For so many years, Chip Malone was associated with Warner Robins boys basketball. Then, he had the magic touch in keeping the turf at McConnell-Talbert Stadium, among other venues, in tip-top shape.
Malone’s mission eventually changed, and he became a spokesperson and advocate for battling heart disease after undergoing a heart transplant in 2010 and facing assorted procedures after that.
That message will continue to be spread in memory of Malone, who died Saturday at an Atlanta hospital, a month short of the fifth-year anniversary of that heart transplant.
He was 59. He is survived by his wife Cynthia and daughters Crystal and Lauriel.
Warner Robins athletics director Bryan Way said Malone had gone to Atlanta on Wednesday, and doctors discovered a small leak around his heart. Way said he was told it didn’t seem to be a major complication, but Malone collapsed Saturday in his hospital room and couldn’t be revived.
“Very sad, very sad,” said Way, who like Malone has spent decades in the Houston County system and at Warner Robins. “The last I’d seen him was a couple of weeks ago. He looked good, he said he felt good, no problems.”
Malone, whose mother Ruth died in 2009 of congestive heart failure, retired after the 2008-09 school year, almost a decade after being diagnosed with diabetes.
“I think it played a role in his retirement,” Way said. “He had some health issues with his heart and things like that, but nothing that we thought at the time was very serious.”
He began filling ill the next summer and was told he had congestive heart failure.
Malone had a heart transplant on Nov. 3, 2010 after dozens of procedures, including open-heart surgery, and months of treatment.
“What would you do with a God-given second chance?” he asked on his website, www.coachchipmalone. He wrote a book, “A Second Chance,” about his experiences.
Soon enough, “Chip’n Away@ Heart Disease” was formed by the Malones.
Malone spent his second chance spreading the word on how to combat what he was fighting and was a mentor with the Georgia Transplant Foundation and a volunteer with the American Heart Association and Lifelink of Georgia, according to the website. Malone’s organization was awarded non-profit status and added to its priorities the funding of scholarships for local students who wanted to study cardiovascular health.
Malone moved to Warner Robins in the late 1970s, from his hometown of Itta Bena, Mississippi. His grandfather was the founder and first president of Mississippi Valley State. Malone taught and coached at different schools in Houston County before joining the football staff at Warner Robins as the ninth-grade coach in 1991.
He took over the boys basketball program a few years later and eventually added assorted groundskeeping duties to his schedule. Malone led the Demons to three region titles, one round of 16 appearance, one quarterfinals trip and a state runner-up finish in 2000.
He retired from coaching but kept up with maintaining the field at McConnell-Talbert as well as other athletics fields for Warner Robins.
“He was very passionate about everything he did,” Way said. “Not that he didn’t like to have a good time, and he was always a pleasure to be around, but he was very serious about his job, whatever it was, whether it was ninth-grade football coach or varsity basketball coach or taking care of that stadium.
“He told me lots of times, ‘If my name’s on it, it’s going to be done right.’ That’s the way he was.”
And that focus found a new target about six years ago.
“He touched a lot of lives,” Way said. “Not only students, but coaches he coached with and then since then, helping a lot of people and doing a lot of work with the heart foundation.
“He was very, very much a part of our school and our family, that’s for sure.”