Yellow Jackets come together to celebrate Bobby Gaston’s coming 100th birthday

Former Georgia Tech football player was a long-time SEC referee
Former Georgia Tech football player Bobby Gaston, a former SEC game official, celebrates his 100th birthday with a Georgia Tech birthday cake Thursday, July 27, 2023, at Savoy Automobile Museum in Cartersville, Ga. His birthday is Oct. 18. (Photo by Chad Bishop/AJC staff)

Credit: Photo by Chad Bishop/AJC staff

Credit: Photo by Chad Bishop/AJC staff

Former Georgia Tech football player Bobby Gaston, a former SEC game official, celebrates his 100th birthday with a Georgia Tech birthday cake Thursday, July 27, 2023, at Savoy Automobile Museum in Cartersville, Ga. His birthday is Oct. 18. (Photo by Chad Bishop/AJC staff)

CARTERSVILLE — A life well-lived was a life well-recognized Thursday.

Robert Gaston, or Bobby as he’s known to most, was the guest of honor at the Savoy Automobile Museum, where some of those closest to him came together to wish him a happy birthday. Gaston turns 100 on Oct. 18.

“I have more friends from Georgia Tech than anywhere else,” Gaston said shortly after entering a private room set up for his birthday party.

Gaston enrolled at Tech in 1942 to play football for legendary coach William Alexander. Gaston’s career didn’t last long, as less than two years later he joined the United States Navy to serve in World War II on the USS Polana.

A member of the 1943 Yellow Jackets team that beat Tulsa 20-18 in the 1944 Sugar Bowl, Gaston returned to Tech in 1946 to complete his degree – but not to play football.

Instead, Gaston graduated and went on to own a gas station on Piedmont Road. He then began a career in insurance. In 1950, Gaston started officiating high school football and somewhat found his calling.

Seven years later, Gaston, who also played basketball for Tech, began officiating games in the SEC and would referee college football until 1982 before becoming the SEC’s Supervisor of Officials. Gaston has been inducted into the National Football Foundation, College Football and Georgia Sports halls of fame.

Former Georgia Tech football player Bobby Gaston, a former SEC game official, celebrates his 100th birthday with a Georgia Tech birthday cake Thursday, July 27, 2023, at Savoy Automobile Museum in Cartersville, Ga. His birthday is Oct. 18. (Photo by Chad Bishop/AJC staff)

Credit: Photo by Chad Bishop/AJC staff

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Credit: Photo by Chad Bishop/AJC staff

Born at Emory Hospital and a graduate of what is now Midtown High, Gaston was an early proponent of fitness tests and physicals for officials. He also helped implement instant replay review into the SEC.

Many of these notes and more were recounted by his friends Buck Shamburger, founder of the Tech football support group Dodd’s Boys, Jimmy Robinson and Bill Collins. Former Tech athletic trainer Jay Shoop was there, too, along with former Tech and NFL offensive tackle Carl Vereen.

They were all part of crowd of 17 who were all smiles as they reconnected with each other, told stories of their days together at Tech and, of course, of Gaston.

There was that memorable day when Gaston scored a touchdown against Georgia in 1943, a 48-0 victory for the Jackets. There was that time when Gaston drew a crowd of reporters and on-lookers during pregame ahead of a contest at Notre Dame, not because of Gaston’s popularity as a player, but because he accidently was wearing Clint Castleberry’s jersey and was mistaken for the star tailback.

And then there is the story of when Georgia quarterback Buck Belue threw a 93-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Lindsey Scott in a game against Florida. Gaston immediately threw a flag on the Bulldogs for excessive celebration. Georgia’s then-coach Vince Dooley, good-naturedly, never let Gaston forget that one.

Gaston, flanked by his wife, Gail, also received a written note from Tech athletic director J Batt, who regretted not being able to make the gathering, but thanked Gaston for his lifelong dedication and support of the Jackets.

The afternoon ended with Gaston being presented a birthday cake with the phrase, “Happy 100th Bobby!” and the letters, “GT,” outlined in black. Fitting for a Tech man through and through.

“Tech is everything in our household,” he said.