N-Club Hall of Famer Brittain leaves behind legacy of service, smiles

Football games. Volleyball and tennis matches. Athletic department fundraisers. Functions throughout the city of Natchitoches.

Those were places Jack Brittain Jr. was likely to be found – and more likely to have left a lasting impact.

Brittan, a four-year Demon football letterman and 2013 N-Club Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Award honoree, died Tuesday morning at the age of 67 after a brief illness. Visitation will be held on Thursday, July 13 from 9-11 a.m. at Blanchard St. Denis Funeral Home at 848 Keyser Avenue with a celebration of life to follow at 11:30 a.m. at the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at 145 Church Street in Natchitoches.

“Northwestern State has lost one of its most passionate supporters and one of its most endearing figures,” Director of Athletics Kevin Bostian said. “More importantly, Northwestern State has lost a special human being. When I arrived in Natchitoches in January of last year, Jack did so much more than offer me a place to live. He made sure I felt like I was at home. He asked about my wife, Megan, about my kids. He turned what could have been a challenging transition into a smooth, seamless fit. In a short period of time, Jack became like a family member to me in the same way he did to generations of Northwestern State student-athletes, fans and supporters.”

A standout multi-sport athlete at St. Mary’s Catholic School before coming to Northwestern State, Brittain primarily played wide receiver long before the pass-happy offenses of today were widespread.

That did not lessen his desire to leave a positive imprint on his hometown and follow in the college football footsteps of his father, Jack Sr., who played running back at Louisiana Tech from 1945-48.

“He wasn’t big,” said fellow wide receiver Bruce Bickham, who remained close to Brittain after the two met as freshmen ahead of the 1974 football season. “He was regular size, about 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, but he used every ounce to block or tackle or whatever he needed to do, whatever coach A.L. Williams told him to do.”

Brittain’s selfless style of play portended his post-playing life and career as did sharing a locker room with legendary NSU running back and sprinter Joe Delaney.

Brittain played a pivotal role in keeping Delaney’s memory and heroism alive after Delaney’s death trying to save three children in a Monroe pond June 29, 1983. Brittain represented Northwestern State at Delaney’s 2004 Ring of Honor ceremony in Kansas City and was a pivotal figure and vital resource in the development of the ESPN 30 For 30 short, “Delaney,” which premiered in 2015.

“A purely selfless, giving, caring, loving individual who got great joy from bringing joy to everyone around him – that’s the core principle of his life,” said longtime NSU Sports Information Director Doug Ireland, who spent more than two-thirds of his 30-plus year NSU tenure working with Brittain. “He and all of Joe’s teammates were in awe of Joe as a teammate and as a person. They were all devastated by what happened. Many of them made it their duty to do all they could to help (Joe’s wife) Carolyn, the kids and the family and, as the years passed, to continue to honor and represent Joe and to ensure his legacy and his heroism were continually celebrated.

“As Britt said in the ‘Delaney’ film, ‘How many of us would do what Joe Delaney did?’ Britt Brittain was one of those people who would.”

Brittain’s largesse was not limited to Northwestern State football.

In addition to serving as the sideline reporter for football radio broadcasts on the Demon Sports Network for 18 years, he was an avid supporter of all NSU athletics — offering assistance to various programs within the department, leaving a stamp on them in the process.

“Jack Brittain was a Natchitoches legend,” said former NSU tennis standout Shayne Fitzwilliam Duke, a 2005 N-Club Hall of Fame inductee. “Since I arrived at NSU in 1985 until now, Jack has always welcomed me with a big hug and a huge smile. He was always generous and interested in me and my family. Jack was a wonderful supporter of NSU athletics and NSU tennis. I am blessed to have known this incredible human.”

His influence extended past the playing field and well past Natchitoches’ city limits.

After attending law school, Brittain was involved in the Louisiana political scene, working alongside U.S. Senators John Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston and other high-ranking politicians. The networking connections he made assisted a litany of NSU administrators throughout their tenures in Natchitoches.

“He was a confidant – someone I could call off the record,” said Dr. Chris Maggio, who served as Northwestern State’s president from January 2017-June 2021. “He loved Northwestern, but he would be brutally honest with you. His background in politics and his connections opened a lot of doors for me and for the university. It’s something I will always be appreciative of. He stayed abreast of politics at the state and national levels. That information was invaluable to me in my role as president.”

A lifelong Natchitoches resident, Maggio said he recalled listening to radio broadcasts of Brittain’s athletic performances at St. Mary’s, where he excelled in basketball, track and field and football, eventually choosing the latter in college.

The threads that began in his childhood continued throughout his life.

“His passing leaves a huge void in our community that won’t or can’t be filled,” said former NSU Director of Athletics Greg Burke. “One word I think of with Britt is ‘ominpresent.’ It didn’t matter if it was a civic affair, a social affair or an athletic event, he was always there. He was there in a physical presence, but he was also there for a lot of people in his own way. It was under the radar because he wanted it that way. He never did it for personal credit. As much as his physical presence will be missed, there are ways people don’t know about where he will be missed. He was so much more to so many more than just Northwestern State athletics. His impact carried through the state and beyond.”

That impact was visible – even if Brittain did not choose for his efforts to be.

For instance, Brittain served as legal counsel for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. The LSWA holds its annual convention in Natchitoches alongside the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction weekend. Whenever new Hall of Famers came to Natchitoches, they typically found Brittain involved in some shape or volunteer fashion.

“He liked the LSWA because he loved the people who made up the organization and who came to Natchitoches and supported the Hall of Fame, another entity he gave so much to in terms of effort and passion and sweat equity,” Ireland said. “Jack was not somebody who was a check writer and his support ended there. He was a sweat equity guy. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to support any cause that he came across and valued. That meant getting up before dawn to get and fill ice chests to a golf course or an event. He took it very personally. He wanted to help in any way he could.”

The respect from the LSWA was mutual as Brittain was made a life member of the organization and later received its Mac Russo Award, given to an individual or individuals who “contributes to the progress and ideals of the LSWA,” in 2017.

Jack Oliver Brittain Jr. was his given name, but “help” or “assist” could easily have been his middle name.

“That was the biggest thing – his willingness to help,” said NSU football coach Brad Laird, who first got to know Brittain during Laird’s Demon playing career from 1991-95 before forming a deeper bond upon his three coaching tenures. “He understood what it meant to help and to serve. He was such a genuine person who wanted to help when it was needed. I don’t know if there’s anyone who can say anything bad about Jack, because that’s how he lived day in and day out – to help any way he could.”

That includes his friends of nearly five decades.

Alongside Bickham, Brittain and fellow receivers Ken Meeks and Bo McCollister remained close friends long after their playing careers.

Whether it was golf – “M and M vs. B and B all the time,” said Meeks – or vacations, the four formed a deep bond that lasted nearly a half century.

Said Bickham: “The greatest thing in my life was meeting Jack Brittain Jr. out of the blue.”