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Falling from great heights

Ronda Rich's picture

Haughtiness and arrogance has always perplexed me for I’ve never understood those traits. “Pride goeth before destruction,” declares a book known for pulling no punches.

I have always thought that too many people are not aware of how a twist of fate can snatch away fortune, beauty or health. In the twinkling of an eye, it can all be gone.

As a young, naive sports writer, I was once writing a series of articles about hot-shot high school athletes and what happened to them 20 or 30 years after their fame. One football player had been outstanding in college and in the pros. He sounded like a fairy tale from the stories folks told. Handsome, talented and the scion of an extremely successful family who lived in an enormous house, he was the envy of all when he showcased his beauty in a brand new convertible Cadillac.

I tracked down his dad and arranged to meet him to get photos from the glory days 20 years earlier. He gave me the address where he lived but when I arrived, I thought, “This can’t possibly be it.” I knew how wealthy they had been. But it was.

He lived on the poor side of town in a run-down, one level building that had once housed several little connecting stores.

He pushed open the glass door and invited me into the tiny one-room abode with a worn-out sofa, an old TV and a shabby daybed covered by an ancient chenille spread. He reached under the bed and pulled out a shoe box that held a collection of black and white photos, his only reminder of a once grand life. His hands shook as he took off the lid.

Tears filled my eyes and I swallowed hard. I was 19 years old and that day I learned a lesson I have never forgotten: What is today may not be tomorrow.

Let me tell you another such story.

Beth was pretty, smart, talented and hard-working. When she arrived on the NASCAR circuit as a reporter from a Detroit newspaper, we became fast, close friends. I loved her dearly and watched proudly as she rose through the ranks and grabbed the brass ring of motorsports reporting – USA Today. She became the most read motorsports writer in America.

She called me one night, this was somewhere toward the end of the 1990s, and we caught up on each other’s lives. There she was at USA Today in a coveted position and was madly in love with an “incredible” guy.

“Oh Beth,” I said with a happy sigh as I listened to her bubbling bliss. “I’m so happy for you.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m so happy for me, too. Life’s perfect.”

At a celebrity/media golf tournament, she injured her back. It was the beginning of the end. She became addicted to painkillers and lost her job. Then the “incredible” guy did an incredible thing. He left her. In constant pain, lonely and unable to find another job, she turned to the bottle. She called me one night, so drunk that I could not understand one thing she was saying.

We who loved her, watched her decline for years and helped as we could or as she would allow. As I watched her fall from the pinnacle of success to a drunken crawl for survival, I said often to others who knew her, “There but for the grace of God go any of us.”

On a recent autumn day, she was found dead, cause unknown, in a tiny apartment, her body decaying from several days without life. It took two days for the police to find someone to claim the body.

Her name appeared in the newspaper one last time. It was the obituary of a woman who died at least 30 years too soon.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Flirting” and “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” Her newest book is “What Southern Women Know about Faith.” She lives near Gainesville, Ga. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at]

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