Len Gardner “Tuffy” McCormick, accomplished oilman, rancher, member of the Baylor Bears Final Four Basketball Team, NFL football player for the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Colts, died Monday, August 20th, peacefully in his home at age 89.
Tuffy McCormick was born in Eldorado, Texas, on October 28th, 1922, to Jimmie and Van McCormick and was an only child. He grew up in a pioneering ranching family in Eldorado, Texas. His grandparents P.H. and Sally McCormick were one of the founding families of Schleicher County.
After graduating from high school in Eldorado, TX, he attended Schreiner Military Institute in Kerrville, Texas. As a member of the U.S. Marine Corps he served his country first in World War II from 1942 to 1945 and then in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952.
Between his military services he graduated from Baylor University in 1947. At Baylor he played Center, Linebacker, and Placekicker for the Baylor Bears Football Team. He was also the Center of Baylor’s basketball team that won the Southwest Conference Championship and played in the 1946 Final Four. This was the first time Baylor ever appeared in the Tournament.
After college, he played for the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Colts as a linebacker and center for two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Sammy Baugh and Y. A. Tittle. During the off season, he managed to attend Baylor Law School and receive his law degree in 1950.
As a U.S. Marine in Korea, he served as a Major in the J.A.G. Corps. At the same time, he played center on the Marines’ football team with NFL quarterback Eddie LeBaron and was the center for the Marines’ basketball team.
His first job after Korea was as City Attorney for Midland, Texas, at a time of great excitement and growth. Continuing his love of sports, he was a participant of the Midland Misfits, a group of young Midland businessmen that got together on weekends to play football against other towns. The team included former NFL stars, weekend athletes, future business and government leaders, and even a future President, George H. W. Bush.
Harnessing the opportunities of Midland, he set up a private law practice and started his career in the energy business. He became the Chairman and President of Santiago Oil and Gas, Santana Petroleum Company and Gold Metal Consolidation Mining Company, which later merged with Tom Brown Oil Company. He was active in Midland charities like the YMCA and was a Club President of the minor-league baseball team the Midland Indians.
Returning to his roots in ranching, he purchased the Big Bend Ranch in 1958. Listed as one of the twelve largest ranches in North America, it contained 320,000 acres and 650 miles of fencing. Today, a large part of the ranch makes up the Big Bend Ranch State Park.
In 1972, Tuffy moved to Houston where he continued his energy career and was actively involved in charitable activities. He became involved in the organization of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and was a member of its International Committee. He was a committee member of St Luke’s Methodist Church. He was a founding member of the Eldorado Country Club in Palm Springs as well as the NFL Alumni Association.
Tuffy was a man of strong principles of fairness and duty that impacted all he touched. One of his actions was published in the book by John Steadman, “from the Colts to the Ravens” ……On December 6, 1948, the Baltimore Colts, led by Y. A. Tittle and ‘with Tuffy as their center’, were on their way to qualifying for a championship in only their second year in the All-America Football Conference. But they lost to the Buffalo Bills as a result of a highly disputed, hotly charged decision. Head linesman,
Tommy Whelan, ruled that Chet Mutryn, a Bills halfback, had neither possession nor control of a pass from quarterback George Ratterman. What appeared then to be a fumble and a recovery by the Colts’ John Mellus was declared an incomplete pass. It was a decisive call, enabling the Bills to retain the ball and in six plays to score the go-ahead touchdown, wiping out the Colts’ 17-14 lead. When the game was over, about 5,000 spectators rushed the field, chasing Whelan, who was hit in the back of the neck. Fans threw bottles and set fire in the wooden stands. Tuffy, along with one other Colt, Aubrey Fowler, and players from the Bills went to Whelan’s assistance and protected him into the dressing room. Players were commended for their efforts. One of the other referee’s young sons that was at the game often said that this mob experience of almost losing his father stuck with him and impacted his crowd management when he later became the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. His name is Fay Vincent.
Most importantly, he will always be remembered for the time, care, advice, and great energy he gave to everyone, both on the phone and through his memorable imposing presence. Many, from all walks of life, sought his sage advice and encouragement. His favorite slogan was “Mount up and get it done!”
Tuffy was a legendary Texan who served his country proudly, excelled in sports, and pursued a successful career as a lawyer, rancher, businessman, and wildcatter. There were few successful and prominent people of his time that he didn’t meet and know. Among many other things, he was a pallbearer for J. Edgar Hoover, the founder of the FBI, and was friends with celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore and business magnates like Barron Hilton. His life and endeavors as a “true
Texan” were so colorful and fascinating that his stories were used as a basis for a movie, The Wheeler Dealers, starring James Garner.
He was pre-deceased by his loving wife Vera Lu Sumner Blanton McCormick to whom he was happily married for 20 years and her daughter Kathy Blanton. After the passing of his wife, he spent 9 wonderful years with his beloved companion, whom he was pre-deceased by, Betty DeMontrond.
He was the proud father of Marlee McCormick and Van McCormick (married to Tina Jurgens-McCormick), and the proud grand-father of a total of nine grand-children Shelby, Sidney, Calli and Casey Padgett as well as Max, Alex, Myles, Nathaniel, and Amelia McCormick. Other surviving family members include Lea DeMontrond and George DeMontrond III (married to Marilyn DeMontrond) and their children Melissa and George DeMontrond IV; Chuck and Danny Blanton, and Gail Cusack (married to Greg Cusack) and their children Thomas, Daniel, Matthew and Ava Cusack as well as Kathy Blanton’s children Kristan, Travis, Cameron and Karli. This is as well as his cousins and his best friends Steve and Carolyn Mafrige.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, August 28 at St. Lukes Methodist Church on Westheimer. An interment service will be held on Saturday at the Eldorado Cemetery in Eldorado, TX at high noon.