This column was already in the making before the news came that former University of Georgia football coach, Vince Dooley, was edging toward the end of his life.

The appreciation I felt for his investment in me is something that I said to him often over our 40 years of friendship. Still, I would have liked for him to read this story.

When I learned this month’s issue of Golden Isles would salute heroes, I knew I should select a hero with a tie-in to St. Simons. The perfect candidate? Vince Dooley. He is one of the people who shaped my life, going back to the days when I became the first female sports reporter to cover SEC sports. In the early days, Dooley was kind and respectful. In the years that follow, he became a dear friend who gave endless wisdom and guidance to me. He is one of the makers of the person I became.

When I saw his wife and my dear friend, Barbara, after his homegoing, she placed her hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Do you know how deeply he loved you?”

Sadly, I nodded. “And it seems like all the ones who loved me are dying and the ones who don’t, are going strong.”

Even in her bone-deep sorrow, she laughed.

Before he left this mortal coil, I called Barbara. “Do you mind if I tell the story about Dooley wanting to build a house on the island?”

“Absolutely not! Please tell it.”

The Dooleys loved St. Simons. It had always been their special place, going back to the summers they spent there as a young family.

“He always gave us two full weeks every summer,” Barbara recalled. The rest of the year was devoted to Georgia football and recruiting. “We took those two weeks and went to St. Simons where we rented the same little cottage every year. We made such great memories.”

She started laughing. This is my adored Barbara Dooley. No matter what the subject is, she always has a funny anecdote.

“The last time I ever wore a bikini was on St. Simons. Now, it wasn’t the kind of bikini you see these days but it was two pieces. Green. Every morning, I went for a run on the beach. I was in my early 30s. One morning, I wore my bikini for my run and when I came back, my 10-year-old son, Daniel, looked at me and asked, ‘Aren’t you too old to wear THAT?” She stopped to laugh again. “That’s the last time I ever wore a bikini.”

It’s been close to 20 years ago that I was visiting the Dooleys in Athens. We were in their kitchen, talking about my recent trip to St. Simons when Barbara rolled her eyes in extreme exaggeration.

“Let me tell you about Vincent and St. Simons.” She always called him Vincent. I always called him “Dooley.” His contemporaries called him “Vince” and everyone else referred to him as “Coach.”

Dooley had been to St. Simons for a conference. He returned and informed Barbara that they were going to build a house there. Dooley often let Barbara do what she wanted but when he put his foot down, the matter was settled.

“Vincent, we are NOT building a house on St. Simons. We have a farm. We have a lake house. We will never use it.”

Steely-eyed, he replied. “Barbara, I said that we are going to build a house there and I mean it. I want a house on St. Simons.”

The debate went on for a while until Barbara said, “Okay, I tell you what: We will buy a condo down there and see how much we use it. If we stay there a lot, we will build a house.”

Dooley agreed to the compromise. They bought a condo as well as a building site on Frederica. “You know how many times he has stayed there?” she asked me that day in the kitchen. She held up one finger. “One night. We rent it out. We either stay with friends or at the Cloister or King and Prince.”

They still own the lot. And they’re still renting the condo.

About 10 days before Dooley died, I heard that he was scheduled to do an event on St. Simons the following week. I called their daughter, Deanna, my dear friend, as well as the business affair director for her parents. Knowing he was ailing gravely, I offered to fill in.

“I’ve already canceled it and he is furious with me,” she said with chuckle. “He keeps saying, ‘I gave my word. When you give your word, you keep your word!” This was a philosophy he lived by. My daddy taught me that lesson. Dooley reinforced it.

Dooley died less than 24 hours after he would have made that appearance, had he kept the engagement. Trust me, he would have been there, had the family allowed it.

My hero. My island. One will always remind me of the other.