It’s Not About the Rolex

by | May 22, 2005 | Grief, Love

In March of 2003, Dan and I went on a week-long Caribbean cruise with our very close friends Mike and Rhonda. It was one of those trips they joke about on cruise line commercials… We scuba’ed in Aruba, hiked in Barbados, mountain-biked in the Virgin Islands, took spinning bike classes onboard ship, and generally speaking, wore ourselves out! We knew that it would be that way on any trip with Mike and Rhonda. We had done a lot of traveling together and always made it a physical challenge of some sort. It’s great to have like-minded friends who push you to be your best in that way!

But it’s not the physical fun that we remember most about the cruise. That week was all about the Rolex.

You see, on the very first day of our trip, Mike asked Rhonda if she was going to buy him a Rolex watch on this cruise. She gave him a high hand and said, “I’ve told you my answer already. If you want that watch you’re going to have to buy it yourself!” Dan and I were both surprised. That was the first we had heard about Mike wanting a Rolex. As a successful international sales consultant and trainer, he certainly dressed the part while working, but most of the time Mike preferred walking around in his hiking shorts and a t-shirt. He’d rather be riding a mountain bike on the Flume Trail in Lake Tahoe than at any occasion meriting a Rolex watch!

So, we were mildly astonished when Mike told us that he had been asking Rhonda to buy him a particular Rolex for six years. Sure, he could afford to buy it himself. That wasn’t the point. He wanted her to buy it for him.

Mike and Rhonda had been together, by then, for 27 years and had achieved a lifestyle that many people only dream about. Both had achieved tremendous personal and professional success. In addition to her career in human resources, Rhonda had recently started investing in real estate and already owned several multi-family properties. She was fearless about writing a check to buy an apartment complex. But a Rolex watch? That was way out of her comfort zone.

Mike had decided, however, that he didn’t want the Rolex unless it came from Rhonda. With a delightfully unique sense of humor, he was thoroughly enjoying the tension his request created. Rhonda told Mike, “I don’t see any difference between a Rolex and a Timex. If you want one, go buy it.”

The very first chance we had alone with Rhonda, we pounced. “Rhonda,” we said, “Mike wants you to buy it for him. Don’t you see that?”

“I don’t care. He knows how I feel about it,” she replied. “If he wants one he should have it, but he can buy it for himself.”

Dan reminded her, then, of the book she had just recently read titled, The Five Languages of Love, by Gary Chapman. “Sure he could do that,” Dan insisted, “but he wants to receive it from you.”

The discussion continued with the three of us for a couple of days, unbeknownst to Mike. Eventually Rhonda made the bold decision that she would buy the Rolex on the last day of the cruise, in St. Thomas. Mike had no idea what was coming his way.

When the morning of the final day of our trip arrived, we all agreed not to strain our already bruised and battered bodies any further and set out on the island of St. Thomas to stroll, eat, drink and shop. While the guys enjoyed a cold beer at a sidewalk cafe, Rhonda and I snuck off to the jewelry store. I have a picture of Rhonda parting with her credit card. The look on her face says it all, “I can’t believe I’m spending this much money on a wrist watch!”

We slipped the box into my small backpack and Rhonda nervously kept a close eye on my every move for the next few hours. Back on ship, Dan and I went off to get the box gift-wrapped and then arrived at dinner early so we could hide the surprise from Mike.

Over drinks before dinner, Rhonda presented Mike with his gift. Mike didn’t suspect at first, but when he ripped off the wrapping we saw by the look on his face the moment that he knew what was in the box. He was truly stunned and deeply touched. We all had lumps in our throats and leaky eyes as he pulled the Rolex from the box and Rhonda helped place it on his wrist. The look of love that passed between them in that one brief moment was priceless. Rhonda generously gave; Mike graciously received. We all understood that it wasn’t about the Rolex; it was a beautiful expression of love. That was the evening of March 21, 2003.

For the next few months, every time we saw or spoke to Mike, one of us would ask him, “Hey Mike, what time is it?” Or, sometimes, we’d ask, “Que tiempo es?” We’d ask it in any language, just so long as it resulted in Mike glancing at his wrist with the boyishly engaging smile we all loved.

No one could have seen what was coming next.

Mike and Rhonda had always set an extraordinary example of living life FULL OUT. In addition to raising their two wonderful children, Rhonda had completed a 26-mile marathon in Honolulu, Mike had competed in rigorous mountain bike events, and they had camped and trekked their way across the rain forests of Costa Rica. Their entire life together was an adventure and both were the epitome of fitness and health.

So, we were shocked the day we received a phone call from Mike while Rhonda was driving him to the emergency room to see why he was having vision and cognitive association challenges. I remember the exact day and time. It was 7:30 am on October 24, 2003. They were supposed to fly from Reno to Scottsdale later that day to spend the weekend with us. Instead, Mike was admitted to the hospital after his doctors discovered a massive brain tumor.

On December 21, 2003, exactly nine months from the day Rhonda presented him with his Rolex watch, Mike passed from this world.

Mike’s vibrant spirit is still very much present with all of us. Rhonda has moved bravely and graciously through the painful loss and is living her life today exactly as Mike would want her to… FULL OUT.

We are all reminded to be grateful for every moment of life whenever we glance at the Rolex watch which is now worn on the wrist of Mike and Rhonda’s son, Daniel, and see the twinkle in his eye when we ask, “Hey Daniel, what time is it?”

It was never about the Rolex.

Carol Gates

Post Script: A note from Rhonda and Mike’s son, Daniel, regarding the story…


My mother just e-mailed the story you had written about the Rolex buying experience in St. Thomas. It was beautifully told! I am glad that such a wonderful, loving and full of life couple was there to share the experience with my parents. I think only you could have expressed the emotions felt that day so eloquently and visually. I felt I was there, watching my father’s facial expression when he first put on the watch, realizing how little the watch meant to him, and how much his wife meant to him. I thank you for writing such a wonderful story about a shared moment of love between my parents. I hope you do publish this.

Thank you! Daniel Cain

Carol Gates is co-author of the book, As You Wish and is the director of Bob Proctor’s Coaching and Consulting Program.


It’s Not About the Rolex