The Thomson community last weekend lost an avid sports fan, former community banker, radio talk show host, and a friend to many with the passing of Ralph Starling.
Sunday, Starling died at age 73 in his home.
According to the funeral home handling the arrangements, as far as sports, Starling left instructions saying he “wanted to be remembered as a mediocre player, but a superb fan who never met a Bulldog he didn’t love.”
Before retiring from Queensborough National Bank & Trust, his middle office was adorned in both gold and black as well as red and black.
Frequently, customers at the bank would find their way into his office to talk football, whether the Thomson Bulldogs or the Georgia Bulldogs.
“That was a fairly common occurrence around here,” said Juddy Johnson, Queensborough vice president.
Starling in his much younger days had been a Thomson Bulldog and lettered in football in 1964 and 1965 while playing for Coach Paul Leroy. He remained close with Leroy throughout his life.
“That was a great team that just fell a little bit short in the playoffs, but they were region champs in ‘65. He just had such a great relationship with those people he went to high school with,” said Coach John Barnett, a longtime Thomson assistant coach who now, in retirement, coaches at Briarwood Academy.
“You’ll have to excuse me if a choke up – a good friend,” Barnett said Monday as he talked about Starling.
The two men were friends for years before, during, and after their working together on Sports Talk with Coach and Ralph for more than seven years.
“If you’ve ever heard the expression to have friends you’ve got to be a friend, that kind of epitomizes him and I think that says why he had so many friends. He was such a friend to so many people in so many different circumstances,” Barnett said. “He just genuinely cared about folks.”
“In 40 plus years in the banking business he had a lot of relationships with people in business and helped them in innumerable ways,” added Barnett. “He was generous to a fault. He was always going into his pockets to help people, especially some of our football players over the years.”
“In a world of takers he was a giver,” said Barnett.
Barnett said Starling didn’t have much family left, but he loved his wife Bonnie and her family and also loved his community. Barnett said he did “an unbelievable amount of things around the community” whether helping with the food bank through the bank or taking things to people at Christmas.
“A lot of his stuff was done behind the scenes. It wasn’t something he wanted people to know,” said Barnett. “There are not many like him anymore now. Ralph never expected anything in return.”
Johnson likewise recalls several key things Starling loved.
“It’s going to be a loss for the community,” Johnson said. “He was passionate about several things. He was passionate about sports — he was an absolute football nut. He was passionate about helping folks recover through AA. He was passionate about his church and his Sunday school class. Those were the overall passions that I saw from Ralph.”
For many years, and even last Thursday, Starling had a venue to communicate with the community through his weekly radio program, Wonderful World. While still maintaining that program, he also launched Sports Talk with Coach and Ralph, which aired the hour preceeding Wonderful World.
“That was his brainchild,” Barnett said. “We had a real good run and a lot of the success of that show, he always gave me credit because I knew a lot of coaches around the state and got them to call in, but he was the one primarily that got the sponsors.”
The coach said because of Starling’s business relationships and making so many friends he was able to keep Wonderful World on the air for so long.
Barnett and Starling shared a special friendship and many good sports adventures. Barnett and Starling went to Ray Guy’s hall of fame induction along with Gene Walker and Micheal Bonner.
“We just had a lot of good times together,” Barnett said.
Most Thomson football fans know Barry Hunt as one of the biggest Bulldogs fans in town. For years, Starling made sure Barry made it to the game.
“Barry went to the ball games with Ralph from probably the early 90s until Ralph had to quit going,” said Barnett. “The doctor advised him a couple of years ago that it just wasn’t in his best interest to try to navigate those bleachers anymore.”
In the business world, Johnson points out that without Starling and Douglas Pentecost, Queensborough bank would not be what it is today in Thomson. He said the two men came through Bank of Thomson, through Allied Bank, and then into Regions but they left shortly after the Regions acquisition and pursued bringing to Thomson what is now Queensborough.
“At the time it was First National Bank & Trust, but the holding company was Queensborough,” Johnson explained. “They later changed the name to Queensborough to avoid confusion.”
Johnson said “Ralph was community banking all the way” and that he and Pentecost both were very consumer oriented.
Barnett has been inundated with messages from people since his friend’s passing.
“He was a man with a boat load of friends,” Barnett said.