Throughout their lives, Bob and Jean Lovelady invested deeply in their communities’ schools and educational systems. But after Jean passed away this February, another legacy was revealed—a deep spiritual foundation that often went unseen, even to her family.
Heidi Estep, Jean’s daughter, was stunned by the community response at the memorial service. “There were probably 500 people,” she said.
The crowd had gathered around Jean’s service for the same reason people had gravitated towards her in life: she was an encourager, a go-to in times of need, and a committed prayer warrior.
“She was that lady that, if you needed somebody to pray, you asked her,” her husband, Bob, said. “Even if you didn’t believe in prayer, you wanted her praying for you.”
And since Jean didn’t want attention for herself, her kindness towards others mostly stayed behind the scenes. “She just had a sense of service that we weren’t even aware of,” Bob said. “We didn’t even realize the far reaches.”
Heidi agreed. “She didn’t want anybody to know that she was doing all these things. She just wanted to do them, to help wherever she could help.”
This hidden example—the actions of a quiet, meaningful life lived in service to the Lord and to others—typifies the Lovelady legacy in the Princeton Independent School District, in Texas. It’s one of many reasons the family was chosen as namesake of a new high school building dedicated last August. We at Oklahoma Wesleyan are glad to have played a small part in their story.
“I thought we’d go there, I’d get my foot in the door, and go back to East Texas. 23 years later, I ended up retiring.”
Answering the Most Important Questions
Bob and Jean grew up in Van Horn, Texas—a town in the very middle of nowhere, according to Bob. “We were just a close knit, small community. And that’s the kind of town I grew up in,” he said.
While education came easy, it wasn’t something that he applied himself to, and certainly not something that he anticipated making a career of. “I’d never even thought of [it] as an option,” he said. “I went to school because you had to go to school to play sports. If I could have played sports without going to school, I might have been a dropout.”
After graduation, Bob packed his bags for Texas Tech University, intending to play football and pursue a pre-medical degree. It soon became apparent that neither of those goals was likely to pan out, so Bob began looking to transfer. Jean, who he’d dated in high school and who was attending Bartlesville Wesleyan College, offered a different path. Once the fall semester at Texas Tech concluded, Bob joined her. “Football wasn’t going to happen, and pre-med and the grades weren’t there, so I decided to follow her,” he said.
More important than the change in scenery or the academic transition was the spiritual change that had come over Bob’s life during this period—due in large part to Jean’s prayer for him.
“She just really wished there was some way that I could come to know the Lord,” he said. Her worry was warranted, as Bob’s time in college—in a fraternity lifestyle—hadn’t done him any favors. “You had a lot of parties, a lot of drinking,” he said.
Still, he was open to more, and when he was invited to a retreat with a local church group, he went. The questions the retreat aimed to ask resonated, and one specifically: if you were to die today, where would you spend eternity? “It was amazing the way [things] lined up, and I realized: I don’t have an answer for any of these questions,” Bob recalled. “They had something that I didn’t, and that something appeared to me more satisfying than what I was searching for.”
That weekend, he gave his life to Christ. When he started at BWC the next semester, Bob found himself in the perfect environment to grow in his faith. “I just soaked it up,” he said.
“She didn’t want anybody to know that she was doing all these things. She just wanted to do them, to help wherever she could help.”
A Long Line of Service
By the time Bob graduated from BWC with his Associate of Arts degree in 1978, he and Jean were married and starting their lives together. While education still wasn’t on his radar, coaching football was, and he knew that teaching and coaching would go hand in hand. He finished his education degree at another university and started coaching, teaching a wide variety of subjects. After a few years in the classroom, an administrator friend challenged him to make a greater impact as a principal, so Bob went back to school for his master’s degree.
Soon, an opportunity to work as an assistant principal opened in the Princeton Independent School District, and Bob and Jean leaped at it. For Bob, it wasn’t a long-term opportunity, but a way to get valuable experience before returning to the part of Texas they were comfortable with. “I thought we’d go there, I’d get my foot in the door, and go back to East Texas,” he said with a laugh. “23 years later, I ended up retiring.”
The Princeton District ended up being massively important for the Lovelady family, with each member making their mark in a distinct way. After finishing her respective degree, Jean worked there for many years as an administrative assistant. Their daughter, Heidi, got her education degree from OKWU, and she too worked at Princeton—first as an English teacher and now as an elementary principal. Their son, James, also works there, as assistant superintendent.
“We’ve just got a long line of service [there],” Bob said—who, for his part, has been involved with the district for 27 years. He started as assistant principal, transitioned to principal, and serves now as a school board member.
So last year, when the time came for a new high school to be dedicated, the family was an obvious choice as namesake—though both Heidi and Bob admit it can be strange to see their family name plastered on a building. “We were very humbled and very honored,” Bob said.
Heidi is particularly grateful for the acknowledgment of both her parents’ legacies at Princeton. “There were several people in the [planning committee] room who said, hold on—you have to put Jean’s name up there, because Bob has not done this alone,” she said. “I appreciated that there was an acknowledgement of how much my parents have invested in the community for decades.”
That investment is a shining testament to the Lovelady family, and to Jean specifically. Before her passing, she was able to attend the dedication ceremony of Lovelady High School. A few months later, a crowd gathered to honor her memory. While the tone of those two events may have been in contrast with one another, their message was the same: a celebration of a life lived in service.