Longtime University of Kentucky Athletics administrator William Russell Rice, 90, who authored definitive histories of the Wildcats basketball and football programs, died Friday.
Rice spent 20 years — 1967 to 1987 — with UK Athletics, including 18 years as sports information director.
For more than 20 years afterward, he wrote a column for The Cats' Pause, and he wrote several books, such as Adolph Rupp: Kentucky's Basketball Baron, published in 1994, and University of Kentucky Basketball Vault, published in 2008.
He was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011.
Never miss a local story.
"I speak on behalf of the entire UK family when I say how saddened I am to hear of the passing of Hall of Famer Russell Rice," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement Saturday night. "No one knew more about our history than Russell, and his legacy lives on. We offer our sincerest condolences to his family."
Rice served in the Marines during World War II and graduated from UK in 1951.
He worked as city editor for the Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg and at the Hazard Herald, then joined the staff of the Lexington Leader, where he first worked as a reporter, then sports editor, before joining UK's staff.
Radio show host and founder of The Cats' Pause, Oscar Combs, said Rice was a mentor and close friend.
"I always looked up to him," he said Saturday.
In addition to writing a column for The Cats' Pause, Rice spent a year in the early 1990s as managing editor for the publication.
Combs said the money Rice earned from the column went into "a special piggy bank for his grandchildren."
"The last 20 years ... I always called him Grandpa," Combs said.
He said Rice's military background showed through in his personality.
"Every t had to be crossed. Every i had to be dotted," Combs said. "There was no such thing as being late."
But he said Rice "had a very, very soft heart for young people" and took time to help many young journalists.
As a young student at Vine Grove Elementary School, Herald-Leader sports columnist Mark Story said he was schooled on UK sports history through Rice's books, including Kentucky Basketball's Big Blue Machine and The Wildcats: A Story of Kentucky Football.
"I used to check Russell Rice's books out of the library," Story said.
In retirement, Rice lived in Florida, but he continued to serve as a resource on UK sports history.
Story said that if he needed information on the Bear Bryant years or "what it was really like with the Fiddlin' Five, Russell was a guy I would always call."
"He always had these great stories," Combs recalled.
UK athletics spokesman Tony Neely echoed those statements.
He recalled Rice as an "invaluable reference for historical questions. He was unfailingly generous with his time and his recollections of UK athletics.
"Mr. Rice meant so much to the history of University of Kentucky athletics," Neely said. "His work as a sports information director put him alongside many of the great moments of UK sports history. His skill as a writer and detailed work have made his books on Kentucky athletics the reference points for UK athletics history."
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.