Editorial: Dot kids lose their biggest benefactor

Don Rodman died last week at age 88. His close friends and family knew it was coming and were bracing for the bad news. His final moments came last Tuesday afternoon. And in the immediate aftermath, members of the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester received the sad words from Bob Scannell, the club’s president and CEO and one of Don’s closest confidants.

“This is kind of tough to swallow,” Scannell wrote. “It goes without saying that Don was the most giving, caring, loving, and generous person ever involved in our Boys & Girls Club, and he will be missed beyond words. Don passed away at the same time that 150 kids from our Club are enjoying the fruits of his love and generosity in Disney [World.]”

Don Rodman was a Dorchester native and one of the neighborhood’s most passionate advocates, long after he himself relocated south of Boston, closer to where his highly successful car dealership— Rodman Ford— has been based since 1960. But his legacy is best defined by the Rodman Ride for Kids, a charity cycling event that he launched in 1991. The event has raised more than $143 million over the decades, all of it distributed to groups that work specifically with children, many of them in our neighborhood.

It’s impossible to put a dollar figure on the breadth and depth of Don’s philanthropy. It was boundless. In part, that’s because he was constantly assisting families and individuals in need with absolutely no fanfare. Much of that happened through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester (BGCD), where his close associates— Bob and Mary Scannell— connected him with Dorchester families that needed a hand in a moment of distress.

Don Rodman was exceptionally devoted to Dorchester’s kids. Beginning in 1992, he personally paid for a large group of children and teens to go to Disney World under the care and direction of BGCD staff. He paid for the flights, the hotels, the buses, the park tickets and meals. To do that for one year would be an extraordinary gesture of kindness. Don and his wife Marilyn— who passed away in 2007— paid for the Dorchester Disney trip for 27 years and counting.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. At his memorial service on Tuesday at B’nai Tikvah in Canton, a program book featured a photo of Don surrounded by a smiling group of kids from Dorchester at the Wang Theatre in Boston. Don would rent out the theatre for a night to bring thousands of kids to see a musical. He did this multiple times and exposed an estimated 50,000-plus kids to the theatre through his astounding generosity.

Don’s obituary includes a long list of charitable affiliations, including his role as chairman emeritus of Catholic Charities of Boston. He was a trustee of the Robert F. Kennedy Action Corps for Children, Inc.; president of the Ron Burton Training Village; vice-president of The Red Auerbach Foundation. He is survived by five sons: Gene Rodman and Bart Rodman, both of Braintree, Curtis Rodman and Brett Rodman, both of Canton, and Craig Rodman of Natick; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

– Bill Forry