It has been said, and not without justification, that Don Rodman’s greatest gifts had the humblest of origins: a thankful heart. There’s little doubt that Rodman, who died Tuesday at age 88, had much to be thankful for. A loving wife. Five healthy sons. Success in business. Personal prosperity. But it’s just as true that over the long arc of his life, Don made certain that he repaid all of those debts tenfold.
It is nearly impossible, in this space anyway, to quantify Don Rodman’s contributions to bettering the quality of life for people living here in Foxboro or elsewhere. He was, after all, a car dealer. And a good one — smart, hard working and dynamic. But in the wider scheme of things, that part of his life was small potatoes. He also dealt in compassion. He dealt in charity. He dealt in kindness. He dealt in sustenance. And most of all, he dealt in hope. And in these dealings, he was able to persuade those of us blessed with the good things in life to help ease the burdens of those who were not.
The most prominent example of this, of course, remains the Rodman Ride for Kids, the annual bicycle fund-raiser that prompted a panoply of affiliated charities. This organization remains a testament, not just to Don’s great passion for philanthropy, but also to his skills as an organizer, a leader and a communicator who could articulate a common vision for helping others.
But Rodman left his fingerprints on numerous other charitable endeavors as well. Chairman emeritus of both the Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester and Catholic Charities of Greater Boston, he was president of the Ron Burton Training Village, vice president of the Red Auerbach Foundation and a trustee of the Robert Kennedy Action Corps for Children.
Always a non-denominational philanthropist, he received honorariums from the Italian Home for Children, the Hockomock YMCA, the Kennedy-Donovan Center, the St. James Missionary Society, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston and Caritas Communities — as well as honorary degrees from Boston English High School, Curry College, Stonehill College and the University of Massachusetts.
Given the breadth and weight of Don’s accomplishments, it is easy to forget that his was a passion shared by those closest to him. Before her death, Marilyn Rodman, his wife of 60 years, made significant contributions in Canton, serving as a longtime school board member later recognized by naming the Marilyn G. Rodman Educational and Administrative Center at Canton High School in her honor. And certainly his younger brother, Gerry, whom he outlived by 20 years, remains a near-mythic figure here in Foxboro for his association with the Foxboro Discretionary Fund, the local housing authority and Council on Aging — and as the single individual most responsible for attracting the New England Patriots to Foxboro.
In an interview late Wednesday afternoon, Gene Rodman, Don’s eldest son, said his dad would be remembered for his honesty, humility and his dynamic outlook on life. Noting that his father had outlived most of his contemporaries, Gene said family members were unsure whether to expect several hundred mourners at his services next Tuesday, or several thousand.
Under the circumstances, we suspect it will be much closer to the latter. But either way, Don Rodman’s life and legacy will continue resonate for generations — a bequest kindled by a thankful heart.