Remembering My Dad, Remembering Rod Thomas

Posted April 8th, 2012 at 7:46 am (UTC-4)

Rod Thomas (August 2, 1947 - April 5, 2012)

I found out about the death of Rod Thomas, my friend and Voice of America colleague, while at the beach in my birth state of South Carolina. I knew Rod had been seriously ill for several months, but his passing, on April 5 at age 64, was still a jolt. “Time passes,” said another friend, Angelo Dundee, the Hall of Fame boxing trainer who died February 1 at age 90. “Time goes bye-bye.”

The beach is a good place to ponder friendship and the passing of time. I traveled to South Carolina to visit my elderly parents, who live a short distance from the beach but can no longer get to it because of old age and mobility issues. I remembered swimming in the Atlantic as a boy and being caught in a powerful undertow, feeling helpless as the current swept me out. My father was a college football halfback and in his prime was quick and fast. He sprinted from his beach chair, dove into the water and rescued me. Now, at almost 83, he has difficulty getting up from a chair and walking.

Walking barefoot in the sand, I remembered many of my good times with Rod. He was a boxing fan and he enjoyed my telephone chats with Angelo, conversations we often broadcast on my show. “You know, Angelo is the kind of guy I’d like sitting next to me at a bar,” said Rod. “I could listen to his stories for hours.”

Rod & Sonny enjoy smoked bat in Accra

Rod was also a wonderful storyteller. I sat next to him at bars and heard a few stories, but my colleagues and I heard most gathered around his office cubicle. Stories about his children and grandchildren; stories about being in the Army; stories about his own football-playing days; stories about being served smoked bat in Accra, Ghana.

Rod traveled with me to Ghana in 2001 and on several other sports trips, always providing excellent technical and emotional support. I’ll remember the laughs and jokes, especially when it seemed like things were falling apart. When our van broke down between Accra and Kumasi and the driver did repairs deep in the Ghanaian “tall grass,” as my friend Shaka Ssali likes to say, Rod lit a cigar and started telling stories by the side of the road. I felt a certain comfort in the cigar smoke. My father used to be a big cigar smoker. He served in Vietnam in the U.S. Navy in the early 1970s and I remember after he was gone for awhile, I walked through our front door and smelled cigar smoke. I knew immediately, “Dad is home.”

Like smoke in the air and like sand between your toes, time passes. Time goes bye-bye.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

10 Responses to “Remembering My Dad, Remembering Rod Thomas”

  1. segun adeyemi says:

    This is a nice tribute to Rod Thomas, Sonny.

    Never knew he was ill!

    I never met Rod in person, but I remember speaking with him on the phone many times, especially in connection with my programme, Nightline Africa Sports!

    He was always assuring and helpful during those years that I depended on the telephone to file the show to the VOA headquarters in Washington.

    May his soul rest in peace!

    Nice reminiscences about your father too. I enjoyed reading it, and wish him many more years despite the age related difficulties.

    As I read your well-crafted piece, I cannot but remember my Father-in-law, Rev. Felix Olusola Johnson, who passed on yesterday (7April) at the age of 70, following complications from Stroke.

    In his life time, he treated me more like his biological son that a son-in-law. I will remember him for his love, simplicity, contentment and rare humanity.

    May his soul rest in peace, Rev. F.O. J!!!

  2. Sonny Young says:

    Thank you for your comments, Segun. Rest in peace, Rod Thomas, and rest in peace, Rev. Felix Olusola Johnson.

    Sporty regards,


  3. Cole says:

    Very nice, Sonny.


  4. Paul Sisco says:

    Thanks Sonny … your words touched me. God bless all, and Happy Easter.

  5. David Young says:

    Nice job Sonny.

    Cheers – Dave

  6. Robert Cohen says:


    Your memories of Rod really touched me. I did not know either that Rod had been ill. I was a technician at VOA for 8 years before becoming a Supervisor and then transferring to Worldwide English. You and Rod were truly the nicest and most professional broadcasters I had the opportunity to work with during that time. My favorite show to “do” was English to Africa because it was so professionally executed and everyone was just so great at their job, as well as knowing how to have fun when the mikes were off. The talent that has gone through that Service…Rod Thomas,Carroll James, Al James, Bill Workinger, Chaka Ssali, Ted Roberts, and so many others I never had the pleasure of working with. I only hope that someday, many years from now, we all get to work together in that “Big Turntable in the Sky” Service!!
    Best wishes, Robert

  7. Ciaran Mulcahy says:

    I found out about Rod Thomas yesterday on VOA., and AFN.. It is thank’s to both stations that I know and care about Rod Thomas, and much more, regarding theUSA..

  8. I think,this is a befitting tribute to Rod.When i read about his death two days ago,it was shocking to me,to know that he is no more.
    Writing about the fond memories of him is touching and nostalgic.
    I recall a good number of times when i do listen to the Friday expanded edition of the Sonny Side Of Sports,and Sonny at the end of the show would give thanks to Rod for helping.
    Reflecting on his death has made me remember once again,the words of Thomas A Kempis that “A very little while and all will be over with us here,see then how matters stand for a man is here today, and tomorrow he is gone.And when he is taken out of sight,he is quickly also out of mind.Thus death is the end of all and man’s life passes suddenly like a shadow”.
    I pray that God grants him and all the dead in Christ eternal rest.

  9. Sonny,I wish your Dad more years of Good health of mind and body.

  10. Sonny,I wish your Dad more mores of Good health of mind and body.

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Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

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