Oregon has lost a hero: George Rankins, a longtime community leader, actor, singer and golf enthusiast passed away Aug. 19, at his home in Lincoln City. He was 86.
Rankins helped grow and develop the Urban League of Portland during the 1970s and 80s. Former Sen. Margaret Carter says Rankins established strong partnerships with businesses and corporations, and helped put the Urban League of Portland on a stable financial footing.
"He was Mr. Urban League, when it came to branding and growing business connections in our community," Carter said. But that wasn't the first thing she recalled.
"He was a very handsome man," she said. "He left an impression on everyone he met. He was always dressed for the occasion. And he was a fun man who didn't take life too seriously. He knew how to laugh and tell a joke."
Born in Baltimore, MD in 1926, Rankins grew up in Newark, NJ and Greensboro, NC. He enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly before the end of the World War II and first served with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment, an African-American airborne unit.
When the Korean War broke out, he volunteered for the newly formed 2nd Ranger Company, the only all African-American ranger unit ever formed. Rankins earned a Silver Star and three Bronze Stars for valor in combat while serving with the Rangers.
"He jumped in during a fire fight and carried wounded comrades out of danger," says Kip Ward, one of Rankin's closest friends. "He was just an incredible man."
Ward said he has had three heroes in his life and one of them was Rankins. He was always ready to help others, Ward said, and gave a tremendous amount to the communities he lived in through his volunteer work.
"If you met him, you'd never forget him," Ward said. "He had a ready smile and a kind spirit. I think he did more after 60 than I've done in my 60 years. That man squeezed every bit of life into his 85 years. I think he just ran out of things to do."
Rankins served in the Army for 23 years, stationed in Germany and later in Corvallis, Ore., where he taught ROTC at Oregon State University before retiring from the service as a Master Sergeant in 1967.
After leaving the Army, Rankins moved to Portland where he worked as a Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff. He went on to work at Concentrated Employment Programs and at the Urban League of Portland where he was director of economic development and employment until his retirement in 1985.
"What I would say about him is that he was a man's man," says Paul Knauls Sr. who knew Rankins for many years and shared time with him last year.
"He was over at the Urban League and he did a lot to make things better. He taught people how they should act and how they should be. When he was around, he made sure everything was positive. He was a man's man."
Carter remembers running into Rankins at a detention center for women who had committed minor crimes. Rankins was there to share information about training programs and work opportunities through the Urban League. It was a dark, winter night and rain was pouring down, and Rankins was surprised to see Carter there. She explained she was there to talk about educational opportunities at Portland Community College.
"He said, 'Girl, that is right up my line, and I want to encourage you to come more often if you can, because not many people do this kind of work.'"
Rankins cheerfully accomplished any tasks set before him. Then-Mayor, Neil Goldschmidt appointed him to the Metropolitan Exposition, Recreation Commission where he served as chairman for a year. He was appointed by former Gov. Barbara Roberts to the Oregon Racing Commission, and he also served as a public relations committee member for the Center for Community Health.
An avid golfer who played all over the world, Rankins also was a skilled football umpire. He served as an official for both high school and college football, including many years in the PAC-10.
Travel suited Rankin's adventurous spirit. He explored North America from coast to coast and visited South America and Europe. His favorite destination was Mazatlan, Mexico, where he met his wife Dianne. For the next 30 years, the couple would take an annual vacation there.
Another of Rankin's great passions was singing. He sang in clubs and locales in Portland, on the Oregon Coast, in Mazatlan, in fact, anywhere he could grab a microphone.
He was also an accomplished character actor, appearing in popular movies such as, "Hear No Evil," "Men of Honor," "Nowhere Man," and "My Private Idaho."
"The world is just a little bit worse off without him," Ward said. "We are all going to miss him."
Rankins was preceded in death by his son, Scott C. Rankins, and is survived by his wife Dianne of Lincoln City, Ore.; his daughter L. Joelle Rankins Goodwin; step-son Dr. Butch Brodie III; step-daughter Kristen Brodie Sparks; five grandchildren; and many friends.
A celebration of George's life will be held September 14, 2013 at 2 p.m. at Eventuary 560 SW Fleet Ave., Lincoln City, Ore. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to George's favorite organizations: the Humane Society of Oregon, North Lincoln County Hospice or the World Wildlife Fund.