Dusty Rhodes was a great man. Not the professional wrestler, nor the New York Giant who was the pinch-hitting hero of the 1954 World Series. Oh, they may have been great, but the Dusty Rhodes who looms large and heroic for me and all of us at National Review was Thomas L. Rhodes, the street urchin (of sorts) of the very upper East Side, not of charmed Park Avenue penthouses but of the more rough-and-tumble apartments of Manhattan’s low 100s, the province of wisenheimers hitching rides on the back of buses, of ethnic gangs playing stickball and concocting zip guns and yelling soze-ya-muttas and the like. From this low-grade East Side version of West Side Story emerged a man who graduated from Wharton, found his life’s love (Gleaves), rose to become a Goldman Sachs partner who helped engineer a growing world economy, and then, one day, while still relatively young, made a determination to become a full-time warrior, of the happiest disposition, to battle socialism from the fortress of National Review’s NYC headquarters.
Dusty Rhodes was a perfect partner to Bill Buckley — he was a man of action, charm, wit, and a 1,000-watt smile. He too knew that his Redeemer lived. Besides playing a central role (president, CEO, board chairman) in helping National Review stabilize and steady its finances (he was key to the founding of National Review Institute), Dusty championed education reform, founded the Club for Growth (first as an ad hoc New York–based project he spearheaded with Dick Gilder and Lew Lehrman, and then as a national powerhouse), chaired the board of the Bradley Foundation, and served as a director of Heritage Foundation. He played a central role in electing George Pataki governor in 1994, which at the time — unseating Mario Cuomo — stood as a huge conservative accomplishment. And he did so many other things.
Of course, he was on the road mucho, and during the summer made his base camp on Nantucket. But when he was in NYC, he was at NR. Dusty arrived at the office early, as did I, and first thing, we would visit and joke (he always had a joke) and talk shop when many were still snoring under their covers. And then it was on to the cause of standing athwart.
Over a decade ago, Parkinson’s, uninvited, became part of Dusty’s life, and that of his family. It came slow, but steady, and mamma mia did anyone ever fight it as much as they did, together. The day arrived, it seems now around 2010, when it all finally became too much, so the chairmanships and the other roles Dusty played were relinquished. But there was still much more to come for Dusty.
Moving to Texas to be nearer to family and grandkids, he suffered greatly in an atmosphere of love and compassion. So Dusty endured, with a will to live you’d be hard-pressed to see or imagine. We stayed in touch, we visited on occasion, we confided. The joking never stopped. His struggle, which was also his family’s, stands as a testament to faith and love.
A few months back, there was a final move, to South Carolina, a place of happy memories. Yesterday, Gleaves wrote to tell us that our pal had passed away in the morning. The news is received with sadness (“Jesus wept.”) and, admittedly, relief. To know that his torture — it is a brutal disease full-blown — is over, well, that’s a cause for some joy even. Free at last, free at last.
Above is a picture of our grinning, sandy-haired buddy, from a time when he gave his all, and more, for the causes so dear to us. This is how we will always remember that great Dusty Rhodes. The one who lived to bring freedom and prosperity to millions. We will miss him as much as we love him, we pray he rests in true and deserved peace, and we pray even more that Gleaves and the Rhodes family are graced with God’s solace. They have our deepest condolences.
Editor’s Note: This essay has been updated since its original publication.