Funeral service held to honor Rod and Paula Bramblett

Published 6:46 pm Thursday, May 30, 2019

AUBURN — In the heart of the campus where they spent so much of their lives, hundreds of fans, family members, and friends gathered at Auburn Arena Thursday afternoon to say their final goodbyes to Paula and Rod Bramblett.

It seemed fitting that the service for the “Voice of the Tigers,” was held at Auburn Arena, where Bramblett called many games, including an upset over Tennessee in March that sparked a postseason run that took the Tigers to the program’s first Final Four.  It was also across the street from two of the most memorable calls in Bramblett’s career — the “Miracle at Jordan-Hare” and the “Kick-Six.”

While hundreds of people know Rod Bramblett’s voice on the radio, there were also several people in Auburn Thursday afternoon to pay tributes to both Paula and Rod, who both grew up in the Greater Valley Area. Paula grew up in Huguley and graduated from Lanett High School in 1985, and Rod is from Valley and graduated from Valley High School in 1988.

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The Bramblett’s were killed in a car accident Saturday at the intersection of West Samford Avenue and Shug Jordan Parkway. Police reports say the Bramblett’s vehicle was struck from behind by a 16-year-old driver.

Paula was rushed to East Alabama Medical Center, where she later died from internal injuries. Rod was airlifted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham after sustaining head injuries in the crash and later died.

At Thursday’s funeral, Alabama State Rep. and Valley native Debbie Wood spoke about her friendship with Paula. She said she and her husband were the last friends to see the Bramblett’s this past Saturday.

Wood told the crowd that Rod and Paula had a true love story. She recognized that they were celebrities to the rest of Auburn, but when they were with Wood and her husband, “they were just Rod and Paula.”

She said their two families spent many nights out to dinner together and on vacation, even after careers and family commitments took them to separate parts of the state.

“They were just the best people ever,” Wood said.

She said Paula was the outspoken person in the relationship and Rod was more shy, although people would never know based on who they were in the public light. She said Paula had a traditional upbringing where she grew up in a small home, learned to respect people and worked for everything she had.

“All of those things came back to help her when she and Rod were here in Auburn,” Wood said.

She told the story about when Rod went to pick Paula up on their first date, Paula’s dad, John Paul, was sitting on the front porch cleaning his gun. She said they have repeated that story over and over again.

Wood said Paula always had things scheduled to the very minute. And it had to be that way because of Rod’s schedule as a broadcaster, which took him away from home frequently.

“We had Plan A, Plan B and Plan C when we would do something,” she said.

Wood said it was Paula’s job to keep Rod down to earth after he became synonymous with big calls for Auburn sports.

She said after the Kick-Six call, people would come up to Rod and ask for his autograph while out to eat, and after they would leave, she would turn to Rod and tell him he was taking the trash out when they got home.

“Her job was to keep him humble,” Wood said. “Her job was to keep the family together. Her job to do the things every day so he could navigate his career and feel confident about it.”

Barbara Helms, a co-worker and close friend of Paula Bramblett, said she worked with Paula for 26 years in the information technology department at Auburn. They started out as work friends and grew into something much more.

“The shock of last Saturday’s accident and the loss of my sweet friend has left me reeling and numb inside,” she said. “It is hard to know what to say.”

Helms said every conversation came back to how much she loved her family, and she would regularly talk about her children, Shelby and Josh. 

“Shelby and Joshua, you both brought her so much joy,” she said. “Taking care of you was her No. 1 priority, and she loved you unconditionally.”

Also, Helms said Paula loved her husband and although Rod was the star to the Auburn community, Paula was very active in the background.

“She was the light that was shining beside Rod,” she said. “She was happy that he had a job that he enjoyed so much and that he did so well.”

She said Paula wasn’t a sports fan but would travel with her husband just to spend time with him.

“Many times, she would skip the game, go back to the hotel, and listen to Rod on the radio — if she stayed awake,” Helms said.

She said Paula was a woman with a big heart, who remembered her friend’s birthdays, sent her children’s teachers a gift at the end of the year and made sure everybody felt appreciated.

“She will remain with me throughout all of the wonderful memories that I have,” Helm said.

Rod’s broadcasting career started at part-time DJ at WZZZ/WCJM in downtown West Point. He went on to work at WAUD in Auburn in 1989-1991 and from 1993-96. He also did play-by-play for Lee-Scott Academy and Auburn High athletics during this period. He started calling Auburn University baseball games in 1993 and became the overall play-by-play announcer ten years later when he succeeded Jim Fyffe.

Bruce Pearl, men’s head basketball coach at Auburn, said Rod was a homer, meaning he openly rooted for the Tigers on his broadcasts unapologetically.

“I don’t think he ever apologized for it, nor do I ever think he was asked to apologize for it,” he said. “He loved Auburn Athletics and this university.”

Pearl said Rod was great to everybody on the coaching staff, not just the head coaches, but the assistants and training staffs. It was the same with the players, from the starters and faces of the university, down to the walk-on and non-scholarships players.

“That is just how he was,” Pearl said.

He called Rod a friend and co-worker, and somebody who prepared for games like no other radio broadcaster he has ever seen. However, he hated being away from his family.

“You guys had to give up your dad a little bit, so he could have the job of his dreams,” he said to the Bramblett’s children. “And he was grateful to you guys. He knew it took him away from what matters most to him.”

When Pearl started his comments, he told the audience that Rod loved to say “look at this place, just look at this place” when calling games at Auburn Arena and the Tigers were playing well.

He asked the crowd to stand up and clap and look around the arena as a way to remember the contributions that Rod and Paula made to Auburn University.

At the end of the service, Rod Bramblett’s famous Kick-Six call was played throughout the arena. When the call neared its end and the words that will now live forever in history, “Auburn has won the Iron Bowl in the most unbelievable fashion that you will ever see! I cannot believe it,” there were hundreds of people fighting back the tears while applauding Rod and Paula Bramblett one last time.

To end the memorial, Paula’s favorite artist, John Bon Jovi, was played and “Living on a Prayer” served as the final goodbye to the Bramlett’s.