Talent Returned To God | Opinion

I did not have a strong relationship with my father growing up. He worked in the Persian Gulf. We lived in Dubai and he would be offshore one week and home resting the next. We moved back to Louisiana when I was in 10th grade, and he would be gone to Dubai for a month and then home for a month.

My mother insisted that my dad and I take a college road trip together when I was in 11th grade. I got to drive. My dad got to control the radio. We opted for backroads and scenery instead of speed and the interstate. Driving through rural Alabama on the way to my eventual alma mater, Mercer University, in Macon, Georgia, my dad went in search of radio legend Paul Harvey.

Instead, he stumbled upon a voice claiming to have talent on loan from God. My dad and I may not have had a super close relationship at the time, but together we found Rush Limbaugh and could connect with each other through listening to Rush.

Years later, I helped start the website RedState and randomly sent a note through the comment line at Rush's website. I not only got back a reply, but it was from Rush himself. I could not believe he knew who I was. Thus began a correspondence, which led to a friendship, which led to a mentorship.

The first time I ever remember my dad telling me he was proud of me was the day Rush Limbaugh referred to me on air as his friend. My dad nearly ran off the road and immediately called me with fatherly pride. After years of running RedState and being on television, my parents finally decided I would be okay in my career choices after Rush designated me one of his guest hosts.

Rush Limbaugh had a public persona defined mostly by his enemies. He commented on his show once that he had to learn to stop caring what other people thought of him. He more than once admonished me privately that I must learn the same. The Rush Limbaugh not behind the microphone was quiet, polite to a fault and amazingly generous. Never assume you would buy a meal with Rush because not only did he want to pay, but anyone who paid instead would undoubtedly tip worse than Rush. A New York Times reporter who profiled Rush once learned that the hard way. The company insisted the reporter pay since the reporter was doing the profile and the poor waiter got shortchanged.

In 2009, CNN offered me a position as an on-air contributor. Sean Hannity found out about it and insisted I get a meeting with Bill Shine, then Roger Ailes's right-hand man at Fox News. While the meeting with Shine went well, Rush Limbaugh insisted I go to CNN. He said CNN needed conservatives who would expose CNN's audience to the truth and also that I needed a challenge. He said I needed to be surrounded by people who'd want to kill me so that I could learn to be a better missionary. Off to CNN I went.

Rush Limbaugh in 2006
Rush Limbaugh in 2006 Win McNamee/Getty Images

A year later, as Herman Cain set about running for the presidency, Cox Media Group offered me his job. I literally had zero experience in radio except filling in on a local station in Macon because the local host had been arrested in a crack house and was in jail. Running RedState, being on CNN and at the time being an elected city councilman in Macon gave me limited bandwidth. I wasn't sure I should do it. Rush, bluntly, told me he'd never speak to me again if I did not do it. A few years after that, Rush was pushing Roger Ailes to pull me over to Fox.

Ten years later, not only am I still on radio, but I now do a three-hour syndicated show, a two-hour evening drive-time show on one of the largest talk stations in the country and have filled in for Rush himself. I would not be doing what I am doing, quite literally, without Rush.

Rush Limbaugh was a generous soul who wanted others to succeed. He had the confidence to know none of us in radio would ever be as good as him. But we all know none of us could have done it at all had Rush not single-handedly pioneered an entire industry. Prior to Rush, talk radio did not exist. It simply was not a thing, which may be hard for people to believe. Sure, there were radio hosts who talked, but talk radio as we know it sprang from the mind of Rush like Athena from Zeus.

In the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh showed conservatives they could win by laughing at the Left's excesses. He ridiculed their humorlessness and they proved him right repeatedly. He gave voice to two generations of conservative activists.

The private Rush, quieter than the public Rush, was as committed to friends as his public persona was to conservatism. Two months ago, sitting on my front porch with a cigar and a glass of bourbon and hanging out with friends, my iPhone lit up with a message from Rush.

My wife and Rush have variations of the same type of genetic lung cancer. He had chided me for years to get her a new iPhone. He could not understand my wife's hatred of technology and insisted I had a husbandly obligation to keep her on the bleeding edge of tech. But now, with his similar medical treatment, he also knew her fingers and the iPhone's touch-ID were not really compatible.

Instead of asking, he just announced he would be sending my wife an iPhone 12 Pro Max and his only concern was whether she'd be okay with a blue one. My wife now has a better phone than me because of Rush. In fact, both of my kids have iPhones from Rush too. That is the Rush I know—a man gravely ill more concerned with my wife's ability to use her phone than his own lungs.

Partisans will dance on Rush Limbaugh's grave. Many of them are profoundly jealous of his success even as they masquerade their criticism with self-serving sanctimony. If our enemies reveal our virtues, Rush's enemies reveal him to be a man who loved America, loved its spirit of rugged individualism and loved to entertain others.

"Your job as a radio host," Rush once told me, "is not to save the world. It's to keep people company." Rush kept a lot of people company and now gets to hand-deliver his talent back to where he got it. Godspeed, Rush Limbaugh.

Erick Erickson is host of the "Erick Erickson Show" and "Atlanta's Evening News" on WSB Radio in Atlanta, Georgia. He has also been a guest host for Rush Limbaugh.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.