(Editor’s note: This is a column and contains opinion. Featured photo of Sharon Jones, Don Rhodes and Flo Carter is courtesy of Don Rhodes’ sister Linda Humphreys)
On June 9, a post on my Facebook feed sucker punched me.
It was in a private group of former Augusta Chronicle employees.
Don Rhodes had died.
Wait? What? No!
Only two days before, he and I were chatting about photography, and he was sharing some candids with me of his late partner, Eddie Smith, who died April 1.
And Don had just sent me a column Tuesday about Tina Turner’s 1987 concert in Augusta.
He couldn’t be gone.
Don had a larger-than-life kind of personality, and he always had a story to tell. He was a master weaver of words and stories. He was a true treasure.
I don’t remember the exact date, time and location I met Don.
For Don, however, his mind was a storehouse for that type of detailed information. He could easily rattle off dates, times and locations along with fun anecdotes during any conversation you had with him. That was something that always amazed me about him.
He knew history and country music. That might seem like an odd mix, but he was passionate about both of them. Ask him questions about Augusta history, and he could pull out details that even esteemed historian Ed Cashin didn’t have in his book.
I think my meeting Don in person was more of a “I can’t believe you know who I am” kind of thing. By the time I started writing for The Augusta Chronicle in 1988, Don was already legendary, so why would he know who I was?
And that was one of the things that made Don unique. He knew people – famous, not famous. It didn’t matter to him.
Our paths crossed many times over the past three decades.
In December 2022, he and I were part of a book signing at the Morris Museum of Art. He and I had a few minutes to chat. Augusta Good News had just launched a couple of weeks before, and he liked the concept. He offered to write a column, and who was going to tell Don Rhodes “no” to an offer like that?
Right before Christmas I sent him an email and told him I’d take him up on that offer if he was interested. He seemed excited about it. I’m not sure how many people would be excited about writing for a brand new publication after they’d already spent 50 years writing a successful column elsewhere, but Don loved what he did. He was eager to do it, and I was so grateful.
In a Jan. 3, 2023, email, he wrote “Just this morning I read your beautiful column about the anniversary of your brother’s Happy campaign. I’ve always believed that most of the joys and blessings of my own life have come from unexpected encounters and projects that seemed like nothing much at the time. I think there is a niche for shining the good spotlight on some average local people, past and present, contributing good things; especially if they can be tied into something happening in the news, some anniversary or something coming up down the road. Like you, I have found that people across the board of ages, ethnic and political backgrounds and either long-time residents or relative newcomers love to read about unique and fascinating people period. The lesser unknown, the better read. I’ve always championed average people doing extraordinary things.”
Every time Don emailed me, he complimented the work Augusta Good News was doing. He always said he liked how I laid out columns. That made me feel good. He also offered suggestions on how to make things better and other advice, which I appreciated. I’m glad I’ve held onto those emails.
Mike Adams, Augusta Good News photographer, said he ran into Don a couple of weeks ago at North Augusta’s Spring Fest. Mike told me that he’d always liked Don and that Don always made him feel important. He then paraphrased an expression that says something to the effect of “It’s not what you do that people remember; it’s how you make them feel.”
And Mike said he always felt good after leaving Don’s presence.
So, yes, Don met lots of famous people and told many great stories, but Don made his friends feel important – and everyone was a friend in his eyes.
I’m so grateful for the past six months. I truly feel I was his friend and he was mine.
Thank you, Don Rhodes, for rambling into my life and the lives of readers everywhere. We will miss the roads you let us travel with you, and, as he’d often sign his emails – Love ya!
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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