50 years after 75 lost their lives, We Are, And Will Always Be, Marshall

Fifty years ago on a cold, rainy, foggy Saturday evening, tragedy visited my birthplace of Huntington, West Virginia.

“This town died today,” a local hospital nurse would say that night, according to an Associated Press report.

Save for those few who hadn’t made the trip, the bulk of the Marshall University football team and staff, flying home from a game against East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970, died when their charter jet crashed less than 2 miles from Tri-State Airport, which sits atop a mountain in Kenova just west of Huntington.

The Southern Airways Douglas DC-9, coming in too low, clipped some treetops, causing a loss of control and sending the jet cartwheeling and flipping into a hillside at 7:36 p.m., erupting into flames.

All 75 people aboard died. The victims included 36 football players, five coaches, eight school administrators, 21 fans and five flight crew. They ranged in age from 19 to 60 and had roots in 13 states. Radio man Gene Morehouse, “The Voice of the Herd,” Marshall athletic director Charlie Kautz, and 20-year-old Jeff Nathan, the sports editor at The Parthenon, the school newspaper, were among them.

The non-players on the Marshall flight included a newly elected state legislator who was one of Huntington’s wealthiest citizens, a city councilman, and the sports director of a local TV station.

As a result of the crash, which claimed eight married couples, 70 children lost at least one parent and 27 were orphaned.

It was the only plane trip planned that season for the Thundering Herd, who traveled to most games by bus. The deadliest accident involving a sports team in U.S. history occurred a little over a month after 14 Wichita State football players and 17 others died in a crash while flying to a game at Utah State.

I was born and adopted in Huntington nine years earlier, moving with my new family to Houston before I could walk. But my three older full siblings — brothers Crys and Robin, and sister Terry — grew up in Huntington. At the time of the crash, Terry was a 15-year-old sophomore at East High School and months earlier, Robin had completed a four-year tour in the Air Force, including a year in Vietnam.

Our oldest brother, Crys, was born in 1944 and graduated from East High in 1962, then spent four years in the Air Force. But he returned to Huntington in 1966 and enrolled at Marshall, where he studied English while working full-time.

Crys has a more vivid recollection of the night of the Marshall crash than many others might. For several years while in college, Crys worked at Huntington’s NBC affiliate, WSAZ-TV, eventually filling every possible duty in the control room. Around the time of the crash, 26-year-old Crys was learning what it took to be a director.

“I was there when the news came over the wire service,” remembers Crys, who’s now 76 and usually worked until the station signed off around midnight.

He also remembers Bos Johnson, the station’s legendary news reporter and anchor who died six years ago, coming into the control room to tell the crew what had happened. Bos, whom I developed a friendship with during my birth family journey and had lunch with on one of my Huntington trips, along with Fritz Leichner Sr., another of WSAZ’s legends, broke into network programming to deliver the solemn news to the community that night.

“I remember that information didn’t travel as quickly back then, so most of the evening was spent trying to gather facts, with several news crews just trying to reach the crash site, which was hopelessly inaccessible on a cold, rainy night,” Crys says. “Of course, the first responders were already witnessing a grim scene.”

His fiancee, Charlene, also a Marshall student, often brought baked goodies to the station for Crys and his colleagues. The night of the crash, she walked into the 2nd Avenue studio west of the Marshall campus, tears on her face.

As Crys recalls, on the campus of 8,500 students and in the city of 73,000, “everyone was in a daze for months afterwards.” He and Charlene married the following April and he graduated from Marshall in the summer of ’72, after which they moved to Colorado, where he’d been stationed in the Air Force. Although they’re not together anymore, they have three awesome kids and five fantastic grandchildren and have never left Colorado.

My birth family felt the devastating effects of the Marshall crash in another way: Sister Terry tells me that one of the team physicians, Ray Hagley, who was aboard the flight, had been her and our mother Betty’s family doctor. His wife, Shirley, also made the trip, and if that’s not sad enough, they left behind six young children — four daughters and two sons. Shirley had just turned 35 a few days earlier, and Ray was three days from his 35th birthday.

The tragedy came as Marshall’s football program had already suffered an earlier trying stretch of 27 games without a win, had been kicked out of its conference for recruiting infractions and had seen its head coach fired. The program hadn’t posted a winning season since 1964.

As was chronicled in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall” starring Matthew McConaughey as new head coach Jack Lengyel, the university somehow cobbled together a team and brought back football the following year. Marshall didn’t have another winning season until 1984, but the program has had its share of success and a number of players who’ve gone on to long NFL careers, including Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich, Mike Bartrum, Carl Lee, Ahmad Bradshaw, Troy Brown and Chad Pennington.

Marshall won NCAA Division I-AA titles in 1992 and 1996 and lost three other title games in the ’90s, finishing the decade with 113 wins — more than any other college program. The Herd moved up to Division I-A in 1997 and has compiled a 12-3 record in bowl games, including winning seven of its past eight.

For a program that lost so much 50 years ago, I’d have to say Marshall has lived up to the title of “Ashes to Glory,” the 2000 documentary about the program’s comeback.

On Friday, Marshall posthumously awarded degrees to 39 students who were on that plane: the 36 players, an assistant trainer, a student assistant statistician and Nathan, the student sports editor. I call that a beautiful gesture that should’ve happened long ago.

Then, on Saturday, a commemoration of the 50th anniversary was held on the Marshall campus, at the site of a memorial fountain dedicated to the crash victims in 1972 and rededicated in 2008. At the end of each year’s Nov. 14 service, the fountain is turned off, then flows anew the following spring.

I hadn’t known this until reading about Saturday’s service, but famed contemporary Christian singer Michael W. Smith hails from Kenova. The Grammy winner sang “Amazing Grace” to begin the ceremony, then told those gathered about his memories of the crash, eight minutes from his home, according to an Associated Press account.

https://www.marshall.edu/neverforget/

“It forever changed my life,” said Smith, who was 13 when the crash occurred. “The town died. But the town came back.”

Four members of the 1970 East Carolina team that played Marshall the day of the crash drove eight hours from Greenville, N.C., to attend the ceremony. “I remember having to chase that quarterback all over the field,” former Pirates defensive tackle Chuck Zadnik told The Washington Post of junior Ted Shoebridge. “It was a hard-fought game” — one Marshall lost, 17-14.

Later Saturday, the Marshall football team stayed undefeated with a 42-14 win over Middle Tennessee State. The Herd, now 7-0 and ranked No. 15, wore black uniforms and No. 75 decals on their helmets in honor of the 75 who lost their lives 50 years earlier to the day.

I’m proud of my hometown, and of the university my brother graduated from. Go Herd! 

https://www.espn.com/video/clip/_/id/30313492

Making up for lost time with a sweet friend, the wife of another dear friend we lost 18 years ago

Last week, I posted a tribute to my best friend Doug, who left a huge hole in countless lives and hearts 18 years ago when he died suddenly at the age of 45. In those 18 years, Kay and I have done a very poor job of spending time with his kind, giving, compassionate and sweet wife, Melissa Brown — who also happens to have one of the cutest smiles and best laughs in recorded history.

As we all know, life “gets in the way” and often keeps us from spending time with the people we love. I’ve seen Melissa at the funerals of her father in 2011 and her mother last year, but social get-togethers with her have been nonexistent for far too long.

So, pandemic be darned, I texted her recently and asked if she’d like to meet up with Kay and me some Sunday, and of course she was all for it. We finally decided on this past Sunday. Instead of restaurant patio dining, Kay and I suggested keeping it simple: Bringing chairs to a park, social distancing and visiting for a while. Melissa lives in Crowley (south of FW) and we’re in SW Arlington, so Kay came up with a cool neighborhood linear park in south Fort Worth called Overton Park, not far from Texas Christian University (Kay’s alma mater).

We met up at 3 in the afternoon. The weather was perfect, in the low 70s with just a few clouds, and we found a shady area under some big trees to fold out our chairs. We ended up catching up for two and a half hours until, with the time change, we lost some light and it started getting chilly.

The three of us had an absolutely fantastic time talking about our families and so much other stuff that we haven’t been able to share over the years except for occasionally through texting and FB messages. All the while, people walked and biked the paths on both sides of us, many with their dogs. As I told Kay, we definitely have to go back and take advantage of that park!

After 32 years as a kindergarten teacher — 27 at Ridglea Hills Elementary in Fort Worth ISD — Melissa decided to retire last spring. To say she was beloved would be a major understatement. She’s enjoying retirement so far, spending time with family, and once the pandemic is over (I’ve asked this before, but it *is* going to end, isn’t it?), she has other activities in mind.

After we said our goodbyes and Kay and I were driving away, she commented that it was so sad that Doug had passed away, because he and Melissa made the perfect couple — because they are both such wonderful people. I told her that was so true.

For those who have struggled coming up with safe settings for spending time with friends during the pandemic, we highly encourage parks. We started with masks and took them off right away, knowing we were sitting far enough apart that it wasn’t a problem (except for the photo we took before leaving!).

Of course, cold weather’s here so there won’t be as many nice days to spend outdoors. But take advantage of the ones we do have by getting together with friends — especially ones you haven’t seen in a long time or don’t get to see very often!  

Another friend and former colleague gone too soon — one of the *really* good guys

A few hours ago, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram family — which I’ll always be a part of after working there from April 1987 to February 2000 — received devastating news about the passing of one of the kindest, most easygoing, funny, professional and skilled friends and colleagues we’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Stephen Schroats, who’d just turned 61 in September, died of a massive heart attack Sunday.

Our friend and former colleague John Henry shared this note via Messenger with several of us after getting the news from Steve’s distraught wife, Saskia:

“It is with great sadness that I pass along the news of the passing of our friend and colleague, Stephen Schroats, who died yesterday. Saskia called about 20 minutes ago with the news. She said he had spent the entire day outdoors, his last stop a field where he was flagging balls in the outfield for a father pitching with his son. It was there that he collapsed … a massive heart attack the suspect. Saskia understandably is devastated.”

As John commented about Steve on our Star-Telegram Friends Facebook group earlier tonight after I posted the shocking news there, “That he took the time to help facilitate a ‘moment’ between a father and son, complete strangers, I think, is all you need to know about the guy. A dear human being.”

Steve with Janneke, the oldest of his two daughters, in the early 1990s.

Steve, nicknamed “Schroatsie,” was an editor/designer in the S-T Sports department for over 25 years. In an intense business where there’s never a stress-free day and the pressure to achieve accuracy, write great stories, break news and hit deadlines can make even the most laid-back get flustered, Steve always kept his cool. He was always upbeat, always calm, always handling situations with restraint and respect for his colleagues, whether writers or fellow members of the copy desk on the S-T‘s award-winning sports staff.

I always felt like Steve’s calm and calming demeanor was one of several on the sports desk that helped keep us all from losing our heads when things got crazy — which, for a major metropolitan newspaper’s sports staff, happens on a nightly basis. The common refrain is that in newspaper sports departments, “Every night is election night.”

Steve and his wife, Saskia, this past summer at Inks Lake State Park, in a photo shared by their friend Glenda French on Facebook.

I haven’t had a lot of contact with Steve in the 20-plus years since I left the S-T for The Dallas Morning News, but we’ve seen each other a handful of times and have exchanged some FB messages and post comments. A few months after being a victim of one of the S-T‘s numerous rounds of layoffs a couple of years ago, Steve took a job designing pages at the Killeen Daily Herald in Central Texas, staying there during the week and driving home to Granbury on weekends.

But Steve told me when I wished him a happy birthday in September that he was now retired and spending time traveling with Saskia in their RV. They have two beautiful grown daughters and I believe one grandchild. Steve was so very proud of his family. They bought their home on Lake Granbury years ago and have cherished living there.

Here’s another photo of Steve with his oldest, Janneke.

Steve and I should’ve known each other years before he arrived at the S-T in the early ’90s — and we may have actually talked on the phone a few times but didn’t realize it. When he was a sports writer in Hobbs, N.M., in the mid-’80s, I was a sports writer in my first job at The Odessa American. The two staffs always exchanged scores and stats, but I never knew Steve — I only knew one of his colleagues. Steve and I only figured out later after he got to the S-T that we’d been at those papers 90 miles apart at the same time.

Steve’s tragic passing is yet another heartbreaking example of why it’s so important to love one another — and show it — every day and make every moment count. 

No matter how many years pass, we’ll never stop missing this best man

Blogging my Facebook post from Monday, a tribute to my best friend, who left this life on Oct. 26, 2002:

Eighteen years ago tonight, I was working the 4-to-midnight Saturday copy desk shift at The Dallas Morning News when I got a call from my wife that stunned and shook me more than any I’ve ever received. It was the kind of sad news we all often get, usually about beloved family members, and it’s always painful to hear and difficult to process.

Kay told me as gently as she could that my best friend, Doug Brown, had died earlier that day, apparently of a heart attack. He was sitting in his favorite chair with a football game on the TV when his dear wife of four years, Melissa Brown, came home from running errands. She thought he was taking a nap after mowing the yard, so she let him sleep. She came out a while later to check on him and couldn’t wake him. Neither, shortly, could the paramedics.

Her sweet Doug was gone, already at the side of the God he worshipped so faithfully.

My DMN colleague Ed Sargent, who was in charge of the copy desk that night, let me finish the editing I was working on and go home early. I was in shock, unable to believe this had really happened. I bawled, yelled and cursed most of the way home, demanding that God tell me why something like this had happened to one of the most wonderful, selfless people he’d ever brought into this life.

Doug was only 45 years old. For 15 years, he had been my closest friend, my Fort Worth Star-Telegram colleague, my most trusted confidant, my fellow best man (he at my wedding in 1994, me at his in 1998), my golf buddy and my forever Astros-fan-in-arms.

Here’s a wonderful memory from 1999, when Doug (right) and I (next to him) played in a charity golf event with two of our good friends and Fort Worth Star-Telegram colleagues — Steve Kaye (left) and Danny Vandegriff. If memory serves, we played pretty well in the Florida scramble format. Doug was one heck of a consistent, smooth golfer, always shooting in the low to mid-80s.

I cannot fathom how it has been 18 years since Doug left us, and yet it seems like an eternity. I miss our long talks late into the night after work, our 18-hole walks (and his brilliant shot-making), the numerous sports events we attended together, and his deep love for, fascination about and knowledge of God’s creatures great and small.

Perhaps most of all, I miss Doug’s embrace of and compassion for all people with whom he came in contact. Those who know and love Doug, who loved them equally, remember his gracious and giving nature, and his willingness to offer his time, guidance and heart to anyone.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Doug was an elder at his church in Fort Worth and had a calm, and calming, presence no matter the setting, whether on deadline at the newspaper or dealing with any of life’s challenges. His father, Allen Hawley Brown, had died only a month earlier at age 84 in Clifton, about 80 miles south of Fort Worth. I attended the service for Doug’s dad, and sadly, that was the last time I saw Doug.

Doug spent years as a docent (volunteer) at the Fort Worth Zoo, leading youth groups on tours and educating them about the animals there and many that weren’t. He went on photography safaris to Tanzania (two, I think) and graciously gave framed photos from his adventures to colleague friends as gifts (mine is a magnificent cheetah).

He led an interesting and full life, adding a beautiful complement to it when he married longtime FWISD kindergarten teacher Melissa Tate 22 years ago this month.

What a memorable day it was on Oct. 10, 1998, when Doug married his sweetheart, Melissa Tate, at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth. She was so beautiful and he was so handsome!

Although he loved all sports, baseball and soccer were Doug’s true passions. And though he tried, he never could get me truly interested in soccer. He even took me to the World Cup game played at the Cotton Bowl in the summer of 1994 (don’t ask me who played), weeks before Kay and I got married.

In the newspaper business, it’s tradition for longtime employees who leave or retire to be presented a “front page” of “stories” about them — mostly of the hilariously funny variety. I had already left for the DMN in 2000, but after Doug’s passing in 2002, newsroom staff at the Star-Telegram put together two pages of moving tributes they wrote in honor of him. All were homages and fond memories of our unforgettable friend and colleague, and I wanted to share a handful of them.

Here’s one by a good friend, former S-T copy editor/designer Robert Owens:

“I didn’t know Doug well, but I do treasure the memories I have of him.

“He always had a willing ear if something was on your mind, and he understood how a little sports chat can turn down the heat on a hectic night. He’d talk teams, players, franchises with anyone, but he didn’t trash talk buddies’ favorites the way many of us do in fun — it wasn’t his style.

“If I had a family or personal problem, I knew he always had a willing ear and a patient demeanor.

“His compassion for animals has been duly noted, but Doug also had a soft spot for young people; anyone familiar with his work as a zoo docent knows this.

“But these softer sides of him did not mask the seriousness and rigor that came into play when he edited copy. There’s no one else I would rather have handling something complex for one of my pages, especially if it concerned sports, zoo programs or one of his other areas of specialization.

“I’ll miss him. I feel lucky to have know him and worked with him.”

Wearing an Astros cap, of course, Doug shows off a catch somewhere on the Texas coast.

Here’s one by Maricar Estrella Hastings, another former S-T designer/editor, starting with a famous quotation:

“The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” — William Wordsworth

“What I remember most about Doug is his kindness. When I came to the Star-Telegram six years ago, he was one of the first people to say hello. He made me feel comfortable. He never raised his voice even in stressful times, and he was always willing to help me even if it wasn’t his responsibility. I could always count on him to teach me about an animal I didn’t know about or a sport I wasn’t familiar with. I don’t have one memory of Doug; I have lots of small ones, and I will always be grateful for those.”

And here’s a touching remembrance from the late Paul Cline Jr., former S-T copy editor and one of our golf buddies, who also died all too young at age 54 in 2013 and was previously married to my dear friend and S-T and DMN colleague Sandy Guerra-Cline:

“Doug always shared animal-related magazines, Web sites and other information with my three children, who have grown up admiring Doug and enjoying his safari stories and other animal knowledge, along with the “neat” photos, toys, noisemakers and other stuff in and on his desk.

“Doug was a role model not only for my children, but for his peers as well. Whether it was his concentration and diligence on deadline in the newsroom or his honesty and sportsmanship on the golf course, Doug stood as an example of integrity for all around him.

“I hope that right now he’s playing an immaculate, beautiful, environment-friendly golf course through a cool green valley near a gentle blue sea, with the wildlife he loved so much lining the fairways, serving as his gallery.

“I’ll always think of Doug when I’m in a newsroom, on a golf course or at a zoo.

“I’m thankful for the nine years I knew Doug — but I wish there had been many more.”

Doug in one of his numerous elements — serving as a docent
at the Fort Worth Zoo, where in 1992, I captured him
showing some youngsters a Madagascar hissing cockroach.

There were so many more poignant tributes and stories in those two pages. We all have our lasting memories of Doug stored in our hearts and thoughts, which flow toward him often.

All I know is, no kinder person have I ever known. Even though my life is filled with wonderful people, there will always be a void because Douglas Allen Brown isn’t in it anymore. 

(FYI, the 3 other ladies I’m tagging in this post are Doug’s big sisters, DorisEileen and Yvonne, who dearly loved their baby brother. On the day Doug passed away, it was Eileen’s birthday, and it saddens me that she’ll always be reminded of that on her special day. But I’m sure she has made it a day to celebrate both her amazing brother’s life and her own. Happy birthday, Eileen! 🤗)

Happy birthday to 2 people who are a big part of me — even though I never met one of them

I’m a little late, but happy heavenly birthday to two enigmatic souls who are a huge part of me: my adoptive mother, whose birthday was Friday, and my biological father, whose birthday was Saturday.

Olga Eneida de Freitas Christlieb, shown on a happy Christmas morning in the early 1970s, raised me and therefore greatly influenced who I am. Her constant struggles, internally and with alcohol, made almost every day a challenge for all of us. But when she died in 2004 after years of strokes, both major and minor, Mom finally found a place where her untreated issues no longer had her, and her family, in their unrelenting grip.

My adoptive mother Olga on Christmas morning in 1973 or ’74. I think she liked this gift, don’t you?

I don’t know how old Mom would’ve turned on her birthday, because she never let on what year she was born. She guarded her driver’s license as if it bore secrets on which her life depended. She was either born in 1930, 1931 — or 1923, which is what one place on the Social Security Death Index on Ancestry says and what some Panama documents we found at Dad’s house after his passing in 2014 make reference to.

A fellow I reached out to in Panama a couple of years ago — whose grandfather had the same name as Olga’s father, but it apparently wasn’t him — was able to get a copy of her birth certificate for me, and it says 1930. (It’s not the original — just a document typed up with her birthdate and parents’ names.)

But whatever year it was, we all wish you a happy birthday and send you our love, Mom.

Orval Bradford Workman — who decided sometime during his youth to rename himself Robert and went by Bob — never laid eyes on me or, as far as we know, even knew about me before his tragic drowning at age 45 in Florida 16 months after I was born in West Virginia in February 1961. I may not look a whit like Bob — facial features or the hair: His was wavy and mine is straight as raw spaghetti … although hopefully not that stiff.

But Bob left an undeniable imprint on me, as anyone whose genes have been passed on to another would. Just as I see my striking resemblance to my birth mother Betty in the many photos my older full siblings have shared with me since I found them, I have come to know how I am like both parents who conceived me little more than a year after their 1959 divorce.

Startling as it seems — at least to me, a guy who’s still in his 50s (barely) — Bob would’ve turned 104 years old Saturday. He was born in 1916, the same year as some really big names you’ll recognize: actors Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas, both of whom died this year at ages 104 and 103; and a slew of other actors/entertainers including Gregory Peck, Glenn Ford, Betty Grable, Jackie Gleason, Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn, Dorothy McGuire, Fernando Lamas and Dinah Shore. Beloved TV journalist Walter Cronkite was also born in 1916, along with world-known British veterinarian/author James Herriot and playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote.

Last but not least, many of you know Ramona and Beezus from her many children’s books, but author Beverly Cleary was also born the same year as my birth father — and she is still alive at 104.

My biological father Bob Workman as a teenager, probably around 1930, with an unknown baby in West Virginia. I would guess it’s a relative.

As for this photo of Bob, I wish I knew its story. It clearly was taken during his youth in West Virginia, probably when he was between 13 and 15, but that’s only a guess. My sister Terry — who was just 5 when Bob faded from Betty’s and my three siblings’ lives for good around the time I was conceived in 1960 — and I have talked about it and have no clue who the baby in the pic is. I would think it’s a relative, though.

Bob grew up an only child: His older brother Lyston died at age 3 in 1913, we assume of scarlet fever or some other childhood illness. Another older sibling (we don’t know if it was a boy or a girl), apparently born in 1912, died either in childbirth or at a very young age.

So, a wondrously happy birthday to you, Olga and Bob. Who knows, maybe you’ve met in heaven and are talking about me right now?!  

Just what I needed — a long-distance, long-overdue chat with Dad’s childhood best friend

I had the most wonderful phone visit with this gentleman this morning. He’s Bob Nelson, and he was my Dad’s best friend growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bob turned 90 in April and is still going strong, just using “a stick” — a cane — occasionally, although he says he doesn’t really need to. His wife Betty is doing great at 86, too. They live in a senior community of about 50 apartments in Hudson, Wisconsin, a quaint little town on the St. Croix River that separates the two states.

Betty and Bob Nelson in a photo taken about three years ago.

You’ll never meet a more pleasant fellow. Then again, having visited Minnesota numerous times to see my grandparents Alma and Frank and other relatives while growing up — and quite a few more times since — I’ve never met anyone from the Land of 10,000 Lakes who wasn’t the definition of friendliness and warmth.

Bob was so happy to hear from me. Since Dad passed away in July 2014, we’ve only spoken a couple of times and exchanged a handful of emails. We talked about how much we both miss him.

Betty and Bob have grown kids, along with grandkids and great-grandkids (when I asked him how many grands and greats, he laughed and said he’d have to write ’em all down to add ’em all up) Their oldest is a 64-year-old son who’s a dentist. Sadly, they lost one of their sons in a car accident about 10 years ago.

I told Bob that I’ll never forget how he drove, at age 84, three hours from Hudson to Hutchinson, Minnesota, to join us for Dad’s small but beautiful funeral service. That meant so much to us, not to mention how he stood there and gave a moving tribute to Dad, telling stories about his dear friend and sharing some of the memories he still cherishes after all the years.

What a fantastic old photo this is from 1947-48. My dad Clark — Lindsay to his family and friends — is at left, next to his best friend Bob. These guys were all seniors at Murray High School, across the street from Dad’s house.

In addition to the sweet photo of Bob and Betty, the group shot above is an awesome memory from 1947-48, Bob and Dad’s senior year at Murray High in St. Paul. (Murray stood right across from Dad’s house on Grantham Street in St. Anthony Park.) Dad, whose first name was Clark but who was known by his family and friends by his middle name, Lindsay, is the coolest of cool dudes at left in the awesome leather jacket. Bob, looking pretty doggone cool himself, is right next to him. A few years ago I knew the names of the other guys, but I’ve forgotten.

This last photo is part of a true keepsake: After Dad died and we were going through the countless heirlooms and family treasures at his home in Missouri City, I found a letter Bob had sent him in August 1949. Bob was in the Army, stationed somewhere in the Pacific, and Dad was in the middle of unsuccessfully trying his hand at two Minnesota colleges — Carleton and Winona — before joining the Navy in 1950 and ending up stationed in Panama for over three years.

Bob’s letter to Dad, written Aug. 22, 1949, and postmarked the next day.

It’s a two-page letter full of great fun like “Are we still going hitchhiking across the States some summer?” and “It’s hotter than hell again today. … I still wish a damn typhoon would hit here.” We just don’t write letters like they used to, do we?

One of the last things I told Bob before we said goodbye was what an amazing coincidence it is that my biological parents have the same names as he and his wife Betty (her formal name is Elisabeth). He knew about my having found my birth family 15 years ago, but didn’t recall that my parents’ names were Betty and Bob.

The Nelsons are such great folks, and I feel very lucky to know them. It’s like having a piece of Dad to hang on to a little while longer. I’m going to do my best to make sure we stay in as close a touch as possible from now on.  

Tipping my cap to a fallen baseball hero who truly was Terrific, on and off the field

As I fell in love with baseball at a young age, one of the players I couldn’t get enough of was this guy. Tom Terrific truly was to me, even if it seemed like my team, the Houston Astros, could never touch him.

My editing shift for The Dallas Morning News was almost over Wednesday evening when I heard the disheartening news that legendary pitcher Tom Seaver had died at a relatively young 75. I was shocked and saddened, and immediately went to look up how he’d died: Lewy body dementia and COVID-19 complications.

I texted several baseball buddies, knowing they’d also be sad to hear of the passing of a great ballplayer and great man we’d all grown up watching. I also texted my brother Crys, one of the three full siblings I found 15 years ago, who was 25 years old when Seaver and the Miracle Mets won the World Series in 1969 (I was only 8). “He was a great one,” Crys texted back.

Seaver, a gifted, overpowering right-hander, shut down opponents with a fantastic fastball, pinpoint control, a brilliant mind and the perfect pitcher’s mentality. On top of that, he was a great guy with boyish good looks and charm.

“Tom does everything well,” former New York Mets teammate Cleon Jones, who caught the final out of the ’69 World Series, said of Seaver. “He’s the kind of man you’d want your kids to grow up to be like. Tom’s a studious player, devoted to his profession, a loyal cat, trustworthy — everything a Boy Scout’s supposed to be. In fact, we call him ‘Boy Scout.'”

As a 22-year-old rookie with the Mets in 1967, Seaver won 16 games — does anyone do that anymore as a rookie? — and was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year. That summer, when Seaver made the first of his seven straight trips to the All-Star Game — 12 overall — Atlanta Braves slugger Hank Aaron introduced himself before the contest.

“Kid, I know who you are, and before your career is over, I guarantee you everyone in this stadium will, too,” Aaron told him.

That night, Seaver would enter in the 15th inning to get the save in the National League’s 2-1 win — after Tony Perez’s home run off Catfish Hunter in the top of the inning.

Two years later, No. 41 led the Mets to their unbelievable season that culminated in a championship — the only one he’d ever be a part of — by compiling a remarkable 25-7 record and a 2.21 ERA to win the first of his three Cy Young Awards. That same year, 22-year-old teammate Nolan Ryan went 6-3, making 10 starts on his way to the Hall of Fame along with Seaver.

In the pitching-rich NL, Seaver didn’t win the league ERA crown that year — not with the Giants’ Juan Marichal posting a 2.10 and Cardinals teammates Steve Carlton (2.17) and Bob Gibson (2.18) finishing second and third (the previous season, 1968, was when Gibson posted his never-to-be-touched 1.12). Jerry Koosman, Seaver’s teammate, had the NL’s fifth-best ERA at 2.28.

That ’69 run of Seaver’s was the first of his five 20-win seasons. The Mets went 100-62 in the regular season and overtook the Cubs to win the NL East after trailing by 10 games in mid-August. From Aug. 5 through season’s end, Seaver went 10-0 with a 1.34 ERA, eight straight complete games and three shutouts.

The Mets defeated the Braves in the first-ever NLCS, then beat the Baltimore Orioles — who won 109 games in the regular season — in five games to complete their leap from lovable losers to improbable world champs. Seaver lost Game 1 of the World Series but bounced back to win Game 4 in a 10-inning complete game.

As I was reading some online sources about the 1969 season, I ran across something I hadn’t remembered: Only one NL team had a winning record against the Mets that year — the team I had already become a big fan of since we lived just 5 miles from the Astrodome. Somehow, the Astros — who that year finished 81-81, their first season without a losing record, in fifth place in the NL West — won 10 of the teams’ 12 meetings, including all six games in the ‘Dome. The Reds went 6-6 against the Mets, but the Amazin’s had a winning record against everyone else.

Sweet.

Seaver’s 311 wins, 2.86 career ERA and 3,640 strikeouts (sixth all-time) put him in select company like no other: He and fellow Hall of Famer Walter Johnson are the only pitchers ever to post 300 wins, 3,000 K’s *and* an ERA below 3.00. Seaver was 40 when he won his 300th in 1985 as a member of the Chicago White Sox and back in New York — but against the Yankees in the Bronx, not against the Mets at Shea Stadium.

Seaver threw “only” one career no-hitter, against the Cardinals when he was pitching for the Reds in 1978 — after the Mets traded him and slugger Dave Kingman the previous year in what came to be known as the “Midnight Massacre.” But in very Nolan Ryan-esque fashion, Seaver had five one-hitters, 10 two-hitters and 27 three-hitters.

Funny thing about Boy Scout, though: For him, it was never about statistics. It was about performance.

“In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers,” The New York Times quoted him as saying in 1976. “If you dwell on statistics, you get shortsighted; if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.”

The numbers Seaver put up during his 20-year career take me back to the great baseball of my youth, when pitchers threw complete games with regularity. You just don’t see these anymore, and you won’t ever again — just like we’ll never have another 300-game winner. A few more of Seaver’s untouchable feats:

— 61 shutouts
— 231 complete games
— In addition to winning 20 or more games 5 times, he won 16 or more 7 other times
— 9 times with a season ERA of 2.59 or better (one was in 1971, when Seaver led the NL with a 1.76 ERA and had a 20-10 record, but finished second in Cy Young voting to the Cubs’ Fergie Jenkins, who went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA)
— 10 seasons with 200 or more strikeouts (nine times with the Mets, once with the Reds), an NL record
— Major-league-record 16 Opening Day starts

I remember watching Seaver pitch a lot on TV for both the Mets and Reds, and he always seemed to be dominant. I also listened to plenty of games on the radio in which he pitched against the Astros, and I recall him being in command then, too. I attended my share of Astros games growing up, but I don’t recall ever getting to see Seaver pitch in person. I’d remember that.

While writing this, I found a database revealing that during his 12 seasons with the Mets, Seaver recorded 10 or more strikeouts 62 times — nine of those against the Astros.

“I would like to be a great artist,” he once said. “I would quit pitching if I could paint like Monet or Rousseau. But I can’t. What I can do is pitch, and I can do that very well.”

Baseball has missed Seaver these past 34 years since he retired at the age of 41 in 1986. And now a nation misses a hero of its national pastime who brought so much joy to so many.

You always did it the right way, both on and off the field, Tom. I’ll always be grateful for how truly Terrific you were.

https://www.mlb.com/news/tom-seaver-top-10-moments-c290307942

When a pain in the leg turns out to be deep vein danger

Blogging this from a post on my Facebook page on Thursday, Aug. 20:

For 10 hours today until getting discharged about noon, this was my view from a room at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth (the same place I had my ruptured appendix yanked out in late May). But before being wheeled to the fourth floor of the Cardiac Tower around 2 a.m., I spent almost five hours in a crazy-busy ER, thankfully in the relative silence of my own little room.

To cut to the chase, I am the proud (?) owner/recipient/beneficiary of a DVT, more complicatedly known as a deep vein thrombosis. In layman’s terms, a blood clot in my right leg, extending approximately from mid-calf to mid-thigh. I’m also now getting my first crack at blood thinners (anticoagulants), specifically one called Eliquis, which I’ll take twice daily for about three months.

This all started about two weeks ago. Actually, it probably started in mid-March when we at The Dallas Morning News all took our jobs home, and my level of activity that came with a daily commute, a standing desk — and getting away from it on a fairly regular basis — dwindled big-time. At home during the pandemic, I’m not standing at my desk, I don’t get up and walk around enough, and I’m not getting nearly enough exercise. Those would seem to be prime suspects for this thing I now must deal with.

When I started having right calf pain week before last, I logically thought I had pulled a muscle during a couple of bike rides. But it lingered into our drive to Galveston several days later, although the pain wasn’t unbearable. Before we left on our trip, though, I did what we all do and attempted to self-diagnose through the infinite sources within clicking reach. There were possibilities including dehydration, hypothyroidism (which I do have) and pulled muscles.

But the one that seemed more prevalent on the sites I visited — and the one I could never entirely convince myself I *didn’t* have — was a DVT. Some days the pain decreased, some days it increased. Sometimes walking seemed to help relieve the pain. Meanwhile, as I was favoring my right leg so much, I started having pain in my left heel. As it grew worse, I started searching for an answer to that, too — and all signs pointed to plantar fasciitis.

I would’ve cried if it weren’t so laughable. But reading all the material about DVT and seeing how it could become a life-threatening issue if pieces of the clot break free, travel through the heart and become lodged in the lungs, creating a pulmonary embolism, I decided I needed to see my doctor to be sure.

I made an appointment to be worked in at 7:45 Tuesday morning and saw a nurse practitioner. Sure enough, she did make one certain diagnosis: plantar fasciitis in my left foot. Told me about the stretches I should do, the iced water bottle I needed to roll on the bottom of my foot to help heal the inflammed plantar fascia, and the shoe insert I should buy. But when it came to my right leg, she did a physical exam of the calf and determined I had nothing more than a muscle strain. I didn’t have a couple of the common symptoms of DVT: redness and warmth in the alleged area of clotting. Do some calf stretches and this will work itself out, she said.

Here’s what normal blood flow in the legs looks like, and what happens when you have a DVT like I somehow ended up with in my right leg.

Thank goodness for what happened the next day, yesterday. The leg pain was much worse and extended higher, around my knee and into my thigh. But the biggest change I noticed as my editing shift wore on was how swollen my right calf and the area below it had become. It also was now somewhat numb to the touch. I asked Kay to come into our bedroom, which has been my pandemic office, and look at my two legs and tell me what she saw. She was shocked at how swollen my lower right leg was. Up to this point, she hadn’t been sure I had a DVT — but now, even though she didn’t tell me this until I got home from the hospital today — she was almost sure of it.

Kay told me I’d better call the 24-hour nurse line for our insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, after my shift for guidance. I did that, and the nurse recommended I see a doctor within four hours. Not twenty-four. Four.

I went just before 9 p.m. to CareNow, realizing they didn’t do imaging but hoping the doctor might at least give me his best opinion. Instead, I was told by the woman at the front desk, who spoke to him, that I should go straight to the ER if I thought I might have a DVT. That’s how I landed at the Harris Methodist ER, which had taken such good care of my rotten appendix and me. Within a couple of hours, I had the ultrasound that confirmed the blood clot, and, knowing only what little I’d read online, I was surprised to hear it wasn’t confined to my calf — and that it was as extensive as it is.

Me in the emergency room at Texas Health Harris Methodist in Fort Worth, waiting, waiting, waiting. By this time, I’d already learned that an ultrasound showed I had a deep vein thrombosis in my right leg, I already had an IV port inserted in my left arm, I knew I was being admitted to the hospital and was waiting to be taken to a room. That would finally happen about 2 a.m.

After finally getting in a hospital room at 2 a.m. on a growling stomach after skipping dinner, sleeping about three hours, talking this morning to nurses, the doctor on duty and the PA for the hematologist I’ll now be a patient of, and watching videos about DVT, I understand more about what I’m dealing with and my treatment. Like, for instance, I thought the blood thinners would be helping break up the clot that’s already there. Nope, those are to prevent another one from forming. Basically, your body works to dissolve the clot while the med’s doing its job. If all goes as it should, there’s a low risk that any chunk of the clot will break free, flow upstream and wind up in my lungs.

So, let me close out my usual long-winded storytelling with this: If you have symptoms of any kind and you’re unsure what they are, it’s perfectly OK to go online and see what’s out there. You’ll learn which sources are the most reliable, although I still find myself perusing many for the same reason I eat a lot of the food I eat — because it’s there. 😉 

But if you experience anything with even the remote potential of being serious, call your doctor. Don’t let it go. With my appendix, I didn’t wait to get in to see mine when the intense pain hit, and I’m damn glad I didn’t. With this situation, I probably could/should have gone in sooner. But if I had, I probably would’ve gotten the same misdiagnosis I received Tuesday. Once the symptoms and pain reached another level a day later, it seemed pretty clear this was something serious.

Do your own research, but don’t blow off seeing a doctor. It seriously can make all the difference for your life and your loved ones’. 

Shared memories of a shared mother so I can know her, too

Blogging this from my Facebook today:

Many of you saw my post Wednesday about my late biological mother Betty’s 99th birthday. As most of you know, I have three older full-blooded birth family siblings — brothers Crys and Robin and sister Terry — whom I found 15 years ago. We lost dear Robin, a smart, sensitive, devoted father, grandfather and husband, in January 2009 when he was only 61 years old. Crys, Terry and I keep an open group text going and stay in close contact, although we don’t get to talk or see one another nearly as often as I wish. They’ve both lived in the Denver area for over 45 years.

Yesterday as we shared texts about Betty’s birthday and I texted several photos of her, I asked Crys and Terry to do me a special favor: Would they please take a minute to text me one lasting memory of Betty in her honor so I could share it on Facebook and on my blog?

And they did. Lord knows, over the past 15 years I have barraged them with so many questions about Betty and our father Bob, they’re certainly accustomed to it. And being the loving, kindhearted people they are, they’ve never told me, “Enough with the questions! What are you, some kind of reporter?” 

I’m so sorry I’m a day late with these, Betty. Newspaper deadlines got in the way, as they often do.

****

My brother Crys, the oldest of my three birth family full siblings, with our mother Betty in 1988 during a visit Betty and her second husband Ronnie made to Colorado. She passed away from lung cancer in December 1992 at age 71.

A sweet memory from Crys, who was born 2-28-44 (we share a birthday, 17 years apart). He joined the Air Force in September 1962 after having graduated that year from East HS in Huntington, West Virginia. After getting out of the service, he lived briefly with Betty and almost-teenage Terry in an apartment on Third Avenue before getting his own place, enrolling in Marshall University and going to work at WSAZ-TV:

“When I returned to Huntington (in 1966) after the Air Force stint, I was learning to play the electric guitar I had bought. There was a song, ‘The Shadow of Your Smile,’ that I was intrigued by and I was surprised that our mother knew it (I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised). I turned on my amp and started playing as she sang. It was a beautiful moment that I will always remember.”

****

My late birth mother Betty with my sister Terry the day before Terry married in Denver in October 1980.

Poignant memories from Terry (Teresa), who was born 12-19-54, graduated from East HS in 1973 and moved to Colorado about a year later after getting pregnant — and, at age 19 like our mother did as she was months from turning 40, placing her son for adoption. (Terry reunited with her son when he was 18.) Terry had always been the baby of the family — until she and our brothers were discovered by their long-lost sibling:

“Well, I have lots of little memories of Mother that were special to me! Number one was always holding my arms around her waist and her singing to me and we dancing in a circle is probably the most precious. And also, that at least once in the summer, maybe twice, we went to Dreamland, the swimming pool in the West end of town and we had to take two or three buses to go down there coming and going … and she did that just for my pleasure! Love you Mother for always thinking of my happiness!   I have a lot more to say but that’s just a few right now.”

****

Betty never had a driver’s license, never drove a car, so that’s why she and Terry had to take those buses to Dreamland, a crazy-popular Olympic-size swimming pool in the Huntington suburb of Kenova. It also had a pavilion where big bands — and big names — started performing in the 1930s. (I’m talking Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and the like.) Betty herself sang at Dreamland with a dance band fronted by a drummer named Hal “Scotty” Scott a number of times in the early 1960s.

Terry has told me before about how she often danced with Betty at home when Terry was growing up. That visual touches my heart like no other — Betty twirling gracefully, gently with her young brown-haired, brown-eyed daughter through their rented house, then later their apartment, serenading her with that remarkable singing voice. The chills and tears come as I type. I wish that just once, I could have been that brown-haired, brown-eyed dance partner.

Thank you, Sister and Brother, for sharing such sentimental memories of our mother, and for always showing me how much you loved her. Thank you for loving me, too. 

On her 99th birthday, missing and loving the mom I never met

It seems all too unbelievable, but my precious birth mother Betty is 99 years old today, July 22, 2020. She’s celebrating with all the other angels, as she has been since arriving at heaven’s gates five days before Christmas 1992.

So many of my Facebook friends and family have shared in my birth family journey since the social media platform came around — what, 12 years ago? — and we cherish that you’ve so genuinely joined us in that life-changing experience.

As we wish beautiful Betty a happy 99th, I’m bringing back a FB post I wrote 5 years ago, because it embodies so many of the emotions I’ve felt and questions I’ve had since finding my three older full siblings in 2005. Crys, Robin and Terry were all very close to our mother, and the memories they’ve so generously given of her have meant more to me than anything.

Also, to celebrate Betty’s birthday, here’s one of a handful of songs we have priceless recordings of her performing in about 1951 at a March of Dimes benefit in Logan, West Virginia. She truly had an amazing gift, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Here’s to the mother my brothers and sister have always loved, and to the mother I never knew but love just the same. 

****

It’s your birthday, Betty Louise.

I – and all your surviving family and friends – celebrate you, honor you and love you. And, even though our eyes and arms never met, I miss you. You can miss and long for someone, even if you never knew her personally or ever embraced her. You love, cherish and are grateful for all the people life surrounds you with. I wouldn’t trade the family I’ve known my whole life for 10 Astros World Series titles (and those who know me well know how much that would mean to me).

But you always wonder what if. What you missed out on. I can’t help that, and I hope you and all the people whom I love and who love me can accept that. It’s not like missing the bus or missing an appointment or missing a sale you’ve been waiting for. It’s like missing the smells and comforts of your grandmother’s house, the reassuring warmth of her hugs, the escape provided by visits to her home. You wish you could go back and keep going back forever.

And so I miss you – and what we never had.

There are so many things I don’t know, and will never know in this life. If I’d searched for my birth family sooner and found you before you left almost 23 years ago, maybe you could’ve answered all of my questions – or at least some of them.

I don’t know how or when you and my birth father Bob, the father of all four of your children, met. I don’t know if he started drinking at some point after you, at age 18, married him in 1939, or he was already under the bottle’s spell before you fell in love. I don’t know how bad things truly got in your 20 years of marriage – outside of the relatively few details brother Crys has told me about from childhood flashbacks, many painful. Or how many times you thought about packing up Crys, Robin and Terry and leaving Bob, if you ever did. I don’t know if you loved him so much that you forgave – or overlooked – his weaknesses and drunken larks to keep your family together for your children. I don’t know if, after your 1959 divorce, he pleaded with you to take him back, promising to change, so you gave him the last of what must’ve been countless chances to get it right.

My birth parents, Betty and Bob Workman, at home in West Virginia with my oldest brother Crys, who was born Feb. 28, 1944. I was born 17 years later to the day.

I don’t know how you felt in 1960 when you found out that you, divorced a year earlier, were implausibly pregnant out of wedlock, knowing the father could only be your ex-husband. I don’t know how much time, as a single mother two months from turning 39, with children ages 16, 12 and 5, you spent trying to decide what to do. I don’t know if you cried or prayed “why me” to God or accepted responsibility for a moment of passion – I’m convinced that’s what it was, not the appalling alternative – and its fateful outcome.

I don’t know if you agonized through sleepless nights about whether to keep me or give me up, or decided immediately that adoption was your only option. I don’t know if your thoughts raced ahead, looking at the prospect of what life would be like with another mouth to feed, another child to rear until you were almost 60. I don’t know if you were so focused on working to put food on the table that you knew you had to block out conflicted thoughts of me during your pregnancy. I don’t know if you were so ashamed, so worried about folks finding out, that you didn’t tell a soul besides your Aunt Victoria and Uncle Walter. I don’t know how difficult it was to conceal the pregnancy, but I’m sure you wore out a girdle or three trying to.

I don’t know if, while performing with an upscale hotel bar’s dance band as I grew inside you, you sang lyrics that echoed some of the essence of your life story, and the anguish and regret you felt about your predicament. I don’t know if, while you performed gigs with a band at Dreamland a couple of years later, any of the songs you so beautifully entertained crowds with reminded you of me and brought tears to your eyes.

I don’t know what you were feeling when you arrived at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, WV on Feb. 28, 1961. I don’t know if you tormented yourself over whether you were doing the right thing. I don’t know if, after I arrived at 5:15 p.m., you saw my face. I don’t know if you held me or if the nurses asked if you’d like to – or if you asked them if you could. I don’t know if I was whisked away to avoid complications or if the nurses tended to me as you watched. I don’t know if you cried or put on a brave face that masked your sorrow. I don’t know if you really wanted to keep me but couldn’t shake the stark reality that my life would be better if you didn’t.

Betty in the mid-1950s at home in Huntington, West Virginia. That’s a photo of my big brother Crys behind her.

I don’t know if your tears dampened the form you signed March 3, 1961, making it official I’d be going home with another family. I don’t know if your days were filled with regret and pain at first, and then things became easier for you. I don’t know if you thought of me every day or only on my birthday and Christmas, the holiday when you and your grown children who lived out of state were almost never together.

I don’t know if you wished you could tell your secret to the three children you raised or how close you came to doing so. I don’t know if you ever considered trying to find me but were just too overwhelmed by it all – and felt you had to take your secret to heaven with you.

I want to know all of this, and so very much more. But for now, I can only speculate – and say I’m sorry for every misery you suffered.

****

What I do know, in my every fiber:

I know you made the heartbreaking decision you did – the one that had to be made – out of an undying love for me and a resolve to keep me safe, whatever it took. I know you did it to protect me from my father, who’d already drunkenly threatened to take your young daughter away from you. I know you took every possible precaution to ensure he never found out about me, from the jarring moment you realized you were pregnant until Bob’s unfortunate demise when he drowned in Tampa in July 1962. I know that my life – not how difficult keeping me would surely make yours – was your only concern. I know you selflessly opened your heart to send me into a new home because you knew you couldn’t raise a fourth child on love alone, no matter how abundant.

I know you formed and stored a picture of me in your mind and memory, and that image often entered your thoughts, especially when life threw so many challenges your way. I know you missed me and wondered what my life was like – it’s not possible, knowing the kind of tenderhearted woman I’ve learned you were, that you could have shut me out once I was no longer yours. I know that every Feb. 28, you found time to cry and tell me you loved me – as well as your oldest son Crys, who turned 17 the day you gave birth to me.

Betty working at Walgreens in Huntington in the late 1930s.

I know you aren’t the mother who raised me, but I am who I am – as are all four of us – in great measure because of you. I know most of me can be traced to the parents who were forever grateful for your benevolence, the act of two people receiving a newborn from a stranger about whom they knew nothing. But I have personality and emotional traits, and even mannerisms sister Terry has noticed, that only your son could have. Your sensitivities and sentimentality are instilled in me.

I know you’re overjoyed and thankful that, 10 years ago, the child you lost finally became part of your family again. I know that even though you could never bring yourself to admit to my siblings that I hadn’t really died in childbirth, it was your greatest hope that we would find each other someday.

I have much to be thankful for, many family and friends to love and cherish. You, what you did for me, and your other three children with whom I have built everlasting bonds, are among the blessings I will never stop counting.

Happy birthday from all of us, Betty.