Sadly, as long as human beings exist, there will always be pockets of hatred, bigotry and ignorance scattered throughout every society. There will also be those who have no knowledge how REAL leaders lead, not via boastfulness, but rather because the giants among them faced and experienced some of the worst elements of life. Lest we forget, Nelson Mandela, the justifiably-revered former President of South Africa, pounded and broke rocks daily with a sledgehammer in the hot South African sun on Robben Island for at least 17 of his 27 years in prison. Tonight, on NBC NIGHTLY NEWS, Tom Brokaw recalled to Brian Williams the story of the day Brokaw interviewed Mr. Mandela just three days after he'd been released from that 27-year imprisonment. Tom said Mr. Mandela's demeanor was one of a person who had just returned from a three-day weekend away from home. That's the sort of mental strength few of us possess, ever did or ever will. In my opinion, it's also a heart-strengthening example whatever difficult times we're dealt are minor compared to the humiliation Mr. Mandela endured and refused to let demean or kill him.
His exemplary mental and emotional strength, along with his racial unification achievements, permeated those who would stereotypically be characterized as one-dimensional in their thinking. I experienced one example of Mr. Mandela's reach to those many would think most unlikely candidates for racial harmony. Here's the story: In February, 2007, I was in South Africa doing some public relations work for a company based here in the Twin Cities and extolled that country's countless attributes in a Star Tribune webcast a couple years ago. Regardless, the most memorable moment was experienced in Cape Town, on the way to a meeting east of that city. A hired driver picked us up at our hotel adjacent to the beach. After we asked his country of origin, just as a matter of conversation, he told us he was a Muslim of Nigerian descent. When we were passing on the freeway adjacent to downtown Cape Town, he said we should look to our right to embrace the magnitude of the vibrant downtown and the modest skyscrapers therein. After we looked, he said, verbatim, something I'll always remember, and perhaps you will, too: "Thank God for the Jews.". I asked what he meant. He said, "Thanks to the ones who came here from Europe after World War Two, and their financial resources, we have so many of these beautiful buildings," I told him his words should be plastered all over the world. I remarked his comments would be considered quite unusual for those who think in stereotypes, and he said, again verbatim, "It's President Mandela who opened our eyes that we're all just people, not races." Amen.
That truly great leader's wisdom will hopefully be never minimized nor forgotten. He DID change the world. Enough said.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these memories, humbly shared.
It's almost unfathomable to know 50 years have passed since that fateful November day in Dallas when the sunshine-filled skies turned black as night in our hearts, in an instant, and as has often been stated, the day the United States lost its innocence. Joining any of you who remember where you were when you heard the news, following is yours truly's memory of that day:
I had been a delegate to one of the first Broadcast Promotion Association's national conventions in San Francisco, at the Jack Tar Hotel. It began November 16th. The conclave concluded the evening of November 19th and I was asked by friends in Yuma, Arizona, to drive to see them for a one-day visit, since we hadn't seen one another for several years. I was living in Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the time. I agreed and got to Yuma the evening of the 20th, spent that evening and the next day and evening with my friends, then left the morning of the 22nd to return home to Idaho Falls. I left Yuma later in the morning, around 10, but didn't have the radio on, for whatever reason. I soon reached the point when I crossed the Colorado River into Needles, California, and turned northward toward Las Vegas and eventually southern Idaho. Around noon, Pacific Time, I decided to turn the radio on, just south of Searchlight, Nevada (Harry Reid's hometown), but still in California. The first thing I heard was commentator Fulton Lewis, Jr., talking about Presidential succession. The first thought to enter my mind was, "Why?", as well as thinking it was a morbid subject to discuss. Then he announced, for those just tuning in, the details of President Kennedy's assassination. I screamed in horror and anger, then almost went off the highway. Since there were no cell phones in those days, I waited until I reached Boulder City,Nevada, went to a pay phone and called my wife to reassure her our nation would get through this and I'd be home the next morning.
When I pulled into Las Vegas about a half-hour later, it was announced all the lights on the Strip and downtown (Fremont Street) would be darkened until Midnight that night, the first (and I think the last) time in history that city ever paid that kind of homage to anyone or any occurrence. In addition, to add to the somberness of that late afternoon and early evening, the weather conditions were rain and snow mixed.
I drove through nearly blizzard conditions all night to reach Idaho Falls the next morning about 7. During that drive, about 4 a.m. Mountain Time, I heard then Senator Hubert Humphrey and Rhode Island Senator John Pastore on the radio urging the nation to be calm in the face of this tragedy and their discussion enveloped me (and I'm certain millions of others) with a sense that regardless of the horror, life would continue and the nation would survive. I had no idea that morning someday (beginning in 1966 in Seattle) Mr. Humphrey would become a good friend and champion for my broadcasting work, and in Janaury, 1977, at the Washington, D.C., Hilton, I would have the honor to emcee Vice President Mondale's pre-inaugural banquet, and introduce former Vice President Humphrey to the podium by relating the story I just stated, focusing on his great calming influence to me on that snowy Southern Idaho morning, rushing home. In his characteristically warm and heartfelt manner, he kindly thanked me for relating that remembrance to the audience that evening. It was truly an honor I'll never forget.
The only Kennedys I ever had the privilege to meet and with whom to engage in some lively conversations, were President Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and her daughter, Maria, both at different times. Eunice was my guest on my SKI SCENE television show in D.C. (it's viewable on the net) relating how and why she had created the Special Olympics and describing the first event held at Soldier Field in Chicago. She was an articulate, wonderful, first-class lady, as one would expect, but was surprisingly somewhat nervous about being on television. In later years, after interviewing Arnold Schwarzenegger in New York, while he was still married to Maria Shriver, Maria was in the hallway when I exited the interview suite and literally shouted, "There's my weatherman!". Big smiles abounded. She and I then exchanged some pleasant memories about the D.C. days, and that was that.
Thank you for reading and the privilege to share some more memories. I had intended to write the pieces about Eydie Gorme and Delmer Daves this time, but it would have been disrepectful, in my opinion, to mix those stories with the preceding. Next time, for certain. Blessings and Happy pre-Thanksgiving.
Catching up on a winter-like Sunday night:
FORMER U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER AND AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN, TOM FOLEY - One of the people I was honored to know in my fractioned and very blessed life was former U.S. House Speaker and Ambassador to Japan, Tom Foley. It was sad for multiple reasons to learn of his passing a couple days ago at age 84. As many of us in Minnesota are also blessed to know former Vice President and also Ambassador to Japan, Walter "Fritz" Mondale, I knew Fritz and Joan were good friends to Tom and Heather Foley. I've also been honored for their friendship, as are many of you. Yesterday I emailed Fritz a condolence email expressing my sadness at the loss of Speaker/Ambassador Foley. Part of Fritz's response to me was, "It was a a long sad slide" for Mr. Foley. Being as humble as he was, I guess most of us never knew Tom Foley had been suffering any illness since he left public life, but, indeed, to those who knew him closely, such as the Mondales, they were aware. I met Mr. Foley when I was radio broadcasting in Wenatchee, Washington, in 1966. He was beginning his first term as Congressman for the State of Washington's 5th Congressional District. Through the years thereafter, I was happy to be with him as a guest at several social functions, in both Washington state and D.C. The most gratifying "private" time was when Speaker Foley was invited by then former Vice President Mondale to appear at a function here in the Twin Cities within the past ten years. Fritz kindly arranged a re-acquaintance meeting between Mr. Foley and me in Mr. Foley's Marquette Hotel suite, which included doing a brief interview with him for a documentary I was producing. The cameraman then had Mr. Foley and me pose for a picture, which Mr. Foley later signed to me with very kind personal thoughts. I see it every day on the wall leading to our basement "museum". As I've said many times in this space, I've been very blessed to have had the relationships I've had, but knowing Tom Foley as a close acquaintance was a special honor and privilege. So mostly-lacking today, he was an exemplar of true statesmanship without ego, a gentleman who was totally committed to doing his jobs with dignity and genuine warmth for all he served.
LEVI "SKIP" NELSON, KSTP-TV PHOTOGRAPHER - Was shocked to learn in today's STAR TRIBUNE of another passing, October 9th. Although long-retired, "Skip" Nelson was one of Hubbard Broadcasting's icons with a camera, off-camera. He shot NFL films for 30 years, traveled around the world with Channel 5's best, the great Bob Ryan among them (especially noteworthy in Vietnam), and was the videographer for some memorable promo shoots in Las Vegas with yours truly and some people you'd recognize prior to my Channel 5 weather debut. Skip was the epitome of the word "pro". As was the case with another "Skip", the late "Skip" Loescher, they just don't make 'em like both Skips anymore. Deepest condolences, to say the least, to Skip Nelson's family.
THE MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA'S POSSIBLE SALVATION - A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with one of The Minnesota Orchestra's most popular musicians. We've been friends since the 1970s. The lunch was a social one and the subject of saving The Minnesota Orchestra arose. While we were brainstorming about how to save this great Minnesota treasure (and indeed global treasure), I said, "Wait a minute! The citizens of Green Bay own the Green Bay Packers. Why couldn;t the citizens of Minnesota own The Minnesota Orchestra?" My friend said it was an intriguing thought and asked how. I suggested everyone in Minnesota who could, or wished to, would cough-up at least $20 each year for a tax-deductible donation to be part of the non-profit orchestra's fiscal pie. If three-million Minnesotans did that, the Orchestra would have 60-million-dollars to play with (literally!) every year and that model could be the template for other worthwhile cultural organizations to keep afloat. My friend said he'd tell the idea to the person who was negotiating with the Board and see if it flew. Now we fast-forward to a few days ago when the news broke that State Representative Phyllis Kahn was going to introduce a bill very similar to the idea I expressed to my friend. I immediately contacted Representative Kahn and asked if she'd possibly heard my idea from my friend. She very quickly and kindly responded with an email stating she'd had the same idea ten years ago for the Minnesota Twins and even introduced a bill for that idea, but it didn't pass. Then she told me she thought of resurrecting the idea a few days prior to my email to her, thus the news broke she would be introducing that bill to the legislature when they reconvene in February. She congratulated me for having the same idea, but indeed, she did NOT "steal" it from yours truly. We subsequently discussed further ideas. Those of us who know the true greatness of our Orchestra should, in my opinion, hope her bill passes.
MINNESOTA BROADCASTING HALL OF FAME - Three weeks ago tonight (September 29th) I had the honor to be inducted into The Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Some of the other inductees were Mark Rosen, Dick Bremer, Mick Anselmo, Kim Jeffries and, posthumously, the late Eleanor Mondale Poling. The pantheon of those inducted this year and in previous years reads like a "Who's Who" in the broadcast industry, with the exception of yours truly. Without false humility, I truly consider whatever I did in the industry, as talent or producing, just a miniscule cog in that wheel, but am deeply appreciative for that wonderful night and honor and also all the wonderful friends who attended the event, too. (Sidebar: One of the best moments was to be able to talk with the Twins' Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan following the ceremony. Mr. Ryan extended his hand to shake, saying "Congratulations", but I didn't recognize his face. I shook his hand, then asked who he was. When he told me, I apologized for not recognizing him, but thanked him for his kind congratulations. Speaking with Gardy, my wife and I expressed our condolences regarding the team's not-so-great record this past season. Gardy then said he and Ryan had been in talks that week, and assured us everything would be okay in the coming seasons. The next day, it was announced Gardy's contract was renewed for another two yars, as we now all know. I've never met anyone more immediately likeable and genuine. Those who have known him would definitely concur, I'm certain. First-class, in every respect. He was the frosting on the cake that night. Go Twins.)
Thanks, as always, for taking time to read these geeezer thoughts, comments and memories.
BZ, age 76 and counting.
Next time: Eydie Gorme and Delmer Daves remembrances.
It was sad to learn today that former, very admired and respected, WCCO-TV and CNN newscaster, "Skip" Loescher passed away last Friday in Annapolis, Maryland. He and his wife, Beverly, were great friends to my family and me during and after my years at KSTP-TV. Immediately prior to writing this, I spoke with Beverly on the phone. She described the painfulness of Skip's last couple weeks. It was difficult to hear a man as dynamic, vital and vibrant as Skip would need hospice care at home and meet such a debilitating end to his otherwise very energetic and full-of-life life.
When I moved to the Twin Cities from Las Vegas to begin working for KSTP-TV in late 1970 (with my first actual weathercast here debuting July 19, 1971), I watched Skip frequently and admired his direct and no-nonsense style, which was real and not forceful just for "show". During those years, Skip, Bev and my family and I got together occasionally socially, but it was after I left to join WJLA-TV in D.C. that we became much closer, as Skip and Bev had moved there, too, either shortly before or after I made the move. (Can't fully remember. Senior moment.) We had great social times together, and even "baby-sat" their furniture when they were ready to make another move, thanks to the nuances of the broadcast business. I wasn't aware at the time, but was told today, Skip was also Vice President Mondale's Press Secretary during those years and Beverly was in charge of securing C-SPAN's congressional guests for many years. Halcyon days, indeed. In later years, while weekend weathercasting at The Satellite News Channels in Stamford, Connecticut (with Paul Douglas, where we met, circa early 1980s), Skip would occasionally be at our studios for special news stories he was then doing as a full-time CNN newscaster/reporter.
Those who remember Skip from his Channel 4 newscasting days here will surely feel they've lost one of the stronger icons in local broadcast television, and those nationally who remember Skip's straightforward and super-professional reportorial skills will feel similar pangs of sadness and loss. They just don't make 'em like Skip anymore. He wasn't one in a million. He was simply "one". Farewell, great friend and great broadcaster.
Footnote: I had intended to comment about occurrences of the past few days and weeks in this space, but will do so next time. Skip's passing deserved precedence. As always, thanks for taking the time to read these shared reflections and recollections.