Thursday, February 26, 2009
Mention the name Johnny Whitaker to most people, and they recall fondly the television series "Family Affair" from the 1960's, a warm and fuzzy show headed by Brian Keith as a bachelor uncle who ends up raising two nieces and a nephew after they're unexpectedly orphaned.
Johnny Whitaker was 'Jody' of 'Buffy and Jody' on that show, a smiling, freckled, tousle-headed boy who charmed his way into the hearts of millions.
Prior to that show's run on network television from 1966 to 1971, Johnny had appeared in a couple of small roles, including as a very young Scotty Baldwin on the ABC soap opera, "General Hospital." During his time on "Family Affair," he had a memorable appearance as "The Littlest Angel" in the made-for-television special of the book, and after the end of his on-screen life as Jody, he famously appeared in the 1972 film "Napoleon and Samantha," co-starring a likewise young Jodie Foster. He teamed with Foster again in the starring roles of the 1973 musical version of "Tom Sawyer," which was nominated for three Academy Awards. It was from Jodie Foster that he got his first on-screen kiss.
Johnny appeared in numerous television shows and films over the next several years, including guest appearances on network shows like "Gunsmoke," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Bewitched" and "Green Acres." In 1973 he starred in the Sid and Marty Krofft series, "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" as Johnny Stuart.
After graduation from high school in southern California, Johnny came to Utah to study at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and prepare to leave on a mission for the LDS Church, which is where I met him in the late 1970s. Like all young prospective missionaries then, Johnny needed to take the MLAT (Modern Language Aptitude Test), which at the time I administered weekly as part of my responsibilities at the Missionary Training Center, a place where missionaries came to spend several weeks doing intensive language and missionary training prior to departing for various corners of the world, domestic and foreign. One's performance on that particular test generally was a significant factor in determining where the missionary would ultimately be sent (those who did better on the test generally, but not always, tended to be sent to locations where language was more difficult). Afterward, I would score those tests and send them to the appropriate authorities for screening.
Johnny came up and visited with me for a while after the test, concerned about how he did. Happily, he did well, evidenced by the fact that he was sent to Portugal for two years on his mission.
Johnny and I enjoyed talking about the fact that at the time we both drove the same car. In fact, I'm fairly certain we had the only two Renault 5 ("Le Car") GTLs in the area. To have a chic little French car in Provo was, well, fairly unique. Mine was brown with a gold stripe and a sunroof, and had "Voulez vous Le Car Avec Moi" displayed prominently in the tiny rear window. Nice little car, that. 54 mpg. Long gone.
He was a really great kid, and I met him at a very interesting juncture in his life. It was not long after the horribly tragic death of his beloved "Family Affair" co-star, Anissa Jones, who played Buffy and had struggled with the challenges of surviving child stardom.
Two roads diverged.
Johnny came back from his mission and completed his studies at BYU, got a degree in communications, then formed his own computer consulting firm and worked in a Los Angeles talent agency, Whitaker Entertainment. He teamed in later years with psychiatrist Dr. Ron Zodkevich for a radio talk show, "The Dr. Zod and Johnny Show" broadcast on the Cable Radio Network. He has been actively involved in issues involving addiction and child stardom, and is a certified addiction counselor. He is President and Founder of Paso Por Paso, an organization whose primary focus is helping Spanish-speaking addicts receive treatment and enter recovery.
Like many child stars, John had his bumps in the road, but he's happily still with us.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Back in the day when people still did that sort of thing, I met a young Enid Greene at an airport seeing off a mutual friend.
A few years later, she was married and elected to Congress as Representative from the State of Utah, only the third woman to ever achieve that distinction, and the first to do it as a Republican. Suddenly, she was splashed all over the newspapers.
Her campaign was accused of violating finance violations, and her husband, Joe Waldoltz, disappeared. When he suddenly surfaced, it became apparent that he had embezzled several million dollars of campaign funds. During his disappearance, she held a press conference to announce she was suing for divorce and custody of their daughter, and returning to use of her maiden name.
Her ex-husband pleaded guilty to federal charges and went off to prison. Enid rehabilitated herself in the Utah Republican Party.
After divorcing Joe Waldholtz and returning to her maiden name, Enid Greene agreed not to run again for Congress, and worked her way back up in the Republican Party in Utah, becoming Vice-Chair of the Utah Republican Party in 2003. In 2004, she unsuccessfully ran on the Republican ticket for Lieutenant Governor of Utah. She has remarried, and has her own radio show on a KSL radio. Her story is chronicled in the book "Blind Trust" by Lee Benson.
She is now Chair of the Republican Party of the State of Utah, and one of that state's electors.
Monday, February 16, 2009
About a month into my husband's complicated and difficult hospitalization in the fall of 2004, some good friends, Stewart and Kathy Laird of Minneapolis, came to visit us at St. Mary's Hospital of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where Larry was in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.
Stew, a former hospital administrator in Wisconsin and Minnesota, wanted to visit a friend of his who lived at the hospital, a Franciscan nun, and he and I set out to find her while Kathy stayed behind in Larry's room to pray.
We wandered down the halls of the Mary Brigh Building to the corridors of the older Domitilla Building, until we were past the main visitors' cafeteria and just outside the sisters' dining room, where we came upon an older woman in hairnet and apron putting jars of homemade pickles on a cart.
"Excuse me," Stew asked. "Do you know where I can find Sister Generose?"
It was Sister Generose.
Despite her unassuming appearance on that particular occasion which might have given rise to any patient, visitor or unknowing staff passing her by, Sister Generose is the life and heart and history of St. Mary's Hospital and the Franciscan alliance with Mayo Clinic.
Not everyone knows that Mayo Clinic, a world class health care institution, came to be because of a tornado in a cornfield in August of 1883, a tornado that wiped out much of the town of Rochester and left many seriously wounded and in need of medical care. The Sisters of St. Francis were called upon by a local physician, Dr. William W. Mayo, to take in the sick and wounded and care for them. The sisters, trained as teachers, not nurses, cared for the patients through the crisis, and when it was over, Mother Alfred Moes, the spiritual leader of the Rochester Franciscans, recognized the need for a local hospital and enlisted Dr. Mayo to help her in creating it. The sisters would work to acquire the land, and open the hospital, and provide nurses for it, she explained, if Dr. Mayo would staff it with doctors.
It was then that St. Mary's Hospital, and Mayo Clinic, were born, and an alliance was formed between the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester and the Doctors Mayo, an alliance that continues to this day.
From the time of Mother Alfred Moes, there began an unbroken chain of Franciscan sisters who were administrators of St. Mary's Hospital--Sisters Joseph, Domitilla, Mary Brigh,
Sister Generose Gervais was the last Franciscan administrator of St. Mary's Hospital.
Like the great women who went before her, there is a building a St. Mary's that bears her name, the most recent addition, which houses Mental Health and Addiction Services just across from the main hospital.
There are fewer than two dozen Rochester Franciscans who continue to live in community in the convent at St. Mary's Hospital of Mayo Clinic in Rochester. They wrapped their arms around me during the difficult eight months that we were there for Larry's prolonged hospitalization and fight for his life, took me in, prayed with and for me and him, and gave me strength I would not have had otherwise. Some of these women were at St. Theresa's College in Winona, Minnesota, at the same time my husband Larry was a student at St. Mary's, and some knew him later at a time he served on the boards of both St. Mary's and St. Teresa's. When I needed them, they were there for me, and I will never forget their loving presence, or underestimate the power and strength of the Rochester Franciscans.
Sister Generose Gervais continues to be a larger than life presence in the Mayo/St. Mary's/Rochester community. She works tirelessly for the efforts of the Povarello Foundation, which enables those who are less fortunate to be able to receive health care at Mayo despite an inability to pay.
And she makes world class pickles.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
For most of my childhood, there was only one grocery store in Big Piney. Burney & Company sat at the end of the only paved street in our town, at a curve in the road about a block from the high school, and when I was younger it was dark, with lightbulbs hanging from chains, and a single pot-bellied stove near the center where locals would gather to chew the fat. Thursdays we got produce, lettuce and tomatoes, which we eagerly awaited. Many townspeople charged their groceries for months at a time; the ranchers would come in before snowfall to buy supplies for the winter, and many wouldn't be seen again until spring if things got bad enough. As kids we'd run into Burneys during our school lunch hour and buy candy bars for a nickel and charge them to our parents' accounts.
Then one day, everything changed. The Haddock family moved to town, and decided to open a second grocery store at the other end of the street. There was a community contest to name the new store, and the winning entry became a fixture in our community--Haddock's Food Fair. The Haddocks were from Idaho originally as I recall, and moved into a house just a block down the street from ours toward Highway 189, the main route from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, the Tetons, and Yellowstone Park. It might as well have been a million miles from anywhere.
For a child growing up across the street from a power plant, barbed wire fences to keep cattle in and dogs and people out, and the occasional stray moose, there was no life except the constant subverted struggle between cattle and oil, the knowledge that the ranching dynasties of the community tolerated, but often resented, the presence of the more transient members of the community who came in by way of the petroleum industry, many of whom lived in subdivisions created by Belco Oil and El Paso Natural Gas for that purpose.
Because my father worked for a small, independent oil and gas company, we lived in town. We were among the fortunate few.
What I saw from that window was not just the sun rising over the Wind Rivers to the east, but the barbed wire fence across the street to the south, the alley way to the north where we burned garbage and played on propane tanks, and lots and lots of gravel roads, the occasional pine tree, and cottonwoods. Lots of cottonwoods.
For the winds of change to bring anyone else into that setting was something of a miracle. It wasn't just that there was competition in the grocery business. It was that change was coming. It was in the air, on the breeze floating like Forrest Gump's feather.
It was there.
Mark Haddock came on that breeze.
Mark was one of two children the Haddocks had with them when they came to town who were just older than I was, a young teenager at the time blossoming out into a world of possibilities. Mark wasn't a dime-a-dozen cowboy, or a roughneck's son, or a football jock. He was everything that world was not.
He was a drummer.
He belonged to that other-world of the interesting and relevant and not at all mundane, people who thought, and cared about political causes, and listened to music other than KMER, and somehow touched that consciousness beyond small town Wyoming. It was the world that only beamed into my bedroom at night after sunset when we could finally get the radio waves from Oklahoma City--KOMA --bringing the Bee Gees, and Carole King, and Rod Stewart into my store of permanent memory. It was the world I watched on television late at night after the rest of my family had gone to sleep, inhabited by the Dick Cavett Show. Mark dared to have longer hair, and be a musician, and think, and read, and hang out with friends he chose. In another place, he might have been a victim of redneck ignorance, but Mark was very popular and extremely well liked. He played the drums in band and stageband, and was the best drummer I'd ever heard. Ludwig drums and Zildian cymbals. He'd practice for hours, sometimes at the Legion Hall across town, with other musician friends who eventually formed a band. One of the greatest escapes in my life was to listen to that. I could escape the small town, and the four walls around me, and be free.
Mark had a John Cusack wit, and a SNL sense of humor. I loved being around that. I hoped my sensibility was sponge enough to soak up some of it, whether in the back of a school bus coming back from a school trip, or hanging out with his sister, Karen, who became a friend.
To this day I remember a lot of conversations I had with Mark, and many situations involving him, flashes of memory tucked away. He had a beautiful Irish Setter named Major, as I recall--Major Danny Boy Fitzpatrick--who'd run down the road in front of our house. Mark also had a motorcycle, a blue Kawasaki. Larry Vickrey had a similar one, different color maybe. Mark ended up dating a girl from Pinedale, but married a local girl, a few years out of high school. He went on to study music, then acquired several advanced degrees in business. Eventually he settled in Colorado, where he has made his home for the last several years, drumsticks still firmly in hand.
Mark became one of the founding members of the band Due West, and is now drummer for the Walker Williams Band.
Mark was one of the most talented and interesting human beings I had the privilege of knowing, growing up in that small Wyoming town. I always knew he could do anything he wanted. And he did.
Friday, February 6, 2009
My memories of Barry Morgan are all somewhat blurry and run together. He will forgive me for that, I think.
I mostly remember him in high school, driving around in a copper-orange car. Playing a trombone, and well, in high school band and stage band. Playing electric guitar in a rock band. Pax. I must have been fifteen then. Sixteen maybe.
But mostly, I remember that he was Becky's boyfriend, one of several she had over our teenage years. Becky was my dad's youngest sister, who lived next door to me growing up. She dated Barry Morgan for a while, so the lens through which I viewed him was primarily, during that time, "Becky's boyfriend."
I think of those as Vietnam years. Guys I knew just a few years older than I was were getting drafted and sent to war. Several were hoping to avoid the draft one way or the other. No one was particularly happy about the war that we watched on our television sets every night around dinnertime. Barry was one of those people who was hoping to avoid it.
He had an older brother, Steve, and together they moved into an apartment on the main street of our little Wyoming town with some other guys, mostly musicians, including drummer Mark Haddock. I seem to remember that they had a black labrador. I want to say his name was 'Nig.' But really, as I said, it's all something of a blur.
Barry was enormously talented. Like so many of us who grew up in that small town in Wyoming, he moved out, and on.
Happily, he continued with his music, and now lives and writes on the Oregon Coast. After being told six years ago he had only eighteen months to live, he has written, collaborated on and recorded over three hundred musical offspring.
Never did I dream that that blur of memories would translate so exactly to Barry's music. But it does.