Obituary of Rasie Vell Mahaffey
Rasie Vell Mahaffey died December, 7, 2023, in Denver, Colorado. At 96, Vell admitted that he was “beginning to feel old.” On the morning of his 102nd birthday, he said that someone from the government stopped by his room to tell him that the oldest man in America had just died. And that he was next in line. He wasn’t really the oldest man (who turned 115 that year), but he was working on it. He liked telling that story. He was three months short of 103. HIs advice for a long life: “Be careful.” (This is good advice.)
The son of Walter and Montie Mahaffey, Vell was born in Ione, Arkansas, on March 14, 1921. There were seven other children in the family: three bothers (Mack, Dick and Lloyd) and four sisters (Wilma, Eva, Margie and Sue). Walter was a carpenter, blacksmith and farmer. During the Great Depression Walter would often exchange work for something other than cash. Once he agreed to accept a young hog for some blacksmithing. They named the hog Mr. Green (after the original owner). By the time they butchered Mr. Green (the hog, not the original owner), he was nearly 9 feet long and weighed nearly 1000 pounds. Vell thought they got a pretty good deal. Vell grew up on the farm, plowing the fields behind a pair of mules. He only liked one of those mules. His enlistment/discharge papers from the Army indicate his civilian occupation as “Blacksmith”.
On Saturday before Pearl Harbor, he and his brother Dick had been hauling bricks for a new airplane plant being built in Tulsa. They drove back to Arkansas after work that night to see the family. His mom woke them up the next day to tell them about the attack. All four boys signed up. And all four of them returned.
Vell always told everyone that he had been in the Air Force during the war. But when he signed up for VA benefits (at age 97), he discovered that he had actually been in the Army Air Corps. (The Air Force didn’t exist yet.) Stationed on the Texas Gulf coast, Vell and a good buddy were being trained as airplane mechanics. One day, a drunk officer climbed into the cockpit of the plane they were working on and somehow fired off several rounds from the machine gun, killing Vell’s friend. Seeing how badly Vell was shaken up (and realizing that mistakes had been made), the commanding officer assigned Vell to operate all the entertainment facilities for the base (the officer’s club, movie theater and bowling alley). Vell spent a lot of time fishing in the Gulf for the officers’ dinners. Vell shipped out for the Pacific theater early 1945. The war ended September 2, 1945. His discharge papers were somehow lost. Staff Sgt. Mahaffey finally arrived in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, in February, 1946, and was honorably discharged that March.
After WWII, Vell dated Opal Richmond, who apparently wasn’t very interested. There is speculation that around this time Vell adopted the country classic “Born to Lose” (recorded by the Ted Daffan Texans and released at the height of the war) as his personal theme song. No one could sing it sadder than Vell. He next courted Opal’s older sister, Bernice Marie Richmond. The couple married in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, on November 3, 1947. (Bernice always insisted that it was sometime after their marriage that he began signing “Born to Lose.”) Vell eventually went to work in the oilfields (as a roughneck, then a driller, then a toolpusher, then a drilling superintendent and finally as an independent drilling consultant). Always following the oil, the couple moved often (in their 8x32 foot mobile home) throughout the American West: Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota; some of the places they lived barely qualified as places. By and by their union was blessed with issue, one son, Rodney Gene Mahaffey, born February 11, 1951, in Midland, Texas. After over a decade of two or three or four moves every year, Vell and Bernice bought a home in Casper, Wyoming. Home sweet home. The pink house.
In the late 70s, while working for Husky Oil, Vell was burned in an oilfield explosion. He was flown to the Army Burn Center in San Antonio for treatment. During his long recovery, he was scheduled to meet with one of the Husky Oil honchos (realizing that mistakes had been made) at the office in Cody, Wyoming. The intention was to provide Vell with a lifetime pension; the Husky executive died the day before that meeting; except for medical expenses, no compensation was ever granted.
Vell lived in Casper until moving to an independent living facility in Denver, Colorado, in 2013. He relocated into assisted living in 2022 and entered a memory care unit in the fall of 2023.
Vell worked hard. He loved his work. During his nearly 40 years of retirement, he loved recounting every hole he had ever drilled. He never ran out of oilfield stories. He fished even harder. He loved fishing. He fished until he was 95, then started telling fishing stories. Every hole he had ever fished. He never ran out of fishing stories. Always a talker, after moving to Colorado, he spent several hours each day talking to friends and family. Everyone loved talking to him.
He called his son, Rod, two or three times every day. This is a transcript of the shortest conversation Rod recalls having with his dad:
Vell: Is this Betty?
Rod: Yes, it is. You need to stop calling so often, Vell.
Vell: Is this Betty’s daughter?
At 102+, Vell outlived almost everyone. In Denver, he is survived by his son Rodney and his wife Mary; two grandsons, Spencer Mahaffey (two daughters Ada and Sylvia) and Jeromy Johnson and his wife Shannon (two sons Zaden and Marlo). Plus a plethora of nephews and nieces and their spouses and children spread out around the country.
A memorial service will be held 11am on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at VFW Post 9439, 1800 Bryan Stock Trail, Casper, Wyoming. A reception will follow.