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Love and grief: A year later, Regina Tisdale continues to mourn the loss of her husband, Wayman
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Love and grief: A year later, Regina Tisdale continues to mourn the loss of her husband, Wayman

During the spring of 1981, Wayman Tisdale was a 6-foot-9 junior at Booker T. Washington High School.

Regina Kay Ashley was a 5-2 junior at Rogers High School. She wasn't the least bit familiar with Tisdale, who had led Booker T. to the Class 5A state basketball title and was considered a nationally elite player.

Regina attended a Sunday service at the Friendship Church and listened to a sermon delivered by Dr. L.L. Tisdale. Playing bass guitar in the church band was the pastor's son, Wayman.

During the service, Regina and Wayman made eye contact.

Within days, they had their first date — dinner at Godfather's Pizza at 21st Street and Yale Avenue.

"He opened doors and pulled my chair out for me," she recalls. "An absolute sweetheart."

From that point, they were inseparable.

They were a couple throughout Tisdale's run as a three-time All-American at the University of Oklahoma (she attended the University of Central Oklahoma during that time). They were married on Aug. 1, 1987 — before Tisdale's third NBA season with the Indiana Pacers.

They became the parents of four children. Regina Tisdale says she loved each of Wayman's two careers — his 12 years in the NBA, followed by his critically acclaimed work as a jazz musician.

Regina and Wayman were together until May 15, 2009, when Tisdale — who, Regina says, had beaten cancer but was affected by complications from radiation treatments — died at St. John Medical Center.

Now, as she approaches Saturday's one-year anniversary of Tisdale's passing, Regina continues to hear the same question when contacted daily by friends and loved ones: "How are you doing?"

"I tell them, 'Right now, it's good. You might catch me in a couple of hours, and it won't be so good,' " Regina Tisdale said last week. "I haven't reached the place where I'm great. Early on, it was minute by minute. I never thought anything could happen in life that could cause you to cry every day. I didn't know that kind of grief existed.

"I lost my dad to cancer, and then six months later (in 2007) my husband was diagnosed. I remember saying to God, 'What is this? This cannot be happening.' To lose my husband at 44 years old, I was almost like, 'OK, God, where's the punch line? This is not funny to me at all.' "

Regina Tisdale will spend Mother's Day with her kids — 26-year-old Danielle, who resides in Atlanta; 22-year-old Tiffany, an OU senior; 19-year-old Wayman II, who says he soon will study to become a welder; and 15-year-old Gabrielle, a freshman at Booker T. Washington.

"One year. Our first milestone," Danielle Tisdale said. "Gosh, he has been gone that long? It's a weird place to be. It's so hard to speak of him in the past tense.

"It's wonderful that people want to know that we're OK, but it's a constant reminder that he's gone. It's both a blessing and a curse."

Danielle is a fashion stylist who designs and coordinates outfits for professional athletes. Among her clientele are Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and a pair of Chicago Bears — defensive tackle Tommie Harris and wide receiver Devin Harris. For last year's ESPY awards program in Los Angeles, Durant, Tommie Harris and Devin Harris were clad in suits coordinated by Danielle.

"I talk to (Regina) just about every day. I have to be positive for her," Danielle said. "There's just a huge void, you know. We have a close-knit family, so any little memory can send you on a downward spiral."

While recently having breakfast in a diner, "I ordered some eggs over-medium. Fried, but not fried too hard," Danielle recalled. "Someone asked me why I ordered them like that, and I told them that it was the way my dad liked his eggs. It made me sad to remember it."

Four days after his father died, Wayman II graduated from Edison Preparatory School.

"It's been a crazy, quick year. I feel like it happened yesterday," Wayman II said. "(The anniversary) is going to be rough. The days are getting a little easier, but there's never a day when I don't think about my dad. I talk with (Regina) all the time. When I know she's OK, it makes me feel a lot better."

One month before his death, Wayman Tisdale told the Tulsa World that he had conquered bone cancer. Only a few months earlier, his right leg was amputated just above the knee.

On May 12, 2009, Regina says, Wayman heard a positive report from his oncologist in Oklahoma City.

"All the blood work was good. Everything was good," Regina says. "We were done with chemo. We were done with all of it."

Wayman's band was committed to a national concert tour, and he was scheduled to do some recording in Los Angeles. On the night of May 14, as they went to bed in their northwest Tulsa home, the Tisdales had peace of mind.

But during the early morning hours of May 15, Wayman's breathing became labored. Regina drove him to the St. John emergency room. He received respiratory treatment and seemed fine. Regina says he joked with medical personnel about feeling good enough to dunk on Michael Jordan.

"We were laughing," Regina says. "At this point, we're both pretty tired. We were both dozing off. I wake up to this weird breathing again, and I say, 'Wayman, what are you doing?' "

The St. John staff decided to admit Tisdale to a room in the intensive care unit. Minutes later, a doctor returned to the waiting area, addressed Regina and said, "I'm sorry."

Wayman Tisdale, among the more popular and accomplished athletes in Oklahoma history, had died. Regina says his esophagus ruptured. It had been damaged by radiation treatments.

Regina says she was blasted into an extended period of disbelief and disconnect. She says she has limited memory of her husband's funeral, which occurred on May 21 at the BOK Center.

"I was in a robotic state," she says.

The Regina-Wayman courtship and marriage spanned 28 years.

"I wasn't ready for it to be over," Regina says. "I would pick him up at the airport, and I would still get butterflies in my belly. I was so totally in love with this man.

"It hasn't waned."

New Tisdale music due in the fall

Before his death in May 2009, Wayman Tisdale recorded music that will be released on a new album this fall.

Tisdale's wife, Regina, says the album does not yet have a title.

For Wayman Tisdale, a critically acclaimed jazz musician, the new release will be his ninth album. Each of his first eight albums was in the Top 10 on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. Three albums — "Face to Face" in 2001, "Way Up!" in 2006 and "Rebound" in 2008 — were No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

Regina Tisdale describes the new album as being loaded with '70s-style funk. Among the guest artists is George Clinton, the driving force behind the Parliament Funkadelic.

BTW to play 2010-11 games at Expo Square

During the 2010-11 basketball season, the Booker T. Washington High School boys' and girls' varsity teams will play home games at Expo Square Pavilion.

In June, the BTW fieldhouse — the home of Hornets basketball since 1969 — will be demolished. As a result of the March passage of a Tulsa Public Schools bond proposal, $54.5 million will be spent on TPS athletic facilities over the next six years. Booker T. Washington, Edison and Memorial each will get a new, $10 million fieldhouse.

The BTW and Edison facilities are scheduled for completion in August 2011. The Memorial fieldhouse will open in August 2012. Edison's current gym has been in existence for 56 years. Memorial's opened in 1962.

With the late Wayman Tisdale being the most prominent graduate of the Booker T. Washington basketball program, TPS athletic director Stephanie Spring was asked if the new Hornet fieldhouse might be named after Tisdale.

"Certainly, we would consider putting someone's name on the fieldhouse, but those conversations have not taken place yet," Spring said.

Spring reports that for each of Booker T. Washington's eight girls-boys doubleheader home dates in 2010-11, a fee of $1,000 will be paid to Tulsa County for the use of the Expo Square Pavilion.

Bill Haisten 581-8397 SUBHEAD: A year later, Regina Tisdale continues to mourn the loss of her husband, Wayman

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