Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saying goodbye to a dear neighbor and friend

I lost a good friend last month.

Her name was Nell Warwick Thomas.

She was my close neighbor for about 20 years in Rock Hill in the Tall Oak Villas condo community.

Nell would have been 102 years young in August.

(I say young because even in her latter years, Nell remained spry, alert and active).

Interesting that she was born in 1918—in the Spanish flu pandemic—and she died in the current coronavirus pandemic.

Here are a few of my memories of Nell.

1. She loved riding with me to Wendy’s to get a chocolate frosty. Nell and I shared a lot on those little evening adventures in my VW Beetle.
2. I don’t think she ever, ever missed church. She truly loved the Lord. In all the years I knew her, you could count on Nell being in church just about every time the church doors opened. She also supported many an evangelist. (I know this cause I saw the letters she mailed them).
3. She looked forward Monday through Friday to going to the Rock Hill Senior Center. She made lots of friends there and created all kinds of things—including cards, pictures, trinklets and little keepsakes for her friends and family.
4. And speaking of family, wow did she ever love them! You couldn’t be around Nell over a few minutes before you heard about her two sons, her sons’ wives and all her grandchildren. She was dearly fond of them all.
5. I didn’t keep a tally, but it seemed like many times when a noteworthy political candidate or official visited Rock Hill, Nell met with them. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that she got her picture taken—and published in the local newspaper— with former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.
6. As public as she was, Nell dearly treasured having her own little private space—her one-bedroom condo at Tall Oaks. And she often told me that she especially liked not having anyone living above her or below her.
7. Nell religiously stayed away from egg yolks. She watched her cholesterol level and diet more closely than anyone I ever met. She urged me only to eat the egg whites, NOT the yolks.
8. The woman looked forward—and then some—to getting her mail. I know this because her mailbox was just a few inches away from mine. Many times I’d see Nell eagerly fetch her mail and sit on the stoop and read it right then and there in the common area. So entranced was she with getting a letter that Nell often forgot to close her box, leaving her key in it.
9. She professed, when I first met her in 2001 (and on many occasions after that) that there were three things in life that she didn’t want: a job, a dog and a man. (But I think that changed when she met her best friend David, who died a few years ago).
10. Nell could whip up a mean (delicious) dish of pistachio pudding. She knew this was one of my favorite treats and brought me many a bowl.
11. For many years, Nell, a registered nurse, took long walks through the residential area close to Tall Oak Villas. She became acquainted with just about everyone on those streets she walked. And if she happened to miss a few days of walking, some of those residents would begin to worry about where she was.
12. She shopped a lot at the nearby Dollar Store and opened my eyes to how many essentials you could get from that place.

Nell Warwick Thomas, who was born in a global pandemic and died in one, definitely lived life to its fullest. I believe she enjoyed every single one of her 101+ years on this earth. She taught me a lot and left me with countless indelible memories. I’m confident I speak for her neighbors and for her friends and family when I say that we are sure she is, as the opening of her obituary stated, “in the arms of her loving Heavenly Father.”

Farewell, Nell. You will always be remembered.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Retreat to the mighty Atlantic Ocean

Nothing like a global pandemic to make you appreciate the little things in life that many of us too often take for granted.

The things that really matter.

Like dogs, family, nature, health.

I’ve written a couple of freelance articles about the coronavirus and I’ve paid close attention to what others have said about it.

And, of course, I’ve endured this dreadful affliction—so far being virus free (to the best of my knowledge).

One place I can always go for solace—now that I live just a few miles from the beach—is the Atlantic Ocean.

Nothing like spending a little time, alone or with your loved ones, and taking in the magnificient splendor of the sea.

It always looks different.

Some days the ocean is fairly calm—with waves lapping up gently against the shoreline.

Other days the waves are huge, roaring, loud—crashing against the beach.

And yes, it gets hot (even sweltering in South Carolina) but there always seems to be a refreshing breeze at the beach. And more often than not, a cool breeze.

I’ve been to the Gulf of Mexico, and yes, the Gulf is scenic. But it’s not really an ocean in my opinion. Nothing about the Gulf approaches the powerful, ever-changing Atlantic Ocean.

Come to the ocean just to take in the beauty and majesty of something that seems as vast and overwhelming and mind-boggling as the universe itself.

Come to the ocean just to think and wonder and imagine.

Come here to be amazed and stirred in the depths of your soul. Get lost (while you also get browner by the second) in your peace and meditation.

Take it all in with sand between your toes and the salt air filling your lungs.

There’s no substitute for the magical ambience of the mighty Atlantic.

Then, if you’re alone, return home to your dogs and loved ones and share, as best you can, what you’ve just experienced. It's too good, too emotionally and sensuously overpowering to keep to yourself.

The Atlantic Ocean: it never gets old.






Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Haney Howell

Said farewell this past weekend to my old friend and colleague Haney Howell.

Haney, who died earlier this month, was eulogized fondly three days ago by many who attended a Memorial Service in his honor at Winthrop University.

So no need for me here to repeat any of what’s already been said.

But yes, he was definitely a legend in broadcast journalism.

And yes, no one was his equal when it came to storytelling—a skill he parlayed skillfully into his teaching.
And yes, many a student loved him—not necessarily for what he knew (albeit Haney was an encylopedia of information about journalism, broadcasting and the Vietnam War) but for the man he was.

He always had time for students. Loved connecting with them and helping shape their lives.

The man from the tiny railroad town of Copper Hill, Tennessee, never met a stranger.

And for sure never “got above his raisin’,” as they say in the mountains of East Tennessee (where I’m also from).

A few things you didn’t hear at the Memorial Service but stuff I remember about Haney:

1. When he interviewed for a faculty job at Winthrop College (yes Winthrop was a college, not a university, in 1988), the chair of the mass communication department asked me to escort Haney to the president’s office. The president was Martha Kime Piper, and I recall walking Haney over to her office (“the Vatican” as I used to call it) on that warm sunny day. Haney, who had flown down to South Carolina from the cold confines of Minnesota, seemed happy and upbeat as we made our way to Tillman Hall.

As we walked, I asked him what he thought about Winthrop. A prolific traveler all his life, Haney told me he was really ready to settle down and be a teacher. He shared with me that he was tired of so much moving around and ready for stability.

The feisty, always personable President Piper invited me to sit in on his interview, which I did. In reviewing Haney’s vita, I recall her commenting, “I see that you’ve done quite a bit of traveling.”

When Haney nodded yes, she asked him how many countries he’d visited.

Haney told her seventy.

Raising her eyebrows, President Piper responded, “And what has been your favorite?”

He said India.

2. Okay, on to my next personal recollection of Haney. Because he and I were both Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force veterans, we often harkened back to those years (the late 60s and early 70s). Haney worked in air traffic control (in the tower helping pilots navigate the skies and stay true to their flight plans). I, on the other hand, was in aircraft control and warning; they called us “scope dopes.” We were not in a tower but we tracked and kept a record of the aircraft that Haney helped navigate.

Haney would often remind me that he got out of the Air Force with four stripes—as a staff seargent, while I was discharged as a buck seargent (three stripes). So yes, he outranked me, and danged if I ever knew how he earned those stripes so fast, because rank was extremely hard to make during those days in the Air Force. So I had a Ph.D.—while my friend/colleague Haney didn’t—but he still always outranked me.

3. There’s this curious thing called “tenure” that you get in academia when the higher education powerstructure thinks you’re worth keeping around long term. I’m sure Haney, as I had, had been fired somewhere along the line in his earlier career in the mass media. That’s just the way in seems to shake out in the media. Sooner or later, you offend someone with your reporting or writing or something happens or there’s a budget cut or a change in management and they cut you loose.

Not so much with academia. So the day that Haney was awarded tenure at Winthrop, I remember him bouncing into my office with a big smile. “You know, Larry, if I can just keep my nose clean, I’ve got a job for life!” he said. It was a day, for sure, for him to rejoice.

4. Haney and I always shared the fact that we were not academics in the pure sense of the word, but rather Air Force vets who happened to be media refugees. We were proud of our military service, but I also thought that Winthrop sometimes undervalued that aspect of our lives. Haney, even if deep down he felt the same way, never complained. Instead, he seemed utterly content to be a respected professor at a small southern college. He did make it a point, as I did, to always try to be present at the Veterans Day celebration organized by the good folks at Dacus Library. And I seem to recall that he was the featured speaker at a few of those occasions.

Well, those, for what it’s worth are some of my personal thoughts on the man that touched so many lives during his time on this planet.

We will never forget Haney Howell. There will never again be another like him, and somewhere, even now, I suspect he’s making a difference in a good way.

Rest in peace, my colleague and friend.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Pet peeves

Getting toward the end of the year and time to take stock of some of my pet peeves.

Here are 11 things I wish I didn’t have to put up with:

1. Bad grammar. Come on folks. Just learn the English language. It’s not that hard. Learn how to correctly punctuate, spell and write a complete sentence that makes sense. And PLEASE learn the correct usage of lie v. lay, affect v. effect, their v. they’re, and the list goes on.

2. Don’t tell me about your aches and pains and sicknesses and diseases and what doctor you’ve just seen or that you’re going to see. I DON’T CARE. No one else does, either.

3. With a few exceptions, I don’t care about your children or grandchildren or great grandchildren. (The exceptions are my own children and grands). Don’t show me their pictures or report cards. Don’t boast to me me how smart they are or what they’ve just learned how to do. Keep all such conversations within your own family—PLEASE.

4. Don’t sit at the end of a pew in church or at the end of a seat row in a movie theatre. Move your behind to the middle of the row—PLEASE. It ain’t that much to ask. (Oops, I forgot about the grammar guideline…)

5. I don’t care about your dogs or cats, because I have my own two dogs, and they are more than enough for me to be concerned about. (I’ll redouble my efforts not to brag about them).

6. I don’t care much about TV shows you’ve just watched. Don’t watch much TV myself. Exceptions: Football games and national news and maybe the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel.

7. Don’t show me pictures of places you’ve just visited. I DON’T CARE WHERE YOU’VE BEEN, and don’t tell me to check out your Facebook page. I rarely ever get on Facebook—gossip tool that hurts a lot of people.

8. Don’t tell me about your Christmas bonus or any other kind of salary bonus you’ve just had the good fortune to get. I’ve never gotten a bonus in my life.

9. Don’t drive in the left lane unless (and that’s a big UNLESS) you are planning to turn left or you are passing another vehicle. I call people who hug the left lane LEFT LOONIES.

10. Don’t NOT answer a text or email I send you. Reply, reply, reply…

11. Quit using so many exclamation marks!!!! (See what I mean?)


Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Thanksgiving I'll never forget


Every Thanksgiving I harken back to that memorable Thanksgiving holiday I spent working at the Air Defense Control Center at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

It was many years ago but some things a guy never forgets.

Here’s what I remember about it.

An American woman—an officer’s wife as I recall—brought me a big feast of turkey with all the trimmings.

I had just completed my work shift, and I guess she noticed a skinny, hungry airman.

I had never seen her before. Didn’t even know her name, but there she was.

With a delicious home-cooked Thanksgiving meal just for me!

Every Thanksgiving I go back to that day.

When a kind, good-hearted, generous soul truly made my day.

It happened at Clark Air Base in 1968.

I’ve wondered in recent years—especially on Thanksgiving— who she might have been or what I did to deserve such kindness.

One stranger helping bring happiness to a skinny, shy airman.

Maybe a wink from God to help me get through the holiday in a place thousands of miles (and a giant ocean) away from home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A hug can go a long way in this old world

Sarah, a student in an online course I'm teaching for Winthrop University, brought the following heart-warming video to my attention.

Being a "regular" at the VA Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, I can relate to this:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

One Texan hands the mantle to another Texan

How do you replace or succeed a pastor who’s been at the helm for 38 years and practically founded the church all those years ago in Johnson City, Tenn.?

You don’t.

But you help to continue that well respected house of worship—Grace Fellowship Church—along its journey. A church whose slogan is: "Everybody's welcome. Nobody's perfect. Anything can happen."

Matt Murphy, recently named the new pastor of GFC, finds himself in that “to be continued” voyage.

He’s the successor to the irreplaceable Tom Oyler, who 38 years ago began leading GFC. (I’m not even sure it had that name 38 years ago, but Tom, now an emeritus pastor, has had a big hand in shaping and growing the church over that time span.)

This Sunday morning was Matt’s ordination. At least that’s what I’ll call it.

There he was up on the stage with his family, as Tom, along with seven elders flanked him and gave him his charge.

Leading this church is not a job, as Tom noted, but more a solemn responsibility.

As a packed, solemn, quiet sanctuary looked on, one tall Texan—Tom Oyler—passed the baton (rather the “spirited sword”) of church leadership to another Texan, Matt Murphy.

Elders laid their hands on Matt’s white shirt-clad shoulders and prayed.

Then came hugs, handshakes, backpats and a loud applause from the congregation.

Tom Oyler, truly a beloved legend in the Christian ministry in Johnson City, stepped aside, and then it was all about Matt as he preached a sermon about the church’s mission of “building a community” and serving the broken and reaching those who don’t know Christ.

He made a good point about East Tennessee being one of the most densely churched regions in the U.S., with perhaps a thousand churches in the Tricities area. And yet though we live in the Bible Belt (I would call it the “Buckle of the Bible Belt”) too many folks still don’t know Jesus.

One more point about Tom Oyler.

He’s one of the best and most profound speakers I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve been attending GFC for a few years. My iPhone is full of notes from his sermons, and some of what he’s said may have even found its way into a few of my novels.

I bumped into him in the lobby of GFC a few weeks ago and congratulated him on being named “emeritus pastor.” I shared with him that I’m an “emeritus associate professor.”

“Doesn’t mean a thing, does it?” he said with a laugh.

Back to Matt Murphy.

He will do well. He, too, is a gifted speaker. Good sense of humor. Knowledgeable about the Bible. Has something to say and says it well. (Maybe that’s a Texas thing?)

Congratulations, Matt Murphy.

And to Tom Oyler: You are definitely not done. I ‘spect the church and Matt and other key figures at GFC will be leaning on you aplenty for guidance in the coming months and years.

Note: That’s a picture of Matt Murphy in the plaid shirt with this blog post. The bespectacled guy in the blue shirt is Tom Oyler. Pictures came from website of Grace Fellowship Church.