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Bobbye Sloan dies at 61 after 2nd bout of cancer

SHARE Bobbye Sloan dies at 61 after 2nd bout of cancer

They were high school sweethearts, in love since they were teenagers.

She stood by him, through good times and bad. She was by his side when he took his team as far as it could go, without quite making it all the way. She demanded in the end that he keep coaching, so she could cull her final few joys from watching the kids on his club — their kids, really — play.

Now, she is gone.

Bobbye Sloan, 61, died Friday in the hospice wing of an Evansville, Ind., hospital, succumbing to cancer that was found first in her pancreas last winter, then soon spread to her liver.

The wife of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan had beaten the dreaded disease once, winning a war with breast cancer that was initially diagnosed around the time of Utah's loss to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the 1997 NBA Finals.

The Sloans went public with that plight, and it was a matter of fact when the Bulls bested Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Jazz again in the 1998 Finals.

Six-and-a-half years after the initial fight began, a malignant tumor — unrelated to the breast cancer, according to her physician — was detected in Bobbye Sloan's pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the disease's most deadly forms, and the Sloans knew that when they sat together to face media members in January.

"Now, I'm not saying that I'm going to come out of this thing alive, and I'm not saying that this is going to be fun — because it definitely isn't," Bobbye Sloan said at the time.

"But," she added then, "I'm going to do whatever I have to to stay here with this wonderful man as long as I can. And we're going to do this thing together."

Bobbye Sloan insisted her husband of more than 40 years continue to coach the Jazz, who were embarking on a rebuilding project in their first season following Stockton's retirement and Malone's departure to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Having just finished his 16th season as head coach of the Jazz last April, Sloan is tenured longer with the same team than any other coach or manager in America's four major professional leagues.

"The only reason I am (not quitting) is because of her," Jerry Sloan said at the time as he held Bobbye's hand.

"I told him he can't take the fun of those games away from me," Bobbye Sloan added, picking up where her husband's cracking voice trailed off. "I've enjoyed this team so much this year. I said, 'I have to have something really good and positive to look forward to — and those games are.' "

With a life spent raising three children, helping her husband search for antiques, aiding the cause of breast-cancer research and, especially in recent years, going on long walks with Jerry, Bobbye Sloan wanted no one to feel worry for her as she took on cancer yet again.

"Like I told my kids," she said in January, " 'You know, while this is not good news, I recall the days when I was a young registered nurse, and I used to have to go onto the wards where the children with 80 percent burns on their body were. That was bad news. That was devastating.' "

Jerry Sloan missed a few games and arrived later than usual for a few others so he could be with his wife while she faced her adversary for a second time.

Despite being drained by the ordeal, though, he remained in charge all the while, leading the Jazz to their 19th consecutive winning season and to within two wins of a 21st straight playoff appearance.

For some of the run, Bobbye Sloan was able to cheer faithfully from her usual Delta Center seat — a lower-bowl locale situated so she could see her husband but not hear the crusty coach's frequent rants and raves.

Other games, her seat went unoccupied, the effects of chemotherapy taking a toll.

Shortly after the Jazz's season concluded in mid-April, and shortly after Jerry Sloan said his intentions are to coach the Jazz for a 17th season beginning this fall, the Sloans returned as a couple to their southern Illinois roots for the final time.

Throughout Jerry Sloan's NBA playing and coaching career, McLeansboro, Ill., was always home.

Surrounded by farmland and forest, the tiny Midwest town and its throwback square beckoned Bobbye and Jerry like a magnet.

Each offseason since he took over the Jazz from Frank Layden in 1988, the two would return there, usually driving from Salt Lake City, making stops along the way to visit children, grandchildren and other family.

The past few years, the journey would always end at a recently built dream home — its locale in the fields on the outskirts of town reflective of Jerry's penchant for tractors and wide-open space, its tasteful interior signed by Bobbye's touch from one spectacular room to another.

The centerpiece: an open-plan kitchen and living room, generously spacious with big family gatherings in mind.

This spring's journey back to Illinois, as it turned out, would be Bobbye Sloan's last.

Trips for chemotherapy treatment in nearby Evansville were taken, but — until hospice care made more sense at the end — she spent most of her final days resting at the house in McLeansboro, husband Jerry by her side the entire time.

"It hasn't been easy," Bobbye Sloan said in January, "because we really thought we had this all licked in the past."

Born Barbara Lou Irvin on Aug. 4, 1942, in McLeansboro, Ill., Bobbye Sloan's survivors include husband Jerry; their adult children Kathy Wood, a pharmaceutical representative in Omaha, Neb.; Holly Parrish, a schoolteacher in Crystal Lake, Ill.; and Brian Sloan, a doctor in Indianapolis; and eight grandchildren.

A private family service is planned for Saturday, June 26, in McLeansboro, followed by a public memorial service at 3 p.m. that day in the McLeansboro high school both Bobbye and Jerry Sloan attended.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com