We’ve all heard Frank Sinatra sing about living life “My Way,” and perhaps we wished that we had done it our way, too.

Willie Hayward “Cowboy” Vaughn Jr., who died August 21, 2011, lived life his way for 66 years. A Charlotte native, he worked 25 years for General Tire & Rubber Co. After his retirement in 2000, he worked 10 years as a custodian for Charlotte Latin High School.

Willie was tagged “Cowboy” because he was extremely bowlegged. His legs did not keep him from excelling at football, baseball or softball. He was a star running back for West Charlotte High School, where he was a 1963 graduate. He played the same position at North Carolina A&T University, where he was studying psychology in his senior year when the Army drafted him.

Loved football

“Football was his heart,” said sister Mary Sloan. “He ran like no other and was captain and co-captain of his team. Next was basketball, then softball. He was offered several scholarships, and he chose A&T because it was close to home and he could see Mom.”

Willie met Emma Garrett in 1962 when he moved next door to her family. They wed in 1970 and sons Brian and Derek were born before the couple parted ways in 1983. They remained close, but neither remarried.

“He always told me that if I ever needed anything, he would be there,” Emma said. “We loved each other and he’d do anything for me and I would for him. We did things together because of the boys. He was a wonderful, doting father from the day they were born. Anything they were interested in, he was right in the middle of it.”

Did it his way

“He was the only person I know who lived life on his terms,” Emma said. “I wanted to be like him, but never had the nerve. Right or wrong, he did it. He was a good man, generous, loving and giving.”

“He had a magnetic, joyous personality,” son Brian said. “He was definitely a good father – he was always there. Whenever we made missteps or took a wrong turn, he’d talk with us and let us know he would walk through the process with us.

“I can definitely say I am very proud of him,” said Brian, who played a linebacker position in football. “I always wanted to be like him in a lot of ways. I know every kid sees his father as a superhero, but my father really was a superhero just by the things he accomplished and the affect he had on a lot of lives.”

“He coached me in the Police Athletic League football,” son Derek said. “He was at every game, every event. He was a big family person and loved family functions. He always wanted Christmas and Fourth of July at his house. He was always very generous with us and our friends. If you asked for his help, he would help you out if he had it.”

Willie was a good father, a good worker and a good friend, and all in his own way.
Editor’s note: This is our series called Lives That Matter. Written by Charlotte writer Gerry Hostetler, this weekly feature will profile individuals, recently deceased, who had a positive impact on those around them. Email editor@qcitymetro.com.

Got news to share with Qcity readers? Email us at editor@qcitymetro.com.
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