Van Florence, the longtime Man Friday of Kentucky basketball, died Saturday. He was 69.
Florence filled many roles for UK basketball. He was friend, sounding board and emissary for six Kentucky coaches, from Adolph Rupp in the mid 1960s through Billy Gillispie in 2009.
Friends asked him why he served coaches, a profession long on autocratic demands and short on appreciation.
Florence had a ready response. “Is your ass on that plane?” he recalled with a laugh. “Mine is.”
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Florence also led two charity endeavors for UK coaches: The Daniel Pitino Foundation and the Tubby Smith Foundation. He also ran the now defunct UK Basketball Museum.
“He just did anything that the coaches asked him to do,” said Marta McMackin, a longtime administrative assistant for UK coaches. “He was Johnny-on-the-spot.”
Florence was president of the Committee of 101 service group for 30 years. Danny Moore, his vice president for the final 16-plus years of his tenure, recalled Florence as a demanding, yet thoughtful leader.
He just did anything that the coaches asked him to do.He was Johnny-on-the-spot.
Marta McMackin, administrative assistant for UK coaches
“He treated it like his baby,” Moore said of Florence’s affection for the Committee of 101. “But he made it fun for everybody.”
Florence was to receive the Bluegrass Sports Commission’s Bobby Flynn Volunteer Award on Tuesday. The Committee of 101 had reserved 30 seats for the occasion.
Chris Cameron, a former sports information director for UK, remembered Florence fondly.
“The word that immediately comes to mind is ‘kind,’” he wrote in an email message. “Van was such a kind man, as well as being extremely loyal and funny.
“Bill Keightley deservedly achieved some level of fame in BBN. But Van labored behind the scenes in relative anonymity. He would do anything for UK or anyone else, for that matter.”
Florence was a Lexington native and graduate of Lafayette High School. He attended UK for two years before taking a job with IBM.
He and his wife, Lois, were married 49 years on Dec. 16.
Florence was something of a medical miracle. He was born with cerebral palsy. In his lifetime, he suffered two broken necks and underwent 29 major surgeries.
McMackin recalled Florence enjoying telling a story about a visit to the doctor.
“You should have been dead a long time ago,” the doctor told him.
After Florence offered a protest in jest, the doctor said, “No, really, Van. I don’t know how you lasted this long.”
In addition his wife, he is survived by two sisters, one brother, two sons and a granddaughter.