Country radio personality Rhubarb Jones was on the metro Atlanta airwaves for several decades, then he went on to help shape students’ lives as a teacher at Kennesaw State University. AJC reporter Ellen Eldridge used to be one of Jones’ students.
The morning Warren “Rhubarb” Jones died suddenly of a heart attack at 65, he had left me a Facebook comment about my review for the music blog.
“Tough gig!” he joked, and I joked back with a pun about his role in teaching me and writing about Radiohead.
He told me he was proud of me just hours before he died. I’m still in shock.
His mass communication class at Kennesaw State University was one of my favorites, but early in the course, I worried about his health.
I didn’t want to ask in class about the bandage on his nose. Doctors had cut something out of his face before we knew each other well enough to talk about elephants in rooms.
But as I investigated his website and was impressed by his humanitarian work, I was moved to write an email asking Professor Jones if they “got it all.” I told him my thoughts were with him and his family that he’d be OK. I was trying to balance the fine line between sucking up and sincerity.
I remember thinking he might be dying.
A month later, I’d proved myself a fine enough student to receive an invite from the radio legend to attend the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame Awards. I was so pregnant I thought I’d pop, but I went because I knew the importance of making connections despite not being able to actually walk around and mingle. The event was Oct. 20, 2012, and my son was born Nov. 27, 2012.
The term flew by and what I loved most about Rhubarb was that he made it easy to learn. He wasn’t a pushover, but he gave us the answers to every exam in the first five minutes of his lecture. All we had to do was show up early and take notes.
In addition to my son, I was carrying a full course load. I remember the things he taught us about the history of the industry even though it took a while for the value of that history to sink in.
He insisted I take the final for his class even though other professors had let my “A” average stand on its own and I was excused from their finals. Not Rhubarb’s.
He taught students that showing up was more than half the battle and that those who simply show up early and work hard will be successful. That was how he earned his reputation.
That was a blessing to my mom-brain because I thought showing up was the easy part even though many of my millennial classmates struggled.
On the Monday of fall break, my doctors decided to induce me on Tuesday. Rhubarb’s exam was scheduled for one week later and though he replied to my email to say it was “mom time” and not to worry about the exam, I made it a point to show up.
I earned the recommendation Rhubarb wrote for me two months later, when I applied for a radio internship even though I wasn’t sure that was my calling. But I misjudged the time it would take to get to the station and arrived exactly on time.
My name was the last on the sign-in sheet that reminded me of Rhubarb’s class sign-in sheet, where my name was usually the first or second. I didn’t get the internship and in that moment, in my mind, I swore to not embarrass my professor again.
There’s no way Rhubarb knew why I didn’t get the internship to work in radio, but personalities who interviewed me said, jokingly, they don’t hire the last name on the sheet.
That I still went on to make Rhubarb proud is an accomplishment I hold dear.
Rest in peace, professor.