Wife Amy — my lover, partner, and best friend for more than 43 years — celebrated her birthday last week, one also recognized by friends and associates we have known who have made a difference in this nation and our lives. Birthday wishes came in from around the country and the world.
We also remembered, and mourned, too many of them are no longer among us. We lost Congressman Manual Lujan, also a former Secretary of the Interior and a great friend in 2019. Same for Congressman Paul Findley, who talked me into taking a sabbatical from newspapers in 1981 to become his press secretary in Washington, a move that brought many others of consequence for our lives.
During her career as an actress and theater director, Amy appeared on stage with a number of well-known performers, is friends with Scott Bakula, the former Star Trek actor who just finished a run with the TV series, NCIS New Orleans
She worked closely with Al Pacino on a tribute at the Lincoln Center in New York for acting teacher and mentor Lee Strasberg. She shares relationships with others like Sissy Spacek, the late Rip Torn and many more.
We were longtime friends with former Armed Services Disc Jockey Adrian Cronauer, who I first me in Roanoke when he became general manager of Channel 27 in the 196os. He and his wife Jean are gone, both buried at the Veterans’ Cemetery of Southwestern Virginia in Dublin.
We were having dinner with former Texas Gov John Connally in Albuquerque, NM, in 1982 when he told us he “never believed a word” of the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F. Kenney. Connally had first-hand knowledge of the terrible day in 1963 when he was shot and wounded during that murder.
In stranger times, her Amy found her butt was pinched in Washington, DC, for home-run record holder Roger Maris as a reception on Capitol Hill. Former Olympic swimmer and star of Flash Gordon and Tarzan movies, Buster Crabbe, asked her to come to his hotel room after a reception at Six Flags Over Mid-America during the 1970s. She declined.
We remembered some of those times over the weekend, along with sad memories of the ones who are gone. They include R. Layne Morrill, grandson of Levi Morrill, “Shepherd of the Hills” in the Missouri Ozarks. Layne was chairman of the Realtors Political Action Committee when I was vice president, who worked with the PAC of the national association. He helped make changes in how Congressional and Presidential campaigns were funded in the late 1980 and early 90s.
He and his wife, Brenda, were good friends to Amy and I. He owned much of the property where the country music theaters of Branson, MO, are located. Both are gone now and we miss them both.
There are so many who made our lives what they are today. Ben Bowers was editor at The Farmville Herald in Prince Edward County when he gave 11-year-old me a chance to shoot photos and write about the racial issues of the paper. He later became Executive Editor of the Roanoke Times.
Pete Hallman owned the Floyd Press with his family in the 1960s when he gave me a fultime job while I attended high school. His recommendation led to my first full-time daily newspaper reporting job at the Times. His wife, Ruth Hallman, was my English and journalism teacher at Floyd County High School and taught me to write and focus on issues.
Amy’s contact with drama teachers in high school and college led her to an acting and directing career. We met in a melodrama produced by Alton Little Theater after she was brought in as a professional actress by Birdinie Grossing to star as the heroine, and I was asked to appear as the villain.
Involvement with politics and government brought us into contact, and often friendships, with those who have helped run and control our lives and the destinies of America. I worked on the campaign of George H.W. Bush and met with him in the Oval Office on several occasions to discuss issues. Political guru Eddie Mahe brought into his organization in the 1980s and we became co-workers and friends. Same for Lee Atwater, another political star.
Another friend was hot-air balloonist Maxie Anderson of New Mexico, who led the team of balloonists who first crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He died in 1983 near Bas Kissingen, West Germany, when his balloon crashed in an attempt to avoid crossing into East Germany. We were set to join him to ride in his ballooon at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta later that year.
They and so many others have been part of our lives over the years, and we are grateful to know and cherish their friendships.