A “commanding presence” saves a child’s life

August 31, 2014 at 2:42 pm

This story needs to be told, even though it may not get much attention.

As I’ve written before, the public always clamors for good news.  Mainstream media outlets, I’m constantly told, are only interested in controversy and bad news.  Perhaps in response to that, some media outlets are reporting a lot of positive stories these days.  I, for one, enjoy doing so.  But when those stories run, I always see a decrease in “shares,” clicks, and comments. I did a story on Friday about some 5th graders who take great pride in raising the flag at school, and I know many people said, “Why is this news? Don’t you have any wrecks to show us?”

For instance, If a cop sets up radar, makes an arrest, and gets a crazed driver off the road before someone is killed, we yell, “Speed trap! Money grab! Big brother! I saw a cop speeding last week! Why didn’t someone arrest him!”  (We just had 7 traffic fatalities in a 48-hour period in our area.  And people get upset about speed enforcement.)

But if a cop does something good, we say, “Uh…isn’t that his job?”

(Let me pause here to say I’m not a big fan of the word “cop.” I try not to use it on the news.  I prefer “police officer.”  But for the purposes of this blog, it will pop up now and then, no disrespect intended.  It’s just a lot quicker to type.)

Now, let me tell you what happened last week at MoMo Hibachi Japanese Grill in Soddy-Daisy. John and Natalie Fiddler, both 31, are new parents.  Their son Ethan is almost 15 months old.  Here’s a picture of this cute family:

John and Natalie Fiddler, with son Ethan

John and Natalie Fiddler, with son Ethan

It’s great when your child gets to the age where you can go out to eat.  The first year or so, it isn’t easy.  So John and Natalie enjoyed a great meal at MoMo, tipped the waitress and started gathering up their stuff.  Natalie looked away just for a moment, to get her bags (when traveling with a baby, you bring lots of bags), when she heard little Ethan cough.  He had been sick a few days before, so a cough wasn’t unusual.  She picked him up, and they headed for the door.  Suddenly Ethan starting crying out, but not breathing in.  Natalie knew something was wrong, and a look of panic swept over her face.  Her little boy couldn’t breathe.

(Spoiler alert: If you don’t like to read positive things about cops, don’t go any further.)

Master Patrolman Eddie Mansell of the Chattanooga Police Department was off duty that evening.  He was also having dinner at MoMo, accompanied by his wife Beth.  He is a 22 year veteran of the CPD, and along with his other training, has taken 11 CPR classes during his career.  Those lessons would come in handy tonight.

“He recognized the signs of choking quickly,” John Fiddler said of Officer Mansell.  “We didn’t know who he was, he wasn’t uniformed, he was having dinner with his wife.  He was this commanding presence, he just took over.”

Here’s Officer Mansell’s side of the story: “I saw this lady patting her child on the back, and she had this terrified look on her face.  I got up, my wife started praying, and I guess my training kicked in, just muscle memory from all those classes.”

Ethan had stopped breathing.  That initial burst of crying had stopped.  Now there was silence, which is much more alarming.

Officer Mansell said, “By now his eyes had rolled back.  I leaned him down, and gave him three quick strikes to the back.”  Ethan’s dad John described them as “harder pats than we’d been giving him.” An ice cube was expelled, and Ethan was able to breathe.  “At first he coughed a little bit,” Mansell said. “Then he gave me this look, like, why are you hitting me?” he said with a laugh.

John Fiddler says he is CPR certified, but his wife is not.  “This all happened so fast,” he said. “I might have been able to do the right thing, but Officer Mansell jumped in first, much to our relief.”

Lessons were learned. “I want parents to know how fast this can happen,” John said. “We looked away from Ethan just long enough for him to grab an ice cube from a glass.  It was within his reach, so he went for it, like kids do.  He’s at that Mr. Grabby stage, he wants to try everything. We’ll be taking the CPR classes, and watching the videos.”

John and Natalie are thankful this off-duty police officer was paying attention.  “He could have pretended not to notice, or to look the other way, like some people do,” John said. “But he jumped right up, and saved a life.  I think he deserves some commendation.”

Master Patrolman Eddie Mansell, Chattanooga Police Department

Master Patrolman Eddie Mansell, Chattanooga Police Department

Officer Mansell told me this story shouldn’t be about a cop hero. “Regular folks do this a lot, people who have had CPR training.  I was just in the right place at the right time.”  But he later added, “After all these years, all the classes, this is the first time I’ve needed to use those skills.  This is the highlight of my career.”

If you’ve gotten this far in the story, I bet you’re like me.  I know that when a “bad cop” makes the news,  someone who got caught speeding last week will celebrate.  But when I’m in trouble, or a loved one’s life is in danger, thank God that Eddie Mansell and his colleagues will answer the call.

(Please share this blog.  Also you’re invited to search the archives for more stories you might like.  While you’re at it, please subscribe to my posts! Thank you, David)

Chattanooga’s # 1 Eyesore: What’s the holdup?

August 27, 2014 at 2:49 am

I’m so lucky to live in a beautiful, scenic city.  One of my hobbies in recent years is to drive around, up and down the mountains and ridges in search of great photos.  It’s so easy.  But almost every day, I drive by this:

eyesore 004It’s best known as the old Pruett’s Food Town store on Cherokee Boulevard.  Just a block or two away are bright, well-designed new businesses and homes.  The new Publix store is less than a mile away, and its success will surely bring more progress to this north Chattanooga area.  Yet this ugly blight has gone largely untouched for fifteen years.  Every few months, there’s some new graffiti, but that’s about it.

eyesore 006In February of this year, the local newspaper reported that a law firm from Winchester, Tennessee would open its new Chattanooga offices here, and that it was “undergoing an extreme makeover.” Sure enough, within days the sights and sounds of heavy machinery filled the air.  Five truckloads of trash were hauled off, and progress seemed to be just around the corner.  But soon, all was quiet, and this is all we saw:

eyesore 010That sign you see says “Available,” with a phone number to call.  The newspaper had not updated its February story, so two weeks ago, I called the number.  Floyd Davis answered the phone.  He is the founder of Davis, Kessler and Davis, that law firm that was reportedly ready to remedy this canker sore of a building.  He was more than happy to talk about it.  “I’ve paid $900,000 for it, but the city won’t give me a building permit.  I haven’t heard from anybody.  I think I’ll just put a homeless shelter there.  You tell the city that, and see what they say. They think I’m kidding, but I’m not!”

He was just getting warmed up.  “They won’t deal with me.  I’m not Volkswagen or Publix, I’m just Floyd Davis from Winchester.  They’ve sent three letters, but they never put a name of anybody I’m supposed to call.  They say I’m supposed to hire an architect, an environmental specialist and a flood control expert.  I’ve got an architect ready to go, they just won’t issue a permit!”

I just kept listening, taking notes. “One of the letters said, ‘You need a new roof, new windows, and you need to remove the graffiti.’  I called the number they put on the letter, and told somebody, ‘I got your letter, and I agree! I have a crew ready right now to fix all those things, and they can be there in two hours.’ They said, ‘No, no, no you can’t do that!’  I’ve had fifty calls from people who ask me what’s going on, and I tell them, I can’t do anything without a building permit, and the city of Chattanooga won’t give me one.”

eyesore 007

I knew I was only getting one side of the story.  Surely the powers that be at City Hall must be as anxious as anyone for this ugly shell to go away.  I mean, it’s like that zit on your forehead, right between the eyes.  Except this nasty pimple has been festering since the end of the 20th century!

Gary Hilbert is the city’s Director of Codes and Inspection.  After concluding my chat with Mr. Davis, I called Mr. Hilbert’s office. “Gary, you of all people can’t be pleased with this hot mess right in the middle of Chattanooga’s beloved North Shore.  Why is the city dragging its feet?” He said, “It’s not exactly what you’ve been told.  We have concerns about safety, exits, lighting, all the code requirements that every commercial building owner must meet.”

“But Gary,” I pressed on. “The guy says he’s ready to go.  He’s just waiting for your okay.  He wants to get rid of the graffiti, replace the windows, install a new roof.  Why is this dragging on, endlessly?”

“I’d love to see some movement too,” he said. “But we must have a plan to approve.  As soon as his architect presents a plan that meets our codes, we’ll do everything we can to make something happen.”

eyesore 009In the two weeks since my conversations with Mr. Davis and Mr. Hilbert, I am told that a plan is to be presented, any day now.  The architects and engineers reportedly are ready to move forward, and if the city approves (fingers crossed here), the ugliest eyesore in Chattanooga will soon fade away.  I haven’t been told exactly what the new building will look like, but I’d bet it will be an improvement over this:

eyesore 005“Something will happen soon,” Gary Hilbert assured me.  “We’re hopeful the plan will be approved, and this project will move forward.”  Floyd Davis said, “Yeah, I think they’re finally going to let me get to work on it.  I think they just don’t want a homeless shelter there.”  I think he was kidding, but I can’t say for sure.  Hopefully I can update this story soon, with photos of the most extreme makeover this city has seen in quite a while.

A tribute to Tiger Radio: WMOC-AM 1450 in Chattanooga

August 26, 2014 at 12:08 am

If you want to hear some great early 1960s Chattanooga Top-40 radio that hasn’t been heard in more than fifty years, you have my permission to jump to the end of this post, and click the YouTube link.  But if you have a moment, read the story behind it first.

Most folks these days don’t even remember WMOC Radio in Chattanooga, and truth be told, I’m one of them.  By the time I really started listening to local radio, WFLI and WGOW were playing the hits, WDOD was spinning country records, and Luther Masingill was finding our dogs on WDEF.  A few other stations were up and down the AM dial, and FM started to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s, but WMOC had started to fade.

At 1450 on the AM dial, the station began as WAGC in 1946, broadcasting from the Hotel Patton.  Harry Thornton, “The Milk Man” competed against Luther for the morning listeners, and personalities like Roy Morris and Gus Chamberlain came along later.  The station broadcast Lookouts and University of Chattanooga games at various times through the 1940s and 1950s.  In 1959, new ownership renamed the station WOGA, competing with WDXB for the teen audience.  By 1961, the station was sold again to brothers Al and Jim Dick, who attached yet another set of call letters to 1450 AM: WMOC, in honor of UC Mocs football and basketball.

WMOC staff, circa 1967

WMOC staff, circa 1967

Earlier in 1961, WFLI entered the top-40 music battle with a powerful 10,000 watt signal.  WDXB soon changed to a more adult-sounding format, leaving WMOC to do battle with “Jet-FLI.”  For most of the 1960s, Chattanooga’s young listeners switched back and forth between WFLI and WMOC to hear the latest hits, with WFLI consistently winning the ratings battle.

WMOC shouldn’t be forgotten though.  The station had some terrific radio personalities, like Allen Dennis, Charlie Champion, H.C. Clark, Wild Bill Carter, Bill Lee (Lassiter), Ronnie Brandon, Dave Randall (Cleveland Wheeler), Bob Reich, Sonny Limbo, Bobby Dark (Bobby Box), Fred Forrest (Fred Gault), Phil Rainey, Bob Kelley, Paul White, Pat O’Day, Jack Diamond (John Deering), and Elliot Dubrow, among others.  Limbo and Champion died many years ago.  Carter, Lassiter, and Dennis died recently.  Brandon, Wheeler, Box, Gault and White are still active, working and on social media.  I haven’t been able to find the whereabouts of Clark, Rainey or O’Day.  Deering left WMOC in 1966 to serve in Vietnam.  He was a Prisoner of War, often in solitary confinement from 1968 until 1973.  He died in 2007 at the age of 64.  Dubrow died in a car accident on his way to cover an Atlanta Braves game in 1966.

A 1962 classified ad in Broadcasting magazine reads, “Wanted: Two fast-paced top-40 announcers to work for a swinging operation in one of the largest cities in Tennessee.  Prefer men on their way up who are willing to follow directions.”

One thing’s for sure: it was a swinging operation.  And it remained so until about 1968, when owners threw in the towel in the top-40 battle, choosing to battle WDOD for the country audience.  Many of WMOC’s announcers opted to stay in the top-40 game when Ted Turner switched adult-format WAPO (AM 1150) to WGOW.  Most of WGOW’s deejays were former WMOC jocks.

When you click the YouTube link below, you will hear sounds and voices that have not been heard in more than fifty years.  You may hear them now, thanks to a gentleman named Steve Farrington from Atlanta, who contacted me in 2002.  He was researching the history of WFLI radio, and other stations owned and operated by the Brennan family of Alabama.  Sadly, Steve died a couple of years later, and never finished his project.  But during our brief friendship, he was kind enough to send me a treasure trove of early 1960s Chattanooga radio tapes.  He used to visit family on Signal Mountain when he was a teen in the early 1960s, and would tape his favorite radio stations on his Wollensak reel-to-reel recorder.  Most of the early WFLI sound I used last year in my Jet-FLI tribute came from Steve. Thankfully, he recorded WMOC as well, and what you’re about to hear has been on my shelf for the past few years.  Let’s put it out there for everyone to hear.  By the way, WMOC’s call letters were surrendered by yet another set of owners about 30 years ago, and are now being used by a station in Lumber City, Georgia.  I sure wish we could get them back.  What a great set of Chattanooga call letters.

So with no further ado, here it is: Tiger Radio, WMOC:

 

A quiet visit to Coolidge Park, then ice happened.

August 24, 2014 at 2:51 am

Yes, I finally answered the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  There I was, at Coolidge Park on a beautiful Saturday morning, just minding my own business….and then, well just click and watch:

As you can see from the ending, I always admired Frank McDonald, who was a great businessman, and a bright, funny musician and entertainer with the Dismembered Tennesseans.  He was always so nice to me, even when he didn’t have to be.

Frank McDonald 1930-2000

Frank McDonald 1930-2000

He lived a great life, with a difficult ending due to ALS.  I’m honored to participate in this enjoyable awareness campaign in his memory, and to make a donation to ALSA.org.  I hope you will too.

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Other notes on a Sunday morning:  my friend Alan Pressley is one of the most thoughtful people I know.  Every time he hears about someone in need, or someone who needs cheering up, or just a pat on the back, he springs into action.  I’ve accompanied him on several surprise visits, as he presents his hand-made shadowboxes to grateful recipients.  Inside those framed boxes are autographed SEC or UTC memorabilia, autographed by everyone from Nick Saban to Pat Summitt to Russ Huesman and more.  All these big names never say “no” to Alan, because they know his heart is in the right place.  Here is a photograph from a recent presentation:

Hamilton County Judges Clarence Shattuck, Christy Mahn Sell, Gary Starnes and David Bales

Hamilton County Judges Clarence Shattuck, Christy Mahn Sell, Gary Starnes and David Bales

A few months earlier, these judges had honored one of their own, former Judge and Alabama football great Ron Durby, who retired early due to health reasons.  Alan was very touched by how these judges had stepped in to reduce their colleague’s workload, and the genuine love and concern they had shown during Durby’s final few weeks on the bench.  He framed the newspaper coverage of their retirement sendoff for Judge Durby, and I know they will always cherish this keepsake.  I appreciate Alan for always thinking of himself before others.

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The new Publix in north Chattanooga has opened, and I am told (unofficially, but quite believably) that the store has DOUBLED its original sales projections.

publix144I don’t know how Publix trains their employees, but every other retailer should train theirs the same way.  It’s really nice to greeted with a smile, and offered assistance from everyone who’s wearing a Publix shirt.

 

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I try to stay politically neutral, because well, it’s part of my job description.  But I can’t be neutral about Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles.  He was just re-elected for the umpity-umpteenth time with no opposition, and is beginning his 41st year on the job.  He and his wife Marlene have been married 59 years, and have raised a wonderful family.  Bill is that rare public official who is always on the job, always available, always returns your calls, and isn’t afraid of an inquiry from the media.

Bill Knowles

Bill Knowles

The former barber has constantly been out front, when it comes to modernizing his offices, and making life easier for those of us who used to endure long lines while renewing our tag each year.  Even without opposition, he was (again) the leading vote-getter in the recent election, which is impressive.  I mean, voters could easily bypass his name, and move on to a contested race in which their votes really mean something.  Instead, every election, we stop at Bill’s name and vote for him anyway, because he deserves a pat on the back.  If there was a Hamilton County Elected Officials Hall of Fame (and maybe there should be), Bill Knowles should be the first inductee.  He’s simply the best.

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Finally, to close with a song, here’s a song John Denver started writing 44 years ago this month.  It took him nine months to finish it! He began writing it in August of 1970 while enjoying the scenery of the Rocky Mountains near his home in Colorado.  He recorded it in 1971, released it in 1972, and it finally became a top-10 hit in 1973.  In his autobiography, he wrote, “I remember, almost to the moment, when that song started to take shape in my head.  In mid August, Annie and I and some friends went up to Williams Lake to watch the first Perseid meteor showers. Imagine a moonless night in the Rockies in the dead of summer and you have it.”

The song briefly became controversial FCC was permitted by a legal ruling to censor music deemed to promote drug abuse.  Some radio stations refused to play the song until Denver publicly explained that the “high” was his innocent description of the sense of peace he found in the Rockies.

Ironically, Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana earlier this year, and “Rocky Mountain High” is the state song.  So, when many people hear it today, I’m sure they get a different meaning than John Denver originally intended.  As far as we know.  Have a great week, and enjoy the music!

 

 

Remembering big ol’ hairy David Earl Hughes

August 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm

On August 22, 2004, my radio friend Dex called me at home.  It was late that Sunday afternoon, and when I heard his voice, I knew it wasn’t good news.

hughes-12

“David Earl just died,” Dex said.  I had that odd feeling we get when we hear about someone’s death.  On one hand, it was a surprise.  David had just turned 48, and was in the prime of his career.  On the other hand, he loved to eat, smoke and drink, and at various times he had done all of those things in excess.

David Earl Hughes defined the term “larger than life.”  About ten years earlier, a fellow US-101 deejay also died suddenly, and young.  He too, was overweight and didn’t take very good care of himself.  “That’s it, I’ve gotta clean up my act,” David said.  And for a little while, he did.  But old habits are hard to break, and he resumed his regular lifestyle until his heart couldn’t take it any more.  So, in all honesty, a few seconds after Dex delivered the bad news, I said, “Well, I guess we saw it coming.”  That didn’t make it easier for his family and friends, though.

I first met David at WGOW in 1980.  I was on KZ-106 a couple of doors down, and he started his midday shift as I was ending my morning show, around 10:00 a.m. each day.  He made an immediate connection with listeners with his booming bass voice and distinctive drawl.  He was proudly Southern to the core, and he delighted in baiting “Yankees” like my then-girlfriend (now wife)  Cindy.  It was fun watching them go at it.  She wouldn’t back down, and he liked that!

Dale Deason, David Hughes, Don Welch and Garry Mac in the 1980s

Dale Deason, David Hughes, Don Welch and Garry Mac in the 1980s

He spent a few years on WGOW, as part of a solid lineup that featured Dale Deason and Garry Mac in the mornings, and David Earl in the afternoon.  In 1985, a couple of years after I left KZ-106, the station wanted to create a different kind of morning show, modeled after the “Morning Zoo” format in other parts of the country.  The KZ programmers recruited David Earl from WGOW, and moved up “Jammer” Jay Scott from the night show to create their own Morning Zoo.  Other station personalities rounded out the cast, and the KZ Morning Zoo resulted in chaos and high ratings for about five years.

KZ-106 Morning Zoo, 1987

KZ-106 Morning Zoo, 1987

During that time, I would still see David each weekend at our “Foul Tips” softball games, and he would tell me about offers from stations in bigger markets, even Chicago.  But he seemed to prefer country music, and his goal was to eventually work in Nashville.  In 1990, he got an offer from Chattanooga’s top radio station, country music giant US-101, and he was unleashed from the Zoo.

Getting the afternoon show at US-101 turned into a great career move.  He was right at home from day one, and he took their already-high ratings even higher.  A few years later, he did a very admirable and generous thing. Bill Poindexter, better known as “Dex,” was a veteran of local radio and national record promotion, but had tired of the travel.  He had settled back into his north Georgia home, and had taken a couple of jobs to tide him over.  That old radio bug was biting though, and he convinced US-101 to give him a job, any job, to get his foot back in the door.  He was setting up remote broadcasts, and doing traffic reports.

David Hughes, Blake Shelton and Dex

David Hughes, Blake Shelton and Dex

On many days, he reported traffic on David Earl’s afternoon show, and the two built up a great rapport.  Their personalities meshed well, each could make the other laugh, and their chemistry was outstanding.  I’ll pause here to say that 99% of “solo” radio hosts enjoy being solo.  Think of Howard Stern.  He is surrounded by co-hosts and sidekicks, who make up a huge part of his show.  But his show never was, and never will be called “Howard and Robin,” or “Howard and Jackie.”  The same goes for Dan Patrick, Tom Joyner and many others.  There’s only one “star.”  David Earl knew better.  He knew his show was better when Dex was trading one-liners with him.  Almost immediately, this one-man, top-rated afternoon radio show became “Dave and Dex.”  A very good show became an even better one.  Just like that, Dave and Dex were partners.

The duo scored some astronomical ratings, but in 2003, David Earl’s dream job came open: the afternoon show at the powerful country station WSM-FM in Nashville.  The biggest, deepest voice in country radio had a chance to be heard every day in Music City, by those who were making the music.  At first, Dave and Dex were going as a team, but Dex decided to stay in Chattanooga, so David Earl Hughes was a solo act again.  With his family established in Chattanooga, David Earl made the two-hour commute each day, which had to be tiring.  His tenure in Nashville was destined to be brief, cut short by his death at age 48.

hughes-11

He was one of a kind to be sure.  When our Foul Tips softball team visited neighboring towns in the KZ-106 listening area, big Dave was a crowd favorite.  He played a solid first base (making a great target for our infielders).  Occasionally he would wear overalls, or his own size XXXL jersey, with number 747 on the back.  That was always good for a laugh.

US-101 station manager Sammy George, and Dave’s longtime partner Dex spoke at David Earl’s memorial service on August 22, 2004.  With the help of editor David Fowler, I have assembled a six-minute “highlight reel,” of their very funny, very moving speeches, along with a musical tribute at the end, spotlighting David Earl’s favorite television show.  If you weren’t able to attend, you missed a wonderful service.  And we are still missing a world-class radio personality.

Here’s an added bonus: you can hear that booming David Hughes voice again, from his KZ-106 Morning Zoo days, in this 1986 WRCB news story:

 

 

 

 

40 years ago this week: we lost Mort Lloyd

August 18, 2014 at 6:49 pm

 

mortsolo (2)What if?  It’s probably the world’s most-asked question.

I never got to meet Mort Lloyd, although he was in my living room day after day, year after year.  He was Chattanooga’s most-watched TV news anchorman.  He switched channels a couple of times, and his loyal viewers always followed him.  He died in a plane crash on August 20, 1974, setting off my list of “What If?” questions.

What if he had decided to stay in TV?  By 1974, he had tired of the daily TV grind.  Twenty years earlier, at the age of 23, the Shelbyville, Tennessee native was hired by WDEF Channel 12 to be its first news anchor the day it signed on the air.  At that time, when radio was still king, TV announcers were hired primarily for their voices, and no one’s voice was deeper than Mort’s.  His first radio job was at WHAL in his hometown, before making it big at WSIX in Nashville.  When he took the WDEF-TV job, Mort’s hair was already thinning, and he decided to shave his head,  a rarity in television.  His distinctive appearance and bass voice caught on with viewers.

mortbb

In 1956, Channel 3 (then WRGP-TV) signed on, also offering a nightly newscast.  By 1958, Channel 3 was making no progress in the ratings against Mort, so they lured him away from Channel 12.  It was a bold move, and Channel 3 made a big splash with Mort’s hire, putting billboards all over town.  Immediately, his Channel 3 newscast shot to the top of the ratings, remaining there for twelve years, when Mort switched channels again.

mort73

In 1970, Channel 12′s manager decided his station had been in second place long enough, so he offered Mort enough cash to come back to his old station.  Mort accepted the offer, under the conditions that the news department would be expanded, and that his longtime weatherman John Gray would come over from Channel 3 too.  History repeated itself, as Mort’s viewers again loyally followed him, putting Mort and “the TV-12 Professionals” on top of the ratings.

By 1974, Mort was dissatisfied with what was going on in Washington.  Richard Nixon was in the White House, and Republicans were facing a tough mid-term election year.  Incumbent GOP 3rd Dist. Rep. Lamar Baker was in his second term, and Mort decided to seek the office as a Democrat.  He was 43 years old.  To answer my first question, had he decided to stay in TV, he could have surely made a comfortable living for decades to come.  Instead, he took a leave of absence from the news desk, and tested the political waters.

Morty, Marilyn, Mort and Mari Lloyd celebrating his election win, August 6, 1974

Morty, Marilyn, Mort and Mari Lloyd celebrating his election win, August 6, 1974

Mort fared quite well.  In early August, he won the Democratic primary, capturing 60 percent of the vote against two opponents.  Heading into the November general election, he was considered the favorite against Rep. Baker.  Mort’s TV persona had made him a familiar face, and Baker was a competent, but not particularly charismatic Congressman.  With the stench of Watergate still fresh in voters’ minds, it was not a good time to be a Republican candidate.

On Tuesday August 20, 1974, Mort decided to fly his 1946 Swift airplane to Shelbyville to visit his parents.  He was an accomplished pilot, and long had flown his plane to destinations near and far.  As far back as 1958, when a Chattanooga judge faced an impeachment trial in Nashville, Mort flew to the state capital each morning, returning to report the story on the Channel 3 evening newscast.

He took off, flying solo from Chattanooga that morning shortly after 11:00 a.m.  He never made it to Shelbyville.

mort-planecrash

Thirty minutes into his flight, a blade broke loose from the propeller assembly, throwing the engine off balance.  The engine shook loose from its mount, and the plane spun out of control.  Witnesses saw the plane go down in a wooded field near Manchester.  Mort was found slumped over in his seat, dead at the age of 43.

What if he had lived?  Political observers say he would have likely won the 3rd District Congressional seat.  He was young, popular, and in good health.

Marilyn Lloyd Acc 315 Paul Stone collection S-141 (2)

Mort’s widow, Marilyn told Democratic party leaders she wanted to run for the seat in the November election, despite formidable competition from two big names: Chattanooga developer Franklin  Haney and Oak Ridge banker Jake Butcher. Both were quite wealthy, and both had recently run for governor, losing the Democratic nomination to Ray Blanton.   Mrs. Lloyd had campaigned with her husband, and was a savvy businesswoman, having operated a radio station she and Mort owned in Dalton, Georgia.  The party chose Mrs. Lloyd over Haney and Butcher, and she easily defeated Rep. Baker in her first election try.  She went on to win nine more elections, before retiring from Congress in 1994 after serving ten terms.

We’ll never know what Mort might have achieved in government.  Would he have chosen to run for U.S. Senate, as many House members do?  Would his popularity have spread statewide as it did in southeast Tennessee?  What were his interests, his causes?  What committees might he have served on?  Would he have used his influence in constructive ways for TVA, the Chickamauga Lock, our highways and health care?  Or would he have become frustrated by Washington, and opted to return to the local TV business?

mortserious

That’s the problem with those “What if?” questions.  There are no definitive answers.  Still, forty years after Mort Lloyd’s sudden death, it’s important to note that he made quite an impact on the Chattanooga area in his life, cut short all too soon by tragedy.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any existing video of Mort’s TV work.  Video recording was not a common practice during his career.  However, some audio still exists, and if you would like to hear Mort Lloyd’s amazing voice, here’s a brief segment from my YouTube channel, accompanied by several photos:

 

Local heroes catch purse-snatchers and pickpockets!

August 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm

These stories rarely make headlines, but it doesn’t make them any less important.  Purse snatching is going on in broad daylight in busy stores and parking lots.  If you look the other way, some creep will swipe a personal item (wallet, purse, cellphone) out of your hands, or shopping cart.  Here are some recent local stories that illustrate the need to always be aware of your surroundings.

Sarah Wells and her sister Becca Henry took their mother, 56-year-old Angie Jeffers out to lunch last week.  They chose Olive Garden on Hamilton Place Boulevard in Chattanooga.  They met at 1:00 on a Tuesday afternoon, on a bright, sunny day.  They had taken two cars, and parked within a few spaces of each other.  Sarah came directly from work in her car, while Becca had picked up her mother in the other car.  Lunch was great, and at 2:00 they all headed out to their cars.

Sarah describes her mom as “slightly disabled,” with some mobility issues.  With bad knees and severe arthritis, she needs a cane for a long walk, but was on her own this day.  “I hugged them and said bye,” said Sarah, “and was about to get in my car.”  Then she heard a scream.  “I knew it was Mom,” she said. “She was screaming horribly, like she had gotten run over.”

“I turned around, and saw this man struggling with her.  She was holding on to her purse, and he kept grabbing her by the arm.”  She said her sister Becca was also shocked by the screaming.  “Becca was getting in the car on the driver’s side, and started screaming too.  This guy had come out of nowhere.”

What happened next is an amazing sequence of events that lasted only a couple of minutes, but involves several heroic bystanders.  What was Sarah’s first response?  “I threw my purse at him,” she said.  Why?  “It was all I had, and I didn’t have time to think.  Then I started running after him.”

Keep in mind, this is happening along a heavily traveled street on a weekday afternoon.  There are plenty of people around, entering and leaving nearby businesses.  Someone would surely soon see a petite, blonde 30-year-old woman chasing a tall, lanky man all the way from Olive Garden, to El Meson restaurant and beyond.  The purse-snatcher had a good head start, but was “he was sort of jogging, not running all that hard.”

She saw a middle-aged couple leaving El Meson, about to get in their car.  “I’m pretty loud,” Sarah said. “I’m yelling Help! That man stole my mother’s purse, and it has all her medication in it!”  People outside Academy Sports and Old Navy are turning their heads as well.  The chase continued into the street.  Angela Stoker, who was driving on Hamilton Place Boulevard saw what was going on, and managed to cut him off. He had to dodge her car to keep going.  Moments later, a man had caught up with the perpetrator and was holding him down.

heroesIt was Dustin Reed, an Army veteran.  “I had just dropped off my girlfriend at the Acropolis restaurant, and I saw people chasing this guy.  I’m a power lifter, and I figured I could get that purse away from him, so I hit him in the back, knocked him down, and he let go of it.”  What did he say?  “You don’t want to know,” Dustin said.  “Let’s just say he got the worst of it.”

Another hero was the man who had been leaving El Meson.  He was also an Army veteran.  No one got his name.  But he relieved Dustin, keeping the purse-snatcher on the ground, with the help of Sarah, who had now caught up.  “I used my knee to help keep him down,” she said.” How did Dustin know the man was a veteran?  “He had on the Operation Iraqi Freedom cap, the vest, I could tell. Both of us were trained on what to do.” Several onlookers called police.  It took less than five minutes for them to arrive.

 

Jesse Defries, charged with robbery and assault

Jesse Defries, charged with robbery and assault

The purse-snatcher, identified as Jesse DeFries, was cuffed and taken away by police, “screaming and cursing the whole time,” according to Sarah.  He was charged with robbery and assault, and during a court appearance ten days later, it was revealed that there was an outstanding warrant on him.  He was taken back to jail, and he might be there for a while.

How’s the victim doing?  Angie Jeffers is fine, according to her daughter.  “Her wrist is still sore, but that’s all.  It taught her a lesson though.  She thinks maybe because she has white hair, this guy thought he could steal her purse with no resistance.  He found out different, and if he wants to spend more time in jail, that’s his choice.  But Mom won’t be carrying her purse in parking lots any more, that’s for sure.”

As for the strangers who came to their rescue, Sarah can only say “thank you.”  It turns out the man was unarmed, but they didn’t know it at the time.  “I don’t recommend chasing after an attacker, even though I did it, and others followed.  It was just a reflex reaction, I was trying to protect my mother, and some great people jumped in to help.  I’m glad no one was hurt.”

She concluded, “I know that many witnesses of crime just look the other way, and don’t want to get involved.  But these days, you can’t turn a blind eye.  Tell people not to be careless, it can happen anywhere to you.  We got this one in jail, but there are plenty of others still out there.”

And, have you ever been “purse-pocketed” inside a grocery store?  Listen to this story from Susan Gilbreath about her adventures in Walmart on Signal Mountain Road:

“This young couple asked if I would show them the ingredients to make meat loaf.  They said they were shopping for his mother.  He said his name was Marcus.  I shopped around with them for about 10 minutes, then finished my shopping.  When I got in line to check out, I had neither my cell phone, nor my debit card.  I borrowed the cashier’s phone and attempted canceling both.  Verizon disabled the phone immediately.  I was successful in contacting Suntrust Fraud when I got home.  We reviewed my account and saw a few pending charges at convenience stores and at Burger King.  My card had visited KANKU #3, then Hi Tech in 37407 area, then Burger King 37404 area, then Sandy’s Mini Mart 37406 area  before getting way out to Walmart in Hixson 37343 where the card had just been declined, twice. 

They aren’t all that bright; they’ve been caught.  Kudos to the night manager at 153 Walmart.  She declined the purchase of a laptop purely on suspicion.  Then, they tried again at the register for a $50.00 purchase.  Surely, with all this proof, there will be two more “MEAT LOAFERS” off our streets.  And if anybody knows the meatloaf duo, I’d like to have my phone back.”

I guess it’s true, no good deed goes unpunished.  Here’s this nice lady, showing one of the thieves what to buy to make some good meat loaf, and while she’s distracted, the other half of the team is going through her purse.  Remember when you could be nice to folks, and feel good about it?  This is America, 2014.  Don’t let your guard down.

What’s behind those weeds? It’s Chattanooga!

August 15, 2014 at 8:03 pm

UPDATE: August 19, 7:25 p.m.

Thanks to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Molly Cooper of the Mayor’s staff, City Council Dist. 7 representative Chris Anderson, and TDOT for reading my blog and starting the clean-up process along Highway 27.  Progress is being made, as you can see here:

Tuesday August 19, 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday August 19, 7:00 p.m.

 

ORIGINAL STORY: August 15:  For the past several weeks (since June) I’ve tweeted regularly about the jungle-like conditions in the Highway 27 median in downtown Chattanooga.  I’ve called the Tennessee Department of Transportation, more than once.  As you can see, I have zero clout.  Maybe you can help.  Here’s another non-scenic view:

Time to bale the hay

Time to bale the hay

I’m told by various sources that TDOT uses contractors to maintain the growth along our highways.  I’ve even read stories that when contractors get behind in their work, they are forced to pay fines.  On this Friday afternoon, I’m unable to find out much more than that.  I’ve been told that contractors are usually scheduled to cut the weeds a few times a year, but for whatever reason, it isn’t happening now.  We’re still in tourist season, and this is what our visitors see:

Who needs a steel median when you have this?

Who needs a steel median when you have this?

I’m frankly surprised that our city fathers (and mothers) haven’t been screaming at the top of their lungs.  Is this the first impression we want to present to those who enter “The Scenic City of the South?”  Yes, we’ve had a lot of rain.  But if I maintained my yard like the state maintains its greenery, I’d be cited to court.  And I would deserve it.  I have more photos, but you’ve seen enough.  Am I the only one disgusted by this negligence, or would you like to join me?

In memory of Robin Williams, give to St. Jude

August 14, 2014 at 2:01 am

Anyone who knows me (and some who don’t) may have noticed by now that I haven’t handled Robin Williams’ death too well.  I’ve survived many of my favorite celebrities, and even written about a few of them after they died.  As I wrote Monday night, I wasn’t finished with Robin.  Despite what was going on inside him, he sure seemed to project a lot of life on the outside, and I thought he’d be around for a long time.  Certainly, we never thought he would take his own life, which compounds our sorrow.

robin-williams-cartoon-heller

Seeing, and replaying some of his best TV and movie clips has been both enjoyable and heartbreaking.  I’m glad they’re still with us, but I’m sad he won’t be making any more memories for us.  Selfishly, my immediate reaction to the news of his death, was all about me.  “I won’t be able to see him do his stand-up act, which I’ve always wanted to do.  I’ll never be able to meet him, to interview him, and tell him how much joy he has brought to me.”  Me, me, me.  Poor me. How typical.  I should be better than that.

Thankfully, I found something to refocus my grief in the right direction.  Robin’s family has graciously requested that fans send donations to some of his favorite causes in lieu of flowers.  With apologies to my florist friends, I’ve never been a “send flowers” person.  I always prefer to honor someone by making a donation to a program that can help the living.

robin-williams-and-st-jude-patient

As you may remember, Robin was a great supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.  My employer, WRCB, and my radio friends at US-101 have also adopted St. Jude as a charity partner.  How much did Robin love those kids who undergo treatment at St. Jude?  Take 30 seconds, and watch this:

Got 30 more seconds? Here’s one from November of last year:

I’m about to make a small donation to St. Jude in memory of this man who made me laugh so much, and who made me cry more than I’d like to admit.  His life meant something to millions of us, and his sad departure from us has too.  We’re talking out loud about depression, mental health and suicide, and people are seeking help today who might not have otherwise.  And if you’re able, I hope you’ll donate to St. Jude too.  It’s the best way to honor the memory of this unforgettable man.  It’s easy to do: just click HERE and then click “Donate Now” in the upper right-hand corner.  Thank you.

robinwilliamsmuppets

 

 

 

Robin Williams is gone: Let’s talk about suicide

August 12, 2014 at 1:07 am

Robin-Williams

 

Robin Williams is dead at the age of 63.  The coroner’s office has revealed that the beloved comedian died of asphyxiation, hanging himself.   I’ve lived through hundreds of celebrity deaths.  Why is this one hitting me so hard?  Allow me to do a little work therapy.  I have to talk this out with you.

First, a brief tribute to the man.  I saw him first on “Mork and Mindy.”  We hadn’t seen anyone quite like him.  Part of the fun was watching his fellow cast members just try to keep up, because you knew he wasn’t following any script: that’s what made the show a hit.

He made some movies in the 80s.  Some good, others not so much.  But then there was “Good Morning, Vietnam.”  That made me a Robin Williams fan for life.  There’s no doubt someone wrote a script for that one too.  At some point, a wise director said, “Just keep the cameras rolling when Robin gets cranked up.”  Again, that’s what made the movie.

Later there were so many others, the funniest of which were probably “Bird Cage,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Aladdin.”  But there was also “Dead Poets Society.”  “Good Will Hunting.”  “Awakenings.”  This manic comedian, who literally took over the late-night talk shows when he appeared as a guest, had incredible range.  Not only could he make us double up with laughter, but he could also make us cry.  Name other actors who can do both so brilliantly.  It’s a very short list.

I’ll also miss his comedy albums, which are the closest I ever got to seeing him perform live.  I’ll go to YouTube to find his amazing guest-spot on “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” which showcased his improv skills.  And I’ll deal with the fact that I just wasn’t finished with him yet.  I know he had another HBO special or two in him, like the wonderful one he did after returning from his heart attack in 2009.  Surely he had some more hit movies up his sleeve.   We’ll never know why he decided to leave us so early.  The instant experts are already on TV post-diagnosing his depression and his addictions, many of which are well-documented because of his celebrity.

It’s hard to find a silver lining at this moment, but his celebrity is all I have.  It took Michael J. Fox’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease to bring it to widespread public attention.  When Glen Campbell’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was announced, suddenly people took notice, and Congress held hearings.  Now that we have lost Robin Williams to suicide,  maybe we can talk about it openly and honestly.

Just days ago, a local teenager was buried.  You didn’t read it in the obituary, but the cause of death was suicide.  We whisper about it, we say it under our breath every time it happens.  It happens far more than you might think, especially among teens.  A few months ago, a popular teen in a neighboring county committed suicide.  There were tributes on social media, with many friends alluding to the cause of death, but few actually saying the “s” word.  I received some calls from the teen’s classmates: “You should report on this,” they would say.  “Someone needs to tell her story.”  “People need to know why she took her life.”  I reached out to the family, but was told they didn’t want to talk about it.  I understood.  “Let me know if and when you can talk about it,” I replied.  I’m still willing to tell her story, if it can help someone.

As long as I can remember, the general policy among news outlets has been to shy away from reporting suicide unless it is a public figure: an actor, an athlete, a politician.  The fear expressed most often is that reporting a “regular person” suicide is that it will inspire copycats.  Someone will see the face of the teen who overdosed, or the man who jumped off a bridge, or the woman who shot herself.  The viewer might himself be going through a rough patch, and say, “Well, I’m going to do it too, and I’ll be on the news, and everyone who has screwed me over will be sorry.”  Maybe there’s something to that.

But on the other side of that coin is this: many people are convinced that it can’t happen in their family, until it’s too late.  They don’t understand the impact of a break-up, a divorce, the loss of a job, severe financial problems, being a victim of bullying, or the effects of addiction, depression and mental illness.

They don’t know the warning signs and traits that often accompany that final, fatal act.  Changes in behavior.  Giving away personal possessions.  A general feeling of being helpless, or worthless.  Cleaning up one’s room, or home.  “Could you watch my dog for the next few days?  And check on my parents too.  I have some business to take care of.”

robinwRobin Williams leaves behind a mourning family, lots of high-profile friends, and millions of fans.  His comedy shows and movies will always be a mouse click away, or at the nearest Redbox.  Perhaps he’s also leaving behind a better, clearer understanding of suicide, and a growing awareness that it is among us.  It’s too late to help him, but there is help out there for the rest of us.  It takes away people of all ages, and we need to see it coming.  Thanks for letting me talk this out.  I had intended to write about suicide after the death of the local teen a few days ago, and I guess now was the time.

Robin will always make us laugh, except when he’s making us cry.  Today, there’s not a dry eye in the house.

robin-cartoon

The National Alliance on Mental Illness. Find Help. Find Hope. HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI  or NAMI.org