Friends, family, celebrities and Alzheimer’s researchers flocked to Edith Royal’s 90th birthday party last week. The party did more than just celebrate Edith’s life. It also marked the latest fundraiser for the Darrell K Royal Research Fund for Alzheimer’s disease. Edith established the fund in February 2012. Her husband Darrell, Texas’ football coach from 1957-1976, died that November.
The diverse crowd reminded Edith of the many who visited Darrell in the final years of his life. She’s still blown away by the Texas support she received — the friendships the Royals formed through the University.
Her life wasn’t always this way.
Edith was born to a family of true Sooners — the Thomasons left their Jack County, Texas home to stake out 500 acres in Harmon County, Oklahoma. She worked the family cotton farm through childhood, commuting 25 miles to school. The work was hard, Edith said, but her family loved it.
“I didn’t know we were poor, but we were just so poor we could barely make it,” Edith said. “From one crop to the next is how we lived. So did all of our neighbors.”
She met Darrell Royal almost as a fluke. The two were both “in town” in Hollis, Oklahoma, and Edith was staying at a friend’s house. When Darrell’s brother walked Edith’s friend home, Darrell and Edith fell into step together. They began dating and continued when Darrell wasn’t at army bases. In July 1944, Darrell received a 10-day furlough and invited Edith on a trip to Hollis.
“I said, ‘Darrell – That just wouldn’t look right. We can’t go to Hollis. We’re not married,’” Edith said.
Darrell got the license the following day. They told their families after.
Before long, football consumed Darrell’s life. He made the 3rd Air Force team in 1945, played as a Sooner from 1946-1949 and coached at Mississippi State and Washington before taking the Texas job in 1957.
Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff
At Texas, the Royals formed strong relationships with everyone from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Matthew McConaughey. Their teams became their family.
When Darrell became sick, friends and former players flocked to the Royal household. Some took Darrell for rides in new trucks. Others came just to chat. Willie Nelson and George Strait sang Darrell songs. The list goes on.
Edith said each visit helped immensely as a caretaker, relieving pressure from the “24/7” job. She established the DKR Fund with later Alzheimer’s patients and caretakers in mind.
“In the world of Alzheimer’s and dementia, Edith knows a lot of caregivers don’t have that help and support,” gala co-chair Debbie Hanna said. “Her concern was: How are we going to do something for the caregiver that’s 24/7?”
Three years later, she continues to fundraise. She celebrates her own life and birthdays — she turned 90 on Oct. 27 — by giving back. In typical birthday party fashion, she raised more than $750,000 for the fund, awarded researchers across the state with grants and supported a DKR Fund Legacy Council event for young professionals affected by the disease. The Legacy Council gives these members a community.
Edith says the community of support is crucial for caretakers. The spotlight of Texas football gave her and Darrell that blessing. She still takes comfort in the truck rides, player visits and song sessions in Darrell’s final days.
“He loved music, loved musicians,” Edith said. “They were all invited to our house all the time. A pretty interesting life.”