The voice was the same: Rich and melodic, but with a hint of something many couldn’t quite place. Some 20 years since Ron Sailor Sr.’s voice boomed across radio and television airwaves, people still perked up when they heard him speak.
“We’d be at a restaurant or somewhere, and somebody would always say, ‘I recognize your voice,’” said Sailor’s wife, the Rev. Marion Sailor. “It never got old.”
In the ’80s and ’90s, Ron Sailor’s voice was a mainstay in broadcast journalism. Known for his edginess, Sailor took on people and subjects that many others wouldn’t.
“Ron was ahead of his time,” said Sidmel Estes, a former television executive producer. “He was a very strong voice, and for a black man to be on both radio and TV, and to take the strong positions that he took, that was very unusual.”
Sailor retired from broadcast journalism in 2000, and he turned his full-time attention to pastoring Christ the King Baptist Church in Dacula.
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Walter Ron Sailor Sr., known as Ron by all, of Buford died Sunday from complications of cardiac arrest while on his way to church. He was 61.
A funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Christ the King, the church he pastored for nearly 20 years. Burial will follow in the church cemetery. Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home, Historic West End Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.
Sailor had recently stepped back from many of the day-to-day leadership duties at the church, said his wife, who has been pastoring the church since February.
A native Atlantan, Sailor was a formidable opponent in the broadcast world, said Maynard Eaton, one of a handful of black reporters who competed against Sailor in the ’80s.
“As a competitor, I acknowledge he was the quintessential pioneer black journalist,” Eaton said. “I’ll say he was the first true multi-platform journalist.”
While at Frederick Douglass High School, Sailor started a radio station, he told a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008. He went to Emory University, where his mother cooked for a sorority house, but dropped out after he got a job at the AM station WAOK, he said.
In the 1980s, during the “missing and murdered children” cases, Sailor co-hosted on WSB-TV a kind of must-watch local “Nightline.” It was his big break, and he was not yet 30.
Sailor’s rise seemed meteoric, until his testimony in the 1990 extortion and income-tax trial of former Fulton County Sheriff Richard B. Langford. Sailor’s trial testimony, about a $2,000 loan, contradicted earlier statements he’d made to a grand jury. A week later, he was no longer employed by the television station.
Sailor got a job as a host for the former WIGO-AM (1340) and reappeared on TV, as a general assignment reporter for Channel 11 WXIA, a year later. His radio career included owning WIGO and working as a news director at WALR-FM/Kiss 104.1.
In the mid-’90s, Sailor relocated to Gwinnett County and became the pastor of the former Apalachee Baptist Church, now Christ the King. He’d seen his life go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the barrel, but it was all a learning experience, his wife said.
“One of his favorite quotes was, ‘Only when it is dark enough, can you really see the stars,’” she said.
Sailor’s life got very dark. His oldest son, the Rev. Ron Sailor Jr., pleaded guilty to money laundering in 2008 and received a five-year sentence. Four years earlier, another son, Antony Sailor, pleaded guilty to the strangulation murder of his girlfriend; he is serving a life sentence.
Sailor Sr. did not excuse what his sons had done, but he did not condemn them either, his wife said.
“He believed that everyone deserved a second chance, and he would always be there to help them get back up,” she said. “He was adamant that when you make mistakes, you admit those mistakes, you ask for forgiveness, and you get back up.”
In addition to his wife of 13 years and two sons, Sailor is also survived by sons Christian Sailor and Chanz Wallace; daughter, Khaleah Wallace; mother, Rosetta Crowder; sister, Brenda Sailor; and one grandson.