Some of the city’s most notable movers and shakers joined prominent state and business leaders, major sports figures, dignitaries and family on Monday to honor B.J. “Red” McCombs, who died Feb. 19 at age 95.
At the stately funeral service, attended by more than 1,000 people at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, McCombs’ casket was adorned with a saddle between two floral arrangements, his trademark cowboy boots and hat displayed nearby. In addition to the 1,700 seats inside the Tobin, another 1,500 overflow seats were set up outside the performing arts center where mourners viewed a simulcast of the ceremony.
The memorial service celebrated the life of a man called one of the most significant San Antonians of the 20th century.
A wildly successful car salesman and later San Antonio Spurs owner and philanthropist, McCombs was remembered as much for being an effective leader who changed San Antonio for the better as he was a man of humor and generosity who dearly loved his wife and family.
An avid sports fan, well-known for his love of the University of Texas Longhorns, McCombs was honored during the service with a performance of “The Eyes of Texas” by the university’s marching band.
Perhaps also appropriate for the man many have described as “larger than life,” and for the occasion, singer Darrell Collins performed the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”
Among the speakers was Gov. Greg Abbott, who called McCombs a “standard-bearer for San Antonio and Texas” who was “never bashful about sharing his opinions.”
Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich shared the memory of his first encounter with the man who brought the team to town and said it was clear that McCombs truly loved the team, his life’s work and his family. To him, McCombs was more than an astute businessman.
Sharing a personal note written by McCombs congratulating Popovich on a challenging but successful season, he said: “And this is the part that means something: ‘Just remember to love your family with as much time as you can.’
“That’s more than a wheeler-dealer.”
Other special guest speakers at the service included developer Marty Wender, a close friend to McCombs; former Spurs point guard Avery Johnson, and News 4 San Antonio Sports Director Don Harris.
Harris spoke of his lifelong appreciation of the Spurs and his friendship with McCombs, a man he once accused in a sports column of having blind optimism. Harris later changed his mind about that.
“Where would we be as a city without Red McCombs’ optimism?” Harris said. “He saw the very best in all of us. That optimism is a good thing and that optimism is Red McCombs.”
McCombs was preceded in death by Charline, his wife of 69 years. He was survived by daughters Lynda McCombs, Marsha Shields and Connie McNab and their spouses, as well as several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Granddaughters Sita McNab, Anna Turner and Chloé Shands read Bible verses during the service.
Several local and well-recognized sports figures — including former Spurs Sean Elliott, Bruce Bowen and George Gervin — signed guest books outside the Tobin before the funeral. Willie Mitchell, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs between 1964 and 1973, was also there.
Mitchell, who founded a substance abuse treatment center, San Antonio Fighting Back, said he was there to thank his mentor, McCombs. “He was the one who influenced me to start that nonprofit and I’ve had it ever since,” Mitchell said.
Joe Krier, former president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and former councilman, looked around at the people gathering on the steps of the Tobin, a vintage Ford Deluxe parked in front and large photographs of McCombs displayed in the windows.
He said it appeared McCombs would be remembered the way he deserves to be remembered.
“You can’t live in San Antonio without having known Red in one way or another — you either bought his car or went to a Spurs game or went to Hemisfair,” Krier said.
This article has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to the memorial service being the first held at the Tobin Center. A celebration of jazz musician Jim Cullum Jr.’s life was held there in 2019.