Malcom Heathershaw will spend the next few months healing up from breaking both bones (ulna and radius) in his left arm. “I drew a pretty […]
Back When They Bucked with Roy Lilley
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
“I’m pretty talkative and used to edit a magazine, so it just made sense to write a book,” said Roy Lilley, the 90 year old rough stock rider from Fort Collins, Colorado, who wrote a 567 page memoir called Just As I Am. The book took three years to complete.
Born at the Table Mountain Ranch in Virginia Dale, Colorado, Roy was raised on the family ranch with two older brothers. “We had a lot of fun – and did a few ornery things. I followed my older brothers around everywhere.” His dad (Charles W. Lilley, Sr.) managed a family ranch. At the age of 10, the family moved to Fort Collins and his dad went to work for Producers Livestock in Denver and eventually the family moved to Lakewood.
Roy worked on a dude ranch (Trail Creek Ranch) from the time he was a junior in high school. “As soon as I figured I could ride the milk cow, I entered the Larimer County Fair in the bull riding.” He borrowed his brother’s bull rope, Pete Burns spurs and came real close to riding a good bull. “He bucked me off hard on my shoulder, and I had to ride with my right hand the rest of the summer.” He was determined to rodeo. “My older brothers were doing it and felt like I could do it.”
The first rodeo he went to, he drew a little bareback horse and won sixth – that was the first bareback horse he got on. He won a little money and that’s what gave him the encouragement to keep on. He had some natural talent.
He spent the summer working at the dude ranch and rodeoing on the weekends. He started college at Colorado A&M, now Colorado State University and joined the rodeo team. He majored in animal science and joined the livestock club. “I didn’t go to the rodeo club right at first, but my brother managed the college rodeo that spring so I rode a bareback horse at that rodeo.”
The next year he started riding saddle broncs. “You learned by doing,” he said. “I got my NIRA card the first year they had them (1949) and won the bull riding at the college finals in 1952, my senior year.” Following that, he had the best summer of his career. He won the amateur bronc riding at Cheyenne and the pro rodeo in Loveland. “I had a really good year,” he said. He was second all around and second in all three riding events for the year in the NIRA, getting beat out by Jack Bushbaum. The finals were held in Portland Oregon and he split the bronc riding 3 and 4 with Cotton Rosser. “Cotton Rosser said that I made one of the best college bull rides he had seen at the NIRA Finals Championship rodeo. That meant more to me than anything!” He can remember the ride jump by jump to this day.
After graduation he went to Korea. “I had just rodeoed that summer just waiting to be drafted – we were deferred if we kept our grades up during college.” He was a supply sergeant for the field artillery of the Army. “I was there when the war ended and we were having a fire mission at the same time – we sat around for 10 months after at the demilitarized zone.”
He came back to the United States and got out of the Army on June 20, 1954 and was on a bareback horse two days later at Woodland Park, Colorado. “I’d gained 20 pounds and hadn’t been on a horse since I left. I figured I could pick up where I left off. I rode the bareback horse and the saddle bronc in a haze and got bucked off more during the next three months than I had the three years I was rodeoing. I was drawing good and riding bad.”
He kept at it. “I wanted to get good enough so I could quit with some pride. My problem was I was thinking too much.” He gradually got better and by the time he quit in 1956, he was pretty good. He quit riding bulls when he came back from Korea. “I had an epiphany in Korea,” he said. “All of my injuries came from being stepped on by bulls.”
He knew he would never be good enough to make a run for the NFR, so he mostly went on the weekends. In 1955, he rode both of his horses in Cheyenne. That’s when there were five big rodeos close by and he made all of them. The further he got from home, the broker he got. “Pulling into Durango, I blew the oil line on my 1955 Chevy. I spent my last few bucks fixing that and borrowed enough money to buy gas. He made it home and kept going for another year. He placed at three out of the last four rodeos he entered before he quit.
Roy was 26 and living at the farm at home. His dad was working in Denver and got a job as the director of the first school lunch program in Denver. He knew the director of American National Cattlemens Association (now called the Beef Association), and he was looking for an assistant. “I was rodeoing soso and my dad got really sick and I decided to get a job.” He applied for many different jobs and finally got the job as the assistant for $350 a month.
“It was the best thing I ever did – it was a great job. I worked there for four years,” he said. He met his first wife, Ingrid, at the dude ranch and they dated. “I wanted to impress her, so I entered a rodeo. I hadn’t been on a bucking horse for four years, but I’d broke a few colts. I drew Pretty Sox, the best draw Earl Anderson had – I qualified on him, but Pinto Pete drove my head in the ground.”
He got offered a job in California as the assistant director for California Cattlemens. He moved out there in August and started riding broncs again in California for the fall. He didn’t like California very much and missed Ingrid. He flew back to Colorado, picked her up, and they were married in Ely, Nevada on their way back to California. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was born but the couple didn’t make it and eventually divorced.
He got a job as the Executive Vice President of the international Brangus Breeders association in Kansas City. His next wife, Maxine, had two kids when they married and they had another one, Jennifer. They moved the office after seven years to San Antonio. The couple lived in Beorne, Texas. He worked there until 1979. After 17 years, he left that job and became executive VP of Nebraska Stock Growers – later Nebraska Cattlemens and stayed there 17 years as well. Maxine passed away in August of 1991. “I owed whatever success I may have had from the fact that I learned from my mistakes.”
He retired in 1996 and married Donice in 1997. The couple settled in Fort Collins and Roy is active in the community with Larimer County Office of Aging. He is also part of the Alumni of Colorado State University rodeo team. He and Donice are enjoying a quiet time of old age together. “A guy at 90 doesn’t make long range plans. I’ve enjoyed my life.”