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PASSINGS: Greg Willard, Ronnie Ray Smith, Chuck Fairbanks

Greg Willard, longtime NBA referee, dies at 54; Ronnie Ray Smith, Manual Arts High runner who won Olympic gold, dies at 64; Chuck Fairbanks, New England Patriots coach, dies at 79

April 03, 2013
  • Referee Greg Willard hears questions from then-Lakers coach Phil Jackson during Game 4 of the NBA finals against the Boston Celtics on June 10, 2010. Willard, a longtime referee in the NBA, has died at age 54.
Referee Greg Willard hears questions from then-Lakers coach Phil Jackson… (Winslow Townson / Associated…)

Greg Willard

Longtime NBA referee worked more than 1,600 games

Greg Willard, 54, a longtime NBA referee who worked more than 1,600 games before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, died Monday at his home in Huntington Beach, according to NBA spokesman Tim Frank.

Willard was diagnosed with the illness during last season's playoffs and worked only one more game, a Lakers exhibition at the Honda Center in October.

Moments of silence to honor him were planned at all NBA games Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ronnie Ray Smith: A brief obituary of sprinter Ronnie Ray Smith in the April 3 LATExtra section said that he once held a world record of 9.9 seconds in the 100-yard dash. The record time was for 100 meters. —

"The entire NBA family joins me in mourning the loss of one of our own, Greg Willard," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "Greg touched all those with whom he came in contact thanks to his extraordinary spirit, dedication and hard work. As a Finals referee, he reached the highest level of his profession while at the same time demonstrating a strong commitment to his family and his community."

Willard officiated 1,494 regular-season games, 136 playoff games, two NBA Finals games, the 2006 All-Star game and Europe Live games in 2006 in Italy, France and Germany.

All league officials will wear wristbands or patches with Willard's jersey No. 57 for the rest of the season.

Born Nov. 5, 1958, in Pasadena, Willard began officiating athletic events for the local parks and recreation department when he was a student at Edison High School in Huntington Beach in the 1970s.

He attended Orange Coast College and Cal State Long Beach and began working as an official for high school football, basketball and baseball games. He spent four years as an official at the college level and four years working games in the Continental Basketball Assn. before joining the NBA ranks in 1988.

Willard and his wife, Laurie, had three children. He was active in several youth programs in Orange County, particularly ones supporting athletics and the performing arts.

Ronnie Ray Smith

Manual Arts High runner won Olympic gold

Ronnie Ray Smith, 64, a 1967 graduate of Manual Arts High School who won a gold medal as a member of the 4x100-meter relay team that set a world record at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, died Sunday at a hospice in Los Angeles, according to former Manual Arts basketball Coach Reggie Morris Sr. The cause was not given.

Smith ran the third leg on the Olympic relay team that included fellow sprinters Charles Greene, Mel Pender and Jim Hines. The winning time was 38.24 seconds, a world record.

Smith once held the world record in the 100-yard dash at 9.9 seconds.

He finished third in the 220 at the state high school track championships in 1966 and went on to compete for San Jose State University along with fellow Olympians Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Lee Evans.

Chuck Fairbanks

Coached New England Patriots and at universities of Oklahoma, Colorado

Chuck Fairbanks, 79, who coached Heisman Trophy-winning running back Steve Owens at the University of Oklahoma and spent six seasons as coach of the NFL's New England Patriots, died Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., Oklahoma announced. He had brain cancer.

Fairbanks had a 52-15-1 record in six years with the Sooners, including an Orange Bowl victory his first season and consecutive Sugar Bowls wins in 1971 and '72. With assistant coach Barry Switzer, Fairbanks instituted the wishbone offense at Oklahoma.

He took over as coach of the Patriots in 1973 and won 46 games for New England, a franchise record at the time.

After a legal battle with the Patriots, Fairbanks became coach at the University of Colorado from 1979-81. He also was coach and general manager of the New Jersey Generals in the USFL.

Charles Leo Fairbanks was born June 10, 1933, in Detroit and was an end on Michigan State University's football team.

After he left coaching, he became involved in real estate and golf course development in the Coachella Valley and in Arizona.

-- Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports

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