Thursday, May 24, 2007 | 6:51 a.m.
Just days before Christmas 2004, the Rev. Tommy Starkes tried to ease the pain of cowboys who were dealing with the tragedy of a 25-year-old bull rider who was killed during competition at the National Finals Rodeo.
"John Wayne cried every once in a while," Starkes said during local services for fellow Texan Brent Thurman. "Even cowboys can cry."
Starkes, a longtime Las Vegas Strip chaplain, had a way with words, whether he was preaching at a gaming resort or saying a prayer for UNLV athletes before games.
Starkes, who held local and national positions in the Baptist Church, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack while jogging. He was 67.
A memorial service for Starkes, a Las Vegas resident for 22 years, will be 10 a.m. Friday at UNLV's Cox Pavilion. Visitation will be 4 to 7 p.m. today at Palm Mortuary, 7600 S. Eastern Ave.
Since 1985, Starkes has served as pastor of the Tropicana Christian Fellowship - formerly The Church of the Strip - and was a member of the National Conference for Community and Justice Interfaith Council.
He also served as director of church development for the Southern Baptist Association.
Over the years, he ministered to thousands during services at several resorts, including the Flamingo, Bally's, Tropicana, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and the Bellagio poker room.
Born Monte Thomas Starkes on Oct. 8, 1939, in Eastland, Texas, he earned a bachelor's degree from Wayland Baptist University in Texas in 1961 and held master's and doctorate degrees in religious studies.
Since the mid-1980s, Starkes had served as chaplain to the UNLV football and baseball teams. He became chaplain to the National Finals Rodeo when it moved to Las Vegas from Oklahoma in 1985.
Starkes is survived by his wife of 22 years, Donna Starkes of Las Vegas; sons Monte Starkes of Birmingham, Ala., and Jesse Starkes of Las Vegas; daughter, Tamara Starkes of San Francisco; four grandchildren; and brother, Jerry Starkes of Lubbock, Texas.
The family said donations can be made in Starkes' memory to Safe Nest and the Women's Resource Center.