FLORENCE — William Cadenhead died July 18, 2021, 11 days short of his 97th birthday. He was the oldest surviving University of Alabama football player. From his hometown of Greenville, Mississippi, he was recruited to play for Alabama in 1942. When the school decided there would be no football for duration of World War II, he left Tuscaloosa and joined the Navy.
He chose the submarine service. This was a calculated decision, as he was thinking ahead to resume his football career. He didn’t want to come back from the war injured and unable to play and knew that submarine service is an all-or-nothing thing. You come back unharmed or you don’t come back at all. He served on several different boats in the Pacific and went out on numerous patrols. He was depth-charged several times and sank several ships, finally returned unharmed. He had won his bet.
He then returned to Alabama and football. He played from 1946-48, as both a running back and in the defensive backfield. He was of the last generation of players to play both offense and defense, as the platoon system was soon to take over. His footprints can still be seen at Denny Chimes. He is one of just a few Alabama players to have two sets of footprints there, once as team captain and once as most valuable player.
While in school, hitchhiking from campus to town with another player, he met his future wife, Rachel Pattillo. They were married in 1948 and had two sons, to whom they were devoted and who will miss them greatly. Their happy marriage lasted 73 years, ending only when Rachel died three-and-a-half weeks ago.
In 1950, after they had graduated from Alabama, they moved to Florence. She taught English at Appleby and he was football coach at Coffee. This began a long and happy association with the town they came to love. After a few years of coaching, he began a career in insurance, which lasted for 40 years.
Their love of Alabama football continued through the years. Until recent years, they rarely missed attending Alabama’s home football games, enjoying the many friendships they had cultivated in their college years. When the challenges of attending the games in person became too difficult, Bill and Rachel would make an event out of watching on television. Their routine was to jump up and share a little kiss each time the Crimson Tide scored. As any Alabama fans know, there were a lot of kisses to be shared over the years!
He was involved in numerous civic causes. In the mid-1970’s he served on the Florence School Board. He was on the advisory board of the Salvation Army and spent many hours ringing the bell for the kettle drive each Christmas. Gardening was always a great love and relaxation, and in retirement, he found pleasure in tending to the Mullins Memorial Garden at First Methodist Church, where he and Rachel were members ever since they moved to Florence. He drove weekly for Meals on Wheels for over 40 years, giving up his route only when it became too difficult for him to get around at age 89. He was a member of the Florence Exchange Club and was recognized for his many contributions to the community when he was awarded their Book of Golden Deeds in 2017.
He is survived by his two sons, William Cadenhead, Jr., of Dallas, Texas, and Ralph Cadenhead of Nashville, Tennessee.
A family graveside ceremony and blessing will be held at Rachel’s family plot in Hartselle, Alabama, at a later date. In light of our mother’s recent death and the many kindnesses shown, please no memorials.
You’re invited to leave online condolences at www.elkinsfuneralhome.com.