Category Archives: Notes from the Southwest Corner

Notes from the Southwest Corner, 3: Remembering Fred Russell, courtesy of JB Leftwich

This was column #3 for The Lebanon Democrat. It is a repeat from when i posted it here a bunch of years ago.

SAN DIEGO – To be honest, it is difficult to write this column.

My inclination is to write yet another tribute to JB Leftwich, whose funeral services were last Saturday. But there have been many tributes, including several of my own, and JB would frown on excessive editorializing.

I will honor what I believe to be his wishes and move on with my recollections of my early days in journalism at The Nashville Banner, which happened primarily from JB being in the background.

JB often wrote for The Tennessean and occasionally covered some local sports for The Banner.  In the late summer of 1964, after I mucked up my pursuit of a college degree, JB, in conspiracy with my mother and father, used his influence to land me the position of cub sports reporter and office boy for Fred Russell at The Banner.

I worked at The Banner for ten months, ten of the most wonderful months of my life.  When I resumed pursuing my college degree at Middle Tennessee, I continued to be a sports and Wilson County news correspondent until I graduated.

I hobnobbed with George Leonard and Dudley “Waxo” Green, the two senior sportswriters. I arrived at the Banner offices, co-located with The Tennessean, long before daybreak, with Bill Roberts, the sports managing editor.

Roberts was a bantam rooster, chain smoking, no nonsense, hot type prototype of a managing editor, old style. I don’t recall ever seeing him without his necktie loosened and his sleeves rolled up. He would direct me in collecting the wire stories, writing headlines, editing under pressure, and even taking me out to the press room and assisting in making up the pages in the pre-computer days: galleys of lead into metal frames, which would eventually become the printed word. If an actor ever played Bill Roberts in a movie, it should have been Peter Falk.

JB was my teacher in the basics of good journalism. Bill was my tutor in the gut process of getting a sports section into a newspaper.

George Leonard was a quiet gentleman with a desk in the back corner of the sports department. He covered Tennessee Volunteer football among other assignments. His writing was perceptive, precise, and on target. George and I shared a lasting love of Orange jerseys (no obeisance to white at home and color jerseys away back then), high tops, single wing offense, General Neyland, Bowden Wyatt, Johnny Majors, the Canale brothers, and the quick kick.

Waxo Green never drove a car. He played golf and had many wonderful stories of the golfing world. Waxo reported on all Vanderbilt sports with enthusiasm.  He was bald, told jokes with a raspy voice, laughed loudly all of the time, and like the others, took me under his wing. He loved Vanderbilt basketball. I am sure there was a bar frequented by reporters near the Banner-Tennessean building. I wish I had gone there with Waxo.

Mike Fleming was a solid reporter who covered a variety of college and high school sports. He was younger than the rest of the staff, and he and I became close. 

Then there was Russell. Fred was erudite and Southern classy in his dress. He knew all of the sports figures nationally, and all of the Nashville people of influence. He brought me into his practical jokes, and occasionally let me drive his old Mercedes sedan.

(photo below is of Fred Russell and Grantland Rice, 1951; i cannot get it to align with the text or the caption: i remain technologically challenged)

He was kind and perceptive. In the winter of 1965, he introduced me to Bear Bryant, visiting the office before the Banner’s football awards banquet. Bear put his big hand on my shoulder, walked me to a corner and talked to me for almost an hour.

Fred wrote me a letter when he was 95, a year before he passed away (2003). In a shaky scrawl, he spoke of the closing of The Banner with sadness.

I too am sad at the demise of afternoon dailies. I also miss my two journalism heroes. As with many things, I recognize necessary changes brought about by technological advances and changing lifestyles but wish we would retain the good parts of the past while advancing. That does not occur often enough. 

And i wish people like JB Leftwich and Fred Russell would provide the same kind of guidance for the current and future journalists.

They were the best.

SW Corner, column 2: Finalities

This column, my second weekly for The Lebanon Democrat, published October 22, 2007, was not what was planned. Perhaps my thoughts, not from the events surrounding the column, i.e. the wildfires, are as appropriate today.

SAN DIEGO, CA – This second weekly column has been tough to write.

In a rare exception from my usual pell-mell, last minute throw-it-together mode of operation, I followed the tenets of making any worthy task a success. I determined the desired outcome as I started; I outlined the important steps and created a timeline for completing those steps; I gathered notes and resources and researched needed missing pieces.

Then came the fires.

I tried to stick to my plan and to my regimen. The fire had a different plan, however. It preoccupied my every sense for three days, even though I only briefly felt true concern for my family or my home. Even if I could have eliminated the overbearing presence from heat, smell, smoke, ash, news reports, incoming phone calls checking on us, or outgoing ones checking on others, the fires pervaded every sensible thought I tried to have on other topics.

This is my sixth start on this column. I wanted to write about connections and memories and good stuff. I am compelled to write about the fires.

The devastation and the impact here is mind boggling. Fortunately, the only thing to keep this past week in Southern California from being worse than Katrina is the number of deaths. Only seven deaths have been reported so far.

The fires desolated over 750 square miles. More than half a million people were evacuated. In San Diego alone, over 1400 homes were destroyed. On a local news program, it was revealed we were literally seconds away from cutting power to large numbers of residents during the middle of the crisis.

Returning from our evacuation, we must sort what we packed willy-nilly and place them back from whence they came. We must clean ash on and in the home without the benefit of water, blowers, or vacuums (from a call to conserve water and energy). The fires have put us behind in our usual tasks and added significantly to the list.

As I started on those five other columns, I attempted to escape the fires. Early this morning, I realized I needed some closure.

Of all of the horrible statistics of devastation and costs and of all of the reports of bravery, kindness, futility, anger, meanness, selfishness, and the other aspects of human nature, I have been most intrigued with a whole bunch of people, including me, dealing with finality.

Many people dealt with the prospect of finality in many different ways.

There’s an old adage about living every day as if it were going to be your last. Yet most of the three million people in San Diego County refused to believe it was their last day.

Many ignored the evacuation orders and stayed behind. Some decided they did not trust the government to do its job. Some thought their presence would protect their homes. Some refused to leave their pets and livestock. Some valued their possessions more than life itself.

Learning from the 2003 fires, the ordered evacuations were more successful this time. One of the reasons was most of the evacuation centers in 2003 did not allow pets. With no where to go without their pets, people refused to evacuate. This time, the evacuation centers allowed pets as much as possible and had pet care built into the evacuation plans.

Of the half million who chose to put more days between them and finality, there were also many diverse reasons for doing so, and many different ways of going about it.

Some panicked and simply left seeking shelter somewhere. Some had planned thoroughly beforehand and methodically carried their plan out. Some like our family had pieces of the plan in place and tried to stay ahead of the curve, tried to make wise choices based on the information at hand and assessing the risks and benefits.

I experienced dealing with finality as I chose what to take and not take with us on our departure. It put some different priorities on what is important when we returned home.

I suspect the thoughts of finality will fade quickly for those who escaped home loss like us. We are already re-prioritizing without consideration of this possibly being our final day.

Most of us who have gone through this twice take a little bit more learning away this time. Finality is closer to home.

-30-

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Taking a break

The fires mentioned early in this column published October 22, 2007 were covered in a separate news article i wrote for The Democrat. These fires were the worst we have experienced. We actually left in the middle of the night to stay with friends in Coronado. The escape was more to ease the concerns of my wife and my daughter. We returned home later that day.

i quit going to barbershops about a half-dozen years later when it became evident i didn’t have enough hair to warrant paying a barber to cut it. i now use and electric razor, cut all over very closely, then let whatever else is left grow until it becomes uncomfortable. i miss the barbershop banter.

SAN DIEGO, CA – I need a break.

Often when my wife recognizes I need a break, she sends me back to Middle Tennessee to visit family and friends.

Right now, all three of us need a break. Although we personally escaped from the blazes, we have friends who have lost homes and had their lives altered forever. We are considering taking in one of the newly homeless families until they get their feet on the ground. Our daughter is looking for ways to volunteer to help other evacuees.

The devastation and the impact here is mind boggling. Fortunately, the only thing to keep this past week in Southern California from being worse than Katrina is the number of deaths. The fires desolated over 750 square miles. More than half a million people were evacuated. In San Diego alone, over 1400 homes were destroyed. On a local talk and news radio station today, the chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric revealed we were literally seconds away from cutting power to large numbers of residents during the middle of the crisis.

Yet at this writing, only seven people have died from the fires.

Returning from our own voluntary evacuation, we must sort what we packed willy-nilly and then place them back from whence they came. We must clean up an incredible amount of ash on and in the home, inside and out, without the benefit of water, blowers, or vacuums (this is from a call to conserve water and energy). The fires have put us behind in our usual tasks and added significantly to the list.

My taking a trip back home for a break is not an option.

So, I am taking a break with this column.

I started writing this about a week ago. It was from old notes comparing the Modern Barber Shop and Pop’s Barber Shop of my youth to one I have frequented out here named Alberto’s Barber Shop. While writing, I expanded the idea into some good stories about barber shops.

Today, my break is to indulge in these two stories: your break and mine. I will discuss the barber shops themselves at another time.

The first is a true story which I witnessed in Alberto’s. While I was waiting for a haircut, a man who recently had retired came in. Bob, one of the barbers, stated rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, John.”

John affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

John replied, “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

John, obviously pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“On Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

One of my favorite stories has taken on many variations as Polish jokes become Texas Aggie jokes, and so on. My version is about a barber in a small town in Middle Tennessee. A sailor was en route to his new duty station when he stopped for a haircut.

When finished, he asked the barber what he owed. The barber told the sailor it was free because of the service the sailor was giving to the country. The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop, he found a six pack of beer and a note of thanks from the sailor.

About a week later, a Navy Chief Petty Officer came by, also while en route to his new duty station. The chief also received a free haircut. The next morning, the barber found a bottle of Jack Daniels and a thank-you note.

Several weeks later, a Navy lieutenant showed up with the same result. The next morning gift was a bottle of a fine French Bordeaux.

Finally, about a month later, an admiral shows up. After giving another free haircut, the barber was excited about what he would find on his doorstep. The next morning, he hurried to the shop and there on the doorstep were a dozen admirals waiting in line.

My break is over. It is good to laugh, even when things are tough. I hope you enjoyed the break.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: My Connection

This column was written for the Lebanon Democrat. It was my first one. Amelia Hipps, the editor at the time was kind enough to allow me to publish this column and keep the copyright. It was published October 15, 2007, my sister’s birthdate. It ran for about ten years every Thursday.

i had written several articles for both The Wilson Post and The Democrat about numerous topics. The two were competitors. The two editors i had for that version of The Democrat, Amelia and Jared Felkins were superb, effective local newspaper journalists. The owner, the Sandusky Acquisition Corporation, headquartered in Ohio i think, let the paper be a local paper, pretty much on its own except for cutting costs at the price of adequate local coverage. i really can’t comment about the current paper or the owner, the Paxton Media Group, other than add they fired Jared and most of the staff when they took over in 2019. i haven’t looked at one since. The Wilson Post is now my hometown newspaper.

The original Democrat’s publisher and editor, J. Bill Frame, and his wife, Bessie Lee, were our neighbors across the street. J. Bill became the president of the Tennessee Press Association in 1963. i was the ring bearer for their daughter’s wedding. Laura Lee and Glenn Mingledorrf were wed in the First Methodist Church of Lebanon in 1949. i was five years old.

In 1964, the paper was bought by Carl Jones. Sam Hatcher, the younger brother of one of my best friends, Jimmy Hatcher, was the editor for many years before the Sandusky Acquisition Corporation took over in 2002. Sam moved across town to The Wilson Post. It was not an amicable parting.

But i still considered it my “hometown” newspaper. And perhaps the best part was being on the “OPED” page with JB Leftwich. JB was my mentor, as well as many other cadets, as the guiding hand for the Castle Heights “Cavalier,” a by-weekly high school newspaper that consistently was named among the top high school papers in the country. JB was also responsible for my getting my first newspaper job as the cub reporter, office boy, for Fred Russell and the sports department at Nashville Banner. i felt like i was in journalism heaven.

My plan, at least for 2023, is to post one of the columns more or less in chronological order, each Thursday after this one.

A note: i did have one more job as the Safety Manager for Pacific Tugboat, after i began writing this column.

i hope you enjoy them:

SAN DIEGO, CA – I live in San Diego. My home remains Lebanon.

I live here because I married a native, a rare breed when I met her. Yet I am more of a Middle Tennessean now than when I left for the Navy in 1967.

I like San Diego. In Tennessee, I cannot see Navy ships from the top of my hill. My home does not require an air conditioner. But Lebanon has a charm which won’t let go. I have said many times, the song “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” describes my feelings.

I am torn between two worlds.

I probably have had more jobs than almost anyone. The Navy was largely responsible: I was a first lieutenant, anti-submarine officer, and shipyard coordinator for a sonar suite installation on a destroyer; executive officer of a Navy unit aboard a merchant marine troop ship; anti-submarine officer on a guided-missile destroyer leader; a destroyer chief engineer and shipyard overhaul coordinator; an NROTC associate professor; current operations officer for an amphibious squadron; weapons officer, overhaul coordinator, and training officer on an helicopter carrier; executive officer of  a destroyer tender; director of leadership training, and facilitator for an excellence seminar. I was also sports editor of the Watertown Daily Times in New York between my first Navy obligation and reinstatement to active duty.

Fifteen jobs in twenty-three years.

Generating the list, I also considered other jobs I’ve had, starting at ten years old. This includes yard maintenance; newspaper delivery; water plant worker; grave digger; service station attendant; auto parts inventory worker; camp counselor; clothes salesman; sportswriter; newspaper correspondent; and radio announcer. Eleven jobs in fourteen years.

After the Navy, I carried on job instability.

A life-long job was created when my wife gave birth to our second daughter the day I retired. In a little more than a week, I went from being a commander to “Mr. Mom.”

In this capacity, I chased more occupations: writing the first draft of a friend’s book about his Prisoner of War (POW) experience in Vietnam; organization development consultant; energy regulatory newsletter editor; facilitator for Department of Energy nuclear site reorganization; career transition consultant; automobile sales trainer; customer service trainer; business development manager; military training marketer; business management columnist; awards shop manager; and executive coach.

The jobs in this phase total fourteen, bringing the grand total to forty jobs. That’s pretty close to being a jack of all trades. I believe “master of none” also applies.

Underlying all of this flitting about have been three constants. I have a great love for my family, who remain my top priority. Lebanon has always been my home, and I remain connected. Finally, I have always had the desire to write.

This column attempts to tie the three together. “Notes from the Southwest Corner” is intended to give my perspective on Middle Tennessee, a recollection of my youth, and other thoughts I would like to share.

I want to describe places I’ve been and people who affected me. There will be some thoughts about running an organization and some “sea stories.” I plan to present similarities and differences between life on the “left coast” and in Middle Tennessee.

I won’t tell you HOW to do anything. Most of you are as smart as me and can figure it out on your own. I will refrain from political comments. Also, I don’t plan to make any religious pitches.

My goal is to write well for a place I love. I am shooting to give you anecdotes and thoughts which you can use as you see fit to your benefit.

From birth until 1967, I lived across the street from J. Bill Frame. He was the publisher of the Lebanon Democrat. He was the most intelligent, knowledgeable person I have ever known. He was also kind, and understanding. The Democrat was journalism as I knew it then, and he may be the reason I have this drive to write. J. B. Leftwich, while a professor at Castle Heights taught me journalism.

So in a way, I have returned home. It is with joy I write for the Democrat. It is with pride I write where J. Bill Frame once ruled. It is an honor to write alongside J. B. Leftwich, who taught me and many leading journalists in the country.

Writing here is real close to coming home.

I hope you enjoy the read. I know I will enjoy the ride.

-30-

Note: the “-30-” was the symbol as the end of copy for a news or sports story in print newspapers back when the old Linotype/hot press system was used.

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like…

Tomorrow, i will be putting out updates on the website including a new, easier, and secure way to obtain a signed copy of my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings. i am creating more posts on my journey with the book and what i consider exciting news about my new project.

i worked today. It felt good. For kickers, i visited my friend and saving grace with all things of the web. Walker Hicks not only fixed a lot of things in my giddyup, he got me on track again. He’s a guru plus.

i also attacked a number of home projects today: wrapping gifts and finishing up shopping, organizing and actually making some progress rather than my usual moving one stack to another place and another stack to where that one had been. A couple of other things got done as well. i was planning to write and organize some more tonight.

Then, i grilled hamburgers. i stacked the fireplace with wood, lit the fire, and went out to the grill and began that process. It was about a half-hour before sunset behind our hill. i had my bluetooth speaker on, and my library of songs, shuffled, began with the B-side of the Silhouettes’ 1957 hit, “Get a Job.” I always enjoyed “I’m Lonely” more than the huge hit on the other side. With the crackling of the needle before the song began — i digitized about 250 of my 45 RPM records — i knew what was coming. With a glass of Bordeaux in my hand while tending the sizzling burgers. i looked up at our flag on the top of our hill.

Seeing the sight above, i ceased my thoughts of more work. We ate the burgers, fries, and bean salad on dinner trays in the family room as is our custom. But no television tonight. We put on some Christmas instrumentals and rested. Maureen came over to my chair by the crackling fire and removed my book to the reading table and sat in my lap. Our heads rested against each other’s. We held hands.

Man, it’s been a great day, and it’s beginning to feel a lot like…well, you know.