A South Carolina community is mourning the loss of a man who taught people a lesson on love.
James "Radio" Kennedy, who passed away on Dec. 15, was a fixture at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson for more than 50 years.
The 73-year-old was nicknamed "Radio" for the small transistor radio he always carried with him.
In the summer of 1964, junior varsity coaches Harold Jones and Dennis Patterson noticed a young man coming to the practices every day and holding a transistor radio to his ear.
"He started mimicking coaches and players, so we tried to get him to come closer to us and get involved," Coach Jones told CBN in a previous interview.
The coaches offered him a drink and a hamburger in an effort to talk to him. They learned that the 18-year-old was born with an intellectual disability and he could not read or write and could barely speak.
But the players and coaches looked beyond his disabilities and soon made him one of their own.
"It was God's plan to put 'Radio' right down there on that practice field," Jones said. "He wanted to be like the coaches. He became a permanent member of the team, going to practices, giving pep talks and leading them onto the field before games."
"'Radio' really loved those guys out there and the coaches. He'd do wind sprints and they loved it, he grew to be a part of it."
Jones found out that "Radio" grew up in a rough part of town and lived with his mother, step-father, and younger brother. He loved to go into town to escape the bullying from other kids. His mother worked two jobs but worried that "Radio" would end up in an institution.
The coaches at the school assured her that they would take care of "Radio" while he was at the school.
In 1970, Jones and Patterson arranged for the 24-year-old to enroll in Hanna High School as a junior and "Radio" was overjoyed.
"I think that saved his life, being able to be out here at Hanna. He was learning all the time. I think the good Lord caused all that," Jones said.
But the community at Hanna High School realized that what they got from "Radio" was more than what they were doing for him.
"He loves to give hugs. I mean, if you're having a bad day, he can really raise you back up," Jones said. "He's just part of our family."
But he formed a bond with his community that reached far beyond South Carolina.
In 2003, Hollywood Director Michael Tollin brought their story to the silver screen in the movie "Radio" starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
The film focused on Radio's relationship with Jones, who was portrayed by Ed Harris.
"When I'm answering an email, if it's a student, I always put down, 'Well, please find a student that has special needs in your school and become their friend'," Jones said.
"Individuals that have got a special need, they're just like you and I. And they should be treated with respect and everything like we want to be respected."
Jones retired in 1999 and worried that his successors wouldn't be able to care for Radio.
Well done coach Jones. Your wife Linda and you took a young man from T.L. Hanna HS and showed him love. You cared for James “Radio” Kennedy and by doing so inspired me and family. We as humans, dads & coaches can always find time to care for and be kind to others Again WELL DONE pic.twitter.com/iWFT9ZdIdW
— Sam Watts (@SamWattsSTA) December 15, 2019
"Each one stepped up to the plate, they love him. They want to be part of him," Jones added. "People with special needs, you know, they give us more love than we can actually return."
Radio touched the hearts of his school, the town he lived in and many throughout the country.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) tweeted, "An amazing life led by an amazing South Carolinian. Rest In Peace James 'Radio' Kennedy."
An amazing life led by an amazing South Carolinian. Rest In Peace James “Radio” Kennedy. https://t.co/HAdiSIq5u6
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) December 15, 2019
Hanna High School's football team wrote, "Thank you for living a life that inspired millions. The sidelines won't be the same without you. Rest In Peace James 'Radio' Kennedy."
— TL Hanna Football (@TLH_Football) December 15, 2019
Former Hanna High Principal Sheila Hilton wrote a heartwarming tribute to Radio on Facebook.
"He was without a Harvard degree or Pulitzer Prize or professional football contract, but his fame surpassed all of these accolades. And the story is simple: love and compassion can change lives. It has changed his, and, in return, he has changed ours, and we are better people for having known him."
On the school's sports website, Athletic Director John Cann wrote, "We love you and will miss you!"
"Radio was the heart and soul of T.L. Hanna for over 50 years, and the impact he made in our community can't be overstated," Kyle Newton, a spokesman for Anderson School District 5, said in a statement. "He will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the countless lives he touched."
"He was just a fine, fine man," Jones told The Anderson Independent-Mail. "We all loved him. We will miss him incredibly."
McDougald Funeral Services said a memorial service for Kennedy is scheduled for Dec. 21 at the Civic Center of Anderson.