Ron Bishop could talk to anybody. And pretty much did.
Not only did he go 279-79 in 10 years as Tennessee Temple's head basketball coach, but his personality meshed with heads of state, all-too-cool college students and poor kids from inner cities and Third World countries. Where language was a barrier, his easy smile and genuine interest and compassion still made a connection.
Bishop always was at the same time heavenly minded and down to earth. When he died Monday evening at the age of 68, a light went out on this planet but left tens of thousands behind that he helped plug in.
The funeral is set for 3 p.m. today at Parkway Baptist Temple, where the family will receive visitors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. But the suddenness of his passing is still so hard to grasp.
"I just played golf with Ronnie two weeks ago," said Sam Woolwine, the former Times Free Press sports editor who developed a close friendship with Bishop soon after moving to Chattanooga from West Virginia.
"He might have been the first person I met. That was in 1968," said Woolwine, who attended Temple for a year. "The big thing I remember about Ron Bishop was that while there was a lot of separationist attitudes there at the time, he was so accommodating and so loving. And people loved him. He had the love of Jesus in his heart, and it showed in his face, and in his walk and his talk."
Bishop laughed easily and cried sincerely. He seemed truly concerned about others, and according to those who knew him best, he was.
"People admired him so much because he was so warm, charming, witty - just a great, great guy. He was like a brother to me," Woolwine said. "At every important event in my life, he was there."
Bishop loved to preach. He loved to teach. He loved to coach. He loved to mentor. He had a talent for explanation.
He loved his wife, his daughters, their husbands, his grandchildren. And he made a whole lot of other people feel they were part of his extended family. He had a priority of exemplification.
A good all-around high school athlete, he had a winning rate of 77.9 percent as Temple's coach, with four National Christian College Athletic Association Division I national championships. He also was the athletic director overseeing considerable success in other sports. The camps he and his coaches ran were legendary for the numbers of participants.
With his wife of 46 years, Bishop went on to found SCORE (Sharing Christ Our Redeemer Enteprises) International, which in three decades has grown from a small ministry with a handful of international mission trips to a huge enterprise with a spectacular complex in the Dominican Republic and support from big names in college and pro sports.
He had a commitment to excellence.
Along the way, Bishop filled pulpits as a traveling evangelist, in various pastoral roles and as an ambassador for his Lord and work. At the height of Temple's size and wide-ranging influence, only founder and chancellor Lee Roberson was more recognized than Bishop as a representative of the independent Baptist university in Chattanooga.
After SCORE started growing, the head of the Sports Federation of South America once invited Bishop into his suite to watch Brazil play an important soccer match.
Before he was "Big Shot Bob" helping multiple teams win NBA championships, Robert Horry went on a SCORE basketball trip Bishop organized to Russia. Also on that team was Horry's Alabama teammate, James "Hollywood" Robinson.
One of Bishop's most celebrated players at Temple was a transfer from Ole Miss, Anthony Eubanks, who went on to play professionally overseas. He has stayed in touch with Bishop through the years, and recently he was hired as minister of evangelism at Simpsonville First Baptist Church in South Carolina.
A former chaplain for University of Georgia and Clemson University sports teams, Eubanks has been an ordained minister since 1981 and has spoken at national conferences. Five years ago he began a mentoring program he calls "Spiritual 2-A-Days."
Most of the Crusaders coached by Bishop and his righthand man nicknamed "Lefty," DeWayne Glascock, weren't mobile big SEC types like Eubanks. Oh, they had their legitimate stars, such as James Ransburg and Steve Roberson, but largely they were skinny wing players, smart but not too swift point guards and determined inside guys who learned lessons well.
And virtually all would say they became better as people because of their time with Ron Bishop.
Contact Ron Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org