Willard Pinkney “Boots” Rhodes passed away at least 12 years late on November 3, 2019. He survived an appendix rupture and surgery in 1945 at tiny Fletcher Hospital. He survived The Korean War, and in the 70s he was crushed while working on a car. He squirmed his way out on his own. He has been hit by lightning three times, beaten cancer twice, raised six children, and in the summer of 2007 his heart raced to 250 beats per minute while he was working on his porch in West Virginia. Most would drop dead from a heart rate that high, he took an aspirin and waited for someone to pick him up to take him to the hospital. His tachycardia has given him free rides on helicopters all over the country – from Buckeye WV to Roanoke, and the lip of the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff, Arizona. And if someone were to ask what he died from, the family’s answer is well…everything. It took everything in him quitting for him to quit. His life was his favorite maxim, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
Boots was born January 1, 1933 in Hoopers Creek, North Carolina, the 4th of 5 children to Henry and Birdell Lanning Rhodes. He travelled the world and died a half mile from where he was born. He got his nickname traipsing around the house in his mother Birdie’s work boots, and not from the time he kicked one of those boots through the front glass window like I remembered. He enjoyed life in the country, raising cows, chickens and farming. From an early age he saved everything, especially money. A story he loved to tell was from his boyhood and he bought some bubble gum, a rare treat. He ran into his preacher who asked if he could have some, and little Boots said, “No sir, I’m saving it for Sunday.”
After graduating from Flat Rock High School in 1950, he began working at Cranston Print Works for the next twelve years, never missing a day of work in that time. In those years, he also served his country in the Navy in the Korean War. A Gideon Bible was instrumental to his salvation in his 30s, and he served as a Gideon for over 40 years.
He began a career selling orthodontic supplies by moving to Georgia and then to Los Angeles for 19 years before settling back in Hooper’s Creek in 1979. In those years he had six children who have provided 25 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Boots loved his country, its freedoms, opportunity, and the beauty from coast to coast. He drove across it at least 15 times, most recently at age 84. The beauty of the redwoods in California were particularly striking to him, and while at age 17 I might not have understood the tears in his eyes standing among them, I certainly do now, and I’m grateful he passed the appreciation of beauty on to all of us.
He knew his place in this world, and ultimately that was in Hooper’s Creek as the patriarch of a large family that loves, honors and respects him. He was surrounded by those children when he died listening to their stories about what a legendary man he really was.
He always said his children were the defining accomplishment of his life, and if he ever let us down we don’t remember it, and his presence in our lives is so big that it wouldn’t matter if we could remember a time that he did.
His life was bigger than words in a newspaper, and we’ll feel his loss the rest of our lives. But we’ll see his reflection in the eyes of each other and our children as we strive to become better people every day the same way he did, and in that maybe we will find some comfort.
He is survived by his wife of ten years, Ginger Wilkie Rhodes, two sisters – Nellie Wilkie and Phyllis Mann, his six children – Deborah Rhodes Owens, Bill Rhodes, Jason Rhodes, Justin Rhodes, Kelly Rhodes Paschall, and Shelby Rhodes Foley and all their spouses and children and grandchildren.
Services will be held at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville Thursday at 3:00 PM, with visitation beginning at 1:00. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Gideons International.
Date: Thursday, November 7, 2019
Time: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Date: Thursday, November 7, 2019
Time: 3:00 pm
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