Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'You could see the tragedy etched in his face .....'

       Carter Taylor Seaton didn’t have to think twice about the offer. Marshall University’s Alumni Association asked Seaton, an award-winning sculptor, to create a bust of Nate Ruffin, a former Thundering Herd cornerback.
       Ruffin was one of the few players who missed the tragic plane flight that killed most of Marshall’s football team on November 14, 1970. He didn’t make the road trip to East Carolina because of an arm injury.
Carter Taylor Seaton
      On the night the MU plane went down, Ruffin helped in notifying the parents and loved ones of those who were passengers on the Southern Airways DC-9 jet. The day after, he helped identify bodies from the crash. As the Herd began the process of resurrecting its football program from scratch, Nate provided some much-needed emotional stability for a team composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores.
      After graduating from Marshall, Nate served as a human resources and community relations executive for several organizations. His professional pursuits, however, never diminished his passion for Thundering Herd football. He was an avid supporter and was deeply involved as a member of several boards and search committees at Marshall.
       Ruffin passed away in October 2001 of leukemia.
       A year ago, a sports lounge housed in the school’s newly-constructed Erickson Alumni Center was named in honor of Ruffin. The bust of Ruffin was unveiled during dedication ceremonies as part of a reception that was jointly sponsored by the school’s alumni organization and the Black Alumni of MU.
       Seaton, a Marshall graduate, was around at the time of the crash, so she’s very familiar with the story. “I was grateful to accept the job,” Seaton said. “I was just thrilled to get the opportunity.”
       There were challenges that Seaton encountered before completing this project. Pictures of Nate were not easy to come by. A photo from the school’s yearbook and the sports information office were helpful. But what Seaton needed most was a profile shot, which would help her to accurately re-create Nate as a three-dimensional figure. Eventually, she found a profile at Marshall’s Hall of Fame Café. “Having a profile makes a huge difference in the way you portray the facial features,” she said. “Without it, you can’t really get those features in the right perspective.”
       As it turned out, the profile shot was even more helpful because of what it revealed to the scrutinizing eye of the sculptor. The profile shot was taken in ’71, a year after the crash. It was the season in which Ruffin took charge as the undisputed leader of the “Young Thundering Herd.”
       “The look in Nate’s face was so different from the look he had as a young freshman,” Seaton said about the profile shot. “It was really heart-breaking. You could see the tragedy etched in his face, around his eyes in particular. It (profile) just didn’t look like the same guy. You could tell that the plane crash had a tremendous impact on him.”
       After finishing the project, Seaton still desired additional confirmation that the bust represented a recognizable likeness of Ruffin. So, she called on Red Dawson to give an unbiased assessment. Dawson, one of three Marshall assistant coaches on the ’70 team who were not on the plane that night, had known Nate from the time he first arrived at MU in 1968. Any doubts Seaton had about the quality of her re-creation were put to rest when Dawson “pronounced it good.”

Carter Taylor Seaton is an award-winning sculptor and author who lives in Huntington, West Virginia. For more information, visit

No comments:

Post a Comment