ROEDEL: Mr. Riley a fond memory for Rams
Scrolling across the top banner of the Purnell Swett football website GridironRams.com are the words: “In Memory Mr. Riley — We Will Miss You”
From talking with those who were close to the late Riley Oxendine, who passed away last Friday, I’ve gotten a sense of just how much Purnell Swett’s football team, Swett athletics as a whole, and the Pembroke community will miss the man simply known as Mr. Riley.
They will miss his quiet passion.
Among many things, Mr. Riley was a longtime supporter of Purnell Swett athletics, with a special place in his heart for football. Coming from a large family of sharecroppers, he didn’t get a chance to play competitively while in school.
Mr. Riley made up for that fact later in life.
“He had to give up his dreams of playing football to go work, to help the family make ends meet,” nephew John Prine said. Prine was the caretaker for Mr. Riley in his final years. “I think from that came the desire and drive and motivation to help kids that wanted to better themselves with athletics.”
Nobody saw this firsthand more than Rams football coach Mark Heil, who first met Mr. Riley in 1988 at the start of Heil’s initial stint as Swett’s coach. Speaking over the phone, a fond glistening-eyes-reminiscence could be heard in Coach Heil’s tone when speaking of his close, dear friend.
“He was a silent supporter. He stayed in the background but was always there to help the kids out with whatever that was needed,” Heil said.
They will miss his friendliness.
I’ve gathered that Mr. Riley didn’t just become a friend to those in the community, he became family.
A microcosm of this was explained by Coach Heil. He recalled Mr. Riley, an avid coin collector, doling out portions of his shiny collection to his children after Swett games. A simple, kind gesture that sticks with Heil.
“It would never fail that he would give our children coins — we have a slew of them,” Heil said. “It became more than a relationship with him. It became more like a family.”
They will miss his unwavering support.
This fall, Mr. Riley’s usual viewing spot on the Swett sidelines was vacant. Battling Parkinson’s disease and other health issues, the longtime Rams supporter lost the strength to attend games.
A fact that surely left a void in Mr. Riley’s heart and the Rams faithful accustomed to his presence under the lights on Friday nights.
“He was always at every game. He was always there early,” Heil said. “He just loved the game of football and loved Purnell Swett.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Riley’s support for Swett remained strong. Whether he was attending games or not, he was there for the Rams. Always.
“He had just a huge heart,” Prine said. “His support for Purnell Swett never stopped until his dying day.”
The funeral for Riley Oxendine will be held at 3 p.m. today at Berea Baptist Church in Pembroke.
Sports Editor Kaleb Roedel can be reached at (910) 272-6111 or
Read more: The Robesonian - ROEDEL Mr Riley a fond memory for Rams
Riley Oxendine, philanthropist and promoter of artists and athletes across the Nation left this life of suffering to be with his Lord on Oct. 7, 2011, two days short of his 77th birthday. He passed away at his home located at 203 Stanley St., after a lengthy illness. Today, thanks be to God, he suffers no more.
The funeral will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at Berea Baptist Church, the Revs. Mike Cummings and Pastor Chris Hunt officiating. Music will be provided by the UNCP Music Dept., Dr. Jaeyoon Kim, tenor, and Dr. Seung-ah Kim, accompanist.
He was born Oct. 9, 1934, in the Oxendine family’s home in Pembroke.
He was born to the Late Colon and Eva J. Oxendine, Riley entered the United States military after completing high school in the spring of 1952. He was only 18 years old. He was assigned to a transportation unit in Ft. Polk, La. After deployments in both Germany and France, he returned to the United States and was reassigned to a Tele-Communications Division in Ft. Eustace, Va. After being honorably discharged from the United States military in November of 1957, he began his civil service career with International Telephone and Telegraph. I.T.T. had just entered into a contractual agreement with The United States military to track and monitor Soviet planes flying near the Alaskan Wilderness. He was stationed on Barter Island, a small island in the Aleutian Island chain. The I.T.T. office was based in Fairbanks, Alaska. So Oxendine found himself traveling by bush plane to and from Barter Island to the corporate office. He worked on the D.E.W. (Distant Early Warning) Line for 30 years until his retirement in July of 1987. He returned to the Pembroke community after his retirement and built a home. He was a lifetime member of the UNCP Chancellors Club, Rams GridIron Club, and Purnell SwettAthletic Booster Club.
He was preceded in death by three brothers, LeRoy Oxendine, James W. (aka Jack) Oxendine, and Mitchell Ray Oxendine, all of whom lived in the Pembroke area; and four sisters, Berteen Oxendine Prine, Vennie Oxendine Sanderson, Anna Oxendine, and Fennie Oxendine Burnette.
He is survived by two sisters, Elsie Mae Oxendine Reed of Charlotte and Frances Dale OxendineBuchanan of Loganville, Ga.; and a brother, Ernest Dean Oxendine of Pembroke.
One of Oxendine’s greatest passions was fundraising for the athletic department at Purnell Swett High School.
Memorials should be made payable to the Purnell Swett Rams Gridiron Club. Please call head football coach Mark Heil at (910) 818-9330 or defensive backs coach James Ernest Locklear,(910) 827-3885 for detailed information on your tax exempt donations.