by Melissa LaScaleia
John Rhodes, the former Mayor of Myrtle Beach, passed away on Saturday, January 16, 2021 from complications due to Covid-19.
John was an incredible visionary with a heart and mind deeply committed to serving our community. We recognize all of his many contributions to our city with the deepest gratitude, and offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.
It was an honor for the Insider to speak to John for an interview in the summer of 2019, relaying the story of how he envisioned the concept of an inclusive play park for children with physical disabilities in the Market Common.
John worked to raise money for the construction of what would become Savannah’s Playground, even taking out a personal loan for $1 million to buy equipment for the park.
“On December 27, 2013, I was stricken with a bleeding brain aneurism,” John said in the interview. “I was at the Beach Ball Classic when it happened. At the time, I was with some people on the committee who were able to get me an ambulance and to the hospital and operated on, and they saved my life. My brother-in-law had died of the same thing, and I had other friends who had died of the same thing. I felt like I was kept alive for a reason, to do something different from what I had been doing previously.”
The construction of Savannah’s Playground became that reason. John’s passion and positive determination to bring the project to fruition touched the hearts of many others in our community, who generously gave their money, time and resources, to help make the cause that John championed a reality. Without his leadership, we as a community would not be graced with the blessing and gift that it is for so many.
Savannah’s Playground is the largest park of its kind on the East Coast. It was named after Savannah Thompson, a young woman in our community with William’s Syndrome. Complications from a surgery she had as a child resulted in brain trauma, leaving her with physical limitations. The mayor and Savannah met at a Country Music Festival in Myrtle Beach some years back.
John knew her as, “One of the sweetest kids you’d ever meet.” Her outlook on life was the inspiration for his building the eponymous park, as he wanted her to have a place where she could play with her friends. It is engineered in such a way that parents and children can and do play together, fostering a greater sense of community and connection.
“I look at all of this as doing something positive for our children, and helping them to understand the realities of the world that we live in and some practical ways that we can address that with compassion,” he said in the interview.
John hoped that sooner rather than later, other cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, Charleston, and Savannah would take a cue from Myrtle Beach, build their own inclusive playgrounds too.
“Without a doubt,” he said at the time, “of all the accomplishments that I’ve been involved in in this city, Savannah’s Playground means the most to me. It’s what I’m most thankful for.”
As we are thankful for him.