Fishing 'hero' casts off dying boy's last wish

July 10, 1991|By Don Wilson | Don Wilson,Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. -- In the 10 years that fishing has been the chief passion in his life, Chris Mathis, 14, has had one hero: TV fishing show host Roland Martin.

So after the Rock Springs, Ga., teen-ager learned he had an inoperable brain tumor, he didn't hesitate when Dream Makers Inc. asked him to make a wish. His wish would be to fish with Martin.

Yet when the Nashville, Tenn.-based group that arranges dream trips for children with life-threatening conditions called back, it was to tell Chris that his wish would go unfulfilled. Martin, 51, who once was a fishing guide at Loch Raven in Baltimore, was too busy to fish with him.

"It really hurt him -- and it floored me, too," said Chris' father, John. "He loves to fish and watches all the fishing shows on TV, so when Dream Makers asked him what he wanted to do, he said he wanted to go fishing with Roland Martin and didn't care where or when."

Just as surprised was Darlene Mangrum, the Dream Makers director who tried to set up the trip.

"I have never had anyone turn down a dream for one of the kids, and that includes people like Clint Eastwood, Larry Bird and Dolly Parton," Mangrum said. She said the organization, founded in 1982, receives about 60 dream requests a year and never has had one it couldn't fulfill.

Mangrum said she made several phone calls to Martin's marina complex in Clewiston, Fla., and even wrote him a letter trying to arrange the trip. "We weren't asking him to pay for the trip, we just wanted a little of his time," she said.

Martin, contacted late Monday, said he leaves the decisions on all such requests to Outdoor Communications, an Atlanta-based TV production company that produces his fishing show. Under the terms of his contract, the company must approve those requests.

"I can never meet all the requests, so I'm being screened and protected by the marketing group [Outdoor Communications]," said Martin, who will compete in the BASS Masters Classic in Maryland Aug. 22-24. "I know we all have responsibilities to our public and must act as role models . . . but there are hundreds of people, and we can't fit all of them in our schedules."

Although he has not talked to Chris or Mangrum, he said: "All I know is that this gal has been real persistent and seems to consider it a personal insult that I didn't drop my life and do everything I could for the kid."

Martin said he has done some similar requests over the years.

But an aide said Martin's schedule was too tight to honor this request.

"It's not that we didn't want to, but out of 365 days in a year, Roland may have 75 when he has nothing else scheduled, if that many," said technical assistant Lance Ramer.

Ramer said he offered to have Chris spend several days at Martin's marina-motel complex on Lake Okeechobee, at no charge, and fish with several of the 10 guides who work for Martin.

"We had one kid, from Make A Wish, who spent several days here and fished with three guides," Ramer said. "He had lunch with Roland but didn't get a chance to go fishing with him."

But Dream Makers didn't accept that offer for Chris.

"Chris' dream is to meet Mr. Martin and go fishing with him," Mangrum said. "Fishing with one of Mr. Martin's guides is not what he wants to do."

Chris himself is puzzled by Martin's refusal.

"I watch all the fishing shows when I can, and Roland was my first choice -- I just liked him best," Chris said. "When I heard he wouldn't fish with me, I thought maybe he thought he could catch what I have and just didn't want to go, and I didn't like it."

Despite Martin's refusal, Chris is going to have a fishing trip with another TV personality -- fishing show host Orlando Wilson.

Mangrum said Wilson, of Woodstock, Ga., has agreed to take the youth fishing.

The head of Outdoor Communications, which also produces Wilson's show, said Wilson probably would have Chris tour the TV studios and then take him fishing in Wilson's backyard pond.

An Outdoor Communications spokesman said it might be possible to schedule an outing with Martin later this year.

"The problem right now is that we're in the middle of shooting schedules," Outdoor Communications president Jeff Davidson said. "The best shot is with Orlando, because Roland is pretty well booked up."

That's probably just as well, since Chris has changed his viewing habits.

"I don't watch his [Martin's] show anymore," he said.

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