There is a huge hole in my heart today, and an even bigger void in my life. My long-time friend Coach Ron Bishop passed away today after battling a serious infection for several days. I have known Ron and his lovely wife Pat since 1978, when I started my tenure as sports director at WDEF-TV. He was the head basketball coach at Tennessee Temple at the time, and we became good friends. Over the years we became closer, and when he retired from coaching to start a sports ministry for youth in 1986, I asked him to join me on the air as an analyst for Mocs basketball telecasts. He said yes, and from there we did more than a hundred games together on FOX SportSouth and other networks.
That sports ministry that he started in 1986, was called SCORE. (Sharing Christ Our Redeemer Enterprises) Ron and Pat ran it those first few years out of their house in Ringgold, Georgia and in the early days Ron needed those modest TV paychecks just to keep things afloat. I told him one day while driving back from a basketball game, that he needed to do a video presentation to show prospective athletes and benefactors. He said he didn’t have the money to do a really good one but he agreed that SCORE desperately needed one. I told him he didn’t need money, he just needed a good friend in the television business who would do it for him. He looked at me puzzled, when I told him, “Ron….I’ll do the video for you.”
So, in August of 1987, I ventured to Buenos Aires, Argentina with my photographer David Moore to travel with a group of SCORE athletes and coaches and produce the video. We had set things up to have Coach Bishop meet us when we arrived at the Buenos Aires airport and take us to be with the team at the Word of Life headquarters about ninety minutes away.
We arrived on time at around 10:00 am, and we began to look around for Coach Bishop. He was nowhere to be found. At 12:00 noon, still no Coach Bishop and David and I started to get hungry. We had nothing but American money and we spoke no Spanish whatsoever; so not only could we not buy anything to eat or drink, we couldn’t even tell anyone what we wanted. At 3:00 in the afternoon we were still sitting in the airport terminal, still hungry and a little disturbed about why he wasn’t there to get us as he said he would.
Finally at 3:30, a man walked up to us and in English asked me, “Are you Randy Smith?”
I answered quickly, “Yes…Yes I am. Where is Coach Bishop? ”
He told me, that Ron was playing tennis with his good friend Joe Jordan and forgot about us.
Knowing Ron Bishop as I did I wasn’t surprised at all. He was one of the most competitive people I have ever been around. On that same trip, some of the young basketball players started talking some trash about Ron’s athletic ability. Ron had set some track and field records at his high school in Blacksburg, South Carolina, and he was still pretty fast. He raced the three fastest players that day and beat them….in his bare feet.
A few years later he developed heart trouble and was forced to slow down some. I was still doing some games in the Southern Conference and we needed a last minute replacement for a game in Johnson City, Tennessee at ETSU. Ron said he would do it, and he would meet me in Johnson City, but whatever I do, don’t tell Pat.
I picked him up at the airport, and we drove to our hotel. All the way he kept saying, “If Pat ever finds out about me doing this game tonight, she’ll kill me.”
As we checked in, the person at the front desk asked if we wanted to put both names on the room, in case anyone called looking for us. Ron almost went ballistic. “No…No….I don’t want anybody knowing I’m staying in the room with you. My wife can’t find out”
The look on the face of the hotel clerk was priceless and I replied…..”It’s not what you think.” I don’t know if he believed me or not but that story itself has been priceless for many years.
I made another SCORE trip in 1994, coaching an all-star softball team from the Chattanooga area against the national team from the Dominican Republic, and that is one of the highlites of my life so far. I had been planning to go on another trip but just haven’t been able to work it in my schedule.
Ron Bishop was more than just a close friend. He was a minister to me as well as other members of my family. He has touched many, many people through the years through SCORE; not only in this country but in many other countries as well. He has preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many different languages, but the message was always the same; God loves you and wants you to come to him for forgiveness and accept Christ as your personal savior. It was always a simple message but it was one that literally millions of people heard.
When I first heard of Ron’s illness, I’m sure that I was like a lot of his other friends. We didn’t want to lose him. We selfishly wanted to hold on to him and keep him with us. We wanted to tell him one more time that we loved him. We wanted to take him to lunch one more time, or stop by and visit with him in his office. We wanted to be able to pick up our cell phones and call him one more time.
God had determined that Ron Bishop’s work on earth was over. He had done enough for Christ and would now find his Heavenly reward. We all need to let him go and look forward to the day when we will meet him again.
I will miss my dear friend but when I get to Heaven, I am convinced that I will have to wait a few hours before I see him. He may have another pressing tennis match to finish. Rest in Peace Ronald Lee Bishop. I love you more than you will ever know.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org