Everette Richmond “Sonny” Yates, Jr. passed away June 4, 2020, at the age of 77. The son of Wynell and Everette Yates, Sr., Sonny graduated from Walton High School in 1961 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from The University of Houston in 1966. In that same year, he married Diane O’Roark of Dallas, Texas.
A lifelong sports fan, Sonny began his professional career with the Houston Astros when the Astrodome first opened in 1965, initially as the scoreboard operator, and soon after, as the nation’s youngest Major League Baseball stadium public address announcer. Thereafter, he served as Sports Information Director for New Mexico State University (NMSU) from 1967-1974, where his writing and publicity efforts garnered national attention for the talents of student-athletes and university athletic programs. While at NMSU, Sonny hosted the 1968 NCAA men’s golf championship and helped develop a state-wide radio network for football and basketball games. He was a dedicated mentor for student assistants, supporting them while under his guidance, and often long after his tenure. He always considered the many people he came to know at NMSU as cherished and lifelong friends.
Sonny was named as the youngest-ever bowl director when selected as Executive Director of the Sun Bowl & Sun Carnival Association where he served from 1974-1979. Known affectionately as “Sonny of the Sun,” he founded and organized the Sun Bowl College All-Star Golf Tournament and led a community team of volunteers to coordinate the Sun Bowl parade, coronation ball and basketball tournament.
As Associate Athletic Director for The University of Houston (UH) from 1979-1981, Sonny spearheaded promotions, public relations and ticket sales and initiated the school’s first weekly basketball coach’s television show. As a student at UH, he was a sports information student-assistant, sports editor of the school newspaper, and also covered high school football for the Houston Post. His love for his school and desire to contribute to his alma mater never ceased. He was a steadfast Cougar fan, football season ticket-holder and a member of the H Association.
Sonny served as executive director for the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1981 and later founded and owned the Radio Sports Network covering Houston-area sports broadcasts, where he co-hosted daily radio sports talk shows and the Saturday Sports Line radio program. His extensive public speaking, writing and fundraising talents also served him well as the campaign director for New Mexico Governor and Florida Senate races.
Upon returning to his hometown of DeFuniak Springs, Florida, Sonny used his talents to enhance local sports and the community as sports director for WGTX and WZEP radio stations, news director and morning show host for WWEO-TV and as a frequent contributing writer for the Herald newspaper. He also hosted a ’50s and ’60s weekly rock & roll radio program, a radio interview show with area coaches, and broadcasted the Walton High School Braves football and basketball radio play-by-play. His contributions to his hometown have been recognized and appreciated numerous times, notably with his induction into the Walton High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2018, at the stadium named in memory of his father and with the designation of January 17, 2003 as “Sonny Yates Day”.
A tireless champion for others, Sonny never missed an opportunity to give of himself to help both individuals and organizations. Throughout his lifetime, he served as a mentor to countless people, encouraging them to pursue dreams and helping them to realize goals. He gave freely of his time and talents as a volunteer for the Houston Salvation Army, board member and fundraiser for the FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center of Humble, Texas, fundraiser for the First Presbyterian Church of DeFuniak Springs, board member for the Walton County Sharing & Caring organization, board member for the Walton Braves Sports Club, volunteer chairman for the Walton County History Fair, president and board member of the Walton County Heritage Association, officer and fundraiser for the North Walton YMCA, and so many other worthy causes.
A lifelong collector of sports memorabilia and baseball cards, Sonny was a veritable encyclopedia of sports statistics and trivia and as an avid reader, digested most sports books ever written. He was a huge Notre Dame and Cleveland Browns fan, often flying his favorite team flag in his front yard on game-days, and he was always a fan of the underdog in games that didn’t involve his team favorites.
A practical joker extraordinaire, his “missed handshake” was a signature move and April Fool’s was always one of his most highly anticipated days of the year. He entertained family and friends with stories of legendary pranks involving palm dates and cherry bombs and many who knew him have been on the receiving end of his love of a good gag. He never missed an opportunity to inject humor and levity into any situation – weddings and funerals included.
Sonny had a great love for ’50s and ’60s rock & roll music and spent many years during his youth spinning records for WDSP radio. His first day as a disc jockey was “The Day the Music Died” and although he was a big fan of Buddy Holly, his favorite song of all time was “The Loco-motion” by Little Eva. Play it now and you’ll almost hear him singing and can picture his classic dance moves.
Sonny was also a talented writer - no forethought, drafting or editing necessary. The same held true for his public speaking ability that he fondly attributed to his mother’s insistence on elocution lessons at an early age. His voice engaged an audience, whether on radio or television, from a press box, at a fundraising event or from the front of his church as a lector.
Sonny never forgot a name or a face, had a nickname for everyone and was fondly known and loved by neighbors he cherished and watched over as “The Mayor of First Street.” Most importantly, Sonny loved his family without end. He is a shining example to them, teaching and inspiring each of them to work hard, give of their time and talents to others and to love God, their communities and each other.
He is survived by wife, Diane Yates, daughters, Alice Walker and husband David, Judy Perlitz and husband Jimmy, Donna Morale and husband Anthony and son, Brian Yates and wife Esther, grandchildren, James, Yates, Zach, Lucy, Anthony, Sonny and Kimmi and wonderful friend, Janey French. In accordance with his wishes and in keeping with current restrictions, a family Mass service will take place in Houston, Texas, with a tribute to Sonny organized at a later date in his hometown of DeFuniak Springs, Florida.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions (at his request) may be made to organizations that were important to him: The Walton Braves Sports Club, 530 Magnolia Lake Dr, DeFuniak Springs, FL 32433, (850) 892-5999 and/or the Walton County Heritage Association Depot Museum 1140 Circle Dr, DeFuniak Springs, FL 32435, (850) 951-2127, firstname.lastname@example.org.
His family asks friends and relatives to share their memories of Sonny regarding how he may have impacted them – either through a chance meeting or a lifetime of shared experiences. There was only one Sonny Yates. He was a larger than life character and they know he made a difference to so many people. Friends and family may go on line to view obituaries, offer condolences and sign the guest register at jerryevansfuneralhome.com
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