Wednesday, March 14, 2012

R.I.P. Luther Rawlings - Leo Man and Mentor

Our kids at Leo High School are blessed. Yesterday, two freshmen had lunch with author and retired Chicago Fire Commissioner James T. Joyce and retired Deputy Chief and CFD Legend James Corbett - the greatest left-hand quarterback in Leo High School history.

Every day, at this Catholic high school in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood great men let young young men know that they are cared for and watched over. Catholic Charities Volunteer John Arevetis, Leo 1969, delivers food to Catholic Charities at 79th & Racine a few blocks west of this school and he always makes a point strolling the halls and talking to the young Lions.
On any given day, one might find retired Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, Emanuel Steward, Dick Ecklund, Gordon Marino, Kevin Rooney, Tamara Holder of Fox News Television and Leo Advisory Board, Dr. Stafford Hood, or comic genius Kenny Howell mixing with the guys.

I take two Leo Men every week or so out for lunch with the like Chief Corbett, Commissioner Joyce, Journalist James Bowman and etc. It is important for the guys to meet the people who are backing their efforts to be great men themselves through sacrifice, study and serious attention obligations.

For years, it was my honor to welcome Herman Mills and Luther Rawlings, two great boxers from the 1940's and '50's who helped coach and mentor our many boxers.

Herman went home to Christ a few years ago and he was joined by Luther last week.

Yesterday, Maureen O'Donnell of the Chicago Sun Times wrote this beautiful story about a beautiful man to whom we will say goodbye later this day.

In 1949, before the rules and safeguards that govern boxing today, a powerful punch from Luther Rawlings tragically killed a man in the ring.

But fight experts, family and friends say he was a gentle man who mentored hundreds of aspiring boxers at the Chicago Park District and Leo High School, often carrying his Bible and underlining passages before his workouts.

Mr. Rawlings, a professional boxer at both the lightweight and welterweight levels, died March 7 at Little Company of Mary Hospital from complications from
Alzheimer’s disease. He was 82.

During his seven-year career, he fought 65 times — “seven of them against world champions or future titlists,” Pete Ehrmann wrote in The Ring magazine.

He also owned Luther’s Lounge, a South Side club that stayed open late, attracting VIPs like Congressman “Big Bill” Dawson; pugilists Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson; Olympic runners Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe — who would go on to become a congressional representative — and Frank Sinatra, said Mike Joyce, boxing coordinator for Leo High School.

Mr. Rawlings’ wife of almost 56 years, Georgia, whose bathing-suited beauty was featured more than once in Jet magazine, is said to have so thoroughly entranced legendary singer Sam Cooke that she inspired him to write the song “Only Sixteen.’’

Georgia and Luther Rawlings raised three children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, “all educated, and none of them have ever been in trouble,” Joyce said.

“Luther was among a handful of ex-professionals who have been gracious enough to come and box with our kids,” said Dan McGrath, president of Leo High School. “He always made the kids feel comfortable; never gave them more than they were ready for.”

Marvin Carey is tough, but he said Mr. Rawlings “showed me the definition of a tough man.” Sgt. Carey, a Chicago native and member of the All-Army boxing team, just fought in the 2012 Armed Forces Boxing Championships. He has completed two tours of Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

“He never complained about being in pain. . . .he got up and trained us every day,” Carey said. “All he wanted to do was teach us and see us do good. I wish I could have had more time with him, because he knew so much.”

“He used to get in the ring and help me out and watch me and give me pointers,” said Chicagoan Montell Griffin, a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic boxing team. “He had a lot of patience.”

Luther Rawlings was known as Lucius Minor in the early 1940s, when he rode the rails from Memphis to Chicago to visit his mother, who was in town visiting her sister. Lucius accompanied a friend named Rawlings who was supposed to fight in a local bout, Joyce said. But when the other fighter saw the pair, he said: “I don’t want to fight Rawlings — I’ll fight his little brother” — who was actually Lucius Minor.

Lucius was only 13 or 14 at the time, but he decided to try his luck in the ring. “So, he ‘became’ Luther Rawlings,” Joyce said.

He grew up in Bronzeville and attended DuSable High School and Wilson Junior College.

“He was like a straight-up boxer, a good jab, very rangy, a good right hand,” said James Kitchen, a former boxing champ with Chicago’s Catholic Youth Organization.

In 1949, Talmadge Bussey died from a brain hemorrhage after a ninth-round knockout by Mr. Rawlings. It was the eighth boxing death of 1949, an era when “referees didn’t stop fights early enough,” Joyce said. And back then, boxers fought far more often than what is medically allowable today.

A few years later, a manager made the mistake of arranging for Mr. Rawlings to battle world lightweight champion Jimmy Carter in a non-title bout. But Mr. Rawlings did so well, he “convinced Carter to never get that close to Rawlings wearing boxing gloves again,” and a title match never happened, according to The Ring .

Mr. Rawlings, a teetotaler and non-smoker, eventually wanted a break from the nightclub scene and its imbibing, smoking and gambling. He owned a clothing boutique and a furniture store and worked as a manager at Aronson Furniture.

In addition to his wife, he is also survived by his daughters, Roslyn Rawlings-Thomas and Renata Robinson; his son, Ronald, and his nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A wake is scheduled at noon Wednesday at W. W. Holt Funeral Home, 175 W. 159th St., Harvey. His funeral will follow at Holt’s at 1 p.m.

“People are not boxing like they used to,” Griffin said. “We’re losing the teachers in the gyms who’ve been around, the old guys with the gray hair and the beards — ?they got a knowledge.”

Thank you, Ms. O'Donnell!

1 comment:

jass said...

Lovely Post!

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