J. D. Sisson Inducted into the RVGHOF Dec 20, 2006  (12 years ago)

2006: J. D. Sisson
By Randy King
Dec 20, 2006, 11:11

     Nearly seven decades after falling in love with golf while caddying 18 holes for 65 cents, plus tip, at Roanoke Country Club, J.D. Sisson suddenly feels like a man holding the winning ticket to the game's biggest lotto.
     While the jackpot, monetarily speaking, isn't worth a dime, the payoff of becoming the latest member of the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame is simply priceless, the 78-year-old Sisson says.
     "I almost had tears in my eyes when I heard about it ... I was really touched by it," Sisson said Tuesday. "This is the ultimate in the golf circles of Roanoke. I was looking at the Hall of Fame booklet the other day and saw all the people who had been inducted, and I said, 'boy, I can hardly believe this.' I'm up in the higher echelon with all the big shots now."
     Not bad for a kid who grew up off Melrose Ave. in a large family of eight boys and three girls during the days of the Great Depression.
     "We lived right down the street from Roanoke Country Club, and me and all but but three of my older brothers caddied," Sisson recalled.  "I started at 10 years old and you were supposed to be 12. We got 35 cents for nine holes, 65 cents for 18 holes. Plus, we got tips. A lot of times you'd get tipped a dime, but if you got some of the real nice guys they'd tip you 50 cents or a dollar. Shoot, on Saturdays and some Sundays, I would carry four bags.
     "The thing was I learned about golf from caddying. You could watch people, and if you had any talent at all, you could pick up a club and hit the ball. I remember George Fulton [longtime Roanoke amatuer great] being around, and all the kids looked up to George because he was heck of a player."
     On Mondays, the one day out of the week in which the course was closed to members, the young caddies got their chance to be Fulton, Sisson said.
     "Mondays were caddy's day, and they'd let us practice and play," he said. "Some of the members would let us use their clubs and we'd go out there barefooted and play 36 or 54 holes. Why we were barefooted? We just felt good barefooted. And we'd stay out there to dark hitting balls."
     Some 60-plus years later, John David Sisson is still pounding golf balls and playing a couple times a week. He's like old man river.  He just keeps on keeping on. His self-made golf swing -- "I've never paid for a lesson in my life," he said -- still has the same flow it had 50 years ago.
     Obviously, it works, too. In the past 20 years, Sisson has captured a record seven HOF championships. He won the first HOF senior championship in 1986, then followed with wins in 1989 and 1993. At age 72 in 2001, Sisson moved into the 70-and-over super class and ripped off four consecutive wins. In 2002, the Catawba resident won the state super seniors championship, outlasting Suffolk's Bo Bohon in 20 holes at Golden Horseshoe in Williamsburg.
     Not only has Sisson won a lot, he's won with class, say those who know him best.
     "Not only is J.D. a good player, I've never heard anyone say one bad word about him," said Roanoker Arman Fletcher, a 1989 HOF inductee , who has won more golf tournaments than anyone in this area, perhaps even the entire state.
     "J.D. is one of the closest friends I've got, and I know he would do anything for me if I asked. Think about it ... how many people can somebody make a statement like that about? Not many, I'm telling you.  He's very deserving of this honor, I think."
     Sisson is a charter member of Roanoke's Blue Hills Golf Club, where he owns three club championships. Billy King, longtime head professional at the northeast Roanoke club, said Sisson is known by everyone as "a super nice guy."
     "He's a fierce competitor but is always a gentleman," King said. "He likes to help the junior players. He's very popular and everyone likes to play with him. But he beats most of them. He's just what the game of golf is all about."
     Sisson, who worked for 38 years at Norfolk-Southern before retiring in 1987, has his priorities in life straight. In the early 1990s, he rarely played or practiced as he spent most of his time taking care of his wife, Margaret, who was battling cancer.
     "I didn't want to put her in a nursing home," Sisson said. "So I kept her at home and didn't play for two, three years to stay with her.  My two daughters said, 'Daddy, I can't believe you did what you did for your wife?' And I said, 'that's what I'm supposed to do.' "
     Less than four years later, Sisson met Fay Wingate, a Roanoke realtor, and remarried in 1997. The two live on a 20-acre farm in Catawba, where Sisson has been able to maintain his remarkable shape by working outdoors trimming trees, grass, gardening and such.
     "All that keeps me busy and that's good because I can't just sit around the house," Sisson said. "It's beautiful over there, real quiet and peaceful."
     Sisson, who is as well-preserved as any 78-year-old person you'll ever meet, doesn't have any plans to slow down anytime soon.
     "I keep in pretty good shape for a guy my age," he says, smiling. "Fay is only 62. So when everybody says, 'how in the world do you
keep playing good golf at my age?", I'll say, 'well, I married a younger lady.' "
     Anything else, J.D.?
     "I just would like to tell all the kids out there, for God's sake, take up golf," he said. "You'll learn self-discipline ... your attitude changes and all when you get out there with people like that. If a kid plays golf, it's amazing what it can do. It will open up the world for you. I know." 

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