Saying goodbye to a sister

September 2, 2015 at 1:54 am

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I was a lucky child.  Born to great parents, for sure.  But on top of that, I had two older sisters!  Brenda and Elaine were 12 and 10 when I was born.  From personal experience, I highly recommend being a baby boy in a household with two older sisters.  You might say (because it is a fact) I was spoiled by all the attention.  My wife has been trying to straighten me out ever since, and I’m told it is an ongoing project.

Brenda Carroll Selph in the 1970s

Brenda Carroll Selph in the 1970s

Brenda was a strong-willed, adventurous girl, in an era when that was unusual behavior.  The day after she graduated from high school, she moved to Memphis because she wanted to be on her own.  I was only 5, so I didn’t understand the challenges that would pose for a 17-year-old country girl.  When I was little, she was a hero to me because, I was told, she rescued me from a dangerous situation.  Apparently an electrical outlet sparked a small fire near my crib, and she got me out of there.  Again, having big sisters is a wonderful thing.

As we got older, I looked forward to annual Christmas visits from my sister, and her “big city” gifts.  It was great having the whole family in our house again.  Every year or so, we’d visit her in Memphis.  One of those trips may have been a life-changer for me.  When I was 9, she took me for a visit to WHER in Memphis, the first radio station I ever saw.  Evidently, the radio bug bit me that day, and has never let go.

Brenda was always stylish and beautiful, and she had a good ear for music too.  Her radio would be on great stations like WHBQ, and she played albums like “Band on the Run” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” on her stereo.  She always showered me with attention, making sure I didn’t have to do any cooking.  As she pointed out with a laugh, no one had taught me any kitchen skills at home, so I would get the same royal treatment at her house.

During her first few years in Memphis, there were ups and downs, particularly on the romantic front.  She had a difficult first marriage that soured her on men for a while.  Then she met the love of her life.

Brenda and Steve Selph, 1992

Brenda and Steve Selph, 1992

Steve Selph was about five years younger, and had served in Vietnam.  He was a fireman from a firefighting family.  He tells me that for him, it was love at first sight.  She took some convincing, but he was up to the task.  They got married 41 years ago, and they were truly a great team.  Look up “soulmates” in the dictionary, and their picture ought to be there.  They were inseparable.  After a few years of marriage, both wanted to get away from the city to find some peace and quiet.  They found a house about 30 miles east of Memphis, in a small community called Mason.  The house was just the right size, with enough of a yard for them to garden and putter around.  They named their home “Hearts Rest,” which is self-explanatory, and totally accurate.

With no children of their own, they “adopted” an entire community of neighbors, church members and friends, who would stop by for food, drink and song.  A few weeks ago Brenda got the diagnosis we all fear: cancer.  Skin cancer, or melanoma to be exact, was spreading through her body.  When I visited with her a month ago, friends and neighbors were dropping in to bring food, and to offer encouragement.  Brenda and Steve were the heart of that community, and just as you would expect, neighbors rallied around the woman who had served as their mom and sister.

Steve says death came quietly this week.  Although Brenda had been mobile, talkative, and positive since the cancer diagnosis, she had weakened a little, day by day.  Those angels who provide hospice care were able to control the pain, abiding by her wishes not to endure radiation or chemotherapy.

When I left her in late July, she had asked for her hospital-style bed to be moved into the living room, with its big front window revealing a yard full of natural beauty.  She wanted to see the birds visit the feeders she and Steve had put up for them.  Those birds have lost a friend, and I have lost a sister.  But we’re all better off today, from the love and nourishment she provided for us.

In lieu of flowers, Brenda had requested any memorial donations be sent to Hoyt Carroll Scholarship Fund, c/o North Sand Mtn. High School, PO Box 129, Higdon, AL 35979

Brenda Selph and Chris Carroll, 1988

Brenda Selph and Chris Carroll, 1988

Vince Carroll and Brenda Selph, 1990

Vince Carroll and Brenda Selph, 1990


We’ve lost one of the good guys: Officer Mark Garner

August 28, 2015 at 3:41 pm




mark-garner2Here are a few words from Mark Garner’s friends, via Facebook.

From Barbara Hamrick, who read the story I did about Mark’s amputation last January:  “Just want to thank you for reuniting my friendship with Mark Garner. We worked together at Walker County back in 1993 and remained friends over the years, even when he went to other law enforcement agencies. When you put the report about his medical problems and needed help, we reconnected and I was able to help. We have had so many laughs and chatted often on message. I will miss him and he has left quite a legacy.”

From Annette McGuire: “I can’t believe this.  My heart is broken in so many pieces. He helped me and my daughter in so many ways, he was like a brother to me. I just talked to him yesterday. Our prayers and thoughts are with all of the family. This is one of the saddest days of my life.”

From Teresa Kirk Walker: “He was the kindest, most caring individual that I’ve ever met. Together we worked many cases of child abuse when we both worked in Marion County. He couldn’t stand for anyone, but especially women and children, to be mistreated. We had to hold each other back on more than one occasion to keep from hurting the ones causing the abuse.  There just really aren’t many men left on earth like Mark and my heart is saddened that we have lost one of the best. He was passionate about his faith, and passionate about the love he had for his wife and daughters. My prayers go out to all of them and my deepest sympathies. It was an honor to know him.”

And from Amorette Boran, one of many whom Mark reached out to during their teen years: “Mark, I am going to miss you. You really helped me out as a teenager, and as an adult you never judged me by my mistakes. Instead you gave me a hands up. I will miss you terribly. God bless your family, my thoughts and prayers are with you all.”

There are also some beautiful tributes in the comments section at the end of this blog, and you are welcome to join in.  This man had such an impact on so many lives.  I have no doubt in my mind, that he knew he was loved.  He saw it in you, every day.

mark garner2

August 28, 2015, 10:30 a.m.: The Dade County Sheriffs Office has announced the passing of Deputy Mark Garner at the age of 53.  Friends say he died at home, of an apparent heart attack.  I spoke with him just two days ago.  He and I talked quite often, swapping stories, news tips, and Alabama-Tennessee football jokes.  He invited me to speak at dozens of his DARE/CHAMPS graduations during the past 25 years.  The kids in our area couldn’t have asked for a better friend or role model.  I sure will miss him.  Here is the announcement from Sheriff Ray Cross:  “The Dade County Sheriff’s Office regrets to inform the community of the passing of a caring and devoted Deputy, Mark Garner. Deputy Garner worked as the CHAMPS Officer at Dade and Davis Elementary schools. Our sincerest prayers are with his wife, daughters and family at this time. Rest in peace dear friend! We will always remember you as Tennessee’s biggest fan!”

Here is a story I wrote about Mark in January 2015, as he was recovering from a serious illness.  I hope it is a fitting tribute, and that you will join me in keeping his wife Lea Ann, and his daughters Bria and Ashton in your thoughts and prayers.

I hope there’s someone in your life that you can say this about: “If I were stranded on the side of the road, I could call (enter name here) and he’d be here in no time!” Mark Garner is that person for me.

I met Mark more than 20 years ago, in his early days as a DARE officer.  DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and has been in many schools for years.  More recently, Mark has taught the CHAMPS (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety) in Dade County.  Police officers visit students each week, teaching them life lessons about drugs, bullying, and making good choices.  I’ve spoken at about a hundred DARE and CHAMPS graduations at schools all over the Tennessee Valley.  Mark has touched thousands of lives.  As I would tell the kids at those DARE programs, Mark is your friend today, and he’ll be your friend for life.


He’s also held other law enforcement jobs during his 30-plus year career, and on top of everything, he’s a great husband and dad.  Mark and I have had some hilarious phone conversations, usually about football.  Mark’s a diehard Tennessee Vols fan, and he knows I’m an Alabama Crimson Tide guy.  When the Vols “owned” the Tide for a while, Mark let me have it.  When the Tide “turned” in the Saban era, I returned the favor.  It looks like the Vols are on the way back, and I’ll be ready for him.  We try to top each other with Tide-Vols jokes, but Mark usually has the last laugh.

I didn’t hear from Mark over the holidays, so when he called last week, I asked him what he’d been up to.  He told me quite a story.

Just before Christmas, he started having some problems with his feet.  This wasn’t unusual since Mark is a diabetic.  This time, however it was serious.  “Ever heard of MRSA?” he asked me.  I told him I I knew it wasn’t good, but really didn’t know the details.  As Mark explains it, it’s an infection caused by a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.  It’s difficult to treat, has the potential to spread, and can be life-threatening.  “I’d had an ulcer in my right foot, and I was worried about that,” Mark said.  “Then out of nowhere, this infection is in my left foot, and it’s bad!”

So bad, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors immediately removed two toes and part of his foot to prevent any further spread of the infection.  “I thought that was it,” Mark said, but his troubles were just beginning.  Soon he was in unbearable pain, “the worst I could have ever imagined,” he said.  Doctors told him a partial leg amputation needed to be done immediately.  “I didn’t even have to think about it,” Mark said, “I told them whatever it takes to stop this pain, just do it, please!”

On Christmas Eve, doctors amputated his left foot and leg, just below the knee.  “Let me tell you about a great Christmas,” he said.  “My wife (Lea Ann) and daughters (Ashton and Bria) were in the hospital room with me, and the pain was gone.  That was my Christmas miracle!” Doctors said if he hadn’t agreed to the surgery so quickly, they would have lost him.  Mark said, “In just a few days, it went from a couple of toes, and what I thought was no big deal, into a life-and-death situation.  And do you know what?  Ever since the amputation, I haven’t had a bad day.  I’ve barely had to take any painkillers.  I went from terrible pain, to feeling good, almost immediately!”

His rehab program started at Siskin in Chattanooga, and continues at his home, where he awaits a prosthesis in March.  “They say when I get it, I’ll be as fast as ever, which isn’t saying much since I was never that fast anyway!” he said. Even better, he’s been told his prosthesis can be painted orange and white.  “I might even get it fixed up like the Big Orange checkerboard, just for you,” he told me.

He says he can’t wait to get back to work.  “(Dade County) Sheriff Ray Cross said my job is waiting for me, whenever I’m ready,” he said.  “He’s been great, all my family and friends have been so supportive.”

As Mark’s medical bills begin to mount, friends have started a fund at First Volunteer Bank (131 S. Cedar Avenue, South Pittsburg, TN 37380).  His insurance policy has a high deductible that requires twenty percent out of pocket payments.  “We’re making it a 501(c)(3),” Mark said. “I want this to be ongoing, and not just for me.  I want it to help other emergency responders when they’re hit with something like this.”

Mark, Lea Ann, Bria and Ashton Garner

Mark, Lea Ann, Bria and Ashton Garner

Mark said, “I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, I’m going to be fine.  I’m thankful to be here, thankful the pain is gone, and thankful for all the prayers.  God’s been good to me.”

I hope you’ll join me in pitching in to help Mark, and others like him who may need a helping hand in the future.  I love you Mark, but I have just one request.  If the Vols ever beat Bama again, don’t kick me too hard with that orange checkerboard leg, okay?

Sad day in the TV news family

August 27, 2015 at 12:08 am

Every TV newscaster in America had to do his or her job Wednesday, but it wasn’t easy.  Most of us didn’t know Alison Parker or Adam Ward.  But we all know someone like them.


The young, energetic morning reporter, with one of the toughest jobs in local TV. You have little or no time for a personal life.  You’re in bed at 8 p.m., up at 3 a.m., and you’re asked to line up interviews and stories that are often cancelled when breaking news occurs.  If there’s a fire, or an act of violence, you pack up and head to the scene.  If the story is still going on at 3 p.m., you’re supposed to stay on it.  Sometimes,  you’re all alone.  If you’re lucky, you have a photographer at your side.  Somebody like Adam Ward.

Alison and Adam are like so many I’ve known.  Every day is different in the news business.  Some days your assignment is a true joy.  You get to snuggle up to exotic animals in the local zoo, or greet the governor when he brings in new jobs.  But other days, you’re sent to the most dangerous part of town, just moments after violence shattered a neighborhood.

You’re often on your own, with a bright light shining in your face, to better illuminate you for the camera.  You’re the center of attention.  People wave, hoping to get on camera.  Most of the time, they’re nice.  Some even compliment your work.  But you never know, do you?  Alison and Adam were focused on their jobs Wednesday morning.  The reporter was giving her full attention to her interviewee, while the photographer made sure his subjects were well lit, perfectly framed, and in focus.  What we all fear, became tragic reality.  Within seconds, we lost Alison and Adam.

As viewers, we have no idea about the personal lives of the faces we see on TV.

Alison Parker with WDBJ co-worker Chris Hurst

Alison Parker with WDBJ co-worker Chris Hurst


We don’t know that she and a co-worker had fallen deeply in love, or that the unseen photographer is engaged to be married.

Adam Ward with co-worker, and fiancee Melissa Ott

Adam Ward with co-worker, and fiancee Melissa Ott

We don’t know that they may be planning new careers, that would enable them to work normal hours, and lead less hectic lives.  We don’t know if they’re from our hometown, or moved here from far away.  We see them on the local news, and too often, about the time we learn their names, they’ve moved on.

We now miss Alison and Adam, whether we knew them or not.  All over America, we see other Alisons and Adams, working odd hours: early today, late tomorrow.  When there’s a major story, they may work nonstop for days.  If there’s a tornado, or a snowstorm, they often volunteer to come in on their “weekend,” whatever days of the week those may be.

Now that these young journalists have been taken from us in this most violent, horrible way, we know more about their lives.  I didn’t know Alison and Adam, but I know so many like them.  We must never take them for granted.  They bring the world into your homes, often going to places you don’t want to go.  Sadly, it can be at great personal risk.

All of us in TV news feel the pain.  We know it could happen anywhere, for any number of reasons.  We hold on to each other a little tighter now, we say “thank you” a little more often.  Even our local competitors are part of the family.  We share the same joys, the same frustrations, the same dangers.  None of us ever wants to hear a grieving father say what was said about Alison Parker: “We talked to her every single day.  Not hearing her voice again crushes my soul.”

WDBJ Channel 7 in Roanoke, Virginia did the news on Wednesday night, just hours after their world was shattered.  Every other station did too, just as we do every night.  It just wasn’t the same.  It hurts when you lose family.

One final note: at WRCB, we have a fine man named John Creel, who does freelance work for us behind the scenes, and does it expertly.  He knew we could use a boost on this sad day, so this is what he did.

John Creel

John Creel

He set up the grill, bought food out of his own pocket, and served up hot dogs to our entire crew.  We were feeling down, so John provided some smiles.  Yes, there is much negativity in this world, and we see it all too often on the news.  But there are some shining lights too, and John’s heart for service inspires us all.

Pregnant Philly TV personality fires back at haters

August 22, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Social media has changed our world, hasn’t it?  We can connect with old friends and make new ones.  We can share photos, and funnies.  Goodness knows, I do it all the time (and I appreciate you putting up with it).

Unfortunately, it has also become the breeding ground for bullying, hatred, and flat-out ignorance.  Read any “comments” section on a media outlet’s Facebook page and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Some people read a headline, or see a picture, and then blurt out their opinion, without taking the time to actually read what they’re commenting about.

Plus there are those, often using fake names, who evidently have no lives of their own.  So they use the power of the internet to insult whoever they see on their screen.  I’ve seen recent ugliness aimed at Jimmy Carter when he revealed he had cancer, actor Samuel L. Jackson when it was announced he will emcee a benefit for families of Chattanooga’s fallen servicemen, and Rosie O’Donnell when her daughter was reported missing.  Really?  I understand if you don’t like one or all of those people, for whatever reason.  So, why insult them (from a safe distance) at a low point in their lives, or when they are donating their time for a good cause.  Honestly, you can find something else to read.  It’s just a click away.  If the power of online hating gives folks some sort of satisfaction, their lives are very sad indeed.

Then, this story caught my eye.  A TV meteorologist for a Philadelphia station is in her ninth month of pregnancy.  Katie Fehlinger will soon give birth to twin girls.  This is what she looks like.

Katie Fehlinger of CBS-3 in Philadelphia, soon to the proud mom of twin girls

Katie Fehlinger of CBS-3 in Philadelphia, soon to the proud mom of twin girls

She’s pretty darn beautiful.  But some poor souls, with nothing better to do, decided to go online, calling her “disgusting,” and saying she looked like a “sausage in casing.”  Katie, to her credit, took the opportunity to respond.  This is what she said:

“A message for the haters…

Hey guys! Once more, I have to get something off my chest. So, the nature of my job makes me an easy target for criticism. I will always understand that, and I will most typically just ignore it. However, after someone blatantly called me a “sausage in casing” and another declared that “sticking your pregnant abdomen out like that is disgusting”, I felt a need to draw a line and speak up.

Everyone’s right to their opinion is important, but so are manners. And while rude comments like these will never make me feel the need to change anything about myself, I find a bigger underlying issue here. These particular nasty-grams were directed at a pregnant woman.

So this little manifesto of sorts is dedicated to every mother out there – other pregnant moms-to-be, moms reading this while their toddlers play on the swing set, moms whose kids have long since gone off to college…

You are beautiful.

Even during the most uncomfortable – and let’s face it, less than glamorous – symptoms of pregnancy, what women go through to bring their precious children into the world is, simply put, AMAZING and you should be lauded.

Frankly, I don’t care how “terrible” or “inappropriate” anyone thinks I look. I will gladly gain 50 pounds & suffer sleepless, uncomfortable nights if it means upping my chances to deliver 2 healthy baby girls. Now it’s about more than aesthetics. I want these babies to have the best start possible. And that hopefully means my belly that “looks like it’s about to explode!” will continue to grow the next few weeks.

I say let’s raise a Shirley Temple to swollen feet, stretch marks, nausea, all the extra pounds and the dark circles! They’re badges of motherhood. And for those of you who think that’s “disgusting”, remember a woman went through the very same thing to bring YOU into the world.

In the meantime, let’s all remember the lesson Mom taught us – if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”

Good for you Katie.  Congratulations on your upcoming blessed event (times two!) and don’t let the haters get you down.  Just keep winning at life.


The hilarious 7-hour lip-sync road trip (in under 3 minutes!)

August 21, 2015 at 10:54 pm

Ever been on a long road trip with an annoying driver who acts like he knows the words to every song on the radio?  Right.  This hasn’t happened to my wife either.  You’ll have to watch this short video twice.  Once for the dude who’s kind of singing, and again for the facial expressions of his passenger.  Enjoy!

Blind, autistic 14-year-old sings National Anthem at Fenway Park: beautiful!

August 18, 2015 at 11:38 pm
Christopher Duffley at Fenway Park, August 17, 2015 (

Christopher Duffley at Fenway Park, August 17, 2015 (

Christopher Duffley is 14, blind and autistic.

He is from Manchester, New Hampshire, and has no problem performing in front of a packed major league ballpark, singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Here is his rendition of the National Anthem on Monday.  He had a little trouble with the microphone at the beginning, but his smile, enthusiasm and talent brought cheers from around the park.

He was born prematurely, weighing just 1 pound, 12 ounces at birth and was rendered blind due to Retinopathy of Prematurity. He now sings on behalf of Autism Speaks.  Click the link and watch this, for your biggest smile of the day:






Warning: this video may cause you to dance!

August 17, 2015 at 11:28 pm

In this summer of too-few laughs and smiles, this video is a gift.  It’s been out for several weeks, and the featured song has been around even longer than that.  But, in case you haven’t had the pleasure, take three minutes and eighteen seconds to enjoy this.  You may even get up and dance!  In fact, you may want to watch a few of the 80-plus movies featured in this clip.  From “West Side Story” to “Saturday Night Fever”to “Napoleon Dynamite,” the best dance scenes of the past fifty years are mashed up into Walk The Moon’s summer hit, “Shut Up and Dance.” It’s my favorite video of the summer.

Watch the video, and then scroll down: I’ve listed all of the movies in order, and the exact time they’re in the video.  Let’s dance!



0:04 Silver Linings Playbook 0:06 Reality Bites 0:08 Something Borrowed 0:12 Love Actually 0:15 Charlie’s Angels 0:17 Dirty Dancing 0:20 Big 0:23 Reservoir Dogs 0:25 American Beauty 0:27 Happy Feet 2 0:29 13 going on 30 0:31 Slumdog Millionaire 0:33 Save the Last Dance 0:37 Alice in Wonderland 0:40 Kick-Ass 0:42 Pulp Fiction 0:44 (500) Days of Summer 0:46 Flashdance 0:48 This Is the End 0:51 Grease 0:53 Intouchables (French movie) 0:57 Tangled 1:00 The Replacements 1:02 Pride (UK movie) 1:05 Blue Valentine 1:07 The Wolf of Wall Street 1:10 Grind 1:11 Ted 1:13 Beetlejuice 1:14 American Pie 1:16 Blast from the Past 1:17 King of New York 1:19 Clerks II 1:21 The Mask 1:23 Mamma Mia! 1:25 New Year’s Eve 1:27 The Proposal 1:29 American Pie: The Wedding 1:30 Footloose 1:32 Magic Mike 1:34 Get Smart 1:36 West Side Story 1:38 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 1:39 Scary Movie 1:41 The 40 Year Old Virgin 1:44 Hitch 1:47 Risky Business 1:49 The Breakfast Club 1:53 Penguins of Madagascar 1:55 Mermaids 1:57 Nothing to Lose 2:01 Billy Elliot 2:04 Shall We Dance 2:06 Hairspray 2:08 Napoleon Dynamite 2:10 Puss in Boots 2:12 She’s All That 2:14 The Heat 2:16 Rush Hour 2:19 West Side Story  2:21 A Night at the Roxbury 2:23 Burn after Reading 2:25 Step Up 2:27 Dirty Dancing 2:28 The Sound of Music 2:30 Silver Linings Playbook 2:32 The Ugly Truth 2:35 Scent of a Woman 2:38 Beauty and the Beast 2:40 Pretty in Pink 2:42 Grease 2:43 The Perks of Being a Wallflower 2:45 Along came Polly 2:47 White Nights 2:49 Cry Baby 2:51 Tropic Thunder 2:53 The Blues Brothers 2:55 Mary Poppins 2:57 Footloose (2011) 2:59 Friends with Benefits 3:00 The Sweetest Thing 3:02 Coyote Ugly 3:04 Saturday Night Fever 3:06 Center Stage 3:08 Rock of Ages 3:10 Little Miss Sunshine 3:12 Disaster Movie 3:14 Bring it on

Where were you when Elvis died?

August 16, 2015 at 3:17 am
July 4, 1956: Elvis at Chattanooga train station (Alfred Wertheimer collection)

July 4, 1956: Elvis at Chattanooga train station (Alfred Wertheimer collection)

Thirty-eight years ago this weekend, our world was rocked by the death of the guy who rocked our world.  It was big news when Elvis Presley died suddenly at the age of 42, unless you were Walter Cronkite.  His “CBS Evening News” didn’t consider Elvis’s death to be the lead story that night.  (Good old NBC did, thank you very much. Or as Elvis would have said, “thankyouverymuch.”)

In August 1977, I worked in the family store by day, attended college by night, worked at WGOW in Chattanooga on Saturdays, and at WEPG in South Pittsburg on Sundays.  The 16th was a Tuesday, and I had a report to write for a class that night.  I was working on it around 4:30 that afternoon with a “The Brady Bunch” rerun in the background.  Why? I don’t know.  Maybe Marcia Brady helped me stay awake while I was writing about (yawn) business management.

Channel 9 anchorman Bob Johnson interrupted the Bradys, with a voice-over report.  There was no video, just a “Channel 9 Bulletin” slide on the screen.  I had the volume on low, so I missed the first part.  By the time I started listening, all I heard was that someone had died at Baptist Hospital in Memphis.  Who, in Tennessee was so important that they rated a news bulletin at 4:45 p.m.? (In those days, the local news didn’t come on until 6:00).  But I had a paper to write, so I kept going.  A few minutes later, Bob’s voice came back on, and again, I only heard the last few words.  Maybe it was Governor Ray Blanton.  After all, he had been in the news a lot, and was under fire for all kinds of misdeeds.  Maybe, I thought, the stress (or the booze) had gotten to him.

My curiosity got the best of me, so I turned on the radio.  It was set on WGOW, and they were playing an Elvis song.  That was not unusual, since “Moody Blue” had been a hit recently, and “Way Down” had just been released.  I switched to WFLI, and they too were playing an Elvis song.  Just a coincidence, maybe.  Continuing my tour of the AM dial, I tried WEPG, and you guessed it, there was Elvis.  I recorded Dave Daffron’s announcement of Elvis’s death, and found it in my files just recently.  I don’t think anyone has heard this in 38 years:

Here is the actual AP bulletin received by media outlets, courtesy of Earl Freudenberg, who was news director of WDOD at the time:

elvis bulletin1

He wasn’t old enough to die!  He was only 42.  Sure, he was overweight.  But that was just a phase, we thought.  He gains it, he loses it, like many of us do.  He had just appeared in concert in Huntsville a few months before.  My sister Elaine, THE Elvis fan in the family, had invited me to go.  I passed, for some reason or other.  “I’ll catch him next time,” because there’s always a next time.  Not this time.  I never got to see Elvis, and have kicked myself ever since.

As the news spread, the huge reaction surprised even me.  I was little when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but the public outpouring of grief made a huge impression.  A few years later, the violent deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were equally shocking.  All of them, gone in an instant, far too young.

And now Elvis was gone.  It may be hard for today’s kids to understand, but in the pre-internet/smartphone era, we had TV, movies and radio.  Period. Elvis dominated them all just as baby-boomers were coming of age.  Before my time, he shook up the sleepy 1950s with his swiveling hips and rockabilly hits.  In the 1960s, he was overshadowed on the radio by the British Invasion, so he made movies.  Late in the decade, he reinvented himself with a dynamic TV special and began paying more attention to his music, resulting in some of his best, biggest hits ever: “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “Burning Love” to name a few.

Then, we’re told he became dependent on all kinds of drugs.  His outfits were too tight, and his live shows were sloppy.  He became the butt of jokes.  Then suddenly, he was gone.  America, especially under-35 America, mourned.  One of our local newspapers, with a very conservative viewpoint, rarely mentioned Elvis during his lifetime.  But sensing a financial windfall, they ran special “Sunday Elvis” sections for several weeks after his death.  Even now, RCA is still releasing “new” Elvis music, unearthed and remixed from deep in their vaults.

Although I was a little young to have been an original, die-hard Elvis fan, I understood his appeal.  I played his songs on the radio, and still enjoy many of them today.  Other music legends who came and went at a young age, like Michael Jackson, John Lennon, and Whitney Houston, certainly left their mark.  But he may have been the most original, and apparently had the biggest impact.  Otherwise, why would so many be imitating him in 2015?

July 4, 1956: Elvis at Chattanooga train station

July 4, 1956: Elvis at Chattanooga train station

Give your teacher a hug!

August 15, 2015 at 12:30 am

Teachers hear it everywhere they go: “You only work nine months a year, seven hours a day.  You’ve got it made!”  When they hear this, I’m sure they react as I do when people tell me, “You only report the bad news.”  I’m sure it seems that way, but it isn’t true.

As teachers will tell you, their workday often extends well beyond seven hours, and summer days are often filled with professional development, new curriculum training, and classroom renovations.

Also, most of us don’t have to buy supplies out of our own pocket to do our jobs.  I’m in TV news, and I’ve never spent a dime on copy paper, cameras, microphones, or anything else I need to do my job.  Teachers routinely furnish their classroom with the necessities of daily life: maps, file folders, hand wipes, markers and more. Some lucky teachers get a yearly allowance to help with supplies, but most tell me that money is used up by the time the leaves change colors.

Is every teacher perfect? Of course not.  Are there bad teachers out there?  Oh yes, just as there are bad bank tellers, brick layers and journalists.  If the system works as it should, poor teachers are eventually weeded out, and sent to seek a profession for which they are better qualified.

But as we begin this school year, now is a good time to celebrate teachers who go above and beyond.  Most teachers aren’t in it for the money, the summer vacations, or any other worldly benefit.

Dr. Charles Mitchell

Dr. Charles Mitchell

I’ll even name names: Dr. Charles Mitchell, the 35-year-old assistant principal of Brainerd High School in Chattanooga, grew up as poor as dirt.  His father was in prison, and his mother was unable to provide for the family.  He survived a house fire, and lived in shelters during much of his youth. Many of the boys he grew up with have been in and out of jail.  “I might be too,” he said, “if not for one man.”  Julian Kaufman was a teacher and coach at Hixson High School in the 1990s.  Coach Kaufman made sure Charles always had a ride to school, and to football practice.  When Charles was about to give up on classwork, his Coach convinced him he was as smart as everybody else.  “Coach Kaufman was my mentor, even though I didn’t know the meaning of the word.  Now I do, and I want to be that mentor for my students today.  We just need more men to step up and help.”  He devotes every moment of his spare time helping young people, as Coach Kaufman did for him.

Mandy Love, with 2nd graders

Mandy Love, with 2nd graders

There’s Mandy Love, a second-grade teacher at East Side Elementary in Chattanooga.  Fifteen of her nineteen students are Hispanic.  Many of them speak better English than their parents, and must help them learn American ways and customs.  The oldest children in their families have to grow up quickly, helping raise their younger siblings.  They never get to go to tourist attractions or ball games, so she devotes many after-school hours to those activities.  When she took a group of five second-graders to a Chattanooga Lookouts game, they squealed in delight when a foul ball came their way.  To their amazement, they didn’t have to throw it back to the players! “It was one of life’s little moments they’ll never forget,” she told me.  “I’m so lucky to be able to provide it for them.”

She’s like many teachers who don’t go around bragging about it, but she also makes sure her students get treats for Halloween, presents at Christmas, and get to hunt eggs at Easter.  Needless to say, the money for these endeavors comes from her own pocket.

Juanita Foster at Rossville Middle School

Juanita Foster at Rossville Middle School

And there’s Juanita Foster, the 81-year-old special education teacher at Rossville Middle School.  That is not a misprint.  She is 81, and starting her 59th year in the classroom.  I asked what keeps her going.  She didn’t hesitate.  “I love children,” she said.  “Isn’t that enough?”  She takes pride in keeping up with modern technology, teaching class with her computer, her iPad and her iPhone.  She has promised to help me learn how to use my devices.

These are just a few stories about teachers, past and present, who don’t toot their own horns.  I heard about them from parents and students, and I am glad to share their stories.  Believe me, there are many more just like them.  Don’t wait to read about them somewhere.  Tell a teacher how much you love them today.

The day I interrupted Jimmy Carter’s Chattanooga vacation

August 13, 2015 at 12:34 pm

With the announcement of former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer diagnosis, let’s pause to remember him in our thoughts and prayers, and to look back on a lighter moment.  Here’s my recollection, with video, of the day I interrupted his Chattanooga vacation:

It was Friday, August 23, 1991. I was in the Channel 3 newsroom waiting for something to happen. Suddenly, the phone rang. Was it a heavenly voice on the other end, granting my wish for a little nugget of news? No. It was just my old radio buddy Dex.

At the time, he was managing the Gardens restaurant at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. “Dave, you’ll never guess who’s eating a cheeseburger about twenty feet away from me,” Dex said. “You’re right,” I said. “Who is it?”

“It’s President Jimmy Carter, with his wife Rosalynn, and their grandkids. They’re having lunch, and then they’re gonna get on the box cars,” Dex said. He capped it off with, “And you’re the only person I’m telling.” I yelled to my photographer Glen Wagner, “Let’s go, we’ve got a president at the Choo Choo!” Glen grabbed the camera, and we took off. As we got in the car, I told him about Dex’s confidential tip. “Does President Carter know we’re coming?” he asked. “I don’t think so,” I said. “I guess we’ll surprise him.”


When we got to the Choo Choo, there was nothing out of the ordinary. “Gee, I hope we didn’t miss him,” Glen said. There was no limo, no beefy Secret Service agents staring us down. A few scattered tourists were roaming the grounds. We headed to the restaurant area. We didn’t want to barge in, so we took a quick look through the window. There they were! The First Family, ten years removed from the White House, enjoying a quiet lunch with the grandkids. “Glen!” I said. “Go ahead and set up your camera, this may be all we get!” He dutifully aimed through the glass, and Mrs. Carter spotted us. I’m not a lip-reader, but she said something to her husband, like, “How nice! A couple of delightful local news people found out we’re here on vacation! What a pleasant surprise!” Or maybe that’s not exactly what she said. Anyway, Mr. Carter turned around, looked through the window, and looked me right in the eye.

He quickly turned back to his wife with that “busted” look on his face. Sensing his disappointment, I said, “I’ll tell you what, Glen. Let’s give ‘em time to eat, and do their sightseeing, and then I’ll ask him to do an interview.” It turns out there were a couple of Secret Service guys who politely requested we give the President “a little space.” Fearing a headline of “Alleged news guy ruins Presidential vacation,” I gladly consented.

Glen and I waited, and our persistence was rewarded. About a half-hour after finishing their meal, the Carter family had apparently wrapped up their tour of the complex. The cute grandchildren had hopped on and off every box car in sight, so I said to Glen, “Here’s our chance!” I walked up to Mr. Carter, shook his hand, and introduced myself. “Mr. President,” I said, “I really hate to bother folks when they’re on vacation…” He stopped me in mid-sentence, flashed that famous grin, and said, “It must not bother you too much.” I laughed awkwardly. (Was he kidding? Or did I just play Fail to the Chief?), I plodded on. “If you can spare a minute for a quick interview…” He stopped me again. “As long as it’s quick, we’re ready to go.” I can take a subtle hint. Fortunately, Glen worked fast, and we were ready to roll.

After that rough start, he couldn’t have been any nicer. I had my questions ready. Could there be a female presidential candidate in 1992? Absolutely, he said. There were several qualified women.  Did he expect a big-name politician to win the ’92 Democratic nomination (Al Gore, Jerry Brown and Mario Cuomo were front-runners), or would it be a relative unknown, as he had been in 1976? He said the election was still 15 months away, and there was plenty of time for a lesser-known candidate to emerge (It turned out to be an obscure southern governor named Bill Clinton. Whatever happened to him?)

As you’ll see in the video story below, he also commented on his knowledge of downtown Chattanooga, the railroads, and even the quality of his lunch. He didn’t seem too annoyed as we parted company, and I had my exclusive interview for the 6:00 news.

Mr. Carter returned to the area in 2014, to campaign for his grandson Jason, who was running for governor of Georgia. When I heard he was coming, I called Dex. “I just wanted to thank you again for tipping me off when Jimmy Carter came to the Choo Choo,” I said. “Yeah, I’ll never forget that day,” Dex said. “I told the staff to take good care of him and his family, and after a while, I went to the bathroom. There was somebody in the next stall, and I later realized it was him. That was the first time I met a sitting president.”