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Jim 'Pop' Laughter, a mentor and coach for 50 years, dies

James Franklin "Jim" Laughter Jr., known by a generation of young athletes as “Coach” and then “Pop,” died Wednesday at the Elizabeth House after a brief illness. He was 82.

A teacher and coach for in Hendersonville schools for 52 years, Laughter was known not only for fielding successful teams on the basketball court or football field but for making sure kids had what they needed outside the sports arenas.

"My dad's whole career boils down to a quote from Billy Graham: 'One coach can impact more lives in a year than the average person can in an entire lifetime,'" said BJ Laughter, who followed his dad into teaching and coaching and brought him on to coach the jayvee squad when he was head coach of the Hendersonville High School Bearcats. "He put the kids first." The three factors of coaching, he went on, are the fundamentals, psychology and heart. "My dad coached the heart. He made sure kids didn't go without."

If Coach Laughter saw that one of his phys-ed students didn't have proper clothing or wasn't getting enough to eat, he found a way to get them what they needed, often from his own pocket.

"When you find somebody like that it's rare," BJ said.

A Henderson County native, Laughter was preceded in death by his parents, Frank and Elva Laughter, as well as his wife, Shirley, who died in 2015.

He started his teaching career in 1959 with Hendersonville High School, moving to Hendersonville Junior High School in 1964. He coached the first integrated football, basketball and track teams in the county’s history and was instrumental in building the strong foundation that continues today instilling the pride of being a “Bearcat.” His former players as well as colleagues felt he was a pivotal factor in breaking many racial barriers in Henderson County. In 1972, he started the physical education program at Bruce Drysdale Elementary, allowing all students to participate in their level of physical activity which remains intact today.

"He was my P.E. and health teacher in junior high and my basketball coach in junior high," said HHS principal Bobby Wilkins. "He was a great guy, hate to lose him. He was a great guy."

Although “Coach” officially retired from teaching in 1991, he continued mentoring the students in numerous capacities in the Henderson County school system until 2010, spanning over 51 years of positive influence on young people in Hendersonville. Coach Laughter took great pride in the knowledge that he was able to help former student’s children and left an everlasting mark on them as well.

"When he came back and started coaching my jayvee team, everybody called him Pop," BJ said. "From that era on, it was Pop. From 1959 to 1991, it was Coach Laughter. He coached in two different eras" and has former players who range in age from their 20s to their 70s. When he gathered with friends for breakfast at a place on Seventh Avenue, people passing by would constantly wave and call his name, "Hey Coach, Coach, Hey Pop, Pop."

“Pop” was a member of both the Henderson County Education Foundation Hall of Fame as well as the Hendersonville High School Hall of Fame. He was a member of First Baptist Church of Hendersonville. He is survived by his four sons: Franklin, Jonathan, Chris and his wife, Miranda, and BJ and his wife, Amy. Four grandchildren: Josh, Emma, Jordyn, and Avery; as well as two great-grandchildren: Peyton and Dylan. He is also survived by a brother, Joseph.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 pm, on Saturday, Feb. 15, at First Baptist Church, with the Rev. Eric Gash and the Rev. Steve Scoggins officiating. The family will receive friends from 1 to 2:15 prior to the service in the church sanctuary.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in memory of “Coach” be directed to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Camp Scholarship Fund, PO Box 6544, Hendersonville, NC 29793. Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors and Cremation Memorial Center is in charge of the arrange