Mustang Mountain is mourning the death of Brad Gist, a long-time coach and administrator at Central Arkansas Christian who died last Thursday after a four-year battle with colon cancer.
Gist, 51, served two stints at Mustang Mountain, originally working as a coach and chemistry teacher before returning to Beebe (his first teaching job out of Harding University) and later coming back to CAC as he moved into administration.
“Basketball was his main sport, but he also did a lot of track,” said Doug Killgore, the long-time athletic director at Mustang Mountain. “Like all of us, he coached a little bit of everything.”
Gist returned to Mustang Mountain as assistant principal before moving to high school principal. In 2014, he went to Bigelow High School as principal.
Killgore said Gist was diagnosed with cancer in June 2013.
“He was highly respected as a teacher,” Killgore said. “He always seemed to be very positive and upbeat, encouraging, which I think is what endeared him to so many kids. He was very much an optimist. It’s hard to not like somebody who is that bubbly and outgoing and encouraging.
“He had success. He was well respected professionally. He took care of his business for sure, and part of that business was taking care of kids.”
Gist, a Texas native, came to Arkansas to study at Harding. Killgore said his first job was as an elementary teacher at Beebe before he landed at CAC to teach chemistry and work as assistant basketball coach under former Mustang coach Mark Villinger.
Danny Sullivan, the long-time CAC coach and teacher, shared an old photo on Facebook last week of his football staff, which included a young Gist and Steve Quattlebaum, the long-time successful girls basketball coach. Killgore said Sullivan, a CAC alumnus, attended Harding with Gist.
“They were college buddies,” Killgore said. “Brad and I worked together all the way — teaching, coaching, administration. We probably made seven or eight or nine trips to D.C. with ninth-graders via bus. That was always an experience. He was just extremely involved and willing to help everywhere he could.”
Killgore said Gist finished the 2016-17 school year at Bigelow, but as his condition worsened over the summer and he could no longer drive, Killgore drove his friend to BHS so he could work.
“Bigelow was extremely supportive of him,” Killgore said. “They sent him off with a ‘Don’t worry about us; you go and take care of yourself, get this behind us and get well.’ I wrote their superintendent a card of appreciation for their attitude about things.”
CAC’s junior class was in seventh grade during Gist’s final year at Mustang Mountain.
The loss devastated many long-time faculty and staff members.
“Brad was a perfect fit for CAC because he lived our coaching philosophy: God, family, classroom, sport,” Sullivan said. “He never got them out of order, and he never compromised. That same order carried over to administration. He loved his job because he loved the kids. Sometimes that meant tough love, but he treated his faculty and students the way he thought Jesus would.”
Hayden Cruce, defensive coordinator for the CAC football team who is working with Killgore as AD while transitioning to that role next year, played basketball for Gist for three years and worked under him for four after returning to his alma mater to teach and coach.
“Brad was an unbelievable leader who cared deeply for his students and teachers,” Cruce said. “He had an uncanny ability to crack a joke even during a serious discussion. His attitude and outlook during his battle with cancer was an encouragement to me and everyone he came into contact with. It was also a testament to his tremendous faith in God. The CAC family will always be grateful for his contributions as a coach, teacher, mentor, administrator and friend.
“He was a good man.”
Quattlebaum recalled that Gist was already at Mustang Mountain when he was hired in 1995.
“Just a good guy, a good sense of humor,” Quattlebaum said. “He kept everybody laughing. He and Danny together were pretty funny. Just a lot of good years. I remember when Coach (Andrew) Brady (Quattlebaum’s assistant) died, Brad was one of the first ones to come around and offer to do whatever he needed to do.”
Dr. Carter Lambert, president of CAC and girls soccer coach, said Gist had a lasting impact on students and staff.
“He was a Christian man of great integrity who loved God, his family and our staff and students,” Lambert said. “He was an incredible example of faith and strength as he battled cancer — a good man who will be greatly missed.”
Cade Smith, now head volleyball coach at Alabama-Huntsville, worked under Gist at CAC before joining him in administration.
“He was a servant leader, a humble man who was always positive and encouraging to everyone he knew,” Smith said. “It was an honor to work with him, and I am better for having known him.”
Chris Morse, head track and assistant football coach, worked with Gist in track.
“I had a lot of respect for Brad,” he said. “He was a detail guy and had high expectations. Brad was very positive and encouraging.”
Gist is survived by his wife, Jo Anna (whom he met when both were teaching at CAC); sons Will, 13; Sam, 11; and Max, 7; his parents, two brothers and two sisters.
Memorials may be made to the Gist Family Fund (Brad and Jo Anna Gist) at any Centennial Bank location or through PayPal using firstname.lastname@example.org or to Corbin Read Christian Camp at 917 N. East St. in Benton.
Visitation was Monday with the funeral Tuesday. Sullivan was one of the officiants.
Killgore said Monday: “It’s going to be a tough couple of days.”