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.
An opinion or two about the disparate events of the past few hours and days:
SYRIA - An instance of history somewhat repeating itself: Among those who may be reading this who share my vivid memory of President John F. Kennedy threatening, and seriously meaning, possible confrontation with Russia during the Cuban missile crisis in October, 1962, we know Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev blinked. That blink possibly averted the beginning of World War Three. As I scribe this, it's been only three hours since it was announced Syria's President Assad has essentially blinked, too. He has apparently accepted the proposal of Russian President Vladimir Putin to have international supervision, control and eventual destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. What a web has been woven, proving truth is definitely stranger than fiction. I think President Obama's strong belief and desire to punish Syria militarily for that country's heinous, murderous acts against its own citizens created a global wake-up call to avoid a situation that also could possibly have ignited World War Three, thanks to a Russian President's workable and acceptable suggested peaceful resolution of the problem. A Russian President creating a suggestion to avoid confrontation and settle matters peacefully? Bob Dylan's lyrics, "The times they are a changin'" come to my mind. It also comes to my mind having cooler heads having had the time to prevail, thanks, in my opinion, to President Obama's decision to not order military strikes on Syria without first consulting and involving Congress, certainly illustrated timing is everything. Thawing a near repeat of Cold War relations, or much worse, is certainly better than living with constant tension and fear. 9/11 is certainly a date we all remember wretchedly. Without sounding like Pollyanna, perhaps today, 9/10 will be remembered happily, as the day the world stepped back once again from the brink of a possible World War.
DIANA NYAD: Finally, a real story about a real heroine, even though eight days after her historic swim, she's today being challenged about the veracity of her achievement by others in the swimming world. Ms. Nyad's amazing swimming victory over the Strait of Cuba's jellyfish, sting rays and sharks, completing the 110-mile swim from Havana to Key West as the first person to ever achieve such a gargantuan feat without a shark cage, was inspiring in so many, many ways. Her admonition to "Never, ever, give up", upon stepping ashore at Key West, followed by additionally articulate and inspiring comments was proof-positive that age is only a number, but human spirit and accomplishment against seemingly-impossible odds, is ageless. I could watch her read the phone book and be perpetually inspired. Brava, brava, brava to her for possibly motivating anyone who thinks they "can't", realize they "can", and should. (In my opinion, even if the questions being raised today by other swimmers are found to be valid, Ms. Nyad should still be applauded for adding even a modicum of inspiration to anyone who says they "can't".)
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts.
Next time: Eydie Gorme and Delmer Daves.
This past Monday, August 5th was, for me, birthday number 76. Most wishes of which I was the recipient good-naturedly mentioned having 76 trombones lead a birthday parade. Some stated, "THAT'S the spirit!", and so forth. For me, it resulted in a mix of melancholy and elation. The melancholy comes from knowing there are fewer years left at this end of the spectrum and the elation knowing I've made it this far, better than the alternative (most of the time, but in my opinion, not always.)
One of the brighter notes for me occurred the day before my Monday birthday, last Sunday morning, while watching FACE THE NATION'S last half-hour, thanks to host Bob Schieffer's closing reminiscent remarks, which I'll address in the next paragraph. But first, some background: During my D.C. television weathercasting days (1974-77), Bob Schieffer's wife, who was then a grade school teacher, called me at WJLA-TV (the ABC affiliate for which I was working) to invite me to present a weather talk to one of her classes. I was delighted and honored to accept, and made the presentation. I didn't meet Bob until years later, and he was as charming and "real" as he's appeared for so many years on the un-blinking eye network.
Last Sunday, Bob's closing remarks resonated strongly and delightfully, reminding me that a person whose age I share (Bob was born four months before I was) expounded memories similar to what I've had the privilege to chronicle in this space for the past several months, to wit: Bob noted the passing of actor Michael Ansara a few days ago. Ansara was one of STAR TREK's primary actors and married in "real life" to actress Barbara Eden of I DREAM OF JEANNIE fame. Bob related what was significant to him, both personally and professionally, Ansara and Eden were the first two celebrities Bob ever interviewed. The interview took place at a small Fort Worth, TX, radio station where Bob began his broadcasting career. Bob said he had to lug a heavy tape recorder up several flights of stairs to do the interview. He also said he thinks neither Ansara nor Eden would ever have remembered that interview, but because of Michael's passing, Bob thought it appropriate to share that memory with his audience, and which was delivered in his characteristically-humble manner. It struck a very responsive chord with yours truly, because what I write in this space frequently deals with those sorts of memories. It also jogged my thinking to realizing the longer we live, the more profoundly those, or any, memories really enrich our lives. They bring a lot of smiles, inward and outward. Thanks to Bob and his closing remarks for making the next day a happier, if not more reflective, 76th birthday for me.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts. Additional recent minor surgery has precluded my resuming STAR TRIBUNE webcasts (A SENIOR MOMENT), but will hope to return to that screen in the near future. Happy August!