future,” Jay wrote. “They stress the importance of providing worthwhile service to others while being engaged and active on a day-to-day basis in ways that bring personal satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment.”
Bud Wilkinson was a key figure in the administrations of several presidents, from heading up President Kennedy’s Council on Physical Fitness to serving on President Ford’s U.S. Commission of Olympic Sports. He made an unsuccessful run at the U.S. Senate in 1964.
When he retired from OU in 1963, Wilkinson took with him three national championships and a record of 145-29-4.
Jay Wilkinson, although ordained to the deaconate following graduation from Episcopal Theological School, chose not to enter the priesthood. Instead, he spent 37 years in executive management before retiring to a life that includes motivational speaking engagements. He lives in Oklahoma City.
He has been inducted into the Duke University Sports Hall of Fame.
His father died in 1994. His mother, Mary, died in 2005.