Member Spotlight

Ted Puryear

Last month, we said farewell to Ted Puryear, a YMCA veteran who had been a member for more than 30 years. Ted was a friend to many, and his untimely passing was an emotional experience that rippled through the Y community.

Ted had faced many challenges throughout his life, yet he stayed positive and motivated others around him. “Despite the tragedies throughout his life, he was one of the most driven people I have ever met,” personal trainer Tammy McKinney said. “And he was a wonderful friend to all who knew him.”

Anthony Thompson, another Y member, knew Ted for almost 60 years, having grown up together in the same church and school. “Ted was a humble guy, even when we were small, and he never was a stranger to anybody,” Anthony said.

Anthony relayed his memory of joining the Y in 2016 and seeing Ted on a stationary bike. “He had been coming here for years, but the Y was new to me. Our friendship blossomed again from there. I knew he was in great shape, but only the Lord knows when it’s your time.”

Wellness Coordinator Ayonna Andrews admired how loyal Ted was to his fitness routine. “We have a binder from a rowing challenge many years ago, but now it just says ‘Ted’s book.’ He had recorded literally tens of thousands of meters of rowing and biking in that book!”

Lifetime Y member Joe Buehler echoed the sentiments of others. “Ted could have been a superstar salesman. He had a personality you can’t teach. He knew everybody.”

In January 2010, we featured Ted in a member spotlight. For those who knew him – and those who didn’t have the opportunity to do so – we are happy to share that original feature once again.

Ted Puryear is a Y veteran – 23 years of membership and counting – who came to the Y on the recommendation of a friend. But the situation that led his friend to suggest the Y as a means of dealing with stress was one of the most challenging and difficult situations that Ted has ever faced.

Ted grew up in Pensacola with his three siblings, and except for a relatively short time spent in Detroit working for Ford Motor Company, he has lived here his whole life. He left Detroit after his brother, who was living there too, was murdered. The case was never solved, prompting Ted to return home, where he began a job with Exxon.

You would think that tragedy would be enough, but Ted’s family endured yet another years later. His parents raised one of their grandsons, who as a young man was dating an older woman. She left Pensacola for about three years, and when she returned, refused to accept the rejection she faced from her former significant other. She decided to seek vengeance in a shooting spree against Ted’s mother, father and nephew. His nephew was shot three times and lived, but neither of Ted’s parents survived the attack.

Ted still gets emotional when he relays the story, relaying how he fell into a deep depression and even hoped for death himself. He grew seriously ill after the incident and ended up hospitalized with pneumonia for 17 days. That hospital stay left Ted with a lasting memory.

“I learned there that there was still life to be lived,” he says, telling of one of his hospital roommates, an older man who had lost both of his legs but was still “the happiest man I’d ever met.” That experience stayed with Ted. It was in the wake of his parents’ murder, his good friend Don Pressley recommended that he join the Y – if nothing else, to help manage the stress. And so, just months after losing his parents, Ted became a Y member, and has called the place home ever since.

“The people here are what I love most about the Y,” he says. “The camaraderie here is the most beautiful thing and what keeps me coming back.”

A runner since the age of 15, Ted has always enjoyed being active. He competed as an amateur boxer as a younger man and began running as part of his conditioning. After a lifetime of running, he finally gave up the activity in March 2009 because of knee troubles, turning instead to walking and cycling. The injury also led him back to the heavy bag, where he’s found a renewed love of his old sport. When he began working on the bag again, he could manage only two three-minute rounds in a workout. Now he’s up to five, or even six, and he’s lost 10 pounds and three inches off his waist.

On the job front, Ted laughs as he explains that he’s had a long list of “interesting” jobs besides working at Ford and Exxon, jobs that included serving as a corrections officers for juvenile felons and a stint as a FEMA inspector after Hurricane Ivan. His favorite job of all, he says, was driving a bus for Head Start. “Those 3- and 4-year-old’s were so much fun! They’d just say whatever came to their mind,” he laughs. Now, he says, he’s “blessed to be able to be officially retired.”

Ted enjoys spending time with long-time girlfriend Jackie, a P.E. teacher at Hallmark Elementary School, and with his daughter, Travell, and her family, including his four grandchildren. He beams with pride when describing the great job his daughter is doing with her children and sharing recent news that his son-in-law is only one interview shy of getting hired to work at the steel mill in Mobile.

Self-described as “passionate about what I believe in,” Ted is active in local politics, and is not afraid to speak out on issues. He’s also a member and usher at First Corinthians Church, known as “The Church of Love.”

Throughout the last two decades, Ted has made the Y a big part of his life. “Working out makes me feel good and less stressed,” he says. When asked by others whether they should consider the Y, he doesn’t hesitate to recommend the experience to others: “You’re gonna like it here!”

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