Let’s celebrate “Luther Day” on Monday!

March 5, 2015 at 4:08 am

I’m doing something a little different with this blog: I’m giving you a choice!  If you love to read, please read my thoughts below on “Luther Day.”  If you’d rather watch a video, in which I’m saying pretty much these exact words, you may scroll to the bottom, and see the YouTube video of my presentation to the Hamilton County Commission.  Either way, I hope you’ll observe the first annual “Luther Day” on Monday March 9, by being an even nicer person than you usually are.  Here goes, right after my favorite photo of Luther, from the 1970s: big smile, wide tie and all:

Luther in the 1970s

Luther in the 1970s

On October 20, 2014, we lost Luther Masingill, at the age of 92. We’ve missed him on WDEF radio and TV, looking for all those lost dogs.  He was on the same time, same station since 1940; more than 74 years, interrupted only by his two-year stint in World War II.  When you see a list of records that will never be broken, Luther’s longevity should rank at the very top.


Take it from me, or anyone else who works in radio or television.  An announcing career is not one where many folks get a gold watch for 25 years of continuous service.  Luther was the exception to the rule.


Luther could have taken his show just about anywhere.  Big-city radio stations took notice.  They said, “Maybe we should hire this Luther fellow do our morning show.”  When they saw Luther’s eye-popping ratings, they tracked him down.


After all, this is the guy who made an entire city pull over to the side of the road one morning.  As heavy snow began to fall, Luther helpfully advised his listeners to let some air out of their tires to gain more traction.  As witnesses would later describe, main arteries like McCallie Avenue came to a standstill as everyone stopped, got out of their car and began deflating their tires.  Can you imagine anyone, in any broadcast medium, having that sort of influence today?


Yet despite the offers from New York, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, Luther chose to stay put.  His family was here, and he always appreciated WDEF for giving him a radio job at the age of 18, which was beyond his wildest dreams.


Luther at age 19, at the WDEF microphone

Luther at age 19, at the WDEF microphone

In recent years, this humble man started getting some much-deserved recognition.  Part of South Broad Street was renamed in his honor, and he was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame, and the National Radio Hall of Fame.  Every day someone thanked him for waking them up, for reuniting them with their pet, or for finding their car keys.  Luther knew he was loved, and nothing made him happier than rising bright and early, driving to the studio so he could help brighten someone’s day, one person at a time.


Luther in 2013, pointing himself out in the Gordon Wetmore painting in the Hamilton County Commission meeting room.

Luther in 2013, pointing himself out in the Gordon Wetmore painting in the Hamilton County Commission meeting room.

That’s why I made a suggestion at Luther’s memorial service at Engel Stadium.  Luther was widely known for his many acts of kindness.  In my view, the best way to remember him on his birthday (March 9) each year is quite simple.  Let’s act like Luther.


On that date, look for opportunities to make someone’s day.  If you see that young mom struggling with a shopping cart, a baby, and several bags of groceries, maybe you can do the heavy lifting for her.  How about the man standing on the sidewalk, holding a sign and waving folks into a local business?  Odds are he doesn’t get paid much for that, but at least he’s making an honest living.  If you have a few extra bucks in your pocket, I’m sure he’d appreciate the help.  Have you bought anyone’s lunch lately?  March 9th would be a good time to surprise someone.  It could be a friend, or even a stranger.  Luther enjoyed doing nice things for everyone with whom he came in contact.

Phil Cox of WDEF-TV, Evan Brown (Luther's grandson), Joan Masingill Brown (Luther's daughter), David Carroll, Mary Masingill, James Howard and Kim Carson of Sunny 92.3. This was taken at Hamilton County Commission, March 4, 2015

Phil Cox of WDEF-TV, Evan Brown (Luther’s grandson), Joan Masingill Brown (Luther’s daughter), David Carroll, Mary Masingill, James Howard and Kim Carson of Sunny 92.3. This was taken at Hamilton County Commission, March 4, 2015


Whether it’s a little cash, a pat on the back, a little yard cleanup, some encouraging words, or a surprise gift,   I saw Luther do all these things and more.  It’s how he connected with people.  It’s what made him special.  This is how he lived his life every day of the year.  He left us with no regrets, no unfinished business.


Chattanooga City Council member Chris Anderson, Joan Masingill Brown, Jeff Masingill and Mary Masingill.

Chattanooga City Council member Chris Anderson, Joan Masingill Brown, Jeff Masingill and Mary Masingill.

Luther was blessed to have a long career in the field that he loved, and it made him happy to share his good fortune with others, every day. If Luther could do it 365 days a year, surely we can do it on March 9, 2015 and again on his birthday each year going forward.  I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of this very special man.


My vote for funniest commercial ever

March 3, 2015 at 11:58 pm

I was going through old tapes, and found what I think is the funniest commercial ever.  Tom Snyder played this on his late night CBS show in 1999, and we must have replayed it 100 times at our house.  It’s for a beeper service (remember those?), and well, it’s a gas.  Enjoy, and share with anyone who needs a laugh.

Who rescues people from a burning house? These guys!

March 1, 2015 at 3:00 am

I’m as bad as anybody else.  Sometimes I get into a lazy, stereotypical mindset. I start believing that most 17-year-old boys stay out late, wake up really late, and have only one thing on their mind.  I love it when I’m proven wrong.

Jacob Gray and Mason Chamberlain

Jacob Gray and Mason Chamberlain

Let me tell you what happened Thursday night.  Central High junior Jacob Gray and Ooltewah High junior Mason Chamberlain were riding around with a couple of friends. They drove by a house on Sims Harris Road, near Harrison.  They saw flames coming from the front of the house. There was no fire truck in sight.

Let me stop right here.  How many people, of any age, would have kept on driving and taken little, if any action?  Hopefully, most of us would at least call 9-1-1. But back to the story, now told from a different point of view.

16-year-old Brianna Dobbs, a Central High student was upstairs listening to music.  She thought she heard glass breaking, and then her cat’s ears started to perk up. “I began yelling for my stepdad,” Brianna said.  “I didn’t know what was going on.”  Brianna’s stepfather, Kenny Waldon soon discovered the fire in the front of the house, and tried in vain to put it out.

The next voices Brianna heard belonged to Jacob and Mason.  “Two guys were yelling, your house is on fire!  Everybody get out! I said, we’ve got to get my mom!”  Her mother, Kim Waldon couldn’t immediately be found.  Although Kim’s other daughter was at a friend’s house, she momentarily panicked and looked for her before remembering she was away.

The Waldon home on Thursday night

The Waldon home on Thursday night

Jacob and Mason noticed the front door was in flames.  They tried unsuccessfully to enter the garage.  They ran to the rear of the house, and were able to get in the back door.  Smoke was beginning to fill the house.  “I could see about four feet in front of me,” Jacob said.  While the boys were running up the stairs to find whoever may be inside, Kenny was frantically trying to move gas cans and propane tanks away from the house.  Then there were the family’s vehicles.  As seconds ticked by, Kenny knew everything flammable had to be moved as far away as possible.

By this time, the boys had rounded up Kim and Brianna, making sure they got downstairs, and getting them out through the smoke-filled living room.  “There was no time to call 9-1-1,” Brianna recalled. “We were just trying to get out alive, and we didn’t think about our phones, or any other possessions.”  The lights started flickering.  Then, “POW!” When they got outside, all they had was the clothes on their back.  The family pets, a cat and dog, didn’t make it out alive.  Mason helped Kenny move the family vehicles across the road.

In the meantime, the boys’ friends Cameron Baltimore and Jana Cannon, who stayed behind in the car, called 9-1-1.  Highway 58 Volunteer Firefighters soon arrived, but were only able to contain the fire. The house sustained some $200,000 in damages, and is a total loss.  The cause has been ruled accidental.

The Waldon home, Friday morning

The Waldon home, Friday morning

Cameron and Jana made sure that Kim and Brianna had clothes and shoes for the night, and Mason gave Kenny his jacket.  The American Red Cross arranged for the family to stay in a motel, and provided them with some clothing, money and food.

I asked Mason, “Why did you pull over and go into that house?  You could have been killed.”  He said, “As soon as we saw it, me and Jacob talked.  We said, we can’t just drive by here, and then hear on the news that some people died in a house fire.  We had to at least try.  I wish we could have done more.” Jacob added, “This was just in our heart. I would hope people would do the same thing for my family.”

I’ve known Mason’s parents, Julie and Scott (a KZ-106 radio friend) for years.  Proud mom Julie posted this on Facebook:  “I’m thankful to God he was at the right place when needed and no one was hurt!” Family friend Bruce Garner, a spokesperson for the Chattanooga Fire Department, wrote, “ I wouldn’t recommend making a habit out of that without proper equipment and training. That’s a very dangerous environment. But, Mason and (Jacob) didn’t just stand there, they took action.”

When I spoke to the Waldon family, Brianna said, “We didn’t really get to thank them properly, we were just shocked.  If they hadn’t stopped to help us, there could have been much more damage.  They risked their lives for us, and we can’t thank them enough.”

Having witnessed the recent fire that took the lives of Randall and Candy Lockhart in north Chattanooga, leaving three children without their parents, it’s important to point out that Mason Chamberlain, Jacob Gray and their friends took action to prevent another tragedy.  Did they go too far?  Should they have exercised more caution?  I’ll leave that for others to debate.  I’ll just join the Waldon family in expressing my appreciation.  I’m thankful they didn’t just keep on driving.  Far too many of us, young and old, do that these days.

If you would like to help the Waldon family, contact the American Red Cross of Southeast Tennessee: 4115 S. Access Road, Chattanooga, TN 37406.  Phone 423-265-3455




Remembering Leonard Nimoy and the March of Dimes Telerama

February 27, 2015 at 7:28 pm

It seems hard to believe now, but for 11 years, (1967-77), Chattanooga viewers watched a 20-hour annual telethon (from 11:00 p.m. Saturday to around 6:30 p.m. Sunday) for the March of Dimes.  Broadcast live from first the Tivoli Theater, and later the Memorial Auditorium, the stage was filled with celebrities, and the technical gear was operated by crews from all three local TV stations.  Once a year, competition was put aside for a common goal: the battle against birth defects, led locally by Dr. Walter Boehm.


The March of Dimes “Telerama” was held each January, hosted by Roy Morris from 1967 through 1974.  Roy was a popular TV personality who also acted and sang in Little Theater productions, so he was quite capable of filling time during a 20-hour live TV show.  Channel 3 televised the event from 1967 to 1973.  Roy switched to Channel 9 briefly, hosting the ’74 Telerama for that channel.  Channel 9 continued the tradition for three more years.

Similar March of Dimes telethons were done by stations nationwide beginning in the early 1960s, all following the same format. With only three major networks at the time, there weren’t many stars to go around, but a surprising number spent many January weekends on the road.  James Arness and Dennis Weaver from “Gunsmoke,” Fess Parker and Ed Ames from “Daniel Boone,” and Max Baer and Irene Ryan from “The Beverly Hillbillies” made the rounds from Pittsburgh, to Charlotte, to Knoxville, Seattle and beyond to help the March of Dimes.  Some, like Weaver, Parker, and Ames, could sing or play a guitar on the shows.  Others would simply appear on stage, joke around with the hosts, and help answer the phones.  Fans who attended the shows often got autographs from the Hollywood stars.

Michael Landon at a March of Dimes Telerama

Michael Landon at a March of Dimes Telerama

During all those January weekends, we welcomed some big-name talent into Chattanooga.  Michael Landon, the most popular star of  TV’s number-one show set the standard in 1967.  “Bonanza” was riding high in the ratings, and everybody loved “Little Joe.” Landon was on-camera frequently during those 20 hours, posing for pictures, signing autographs, and making a tearful (and effective) plea for viewers to donate.

In the years to come, we would anxiously await the announcement of the next Telerama stars.  The Chattanooga producers tried to top themselves each year.  In 1968, Leonard Nimoy came to town.  It sounds strange now, but “Star Trek” wasn’t that popular when it first aired on NBC, so an appearance by “Mr. Spock” didn’t create as much excitement as you would think.  Local producer Wayne Abercrombie, Channel 3’s first employee, was organizing the event. Sharing the bill with Nimoy that year were “The Virginian” star James Drury, “King of the Road” singer Roger Miller, and country comedian Minnie Pearl, so collectively there were plenty of stars.

Leonard Nimoy and Wayne Abercrombie, Tivoli Theater, Jan. 1968

Leonard Nimoy and Wayne Abercrombie, Tivoli Theater, Jan. 1968

“James Drury was better known than Leonard Nimoy at that time,” Wayne told me.  “His show had been on for many years, and Leonard’s show was still trying to find an audience.  None of us knew that Star Trek would eventually become a worldwide phenomenon, and Mr. Spock would be a household word.  Now everybody wears Star Trek clothes, including my grandson.”  Wayne said Nimoy was very congenial during his two-day visit, spending the night at the Read House.  About eight years later, the two crossed paths again.  “I was in the airport in Chicago, and Leonard Nimoy was coming my way.  I looked at him, he looked at me, and I could tell he was trying to figure out where he knew me from.  I just called out ‘Chattanooga!’ and he said, yes, we did a telethon together.  It seemed like he was relieved to figure out who I was!”  Wayne said he was saddened to hear of Leonard Nimoy’s death on February 27 at the age of 83.  “He sure had a world of fans,” Wayne said.

1972 March of Dimes Telerama, with Roy Morris and Richard Dawson standing

1972 March of Dimes Telerama, with Roy Morris and Richard Dawson standing

In the years to come, there were more western stars (David Canary of “Bonanza” and actors from “The Virginian” and “High Chaparral”), “Hee Haw” stars Roy Clark, Gunilla Hutton, Roni Stoneman and the Hagers, then-“Laugh-In” cast member Richard Dawson, Peter Marshall of “Hollywood Squares,” Anson Williams (“Potsie” from “Happy Days”), Robert Reed from “The Brady Bunch,” and singer Crystal Gayle.

I hope this has brought you some nice memories as well.  If you have a Telerama story to tell, please share it in the comments section, or e-mail me at 3dc@epbfi.com

Sammy George elected to Country Radio Hall of Fame

February 25, 2015 at 8:38 pm
Sammy George

Sammy George

Congratulations to Sammy George, one of Chattanooga’s all-time top broadcasters on his election to the Country Radio Hall of Fame.  Sammy was general manager of US-101 during the station’s meteoric rise to the top of the local ratings, a position it has never relinquished.  I always admired Sammy for his ability to find new talent, and assemble the right pieces to make a station sound great.  As a listener, it impressed me that Sammy and his staff always seemed to be in position to react quickly to the local market’s mood.  They were always a step ahead of musical trends, and if there was a need anywhere in the country, US-101 was ready to respond.  They did countless food, water and relief drives for those who were devastated by floods, droughts and tornadoes.

Sammy is still very involved in the local broadcast community, and is still our “go-to” when we have questions on programming, music, and personality style.  I should also mention that he is one of the best speakers I have ever heard.  I am posting two YouTube videos at the end of this story.  One is Sammy’s introduction of his friend “Dex” as a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee, and the other is Sammy (with Dex) paying tribute to David Earl Hughes at his memorial service in 2004.

Here is the official release about Sammy’s upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame:

Country Radio Broadcasters has announced the new inductees for the Country Radio Hall of Fame class of 2015 during opening ceremonies of the Country Radio Seminar.

Longtime WUSY (US-101) general manager Sammy George of Chattanooga is among this year’s inductees.

The Country Radio Hall of Fame is dedicated to the recognition of those individuals who have made significant contributions to the radio industry over a 20-year period, 15 of which must be in the Country format.

The annual Country Radio Hall of Fame and Dinner is set for Wed. June 24, at the Omni Hotel in Nashville.

During his 38-year career in radio, Sammy handled virtually every position inside a radio station, including on-air-personality, Program Director, News Reporter, sports play-by-play announcer, Sales Executive and Director of Sales. His final 22 years in the radio business saw him serve as GM/Market Manager for US-101, where he led the station to 73 consecutive #1 rating books, nine CMA Station of the Year awards, two ACM Station of the Year trophies, NAB Crystal and Marconi Awards, and eight consecutive Times Free Press Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Local Radio Station.

In 2013, Sammy performed the introductory speech for his longtime US-101 friend Bill “Dex” Poindexter, when Dex was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame:

In 2004: Sammy and Dex paid tribute to former US-101 personality David Earl Hughes, at his memorial service:

Thank you Sheriff Gary Sisk: a real lifesaver!

February 24, 2015 at 4:45 am
Janice & Tommy Holcombe

Janice & Tommy Holcombe

The banquet room at the Colonnade in Catoosa County, Georgia was filled last Saturday night.  The annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner is the social event of the year.  Tommy and Janice Holcombe were seated at the Ringgold Telephone Company table with more than one reason to enjoy the evening: it was their 39th wedding anniversary.  It was a formal affair, and dinner was about to be served.

Each plate featured two entrees: baked chicken and steak.  Janice Holcombe first sampled the chicken, and then cut off a piece of steak.  Amid the conversation of the eight people at her table, Janice suddenly became quiet.  The steak was lodged in her throat.  One of her table mates, Heather Chacon was first to notice.  “I think she’s choking!” Heather said, jumping into action.  Janice pointed to her throat, and shook her head as if to say, “Yes!” Heather, like Janice, a petite woman, wrapped her arms around Janice and tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the food.  Another woman seated nearby, Tammy Webb took over.  She too gave it her best effort, but Janice still couldn’t breathe.  Janice’s husband Tommy maintained eye contact with her, urging her to focus on him so she wouldn’t lose consciousness.  He provided a strong arm for her to steady herself.

Although barely a minute had gone by, “it seemed like forever,” Janice said.  Although plates were clattering and loud voices filled the room, a big man seated two tables away saw some commotion.  Sheriff Gary Sisk, out of uniform and off the clock,  jumped into action.  “He just took over,” Janice said, “and not a moment too soon.  I was close to passing out, or maybe worse.”

Catoosa Co. Sheriff Gary Sisk

Catoosa Co. Sheriff Gary Sisk

“I didn’t do anything special,” Sheriff Sisk told me.  Janice, her husband, and their friends know better.  This is what they saw, up close and personal.  As Janice was clutching her throat, not getting any air, Sheriff Sisk moved behind her, bent down (he is 6’7″), and did two quick abdominal thrusts, the Heimlich Maneuver.  He turned to face Janice.  She was still struggling to breathe.  He returned to his previous position, performed two more quick thrusts, and the food came out.  As Janice’s table mates breathed a sigh of relief, Janice simply breathed, enjoying each breath as never before.

As the banquet ended, and the attendees said their goodbyes, Janice made a beeline for Sheriff Sisk and his wife Meredith.  “I can’t thank you enough,” she told him.  The next day, she and Tommy officially celebrated their anniversary at a local restaurant, discussing their near-tragic ordeal from the night before.  “People need to know about this, ” she said.  So she posted a public message of thanks on the Sheriff’s Facebook page.

“He’s such an honorable man,” she told me.  “So many people just don’t know what to do, or are afraid to touch someone, thinking they might get sued if anything goes wrong.  But I had two friends who tried really hard, and then Sheriff Sisk finished the job.  He knew what he was doing.  I knew who he was, but I didn’t really know him.  I can say this for sure, he’s a good, humble man.”

“That’s very kind of her,” Sheriff Sisk said.  “But the folks in my department deal with life-and-death situations all the time.  Any of them would have done the same thing.”  A former volunteer fireman and EMT, Sheriff Sisk is among many responders trained in CPR, all of whom undergo re-certification every two years.  “No, this doesn’t happen to me every day,” he said.  “But I’m glad I was where I could help her.”

Sheriff Sisk is a strong proponent of CPR training. “Some people just freeze, they don’t move when they see someone choking.  They’re not ready for it.  And that’s not what we were expecting at the Chamber Gala, but this is proof, it can happen anywhere.  Fast food, a fancy restaurant, or in your own home.  You need to know what to do.”

Summing up the memorable evening, Sheriff Sisk said, “I’m just glad I didn’t crack her ribs, I’m a big guy.”  When I asked Janice if she was sore, two days after being strongly embraced and jolted by someone twice her size, she said, “No, nothing major.”  I said, “That’s great, he was afraid he might’ve cracked a rib or two.”  She replied, “That would have been okay, at least I’m alive!”

“I don’t know where I would be right now without him,” she concluded.  “I’m just so fortunate that he was in the same room.  I want the people of Catoosa County to know what he did for me, and I hope this inspires everyone to be properly trained.”

The Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich Maneuver



Thanks to the Heroes of Winter

February 21, 2015 at 2:24 pm

In late February of 2010, we had just emerged from several days of ice and snow, not unlike our recent situation in 2015.  Channel 3 news photographer Lee Broome and I set out to do a poetic thank you story.  We wanted to thank the folks who make life easier for the rest of us:  the retail workers, delivery workers, first responders, repair crews and just regular people who help their neighbors get out of a ditch.  I took care of the words, Lee got the pictures, and many of our viewers helped out by being on camera.  The basic message still applies in 2015:  Here’s our THANK YOU to everyone who helped out, during very difficult conditions.  If you know someone who deserves a pat on the back, please share this with them.

Much more than a beauty queen: Marty Browning Dunagan

February 19, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Let me tell you my all-time favorite beauty pageant story.  When I was starting out in radio, I emceed many pageants.  It was good ad-lib experience.  I always admired Bob Barker, who seemed to be able to handle anything, and he hosted a lot of these shows.  I got to tell my jokes in front of a live audience.  So for a while there, I said “yes” to pretty much every pageant I was offered.  Some day, I’ll tell you about the one I emceed in a nearby county, with 220 contestants, ranging in age from “just born” to “long in the tooth.”  But this is the time for my Marty Browning story.

martyd2It was April 1984, and Marty was already well known in Chattanooga.  She was beautiful, and was one of the best majorettes I had ever seen.  The East Ridge High grad could twirl a baton.  While attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, she was indeed the Pride of the Southland.  One more thing: Marty was born deaf.  The nerves in her inner ear never fully developed.  That didn’t stop Marty from twirling.  She was able to hear a faint beat as the music played, and she was right in step.  Many were surprised to learn of her hearing impairment.  Over the years, her speech improved to the point where she could be understood, even with a slight Southern drawl.

When she competed in her first Miss Chattanooga pageant in 1982, her baton routine was flawless, and she looked fabulous in her evening gown and swimsuit.  The interview portion was a little tricky, but she did her best.  The audience and judges loved her, but she she didn’t quite make the cut.  The next two years, she tried again.  With all of that pageant experience under her belt, she was better prepared, and the 1984 Miss Chattanooga pageant became an unforgettable night for us all.

By now, she was 23, and her time was running out.  The judges usually favored girls closer to 20.  As always, Marty nailed her baton routine, and the crowd roared its approval.

She was beautiful in her swimsuit, and radiant in her evening gown.  Those of us who were accustomed to her speech had no trouble understanding her during the interview portion, but the judges, hearing her for the first time, may have struggled a bit.  One thing they knew for sure, however: the audience loved her.  She received the loudest ovations in every category.

Now, the big moment: the announcement of the award winners, and our new Miss Chattanooga.  First, I would announce the winners in preliminaries: scholarship, evening gown, and the rest.  Then came “Miss Congeniality,” the prized award voted on by the contestants themselves.  To no one’s surprise, I opened the envelope, and said “Miss Congeniality is…Marty Browning!” to a thunderous round of applause.  I, and surely many others, thought to myself, “That’s nice.  Marty has won something.  Good for her.”  Because we also thought, “As great as she is, she will not win Miss Chattanooga.  The judges will choose a young lady to compete for Miss Tennessee who can hear, and speak clearly.” That’s what had happened, two years in a row, as Marty stood watching.

So as the crowd cheered, and Marty accepted her trophy, we moved on.  Soon four young ladies had won runner-up prizes, and a dozen others stood by, hoping to hear their name called.  I opened the envelope.  I don’t know how long I paused, but I looked at it two or three times, to make sure I was seeing correctly.  I was about to say something that would tear the roof off the Tivoli Theater.  “Ladies and gentlemen, your Miss Chattanooga for 1984 is…..MARTY BROWNING!”

I had never heard such a reaction.  Everyone, even those who were supporting other contestants rose to their feet and cheered.  Most surprised of all was Marty Browning.  Again, she could not hear my voice! All she knew was, every eye was on her, and those eyes were shedding tears of joy.  She looked at me as if to say, “Did you say my name?” I looked back, shaking my head “YES!” profusely. I had seen many happy winners over the years, and would see many more.  Yet that’s the only moment I remember with  such clarity and joy.

Helen Hardin, David Carroll, Luther Masingill, and Miss Tennessee USA Marty Browning, 1985

Helen Hardin, David Carroll, Luther Masingill, and Miss Tennessee USA Marty Browning, 1985

A few months later, in January 1985, she competed against 57 young ladies to win Miss Tennessee USA, and soon represented our state in the Miss USA Pageant on CBS, hosted by yes, Bob Barker. She made us proud.


Marty Browning Dunagan with Silas Fincher, May 2014

Marty Browning Dunagan with Silas Fincher, May 2014

As Marty Browning Dunagan, she has devoted her life to teaching deaf children, first at the Speech and Hearing Center, and now at her own “Marty’s Center” at Brainerd United Methodist Church.  Recently she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I’ve been following her Facebook posts.  Here is an excerpt from a recent one:  The only symptoms I have experienced from the chemo are a few episodes of being lightheaded and brief fatigue but they only last for a little bit.  I count my blessings daily for this.  My mother, my 2 daughters, and one of my best friends of 40 years met me on Saturday morning and we went wig shopping.  I met a couple of breast cancer survivors at the Wig Palace and at a friend’s house on Saturday night. One of my neighbors even said she had breast cancer and we never knew that.  These were people who I have known for a few years and never knew they had breast cancer.  It is such a comfort to see these people who are living life to the fullest and they inspire me!  I can’t thank you enough for all your love, support, and prayers.  Please know that you are my inspiration and you push me to keep on going and fight this.  Please pray for my wonderful staff as we deal with changes pending my daily situation.  Thank you for your words of encouragement, cards, food, and HUGS during this time.  Count your blessings daily.  I love you all, Marty

We hear you loud and clear, Marty.  You’re still our Miss Chattanooga, our Miss Tennessee, and our shining light.

Marty with grandson Henry at chemo treatment, Feb. 24, 2015

Marty with grandson Henry at chemo treatment, Feb. 24, 2015

For more information about Marty’s Center, click here.

You may contact Marty at martyscenter@epbfi.com

Johnny Cash’s beautiful love letter to June

February 16, 2015 at 4:45 pm

johnny-june1Here is the letter that’s been getting a lot of attention in recent days.  An online poll named this letter from Johnny Cash the most romantic love letter of all time.  It was written to his wife June Carter Cash on her 65th birthday, on June 23, 1994.  It’s a wake-up call for those of us who rush to the store at the last minute on our spouse’s birthday, or on Valentine’s Day to grab a card that someone else wrote! (Who, me?)  This is how it is supposed to be done:

johnny-june-letterIn case you have trouble reading the photo image of Johnny’s letter to his “Princess,” here’s the text:

June 23 1994
Odense, Denmark.

Happy Birthday Princess,

We get old and get use to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.

Happy Birthday Princess.


How about that last paragraph? Johnny wasn’t known for his writing skills, but if you ask me, he knew how to speak from the heart.

I’ve written before about Johnny and June’s final days, back in 2003.  Everybody assumed that Johnny, who had long been ill, would go first.  Instead, June got sick, and after a brief illness, she passed away, leaving a grieving husband behind.

johnnyjuneWhen I saw Johnny’s letter the other day, it reminded me of my favorite Johnny-June song, now pretty much forgotten by radio stations (although in Chattanooga, it is played by Classic Country, WUUQ, Q973, 993.)  Back in 1970, “If I Were A Carpenter” got airplay on both top-40 and country stations.  The song had been recorded before, in many different styles by several artists.  But this is the one that has stuck with me over the years.  Real emotion, real musicianship, real talent.  Click, watch and listen to Johnny and June, in their prime: as a couple, and as performers.  They don’t make ‘em like this any more:

Will it snow? If my wife tells me so!

February 14, 2015 at 11:54 pm


It was Sunday, January 9, 2011.  Most people in the Tennessee Valley were either hunkered down with their weather radios, watching the TV weather forecasts, or in line at the supermarket.  (When there’s snow in the local forecast, and we see cars in Boston buried under five feet, our instincts tell us to hoard enough bread and soup to last until Labor Day.)

For whatever reason, my joints and sinuses seem to be immune to atmospheric changes.  Either that, or I’m just numb.  But my dear wife Cindy can detect a storm forming in the clouds over Chicago.  I always turn to her when there are rumors of severe weather approaching.  “Cindy,” I said on that quiet Sunday.  “How are you feeling, with your personal weather radar?”  “My head is killing me,” she replied.  I needed more information to decide whether to pack an overnight bag for work.  “Where, exactly?” I asked.   She pointed to her forehead.  “It’s above my right eye.”  I’d never heard that one before.  “And it’s really hurting,” she added.  “What do you think it means?” I asked. (When rain is on the way, she has a mere sinus headache.  This was different.)  “Something big is coming,” she said.

The next day, Monday, January 10, 2011, local residents awoke to ten inches of snow.  The evening before, I had posted Cindy’s prognostication on Facebook.  It turns out she wasn’t the only one.  “My knees are hurting,” one woman wrote.  “My wife’s right hip joint is aching really bad,” said one man.  Another woman wrote, “The vein on my husband’s right temple is puffing up, and his headache is so bad, he’s going to bed!” Others complained about their knees, ankles, shoulders and back acting up like never before.  One of my friends wrote, “My left knee and ankle have been screaming snow since Friday afternoon!” While Cindy’s built-in weather station was sending out alerts above her right eye, others felt the pressure over their left eye, and one man even felt it above both eyes.

“My husband says his knees haven’t hurt so badly since he was a kid. My feet, ankles and left wrist (the one I broke in 2nd grade) have been hurting all day,” wrote one woman. “I’ve had a migraine for 24 hours,” wrote another.  And, “The metal plate in my neck hurts, so I’m stocking up now!” Others even talked about pain in their teeth, and changes in their hair.  One woman wrote, “I know something is coming, I suddenly have a strong urge to clean the house.”  One of my male friends wrote, “I don’t need a weather forecast.  Whenever snow or ice is on the way, I get an uncontrollable urge to go to Waffle House.  I think they send out some kind of secret signal.”

If my human friends didn’t feel the symptoms, their pets did.  “I have a dog whose droopy little ears perk up when something is coming,” wrote one of my friends.  Another wrote, “I have four nervous cats.  They get like this every time.” Some folks reported on blackbirds swarming, cows huddling together, and squirrels stocking their pantries, so all the signs were there.  Not to mention the distant sound of a train you don’t seem to hear any other time of the year.

So while the various forecasters and “models” from Europe, Canada and the United States have differing opinions on how much freezing precipitation we’ll get and when it will arrive, Cindy just points to the big toe on her right foot.”I had surgery on that one. It’s been stiffening up all afternoon.  That only happens when there’s a serious change on the way.  Add that to the sinus pressure across my forehead and under my cheekbones.  Something’s coming.”

I’m thankful for the Doppler, the Storm Tracker, and all my TV weather friends.  But when I’m too lazy to grab the remote, and my phone isn’t charged, I just turn to my personal weather forecaster.  She was formerly known as Cindy, but I have now re-named her the Tennessee Valley’s Official Pinpoint WeatherWife 3000.

What’s that, WeatherWife?  Now it’s in your knees?  Yikes, maybe I’d better start packing.