Bruce Bennett, 77, beloved husband, father, grandfather, and devout Christian also was a modest football champion and coach. He died in Ocala, FL, Jan. 12, 2021, of complications from pneumonia and COVID-19.
The Valdosta, GA, native began his journey in football as quarterback of the famous Valdosta High School Wildcats under coach Wright Bazemore including state championships in 1960 and1961. Playing for the University of Florida, he was an All-American first teamer and twice an All-SEC pick. It was at UF that he met Starling Feisthammel on a blind date. That date continued through 56 years of marriage. He is in the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame and was named to the Gainesville Sun Florida Gator All-Century team in 1999.
Following his time at UF he played professionally for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League 1966-1972. He played in the Roughriders first Grey Cup win, was a multiple All-Star team selection, and his teammates chose him as captain four times. Bruce set a Roughriders record that still stands after 49 years: longest interception return for a touchdown, 112 yards.
After his seven years with the Roughriders, Bruce returned to Gainesville in 1973 and began coaching football at East Side High School. He spent his career coaching on the high school and collegiate levels in Florida and Georgia, most notably for 10 years at Ware County High School in Waycross, GA, where he is in the Ware County Sports Hall of Fame. He retired as a high school coach from Gainesville High School in 2007.
The son of Lamar and Lena O’Neal Bennett, Bruce was a quiet, dependable and honest man who would do anything for the people he loved. His favorite stories were about Valdosta, the Wildcats, coach Bazemore, his parents and grandparents. In his spare-time you could find him playing a game of solitaire, solving a Sudoku puzzle or working in the yard. In retirement Bruce became ‘Papa’ and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with his nine grandchildren.
Survivors include his wife, Starling Bennett of Ocala, FL; three sons, Bill Bennett and wife Allison of Kissimmee, FL, Bob Bennett of Jacksonville, and Brad Bennett and wife Kate of Jacksonville; and nine grandchildren.
A celebration of life for Lamar Bruce Bennett Jr. will be held at a later date. Countryside Funeral Home in Anthony, FL, will be in charge of arrangements. The family requests that in lieu of flowers contributions in Bruce’s memory be made to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, FL via its online donation information.