James Pursell, USC's Oldest Living Football Letterman At 103, Dies

Jan. 27, 2004

James Pursell At His Last USC Game

James Pursell, who at 103 was USC's oldest living football letterman, died on Sunday (Jan. 25) in Laguna Woods, Calif.

Pursell lettered three years (1921-22-23) at USC as a 156-pound guard. As a junior, he was a member of USC's first Rose Bowl team (that 1923 Rose Bowl game was the first played at the current Pasadena stadium). He also played in the first varsity football game in the Coliseum as a senior in 1923, the first year that stadium opened.

Pursell, who attended Porterville (Calif.) High and then spent time in the Marine Corps before attending USC, became a successful high school coach in Los Angeles after graduating from USC. He taught physical education and coached football and track and field for 35 years, first at Jefferson and Beverly Hills High Schools and then at University High School, where he helped develop future Olympians Mel Patton and Craig Dixon. His 1944 University High team won the L.A. City track and field championship.

He was an avid and active Trojan fan all his life. In fact, he attended USC's home game against Hawaii this past September. He drove his car and played golf into his late 90s. He spent the last four decades living at Leisure World in Laguna Woods.

Funeral services for Pursell will be private.

He is survived by a daughter, Helen Wilson, and son, James Pursell Jr., as well as five grandchildren (James Pursell III, Rick Wilson, Doug Wilson, Deborah Bangham and Jodi Reeder) and five great grandchildren, including James Pursell IV. His wife of 62 years, Gwendolyn, died in 1989.

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