Sometimes in life we’re given very exciting opportunities but we decline because we have other priorities and responsibilities.
Dixon Bank President Frank Ramsey did this over half a century ago, the seven-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer turning down the opportunity of a lifetime: to succeed the legendary Red Auerbach and take the helm of the Boston Celtics. Had he accepted, Ramsey could have become the permanent face of Celtics basketball, an icon remembered for several generations by Bostonians.
But Ramsey respectfully declined and returned to Madisonville to do something very admirable: take care of his family.
“My kids were growing up and I needed to get them in school,” said Ramsey. “My family was all down here and my daddy was not in real good health. I had also had too many financial interests in Madisonville such as my father’s business. Also it just made sense for me to raise my children in a small town like Madisonville. I just wanted to live in a smaller town, and Madisonville was home. So we came back.”
But Ramsey would end up trying his hand at coaching a few years later, strolling the sidelines for the Kentucky Colonels of the now-disbanded ABA for the 1970-1971 season. He accepted the positon 17 games into the season after Gene Rhodes was fired after 15 games and former Kentucky star Alex Groza coached a pair of games.
“I guess you always wonder if you could coach,” said Ramsey. “I was offered this opportunity when the season had already started. I decided to do it and it was very enjoyable. I still lived in Madisonville so I would drive or fly up for practices or games.”
“It was interesting. We went to the Finals and I played against Bill Sharman, an old teammate of mine who was the coach of the Utah Stars. It was a good experience but I had to make up my mind if I was going to coach full time and live in Louisville or stay in Madisonville, and my instincts were to stay in Madisonville. I didn’t want to go to Louisville because I had my kids in school.”
Having family ties in Webster County, Ramsey became president of Dixon Bank in 1972, a position that he still holds to this day.
“Well, it’s been over 40 years now,” said Ramsey. “My uncle (Chester ‘Uncle Chest’ Ramsey) was president before me and I accepted it because nobody else wanted it. Plus, I had been on the board for several years down here.”
However despite working in Webster County, Ramsey still resided in Madisonville---a place where he was very popular with teenagers who were aspiring basketball players.
“Tripp Ramsey, Frank’s son, was one year behind me and Frank had a basketball court behind his house,” said Webster County assistant boys basketball coach David Himmelheber, who went on to play college basketball at Florida College. “90 percent of the time that’s where I played at because he had a full court beside his house and he had lights. He kept the garage door open so kids could go in and drink ice water. We played all day long, from 9 a.m. until 10:00 at night, and he always just said ‘just turn off the lights when you leave.”
The high school players at Madisonville were also impressed by some of the memorabilia Ramsey had from his playing days, such as an autographed picture of the 1962-1963 Boston Celtics with President John F. Kennedy. Many were also impressed that he kept in touch with basketball legends like Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. In fact, Ramsey thought Heinsohn---one of the most famous icons in all Celtics history, serving as a player, coach, and broadcaster--- was playing a practical joke on him when he received the news that he had been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I got a telegram in the mailbox that I had been inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Ramsey. “I looked at it and the spelling was all wrong and I thought, ‘Heinsohn is playing a joke on me.’ So I didn’t tell anybody. Then all of sudden it was announced and just before they called me and asked me if I got the telegram and said ‘Yeah, but I thought it was Heinsohn playing a joke on me.’
“It was a great to think that here as a substitute I had gotten into the Basketball Hall of Fame. It was a great feeling.”
Ramsey is fortunate enough to have two permanent reminders close by to remind him of this remarkable achievement.
“They’ve had two new Hall of Fames up there (in Massachusetts) since then,” said Ramsey. “At the time the Hall of Fame was at Springfield College where Naismith started the game of basketball. In that one they had stain glass windows, and that is now up in Maroon Gym in Madisonville.”
“Then when they moved to the bigger Hall of Fame I received that plaque right there,” Ramsey said pointing to the wall in his office at Dixon Bank.
However, the window in Maroon Gym, the plaque in his office at Dixon Bank, and some pictures in his office and at his house on his farm just south of Dixon are the few memorabilia that Ramsey still has left after Mother Nature struck like a fiend one autumn day on November 15, 2005.
“I was driving home and the siren went off,” said Ramsey. “I heard it and parked the car in the garage and went inside. I got a call from Tripp, my son, in Bowling Green and he said ‘Daddy, y’all are having a tornado.’ I looked down the hill heading south towards Earlington and I could see the wind and everything was going counter-clockwise. So I got into the closet and it wasn’t two or three minutes before the tornado struck. A brick fell while I was in there and I thought to myself ‘Oh no, I have a hole in the chimney.’ I walked out and the house was gone.”
Ramsey was unscathed in the ordeal, but his memrobilia was gone.
“The furthest thing that was found of mine was up in Jasper, Indiana,” said Ramsey. "Over in the bridge over the Green River by Calhoun they found a bunch of stuff when they plowed the field the following spring. They found pictures and sent them back to me, but we lost everything.”
One of the things lost in the tornado was the autographed picture of the Boston Celtics with President Kennedy, an item that is worth an estimated $25,000.
Despite still using the house that was destroyed in Madisonville (where the chimney still stands and he keeps the yard mowed) as his official address, Ramsey now lives in his farm house just south of Dixon on Lisman-Vanderburg Road.
Ramsey reached the lofty heights of college and professional basketball, yet he returned to the places that would always be home: Madisonville and Webster County.
After everything that he accomplished during his lifetime the upbeat and easy-to-converse-with Ramsey said this when asked about his greatest accomplishment:
“I guess at 85, that I’m still alive,” as he chuckled heartily.
Ramsey is one of the more significant icons in basketball history, yet he carries himself with not talking about the glory days unless asked. A man with principles and scruples, Ramsey serves as a shining example of how our sports icons today need to act. He really is a legend…both on and off the court…and it is truly an honor to call him a fellow Webster County resident.
Reach CAMERON BROWN at email@example.com