Ron Thulin knew Jack Mildren only casually less than a year ago, when executives at WWLS approached him about the two working together. Late Thursday, when Thulin learned he'd lost his radio sidekick, he said he'd also lost a dear friend. "I loved him,” said Thulin, who co-hosted the 3-6 p.m. sports talk show on Jox 930. "This is really tough. It's tough because he loved his family more than anything in the world. He loved Janis more than anything in the world. "And in the short time we've been together, he really taught me what's important, that it's your family that's the most important thing in your life.” Thulin said one particularly special bond of family is what makes Mildren's death so distressing. "Jack was so proud of his grandson, (Jake),” Thulin said. "I'll be honest with you, that's what tears me up. He used to tell me that, ‘I want to be around to watch my grandson play football.' When he'd say it, you could hear he'd get a little choked up. "That's what's tearing me up, that was his goal, to beat this, so he could watch his grandson play football.” Less than a year ago, Thulin and Mildren were brought together in a chance pairing as WWLS expanded its lineup to feature a second station of sports talk radio. Thulin, a former local television sportscaster, said he'd known Mildren only from covering Oklahoma football and occasional interviews. Then came a call and an idea to put them together, pulling Mildren away from similar duties on the Sports Animal. "I flew up there and Jack and I went out to lunch,” Thulin said. "And we hit it off immediately. "We had the same values in life. We had the same faith. We both wanted to do it because we thought it'd be fun.” With a show built on straight sports talk, none of the off-topic banter that infiltrates so many radio shows these days, Thulin and Mildren stuck to the news and offered analysis through a rapport built on respect. They would kid each other over political views, with Mildren a Democrat and former lieutenant governor, Thulin a staunch Republican. "I said I still loved him,” Thulin said. "I told him my goal was to get him over to our side.” Together talking sports, they played off each other smoothly. "It was just a unique pairing, two guys who had been around a long time and just wanted to talk sports,” Thulin said. "We didn't want to be controversial. We just wanted to talk sports, like two guys sitting around with a bag of chips and some sodas.” Thulin said he's found many great friendships through sports and broadcasting, Mildren included. "I've been doing this a long time,” Thulin said. "I've worked with great people. Hubie Brown and Jim Valvano and Doug Collins and Charles Davis. Jack's right up there with them. He cared about you.” Thulin cared, too, although Mildren never let on the severity of his cancer. Thulin sensed it, especially lately, as the rigors of chemotherapy took a toll on Mildren, who began to sound weak on the air, yet resisted backing off. "I knew it was serious when he'd talk about it,” Thulin said. "But it was always, ‘We're just going to fight it.' He blew me away with his toughness. "He said, ‘I'm going to be around to watch my grandson play football, you just watch.'”
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