When you visit with George Doke, he makes you laugh, and feel good about life. He is an amazing man. He made his living, supported his family, and lived his dream being a rodeo clown and bullfighter. George clearly remembers the day he knew his calling. His aunt reared him and on a summer evening after playing a sandlot football game he went to sit with her on the front porch. He was twelve years old. With her hand on his shoulder, she looked at him and asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
His eyes lit up and without hesitation he answered, “The best rodeo clown ever!”
That is exactly what he did. He became one of the best. The world of rodeo has honored him with many awards. Two from the extensive list of his awards include:
· In 1958, he worked the first nationally televised rodeo in Cowtown, New Jersey.
· Inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame-2000
George was a rodeo clown from 1953 to 1981. He retired when he was 45 years old. He said, “The hardest decision of my life was to retire. I had to look at the facts though. I was still physically healthy but was noticing signs of burn-out mentally.”
He went on to explain that to be a great rodeo clown, you have to be at your sharpest mentally. The life of the bull-rider, the other clowns, and the animals themselves was the responsibility of the job. Another name that describes a rodeo clown is a cowboy protector. He knew when he was losing his edge. He needed to keep everyone safe. He went on to say, “I wanted to retire on my terms. I did not want to be told by others it was time to go. He was at the top of his game, and that is how he wanted people to remember him.
In George Doke’s fashion, when asked if he had ever been seriously hurt as a clown, he said, “I was killed twice, but nothing serious.”
George says he is a natural optimist and positive thinker. He proved that by saying, “My worst day was great.” Then he added, “The day I was born the first thing that happened to me was a strange masked man hit me on my behind. That was the worst day of my life. Everything has been uphill since then.”
George is the kind of man who keeps you laughing. He said most of his jokes while he was performing were just ad-libbed, and he made them up. One of his favorite jokes was, “Did you hear about the old Idaho potato that married the Irish potato. Before long, they had a sweet potato. Little sweet potato grew up and wanted to marry Paul Harvey. The Idaho potato said no. She asked shy, and he said because Paul Harvey is just a commentator.”
During his career, his preferred clown costume was a green hat and striped shirt. He brags that he had the best-trained rubber chicken in the rodeo world. That chicken was always with him. He put on his own makeup; the costumes would change, but the make-up never would. A clown became known for the face he painted on himself. Today they don’t wear any make-up; they are smart and wear helmets on their heads, and they are no longer called clowns. They are called Bull Fighters.
Not one to slow down, he works three days a week at Cavenders Boot City. He works to have a break from the honey-dos. They wear him out. He also has a passion for activities that support youth and community. He is on organizations that provide scholarships for education. He said, “For a while a bunch of old cowboys got together in Vegas to see each other and have a few drinks. We decided we needed a purpose so our wives would let us keep coming. “
When asked what that purpose was he continued, “The Lane Frost and John Hadley scholarship were formed. Each year we give two $4,000.00 college scholarship.” George smiled when he said this, giving to people is one of his biggest joys.
He got serious and said he is grateful he could make a living as a clown and support his wife and three sons. He went on to say, “ My wife and I had three good boys. We never paid them for being good, because that would make them good for nothing.”
His ended the interview by sharing his piece of advice, “Live your dream. Work as hard as you can. Be optimistic. Love with all your heart.”