Archdeacon: ‘Once people met him, they never forgot him’

From left, Jeff Waltemathe, Bill Pollitt and Jeff Moore. CONTRIBUTED
From left, Jeff Waltemathe, Bill Pollitt and Jeff Moore. CONTRIBUTED

Remembering Bill Pollitt, Belmont grad who played for Ohio State's 1968 national championship team

Southern Cal won the coin toss before the 1969 Rose Bowl and elected to receive.

Larry Zellina kicked off for Ohio State and Bill Pollitt, the Buckeyes backup defensive tackle and a special teams’ stalwart out of Dayton’s Belmont High School, rumbled downfield and made the opening tackle after just a 1-yard return.

“Do you know who he tackled?” asked Bill Korber, the retired Dayton firefighter who was Pollitt’s teammate at Belmont. “O.J. Simpson! That was Bill’s claim to fame.

“He used to say he was the only judge that was ever able to take down O.J.”

Korber was referring to the 1995 criminal trial – handled by Judge Lance Ito in the Los Angeles Superior Court – in which Simpson was acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend.

In 1996, Pollitt was appointed by then Ohio governor George Voinovich to fill a vacancy on the Franklin County Municipal Court. He would go on to serve six terms and have the Columbus Bar Association annually rate him as one of the most respected judges in what is the state’s busiest court.

For those who best-know Pollitt, a bigger feat that stopping the Heisman Trophy winner in his tracks was the way he tackled law school after some less than stellar grades at OSU.

That happened only after Woody Hayes stepped in and – following a stern warning and some behind the scenes influence – pushed Pollitt into becoming one of the greatest off-the-field success stories of his coaching career.

Pollitt’s friends have been retelling the story over the past week, anything to help them replace the hurt and tears with a bit of a smile.

Last Thursday, Aug. 13, Pollitt died after a short, catastrophic battle with COVID-19.

Not long after making a trip back to Dayton to play golf with his pal Joe Zaidain and his best friend, Jeff Waltemathe, who was visiting from Texas, Pollitt began to feel ill.

Bill Pollitt (right) with his best friend, Jeff Waltemathe. “We were brothers,” said Waltemathe. CONTRIBUTED
Bill Pollitt (right) with his best friend, Jeff Waltemathe. “We were brothers,” said Waltemathe. CONTRIBUTED

“We were supposed to play golf in Columbus on July 25, a Saturday, but he called me the Wednesday before and he was coughing badly,” said Paul Scott, Pollitt’s longtime friend and fellow classmate at Capital University’s law school. “He said, ‘I don’t feel very well, so I better cancel our game.’

“And I told him, ‘You better go see the doctor.’ Two days later, he was admitted by squad to the hospital and he never got out.”

Pollitt was in the ICU at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital for over a week.

He was 72 when he died and is survived by his wife, Lee, two daughters, Elizabeth and Jessie, their husbands and a granddaughter Oaklynn.

He also left behind a multitude of friends from his courtroom days in Columbus and from growing up here in Dayton, a town to which he stayed connected.

Columbus attorney John MacKinnon, a 1979 University of Dayton grad, penned an especially heartfelt memorial tribute to Pollitt the other day. It read, in part:

“I always enjoyed our early morning conversations in the chambers before court talking about your beloved Buckeyes, the Dayton Flyers and Sarasota.

“Thanks for letting me tag along with you so many times last August to play Dayton Country Club. You knew as a UD grad how much I wanted to play Dayton C.C.”

McKinnon wrote how Pollitt would pick him up before 6 a.m., take him to breakfast and then chauffeur him to and from Dayton sharing memories and laughs the whole way.

“You never met a stranger and you were so kind to all,” MacKinnon wrote. “Thank you for allowing me to feel like a special part of the thousands who you knew and loved so much. God bless you my friend.”

Waltemathe knew Pollitt since their first grade days at Horace Mann Elementary: “He wasn’t just a friend. He was my brother.”

John Hogberg, a retired Dayton pipefitter and plumber who met Pollitt as a Horace Mann fourth grader and played football with him at Belmont, said: “He had that kind of personality where once people met him, they never forgot him.”

Scott referred to something said by Greg Lashutka, the former Ohio State football player who became the Columbus mayor and made Pollitt, then in private practice, the head of the criminal division of the city prosecutor’s office:

“‘They really did break the mold with this fella. Bill just had a remarkable life.‘”

Drawing on his and others’ memories, Scott recounted the Woody story:

“Bill’s grades weren’t very good to get into law school. One dean supposedly told him, ‘You’d do better if you just got into a trade.’”

After Pollitt didn’t do well in an interview Hayes had set up at Capital, the bombastic coach – according to Dave Hyde’s book “1968: The Year That Saved Ohio State Football” – exploded with a temper tantrum and questioned Pollitt’s backbone.

“Woody asked him ‘Are you going to succeed over there?’” Scott said. “And Pollitt said, ‘Yes Coach, I just need a chance.’ So Woody pulled some strings and then warned Bill: ‘Don’t you dare screw this up or you’ll ruin the chance for anybody else who tries to go there from our football team.’”

Jeff Waltemathe and Bill Pollitt (right) at Ohio Stadium for a Buckeyes football game. Bill played for Ohio State's 1968 national championship team. CONTRIBUTED
Jeff Waltemathe and Bill Pollitt (right) at Ohio Stadium for a Buckeyes football game. Bill played for Ohio State's 1968 national championship team. CONTRIBUTED

Scott said Pollitt made the most of his opportunity:

“In law school he was extremely disciplined. He lived in the dorm the whole time. We couldn’t believe it and asked him why and he said, ‘I don’t want any distractions. I want to study.’ And that’s what he did. He studied, studied and studied.”

Pollitt treated classes like game preparation. He taped lectures, which he’d then go through over and over back in his room until he knew the subject matter.

That didn’t surprise Hogberg: “He had this ability, in anything, to outwork people, to outdo them until they dropped. He had endurance. That set him apart.”

Scott saw that first hand: “We had a difficult professor for contract law and everybody was kind of anxious about the test. But I remember Bill got the highest grade.”

From Belmont to the Buckeyes

That determination gets extra appreciation from those who also know the flip side of Pollitt, a guy who always loved a good time and a good laugh.

“We lived on Danbury (Road) and Pollitt was our paperboy,” Walthemathe chuckled. “My old man, he worked at the Inland, and when he’d get home, he’d go, ‘Where in the hell is Pollitt with that newspaper?’

“Bill would either be in detention or up at the hill sled riding.”

The story that still makes Waltemathe laugh comes from their days at Horace Mann and Pollitt’s rendition of “April Rain” by Robert Loveman:

“We were probably about the fifth grade – in speech class – and Bill had to get up and recite a poem. I still remember it:

“‘It isn’t raining rain to me. It’s raining daffodils.'

“Well, he got up there and he had everybody’s heads bouncing from laughter. In order for him to get through the thing, the whole class had to turn around and not look at him.”

Although Pollitt didn’t play football until his freshman year at Belmont, Hogberg remembers him as “incredibly strong…and fast for a big guy.

“He was a defensive end and I was the inside linebacker right next to him and when we played, he had one thing in mind. He just wanted to get to the quarterback.”

Belmont lost just one game when Pollitt was a senior.

Jeff Waltemathe and Bill Pollitt (right) at Ohio Stadium for a Buckeyes football game. Bill played for Ohio State's 1968 national championship team. CONTRIBUTED
Jeff Waltemathe and Bill Pollitt (right) at Ohio Stadium for a Buckeyes football game. Bill played for Ohio State's 1968 national championship team. CONTRIBUTED

Following his 1966 graduation, Pollitt joined the Buckeyes and ended playing behind All American defensive end Jim Stillwagon. In 1968, OSU – which had 11 All Americans and six first-round NFL draft picks – went 10-0, blanking No. 1 Purdue, 13-0, routing Michigan 50-14 and then topping USC, 27-16.

Along with law school, Pollitt spent two seasons as a grad assistant coach with the Buckeyes and in later years, Zaidain said, “Jim Tressell would bring him in to talk to the team about various issues, including behavior.”

Over the years he did have a few OSU football players land in his court room: quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Steve Bellisari for drinking and driving, and receiver Ken-Yon Rambo’s for various matters involving a fight in a Columbus restaurant. All were punished by him.

At the time, Pollitt asked Rambo’s defense attorney and the prosecutor if they wanted him to remove himself from the case because of his OSU past. Knowing his reputation, neither did.

Pollitt’s concern drew praise from Mary Schiavo, a professor of public policies at OSU:

“That speaks of a careful judge.”

Dogs, dancing and golf

Pollitt often returned to Dayton for golf, card games with his buddies or even to attend the annual birthday party Waltemathe puts on for his mother, Ruth, who is about to be 102.

His friends enjoyed listening to his stories. “With Bill, you never knew what was going to happen next,” Hogberg said.

Pollitt had varied interests from the Labrador Retrievers he raised, to dancing – two people mentioned it in memorial tributes – to golf. Often he wore a golf shirt beneath his black robe.

“He had a cross section of friends, from professors and eggheads to fellows from the wrong side of the tracks,” Scott said. “Everybody liked him.” And that’s why Pollitt’s death has hit so many people so hard.

“My brother died three years ago and this is just as bad,” Korber said. “You won’t find a better person than him.”

Talking about Pollitt the other day, Waltemathe’s voice suddenly was overcome by welling emotion. “Oh man, this shakes me up right now,” he finally whispered.

Scott said Pollitt “had some kind of asthma condition, but it rarely popped up and was very well controlled.”

Still, he was concerned about the coronavirus said Waltemathe: “He knew if he got it he could be a goner.”

That threat now resonates with all of Pollitt’s pals.

Hogberg said regardless of how some people try to downplay it: “COVID is real. And as time progresses, the numbers are starting to tell the story. They’re showing the devastation.”

Because of the health threat the family is holding a private ceremony this Saturday at 10 a.m. that can be viewed via webcam at . A public celebration of Pollitt’s life will be held when it’s safer to congregate

“Near the end, when Bill was very sick, he told some people, ‘You know, I think I’m about to go on a magic carpet ride,’” Scott said quietly.

“Really he already had. His life was a magic carpet ride.”