The bonds between Paul LaBrue and David Bell went deeper than university allegiances.
LaBrue, an ardent Oklahoma State University supporter, and Bell, ever the University of Oklahoma man, were friends for decades.
The two men died Friday after being struck by a pickup while walking about two blocks from their houses in Goddard.
“They were just kindred spirits,” LaBrue’s daughter Pam Layman said Saturday. “David passed first, and the feelings are so hard. We tried to keep positive thoughts, hoping Dad would pull through, but honestly, if Dad had made it and found out David hadn’t, it would have killed him. It would have killed him.”
LaBrue, 72, and Bell, 70, first met each other when their children became friends in Goddard. They also attended the same church, Grace Southern Baptist.
LaBrue taught at Goddard High School from 1972 to his retirement in 1999. Bell was a special-education school bus driver for the district and had just retired in May after 21 years of service to Goddard.
“They’d get their coffee mugs and go to the McDonald’s and get their free senior citizen coffee every morning, and one morning, one of the ladies in there said, ‘You guys are going to need to eat something when you come in here,’ ” Layman said. “So David and Dad went in the next time and took a granola bar with them.”
The two would frequently travel to casinos – most recently on Wednesday, when they went to the Kansas Star Casino together, Bell’s wife, Diane, said. LaBrue won, Bell lost.
“He came home and said, ‘Honey, I’m $4 in the hole,’ ” she said.
Bell had a 2-year-old blonde Chihuahua named Sugar, and he and LaBrue had been walking frequently this summer to get exercise for Sugar and for LaBrue, who had hip replacement surgery a few weeks ago. Sugar would have turned 3 on Sept. 7.
The men’s wives would occasionally go walking with them; however, Diane Bell said, the two men would always lag behind their wives, talking about grandkids or sports or going to the casino.
“They were lollygagging behind,” Diane Bell said. “We always hollered, ‘Quit lollygagging and come on up,’ and they never did.”
Bell was rarely ever pictured without his standard red OU hat on, and LaBrue frequently wore some sort of OSU orange.
Before LaBrue’s hip replacement surgery, he even had his toenails painted orange, “because he wanted to give the doctors and nurses some humor,” Layman said. He still had his toenails painted orange on Friday, she said.
LaBrue was also a starter on the 1965 Oklahoma State basketball team, which won the Big 8 Conference championship that year, eventually falling in the NCAA Elite Eight to Wichita State.
Despite their allegiances to rival institutions, the two were “thick as thieves,” said Michelle Bell, David Bell’s daughter-in-law.
“Not too long ago, we were at Texas Roadhouse, and some man came up and said, ‘I have no idea how you’re sitting here eating with each other. You shouldn’t even be here at the same table with each other,’ ” Diane Bell said. The two men were wearing their respective school colors at the time.
“They were closer than brothers,” said Rick Bell, Bell’s nephew.
LaBrue taught and coached hundreds of students over the years.
One was Robbye Herrington. LaBrue was Herrington’s volleyball coach from 1990 to 1992 and was also her biology teacher. She remembers him as a kind and gentle man who was there for her when she needed it.
“My dad was in the Marine reserves, and he was going to be sent to war, and he recognized me being pretty sad and was there for me in that hard time. He even called my mom and talked to her about it,” Herrington said.
LaBrue showed her that the best teachers are the ones who not only teach academics but who also reach out to kids and are there for them in tough times.
“You wanted to do your best for him,” she said. “When I see him, I have to call him Mr. LaBrue still. It’s hard to call him Paul.”
Herrington is now a science teacher at Maize South High School – a career decision inspired by LaBrue.
“I was just talking about him the other day to my students,” Herrington said. “I had them tell me what’s been one of their favorite classes and why, and then I told them how my favorite class was my biology class with him.
“He got us out looking at trees and leaves, and he could just ramble off the names,” she said. “He got us out in nature, yet he was also so caring to each of us. I knew that I could go to him if had a problem and talk to him and cry on his shoulder if I needed to.”
The families spent the majority of the day Saturday together. Similarly, they said the strong bond between the families will sustain them in the weeks to come.
“Both of our families have known each other for so long, and we’re going to go through this together,” Layman said. “We are going to deal with things together. We just absolutely hate it, but we know we’ve got to be strong. Life does eventually go on.”