Ramblin' Rhodes: Dad encouraged, inspired all his life

Ollen C. Rhodes wears his Atlanta Braves cap and holds a biography of baseball great Lou Brissie at the James Brown exhibit at Augusta Museum of History.

“Black Friday” will forever take on a whole new meaning with me, for it was the day my 89-year-old father, Ollen Columbus Rhodes, died.


Thanksgiving Day had started at his home on Wrightsboro Road in Grovetown just like any other day of his recent life. He got dressed and went to get his copy of The Augusta Chronicle.

He either passed out or just fell from the top of three steps in his garage and crashed face-first onto the concrete garage floor.

His severe injuries, plus his age and past heart problems, led to his death at University Hospital, surrounded by loving family members and a caring and professional hospital staff.

Thanksgiving Day was to have been a special day for him to read The Chronicle because my column would be in it. I don’t say that to be conceited. I say it, instead, in all humbleness because I would not be writing this column if not for my father.

He encouraged my early writing in high school, financed the tuition for my college education and degree in journalism at the University of Georgia, took me to Nashville, Tenn., for the first time on a business trip in September 1965 and bought me my first record player (a fold-out stereo) and albums.

It was his moving our family to Chamblee, Ga., northeast of Atlanta, that greatly influenced my life, for that is where I joined the Blue & Gold high school newspaper staff.

I also became a regular correspondent for two weekly newspapers in DeKalb County and got to know Ed Danus, publicity director of Chastain Amphitheater and its popular concert series called Theater Under the Stars.

That resulted in my first interview with a celebrity, film and Broadway legend Ethel Merman in 1963.

My dad never said, “Don’t go into journalism because it doesn’t pay anything unless you own the medium.”

It was just the opposite. He always encouraged his family and friends to follow their dreams and be what they could be and enjoy life as much as they could to the fullest. He never told us how stupid we were for the choices we made, no matter how stupid they really were.

My dad, who was born on June 14, 1922, grew up in the Great Depression in a farmhouse near Moultrie, Ga., that had no electricity and no running water.

He and his brother delivered copies of the Tampa Daily Times evening newspaper six days a week (getting 3 cents per copy profit), shined shoes for 5 cents, did washing in tubs and delivered laundry, raised and sold rabbits and did other chores to get the family by.

In World War II, he became a B-24 gunnery instructor. When the war ended in 1945, he used his G.I. Bill to study animal husbandry at the University of Georgia.

My dad and my mother, Ella Sampert Rhodes, were married for 25 years until they divorced in 1971. He met the next love of his life, Jean Swann Spence, and they had been married for 39 years at the time of his death.

In spite of growing up in the segregated South and having a great-grandfather, John Arklis Rhodes, who had fought in almost every major battle of the Civil War, my dad had great compassion for people of all races and all economic and social backgrounds.

Lord knows, if any of us kids disrespected anybody, there would be hell to pay. He and my mother taught us to be kind to others and to obey the Golden Rule of being just as kind to others as you want them to be kind to you. He did countless kind deeds for others over his long life.

He believed that people should work hard for what they got out of life just like he did, and he was a living example of reinventing yourself when life doesn’t go the way you planned.

He loved God and attended Methodist and Baptist churches and became a Gideon. My dad and entertainer James Brown often discussed the Bible at length when JB hired my dad as a subcontractor for home-improvement projects at his Beech Island ranch.

You don’t ever get away from those who inspire you and love you and change your life forever. And my dad, Ollen Columbus Rhodes, certainly was one of those people. I’ll miss you terribly, Dad, but I know you truly are in a better place where I hope all of those you loved will join you one day.