A Turtle’s Tribute:
Randy Rhea’s legacy to the Turtle Creek Chorale can be traced to many specific things Randy did while a member. Not only was he a singer and an officer and a board member and finally a staff member, but he was the life of the party in rehearsal and especially “playing dress up” at retreat. He loved life and loved living. In his own words as his illness began to take its toll, “It is not dying of which I am afraid, it is living.” He chose the terms upon which he lived and those of his death.
One of the things that will forever cement Randy in the annals of the TCC, was his penchant for sending cards. It almost got us into a national scandal! During the final days of his illness, he sent me a card with a little insert. I read the little insert at his memorial service. KERA chose to use the little insert in AFTER GOODBYE. The morning after it aired nationally, I received a call from Missouri from the author of the poem who had not been credited because his name was not on the slip of paper Randy enclosed. Patrick Overton was absolutely thrilled that his words had been used in such a meaningful way:
“When you come to the edge of all the light you know, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: you will step out on solid ground or you will be taught to fly.”
At Randy’s last retreat, during testimony time, he made his way very feebly to the podium. He quoted his favorite card…it had two empty rocking chairs on the porch and on the inside it said, “ When I get to heaven, I am going to sit in a rocking chair next to God and thank him for you.� At that point, he began to look around the room at everyone, one at a time, and said, “and you, and you, and you and…”.
Randy’s words on the PBS special rang a deep chord in those that heard them. He received ‘fan’ mail from people all over the country for his honesty and the sincerity with which he told his story. His contribution to the documentary will continue to inspire as long as there is such a thing as a VHS and beyond in our memories. One letter: “I saw your touching story on television last night. I was touched by your words. We live in such an ugly world, people who do not take time to try to understand differences in others’ can be very ugly. Continue to give of yourself as you have, for only goodness and blessing are ahead of you.”
We will always remember Randy as he was in the beginning, full of life, full beard, full of figure. And we will remember, too, the Randy of the last years, thin as a rail, difficulty in walking because of his illness and a pillow with him everywhere he went because he was so thin, the simple act of sitting was excruciating at times. He carried his pillow to Parkland 4 or 5 days a week for the last couple of years. He couldn’t drive, so he had to allow someone to pick him up. But he would not let you park and help him in. Yes, he was stubborn. Toward the end of his life, because he could no longer negotiate the stairs in his apartment that lead to his upstairs bedroom, Anne and Trigger asked him to come live with them so they could take care of him. As wonderful as that offer was, it was not an option for Randy. He insisted on taking care of himself, along with the help of friends like Bert and Careline. He simply moved all his things downstairs and lived in his living room….as happy a life as anyone I have ever known in that situation. He got up and got dressed every single day of his life.
Many have said that when illness takes control of a person, their personalities don’t change, but those traits they already held are only magnified. Randy is a case in point. He became sweeter, more loving, more funny and more determined to make a difference through his illness. His warm engaging smile will always be with us in our minds.
From A.G. Black at Randy’s memorial service:
“Always, the life of the first tenor section, although there may have been many vying for that title, he was a faithful member, having taken only one concert off in his 10 years. In 1988, Randy began working on the PR side of the organization. This brought the TCC huge public awareness, from the Dallas Morning News to KERA. He got the TCC on Good Morning, America, a nationally distributed API story. Randy played a huge role in AFTER GOODBYE: AN AIDS STORY. The special showed Randy at home, in the park and in the hospital room where he died. Randy WAS the Turtle Creek Chorale. We will miss him terribly.
Randy was from Jonesboro, Arkansas and graduated from the University of Dallas with a bachelor’s degree in drama. He served in the public relations office with the Fairmont Hotel and then with Carpenters and Associates public relations firm. Randy sang with the Chorale for 10 years and worked as marketing/public relations consultant for the final two years of his life. He also served on the board of Razzle Dazzle Dallas. Randy is survived by family members in Arkansas, friends across the country (especially those he made at Parkland) and his mentor and surrogate parent, Jean Carpenter.