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Remembering Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones

wah-wah

By now you’ve heard about the passing of Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, the most accomplished athlete in the history of athletics at the University of Kentucky. Earlier today, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart issued a statement, saying, “The word ‘legend’ is used frequently in our society but it is truly fitting when considering Wah Wah Jones. Wah Wah holds a legendary place in the athletic history of our state.”

Barnhart is exactly right, too. Wah Wah Jones is a true legend, and tonight we’ll explore his accomplishments on the court, on the field, and in life in general. The man did it all…

*****

He was born in Harlan, Kentucky.

Born in 1926, Wallace was one of Hugh and Fay Jones’ five children, along with Dukie, Evelyn, Hugh, Jr. and Jacqueline. The Joneses owned Hugh Jones Cafe, a popular restaurant in Harlan, located on Main Street next door to where BB&T Bank is today.

He went by “Wah Wah” early, because his younger sister couldn’t pronounce his name.

His baby sister Jackie could only say ‘Wah Wah’ when trying to pronounce ‘Wallace,’ thus the nickname was born. It stuck with him since childhood.

He played for Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant.

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Kentucky football made its first bowl appearance in 1947, Jones’ junior season and Bryant’s second year as coach. Jones followed that up with the NCAA basketball championship that season, the first of Rupp’s four.

He was the last surviving member of the “Fabulous Five.”

Oscar Combs tweeted, “With Wah’s passing, the end of UK’s Fabulous Five era is now in the history books.”

The Fabulous Five, consisting of Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Cliff Barker, Kenny Rollins and Jones, won 36 of 39 games in 1947-48, including the national championship.

He is the only Wildcat with a retired number in basketball and football.

That is a feat that will never be duplicated.

He also played baseball.

When he wasn’t playing basketball and football for Kentucky, he also pitched for the baseball team, lettering three years on the diamond.

And he was on the track team.

Why stop with basketball, football and baseball? Shot put was another of Jones’ athletic gifts.

He was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Phi Delt was kicked off campus earlier this year until Fall 2016 for behavior Wah Wah would not approve of.

He had a summer job at Keeneland.

He worked in horse sales during what little free time he had away from sports.

He almost signed with the University of Tennessee.

From an interview for Wildcat Memories:

Were it not for the man who went on to become my father-inlaw–Alva Ball of Middlesboro, Kentucky (I married his daughter, Edna)–I might have ended up playing basketball for the University of Tennessee instead of for UK. In the summer of 1945 Mr. Ball overheard that I was considering signing with Tennessee. I don’t know who he called at UK, but the next day a driver arrived in Harlan to transport me to Lexington to meet with Coach Adolph Rupp. After meeting with him I decided to sign at UK.

Thank you, Alva Ball. You’re a great American.

He won a gold medal in the 1948 Olympics.

Jones, Coach Rupp and the other members of the Fabulous Five brought home the gold from London in 1948. Another Wildcat won basketball gold in London, 64 years later…

He was selected eighth overall in the 1949 NBA Draft.

He fell to the Washington Capitols at No. 8, six spots behind Alex Groza, a fellow Wildcat and second overall pick that year. Ralph Beard came off the board four picks later.

He played three seasons for the Indianapolis Olympians.

Washington dealt him to Indianapolis after the draft where he averaged 10.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest in three seasons.

He was a seventh-round choice by the Chicago Bears in the 1949 NFL Draft.

The NFL was an option, too.

He was invited to try out for the Boston Braves.

As was Major League Baseball.

He was a 5-handicap golfer.

There were very few things he couldn’t do in sports, if any.

He published a Lexington TV guide.

The “Wah Wah Jones Publication” was delivered to every house in Lexington with an antenna, back when televisions weren’t so common. Jones went on to sell the subscription to TV Guide.

He was elected sheriff of Fayette County.

He served from 1954 through 1958. “I was the first Republican sheriff in this county since the Civil War – and the last one,” he told the Courier-Journal in 2003.

He was a Republican nominee for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.

He lost to John Watts, a veteran Congressman, in Jones’ only run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956.

He started Blue Grass Tours.

Lexington’s oldest horse farm tour company (with the blue buses we’ve all seen) began in 1978 under Jones, its founder. Today, Blue Grass is the official charter of the Kentucky basketball team. The Cats use a custom-made $700,000 sleeper coach, designed specifically for John Calipari and his team. The bus’ horn plays the UK fight song.

Watch his introduction at Big Blue Madness in 2012.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

19 Comments for Remembering Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones



  1. 1977 Cat
    10:00 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    You are a great American!



  2. UKgrad'13
    10:01 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Wow, I didn’t know he founded Blue Grass Tours, very cool.



  3. bung
    10:08 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Thanks Drew, that was great.



  4. BOSOX
    10:12 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    New motto for the team this year… ” Win it for Wah Wah!!! “



  5. ajhjack
    10:17 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Wow. Just….wow.



  6. UPSCat4080
    10:21 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    FYI…There is not a BB&T bank in downtown Harlan. I think you are meaning The Bank of HARLAN…which is downtown. Ever been to Harlan, Drew? Carry on my wayward son….carry on.



  7. Buckets
    10:27 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Great post. Wah Wah lived an amazing and full life. RIP



  8. Blasphemy
    10:41 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    It is amazing to even think that somebody could do so much in their lifetime, let alone actually doing it.



  9. Cat dog
    10:59 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Great post.
    What an amazing life he had.



  10. RIP WAH WAH
    11:07 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    RIP Wah Wah… Here is a higher quality version of the Wah Wah introduction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vANkm2j84I



  11. Jerry Blanton
    11:12 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    An old guy dies and goes to Heaven, Saint Peter meets him at the gate and explains how things work. If you loved music, you can listen to or play with the greatest musicians who ever lived. If you like sports, there are games going on 24/7, and you can play anything you want. The man noticed a robust looking guy with a Dragon jersey on, a baseball bat resting on one shoulder and a pair of football cleats thrown over the other. The man asked Saint Peter, “who is that man over there?” Saint Peter said, “Oh, that’s God, sometimes he thinks he’s Wah Jones!”



  12. Mike McLain
    11:28 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Had the pleasure of hearing stories from this man while in school at UK working for the team. Proud to be from Harlan Co. just like him. Left this place better than he found it, and Mr. Barnhart is right, “Legend” gets thrown around a lot, but not in this case. Thoughts and prayers to his close friends and family.



  13. Joe Dennison
    9:29 am July 29, 2014 Permalink

    Awesome.



  14. Jordan
    10:51 am July 29, 2014 Permalink

    At the time, the ’49 NBA draft was the greatest day in UK history… In terms of recruiting



  15. Greg Davis
    10:58 am July 29, 2014 Permalink

    Just to set the facts straight, Wah purchased an existing business that was BlueGrassTours. It started in the early 1960s to tour both the historic sites in the Lexington area and the horse farms. Wah greatly expanded the business during his period of ownership and changed the focus of the business model.



  16. musrat59
    2:46 am July 30, 2014 Permalink

    This man had to have been some kind of athlete to excel in as many sports as he did. I only wish I had seen him perform.



  17. Ridge Runner
    1:51 pm July 30, 2014 Permalink

    Great post, Drew!



  18. james gilbert
    6:21 pm July 30, 2014 Permalink

    my mothers family was from harlan county her maiden name was wallace she worked at the cambell house in the 60″s wah was a regular customer she always told me what a great athlete wah wah was i had the chance to sit and talk with him at the basketball bash in “97 he remembered my mother and spoke at length with me was in memphis for the sec baketball tourney in ’97 while on beale st saturday night with the BBN was needing to find a restroom while standing outside the elvis bar who wanted a $15 cover but they weren’t letting anyone in anyway wah came out and saw me i said we just needed to go ( no drew not that one) wah put his arm around me and said come on boys you are with me i will never forget his kindness in the moment i may have the only true blue fan button autographed by wallace wah-wah jones RIP



  19. Ed Fisher
    9:04 pm July 30, 2014 Permalink

    Got to meet Wah Wah Jones in 1995 at the Southesat regional final in Birmingham,Al. Kentucky played North Carolina. We sat in the hotel lobby/bar at a table drinking a cold beer before the game. I remember he drank a cold beer in a glass with ice. We talked basketball, and Richie Farmer came by and sat down to talk to Wah.As a fan at that moment I was in basketball heaven.Wah autographed a Sheraton hotel pad That said to Ed best wishes Wallace Waa Waa Jones. 46-47-48-49. Go Cats.That I will always remember. He was as nice a person you would ever meet and would sit down with a fan and drink a cold beer, and talk basketball! Thank you and God speed Wah!