Monday, March 23, 2020

Fifty Years After His Passing, Gen. James Earl Rudder’s Words Ring True and Powerful

The words of Gen. James Earl Rudder '32 are shared today, marking fifty years since this true American and Texas hero passed away in 1970 at the age of 59. Thanks to the generosity of his son, James Earl (Bud) Rudder, Jr. ’62, we can review Gen. Rudder's keynote speech for Aggie Muster, April 21, 1956, on the Texas A&M campus. At the time, Gen. Rudder was serving as Texas Land Commissioner, where he’d been in charge of whirlwind-level changes, revising the Veterans Land Program, which had been previously, “under scrutiny for mismanagement and corruption.” [Photo courtesy of James Earl Rudder, Jr., used with permission.]

Bud noted, “With no formal Aggie Muster events (this year), it was a good time to recall Dad’s words at the 1956 Muster at A&M. They are indeed especially relevant as our country responds" to COVID-19. Continuing, “To sit idly by in these challenging times would dishonor his memory. We must find ways to be part of the solution locally, statewide, and nationally. Every effort large or small matters.”

The four pages of Gen. Rudder’s Muster speech follow; click each page once to enlarge the image for easy reading. The experience of being able to “hear” today from one of Texas A&M’s Aggie son is a gift unto itself. Even more powerful is the sense of how prescient Gen. Rudder was then, and how his words ring true still today. [Click each image once to enlarge and read page.]

"The spirit of those dedicated to a cause can be a most powerful influence in any endeavor."
"If there is no unselfish, conscientious, honest American who is willing to serve, there is always someone with purely selfish motives to fill the vacancy. Political hacks, special interest groups, power-mad bosses and others who would use our government for selfish motives are constantly looking for opportunities to move in and take over. Their chances of success are directly proportionate to the number of Americans who take no interest in the affairs of government."
"For years, Aggies have been building a fine reputation for leadership in almost every walk of life. In civilian pursuits, as well as on the field of battle, they have given our country a large share of the leadership which has paved the path of progress."
"We must seek ways to improve our State and our Nation. Many problems lie before us--important problems such as the water shortage, the need for bringing more industry to Texas, the need for keeping our government the servant of all the people, the need for solving as many problems as possible on the lowest practical level of government. Standing out above all these is the need for men of honesty, integrity and common sense in the halls of government."

By virtual unanimous consent, in the hearts and minds of Texas A&M University former students, faculty, and staff, perhaps no individual exemplifies the values and integrity of all things that are good and true and right about Texas A&M than its most influential alumnus and leader—Gen. James Earl Rudder ’32.

This brilliant, stately young man from Eden, Texas, was born May 6, 1910, and accomplished more good in his 59 years on Earth, than anyone could have ever dreamed. For as long as men have come together to form a government to preserve the freedom of its citizens, a Constitution and Bill of Rights have created the stated ideals of citizen behavior. The state of Texas created the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas in the Texas state legislature on April 17, 1871.

Under the Morrill Act (approved by Congress in 1862) “admission was limited to White males, and all students were required to participate in military training. Texas A&M history notes the influence of Gen. James Earl Rudder as president of Texas A&M in the 1960s as having “diversified the college, opening its doors to African-Americans and formally admitting women. Participation in the Corps of Cadets was also made voluntary.” Those three changes made it possible for Texas A&M to soar to dynamic new heights and set a leadership pace for Texas and beyond.

Rudder’s impact on A&M, and A&M’s impact on Rudder began in his student days, when he transferred from almost two years at Tarleton State University and entered A&M College in the “fall of 1930, enrolling in industrial education, with plans to be a football coach.” He graduated in 21 months, in June 1932.

A quick trip on his path of accomplishment found him commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry in the U.S. Organized Reserve Corps. When called into service (he'd taken several additional courses in anticipation of his being activated, as has been written), his leadership of troops in the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Hurtgenwald and his superior victory (despite being wounded twice) against the most astounding odds in the D-Day Ranger Assault at Pointe du Hoc Normandy in April 1944 secured victory for the Allied forces over the Germans as they established a beachhead there.

Honored with multiple awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the French Legion of Honor, the Silver Star, and the rank of colonel by the end of the war, he would achieve the ranks of Brigadier General and Major General in the U.S. Army Reserve by 1957. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him with the Army Distinguished Service Medal in 1967.

Earl Rudder’s greatest accomplishments in life, though, would far surpass those found in history books, in the archives of our state and nation, and in the living history that continues to be taught to students enrolled in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets today. Truly, those are part of history, facts, details, and focus only on his military career.

There are many publications, books, and archives that hold the facts and details of his life of service to country and the state of Texas, and even more that contain details on all he did for Texas A&M. Better yet, when they are again open to the public (tentatively planned to open no sooner than May 8), the Texas A&M Archives in the Cushing Library have Gen. Rudder’s papers that are worth review.

Yet, what's most important to know about Gen. Rudder remains in the hearts of Aggies everywhere—he was a selfless leader, committed to public service, fierce defender of truth, a man respected for giving and keeping his word, and a man who loved his wife and family and the extended family of Aggies fortunate enough to meet and know him as “their president.”

Outside military life, Gen. Rudder achieved legendary status for his mental acumen, his integrity and commitment to honor, dignity, and truth in all that he said and did. He respected and listened to differing opinions and made decisions based on hearing all ideas and collecting data until he was ready to decide, based on all the facts.

His service to the state of Texas included roles as Mayor of Brady, Texas, Texas Land Commissioner, Vice President of Texas A&M University and ultimately its President and then “President of the entire A&M System” (today known as Chancellor) from 1965–1970. President Rudder was one of the most popular presidents to live on the A&M campus (the home was bulldozed on March 10, 2020, after 55 years), and was visited often by young Corps students, who sought conversation and advice from time to time.

Although he died 50 years ago today, the influence of Earl Rudder continues to be shared, learned and understood by all students who enter what is now among the top five largest college enrollments nationally. The Rudder’s Rangers group of the Corps of Cadets is an elite student group of students preparing to enter Army Ranger School.

Walking into Rudder Tower on campus you'll find various administrative offices; enter Rudder Auditorium to enjoy national caliber entertainment; enjoy classical concerts in Rudder Theatre; and catch promising theatrical productions in the Rudder Forum. The City of Bryan hosts J. Earl Rudder High School and you get there, leaving the university campus by driving down Earl Rudder Freeway. Those are not the only things named for Gen. Rudder. Statues and monuments are dedicated across Texas in his honor.

It’s not the name on the outside of the building, but the heart, soul, and mind of the man behind the name to which we pay tribute today. Long may his words be heard, and far may his wisdom reach to continue to inspire generations to come.

In memorium, James Earl Rudder, Sr., May 6, 1910 — March 23, 1970

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Kindness Is Contagious — Random Acts Kick the COVID-19 Blues

With so many media announcements sharing rules of what we cannot do and where we cannot go during the wise behavior of our communities to prevent unnecessary spreading of the COVID-19 virus, it’s easy to get a feeling of being trapped, even when we have the freedom to walk up and down the neighborhood and while we can still drive up to our favorite local restaurant for our take-out. There’s much to be grateful for in the world of the team “glass half-full” types, where I claim membership.

However, today’s gray skies invited a case of the blahs, hastened by the rainstorms that flowed without letup. The only cure I had at hand was to think back to childhood, when my mom would assign me the task of making a list of things that made me happy whenever I presented with a sullen mood.

I had plenty of work this week, and every freelancer is grateful for that, but the consideration of what else was on my checklist wasn’t going to be the game-changer for an attitude shift. The rain kept going.

Time for the wayback machine. Make a list. What had made me happy this week? About three weeks ago a 70 mph wind and rainstorm had taken out a good chunk of my back yard fence and I’d done zero about it since that time except lament to a dear neighbor (part-time pup, Barney’s, other mom) that it had happened. She told me that her oldest son was coming into town and he could help out. I’d forgotten about that until Saturday evening, when he greeted me with a big smile. He’d just completed a car repair on his car and he wanted to start on my fence.

It was already dark but he brought his brother, his brother-in-law and his father! One had a helmet light, and there were two iPhones with better flashlights than the ones I discovered in my house had leaked battery acid from non-use. (Memo: Get new flashlights after stores restock).

In 30 minutes, the four men, led by “my oldest boy” (I claim them as part mine as I do Barney), had taken care of Ms. Dawn Lee and all I could do was smile. The next day, my oldest boy returned with a hammer, to make sure all the nails were securely in place. And, as a sign of his mature perfection, he pulled 10 different nails out of “iffy” posts to find a more secure place to fix them. I couldn’t stop smiling or feeling more special as this incredible young man had thought to remember me. I’ve had the joy of watching him grow up the past two decades and I’m so proud of the adult he’s become.

Wednesday morning, my next-door neighbor and I had both forgotten to put the trash cans out, and given our night owl schedules sometimes, the unspoken pattern is whomever is first to get there puts both cans out and the other brings the cans back in. Except that this Wednesday, the horses had never left the barn. I'd like to brag on the City of Bryan waste truck driver who understood my series of laughable motions that resembled charades for "Can you help us? We forgot!" and he smiled, nodded, and motioned "I'll be back to get y'all when I'm going the other direction. No worries." As he did that, my neighbor and I talked about how grateful we were to be living here, where we have the best city services team and we're more than another account number.

Yesterday morning, a friend texted our “text message group” to remind all of us that the weekend approaching was Hallmark holiday movie marathon weekend. Yes, we’re all Hallmark junkies from time-to-time or all the time.

This morning a dear neighbor called to check on me to see if I needed anything from the outside world. How thoughtful! I said I’d be interested in any toilet paper if she found any. I was running low (haven’t been to try my luck at any grocery stores as I’d just run to the deli for some basics a few days ago). She said she’d look when she was out.

An hour later dear neighbor pulls up with two large shopping bags she deposited at a social distance in front of my door. She said she’d thought of a few things I might like and it would keep me from having to hit the grocery store (She knows how much I cannot abide grocery shopping since Albertson’s closed.)

To my delight, she’d stocked the bags with the most thoughtful items. One especially brought the biggest smile: a 10-pack of Ivory soap!! Plus two megarolls of TP and a roll of paper towels (my pattern: paper!). Ivory soap was my mom’s favorite choice and a childhood memory of the scent of those wonderful bar soaps I’d somehow forgotten in lieu of the fancier liquid soaps. What a grand memory!

The kindness behind every single item was so special. Plus, there was no way she could have known this, but my favorite brand of toothpaste was in that bag! We’ve known each other for thirty years, but she doesn’t have a clue of my favorite toothpaste…and yet, there it was.

Inspired by dear friend made me want to surprise someone and make them smile. So, I thought of who I might surprise…and did. That brought even more smiles, from them and from me. An hour later, I received an e-mail from a neighbor who shared some grand and poignant news. More smiles. Sky was improving and the rain was clearing.

An e-mail (reading while waiting in a drive-thru line) from a senior writer friend made me smile. Just for me, she’d sent me one of her blog posts from her archives that recalled our mutually favorite senior, now in Heaven. She had no way of knowing that just 10 minutes earlier, I’d driven past the former resident’s home, looked at the newly painted building, and I smiled. I shook my head at the coincidental timing.

Her blog post had a title that reminded me of my Mom—again. It was “Love Letters in the Sand,” a Pat Boone song that was noted as “the second song I ever heard” the day my parents brought me home from the hospital. Those were in the days where they kept you for a few days even if you had only had a standard delivery. And June Cleaver wore pearls when she washed the dishes, back then. My first three “songs” were inscribed in my baby book that my Mom faithfully kept of my entry into the world, accompanied by Dad’s pictures. Coincidence? Hmm, Don’t think so.

Back at the computer at home, a pal called me on Skype and we had a grand visit, laughing about some good memories. Text message arrived from a friend in the midst of a happy occasion, just to say ‘hi’ and ‘have a great day.’ IM’s popped up on Facebook from three different friends at once, all of which carried the equivalent of smiles. By then, the rain had stopped for good. I prepared a meal from the goodies dear friend had delivered and it was delicious. I must try cooking again soon. Next week, I will try again. Baby steps.

At the end of the day, I’d had multiple signs from above and from across the street and around the block that I was neither alone nor were things going to be bleak in the future. Just the opposite in fact. Out of each seeming disaster, there is always something to be grateful for.

At the top of the list, the researchers who are fervently trying to formulate antidotes and cures, for the health care workers who are front line taking care of those with COVID-19 and for all the city and state officials across the country who are prioritizing safety first practices for our safekeeping. We have reporters who keep the news going for us so we can stay current. And we have young people working in drive-thru windows trying to keep their bills paid. And our city services workers keep daily life flowing seamlessly, and though they're deserving of more shout-outs, sometimes they get lost in the shuffle.

Yes, times ahead are going to be rocky for a while. But if we have faith, rely on a sense of our surroundings as community, work together, look in on each other, and most of all, give those we know and care about a call to let them know they’re in our thoughts and prayers, we can get through this. Communicate however you like; text message, cell phones, landlines, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, e-mail or even mail a greeting card. Every smile you create is a random act of kindness and it just tends to domino if you jump on board and share your joy with those you care about (at a socially safe distance).

As the sign says, “Kindness is contagious.” May we all catch our fill of that in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coincidences, COVID-19, and St. Patrick's Day

How do you feel about coincidences? In this current week of our lives, I’d guess that most people we know are either in a total zone of Zenlike calm, which is a good thing; or, they’re jumpy as heck, on the verge of panicked desperation because our world has been turned upside down without our permission. It’s a case of: “we shoulda seen this coming but didn’t.” Right after being wary of the Ides of March, one day before St. Patrick is remembered across this country (in gatherings of less than 50, or 10, people depending on who you listen to), yesterday I received a Facebook message from a friend. It had four image panels and looked like this:
Paragraphs of text were circled in red on two separate pages and there was a photo of a well-worn paperback cover and a panel of “Published 1981” on it. This is likely one many of you have received today to focus on the “coincidence” of a virus with ties to Wuhan, China, where the first case of COVID-19 was noted. Since this hardcover was released April 1, 1989, I’m not sure where the “Published 1981” came from. Statistical outlier no doubt. Here’s the synopsis of the Koontz book:

"A year had passed since little Danny's death - A year since his mother began the painful process of acceptance. But Tina Evans could have sworn she just saw her Danny in a stranger's car...Then she dreamed that Danny was alive. And when she awoke, she found a message waiting for her in Danny's bedroom - Two disturbing words scrawled on his chalkboard: NOT DEAD. Was this someone's grim joke? Her mind playing tricks on her? Or something ...more? For Tina Evans, it was a mystery she couldn't escape. An obsession that would lead her from the bright lights of Las Vegas to the cold shadows of the High Sierras. A terrible secret seen only by...The Eyes of Darkness." Aside from being amusing since I have a friend named Tina Evans, I stared again at the four panels…the other printed page had a page number on it at the bottom middle (p. 312) and looked to be printed in a font close to Century Schoolbook.

From the get-go, receiving anything in a mass-chain type of communication is 99% of the time going to be a hoax. But, I was between the Ides of March and the faithful Saint Paddy and I fell down the rabbit hole for a while. The sentence most intriguing of Koontz’ novel was “They call the stuff ‘Wuhan-400’ because it was developed at their RDNA labs outside of the city of Wuhan, and it was the four-hundredth viable strain of man-made microorganisms created at that research center.” The text continues to describe viability and how it dies, but that was not the point.

The other printed page had a header with the book title and page number in the upper right-hand corner, and a sort of Georgia kind of font (my font expert friends can correct me), I knew that meant two different books were being cited.

How a city that has one of the single worst public restroom systems hasn’t fostered something outside of a laboratory long before this is a mystery. They’re not big on communication in general as news reports have traced the identification of the first case there to November 17, 2019. From The Guardian on March 13:

“…report in the South China Morning Post said Chinese authorities had identified at least 266 people who contracted the virus last year and who came under medical surveillance, and the earliest case was…weeks before authorities announced the emergence of the new virus. The Chinese government was widely criticized over attempts to cover up the outbreak in the early weeks, including crackdowns on doctors who tried to warn colleagues about a new…virus which was emerging of Wuhan…”
If that’s not enough, there’s a new headline in an Australian publication: "Social media star missing after calling Chinese president a ‘clown.’" Uh oh. Shades of Jamal Khashoggi, or just a coincidence? I don't want to ask that question. Moving on...

Now, Dean Koontz had no way of knowing and none of his other books have any psychic forecasts that have struck a chord, so let’s just call that one a coincidence and be done with it. But the other page was definitely from a second book. Back to Snopes.

The post of February 18, 2020, goes to show you that this is an “old” rumor if it’s already been snoped for a month. However the post by Dan Evon merely dismisses Koontz as a prognosticator for Coronavirus and yet subtly reveals a very interesting fact. When the book was first published in 1981, the virus was originally called “Gorki-400” and the city of creation was Gorki, Russia. By 2008 another printing of the book had the virus renamed “Wuhan-400” and the city of manufacture as China. Hmm. Coincidence? Maybe.

Then on Snopes, I discovered a related story by Bethania Palma (March 4) with the “other” printed page as the image. Aha! That page was from psychic medium Sylvia Browne’s 2008 book “End of Days,” and her text indicated that “It will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again ten years later, and then disappear completely.” Well, good guesser or not, Browne’s prognostication arrived 12 years early. Coincidence? Sylvia Browne’s predictions occasionally found home plate until she died in 2013, so who knows?

On Amazon, there’s only one copy of Browne’s “End of Days” and it’s an audio CD; you’ll have to have deep pockets to afford the $500.02 for the one used copy now available. Oh, by the way, shipping is $3.99 as it’s not a Prime purchase. Heck, if you can afford $500 for the used CD, the extra $4 won’t sink you. There is one new paperback for a bargain price of $327.27. Hey, if they’d just throw in a few 12-packs of toilet paper, I might think about it but…well, never mind. Darned hoarders.

If you want a hardcopy book of Dean Koontz’s “The Eyes of Darkness,” there are five collectibles from $599 up. We can get a bargain on the mass market paperback from $295.28, but the audiobook is free if you just want to listen and are willing to join Amazon Audible for a trial run. What have you got to lose? Other than $599. We’re living in strange times right now. I’m not here to make fun of a serious disease. Coronavirus. It threatens the very lives of our senior communities and those with impaired immune systems. State and federal responses to this pandemic remain, with few welcome exceptions, political. Our city and municipal responses of first responders and emergency personnel as well as all our health care providers across the Brazos Valley are the most dedicated, reliable, and caring groups of individuals we are lucky enough to have. I pay close attention to what they say.

In days and times of serious consequences, it’s easy to get caught up in panic, fear, and what-if’s that drive you to distraction. It’s unnecessary when you use common sense, pay attention in your hometown, and keep the faith that together we can all get through this. The state of faith and hope and confidence is the best state you can live in. Even if you don’t believe in coincidences, you can still take a chance on the luck of the Irish and try to enjoy the day, even if there’s no bar you can go to for green beer unless it's one with less than 50 people. This celebration day will be around again next year at this time and, with all of God’s grace and good fortune, we will all be here, too. Stay safe out there, save your money by avoiding scam prices on goods that will be back in stock in a week or two, and have faith in things unseen to combat things unseen. Don't pass on or forward on Facebook any viral messages that even look fake, because they generally are. In the end, we have an abundance of hope and faith in great people doing their best to keep us safe here in Bryan-College Station, and for that reason we can smile. We're all in this together. My the luck of the Irish be with ya!

Monday, March 16, 2020

In Memory of Sir Derek H.R. Barton, 22 Years Later

Sir Derek Harold Richard Barton— September 8, 1918 - March 16, 1998

As the calendar turned to this day, I was reminded that it had now been 22 years since the passing of one of the most important friends and mentors in my life and career, Sir Derek Harold Richard Barton.

As I reflected on the memorial service that Lady Judith Barton asked me to create working with our friend, Ron Carter, of the TAMU Chemistry Department, I went down the proverbial rabbit hole of "remember when." Special guests from all over the world came to honor Sir Derek, many of the day's leading scientists and scientific leaders, who were at the top of their fields, universities, and colleges as they took what they learned from Prof. Barton and achieved stellar heights of their own. At the time, I had no idea that one day I would be organizing memorial events on a daily basis as one of my primary professional endeavors. What a way to begin that path. But of course.

Join me for a stroll down memory lane. The first two pages here are the elements of Sir Derek's memorial program, held April 13, 1998 at Rudder Theatre at Texas A&M's campus.

What follows after is my tribute to his life and career, focused primarily on his time at Texas A&M, which was as prolific as it was impressive. When you do what you love every day, it is never just "going to work." He was often the first to arrive and set the example for his group. It is unfathomable that time has flown by--22 years feels like the blink of an eye. It was by his example as I watched a man of great faith holding onto it through times that were beyond painful, in the loss of his beloved wife, Christiane, to cancer. He remained humble, no matter how many accolades he received. His natural curiosity about life was a delight to see. He had a fabulous sense of humor that he reserved for appropriate times.

It was thanks to Sir Derek's friendship with dear friends Dr. Ian and Betty Scott, that he came here. It was Professor Scott who was a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at TAMU faculty as Dr. Barton and his wife Christiane Cognet considered where to go when Sir Derek had reached age 65 in France, meaning mandatory retirement. He'd have to either give up the research he loved or find a new place to work. He chose the latter. If it were not for Ian Scott, we'd have had no Derek Barton here.

He was a brilliant conversationalist who could speak on any subject at all, and when he did, his answers were kind. He never spoke ill of anyone. The only way in which you might know he didn't respect someone was in what he didn't say. A small smile would appear on his face and a slight tilt of his head....having thought the better of using mere words to describe his disdain. His group at Texas A&M and his wonderful assistant Karen Farnsworth meant so much to Sir Derek, especially following Christiane's passing. He worked through his grief by working and staying at the top of his field. Ultimately, he was fortunate to marry his third wife, Judith Cobb Barton, who encouraged him to continue his work, supplying the joy of shared time and interests. His final years were as inspired and prolific as his first, to be sure.

His tribute follows. Just click each photo once to read the full text clearly.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Nickel’s Worth of Thoughts on 2020

As the clock passed midnight tonight, I actually missed it—the start of a new decade. It was 12:03 am on Jan. 1, 2020, before I realized that we’d crossed out of one decade and into the next. I was enjoying a conversation with a dear friend. We were engrossed in conversation, laughing, and not paying attention to a clock. It was the first time the entire day that I had not been paying attention to the clock, because it was a holiday for some, but for me it was an opportunity to make forward progress on three major event/project fronts and it all worked out beautifully. The phone had been ringing all day and all night, buzzing and beeping with text messages from various relatives and extended family. Some were welcome; others caused mixed emotions—recalling various times in life when things were different.

And then it hit me. We can’t go back again. No matter how far back you reflect to a day or time when you thought things were “better” or “simpler” or “easier,” that was really all a giant myth. The year 2019 was not an easy one, for virtually anyone I know, frankly. For a wide swath of reasons, the final year of the decade would not go quietly into that good night.

People kept posting on Facebook that they were going to “unfriend” anyone who said one thing or another, or they took a stand and immediately received input, output, and cross-talk for whatever they said. Facebook kept posting that they were on the lookout for fake accounts and bots, and dots, and spots, and blahblahblah. Even today, scanning quickly the pages of some in my home feed, I shook my head to see postings that were anything but celebratory and forward looking to the new decade.

“Didn’t anyone see the light at the end of the tunnel,” I thought. Musicians and celebrities we’d all enjoyed for decades this year passed on to the next life; loved ones’ friends and their beloved pets crossed various bridges, of life and of rainbows, and now they were planning to go forward without them. Others reminisced of loved ones no longer here for 1 year, 5 years, or longer. Each time the posts were filled with regret, loss, and the feel of “we will no longer have them here, to see, to enjoy” (if they were musicians).

Reality was that we had not been searching for some of them for 20 years. Maybe it was 30 years since we last heard their songs on the radio. I pulled up Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart” and played it, skillfully avoiding the gravitational pull of the YouTube rabbit hole, where one video leads to another, and another and yet another. And yet, this massive sense of loss of various celebrities and music this year seemed greater than usual. Our escape vehicles were slowly escaping. Maybe we focused on that because we dared not look at "other topics" and "losses."

Of course, some of the work I do involves escorting people through transitions in their daily lives and preparing for life without a loved one, so I may spend more time than some thinking about “what comes next” for those who are here. Grieving during and after loss is as unique to a person as their fingerprints. There’s nothing wrong or right. You just have to give it time and then you will feel moved to change your present to look at the future. As long as you never forget the ones no longer with you, they’re still here, in your hearts at least. Often, that seems to be enough. But you can never measure one path by another’s. People navigate those days their own way. Just be present and you’ll see where and how you can be there for them.

This past year in our country has been more tumultuous than any in my memory, which is relatively long compared to some of my friends. I do, however, have friends 30 years my senior and they’ve seen days like these before, just not on broadcast media or electronic communications. Some people are choosing a total communications reset, refusing to watch TV news at all, any channel, any time, and others are tuning in even more. Neither affects the outcome of things, but it provides people a decision over which they have full control. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of control that “we the people” have right now.

Realistically, “we the people” have been bombarded with information that forces us to do more than simply push a button at the polls (or dial it in and hit “enter” at the newfangled electronic machines). We now have to be aware of the latest news and data and process it and judge it. In College Station, neighborhood issues are at the forefront of voters’ awareness. Every position on the City Council is vital because it means the preservation of historic neighborhoods with deed restrictions and resident protections or else it means that all the rules go to the proverbial “@#@# in a handbasket” status and good luck ever recapturing the beauty and elegance of what was once the historic district there.

It’s one vote away from success or failure. Every vote is key in that city election. So, the next time a person says, “What can one person do?” then you tell them–“Plenty, they can do plenty.” Speaking up, talking about issues, answering questions, obtaining information, talking with neighbors, understanding differences and similarities in candidates and then voting with your logical brain rather than emotions over who’s friends with who else and they like that person. "Think for yourself." That was the advice given me early on and I still believe it. The same logic applies to state and national elections. Rather than complain, vote. Drive someone to vote. Drive a lot of people to vote. Help people have a voice again. Help people take back control of their future.

Before the events of the past decade have unfolded, I’m certain a lot of folks didn’t really care who their elected officials were, from city council all the way up. If there was one candidate that piqued their curiosity, they might have attended a rally. In our community with three or four universities within a 50-mile radius, we have a lot of “young people” who are voting in their first elections this year. They’re excited. They are listening and watching and judging for the first times in their lives. They’re still mightily influenced by their parents’ opinions and values, yes, but they’re exploring what they think about things. They don’t have the wisdom that comes only with living long enough to have “seen it all,” but they have valid questions, opinions, thoughts, and ideas. Don’t discount the newbies and the youngsters. Many times they’re the smartest people in the room.

But one thing will change in 2020 for certain. People are coming together, more now than ever before. I see it all around me. People are reaching out for each other. It could be relatives reaching out for family, or running away from family into their own self-made families. It could be reunions of people who were once young together, full of hopes and dreams, not worried about what their legacy will be, instead looking to explore the world and maybe take it by storm. When we were young(er), goals were lofty, dreams were limitless, and there were no boundaries.

The new decade brings a clean slate. No more “teens” or “double-naughts” in our years. Hereafter, we enter the 2020s, with no haunting “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” of the last decade. We can make it whatever we want. We can forget the past, embrace the future, seek guidance through prayer and meditation, offer comfort to those who ask for it, or even those who don’t. We can find a way to make a difference one person at a time, and the panic of uncertainty about the “what if” in our lives can change. Take power over fear. Trust. Have faith. Enjoy life. Give of your hearts and shared memories to those you love. Time spent with those you love is the best gift you can share. And don’t forget to vote—let your voice be heard. Here’s to the best of 2020 for all of us.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Groovin' on a Sunday Afternoon--Giving Thanks for Joanne Lara and Autism Works Now

Or...How a Fabulous Fundraiser Brings Old Friends Together for a Wonderful Celebration of a Superb Nonprofit Organization and an Inspirational Leader

That song by The Rascals brings back memories of simpler days and times. Life was uncomplicated. Love was in the air. Livin' was easy. And the biggest challenge in your day, if you were a young person, was where you were going to hear music that would change your world, maybe even change your life.

Today, as yesterday: Music works miracles. We see it every day. Music is one of the key variables to finding “normal” however you define it. (Below: Joanne Lara is not only beautiful on the outside; her heart is equally beautiful. Clifford Bell and Kiki Ebsen agree, "We're so impressed and amazed by all that Joanne has accomplished so far with her nonprofit leadership and direction. It's our pleasure to dedicating this brunch to her and the group she continues to pour her heart and soul into," said the show producers.)

One of the prime forces in Autism Movement Therapy, Joanne Lara first entered the profession of autism research when she, as a successful dancer and actress, went back to school and studied first principles and fundamentals of education. She came through those lessons inspired and on fire to change the world. And so she has. Lara researched and worked to create a program of music and movement for autistic youth that help them express themselves in the same “language” as others on the other side of the spectrum. When children and adults flow together in music and movement, you can’t tell one from another any longer. The pieces of the classic autistic puzzle begin to come together and fit together.

Lara, also founder of national nonprofit Autism Works Now, has taken it upon herself to create a source of jobs for individuals with autism. She daily works hard to train individuals to prepare for jobs in the mainstream—interview skills, preparing resumes, how to interact with others in the workplace, and how to find and keep a job and then live on a budget and plan for the future.

She then sought out employers to hire “her kids” and when she found more obstacles to overcome, she created a business, Glorious Pies, that employs youth with autism a “job with a paycheck.”

This work is only for the strong of mind and heart. In this career field, you don’t get a standing ovation when you have success getting one young person a job. It only changes their life. In the world of a child with autism, all that parents want is to know that the future, for their child, will be multidimensional, that they won’t be stuffed into a diagnosis, never to change, never to hope to become integrated with comfort into the mainstream. Victory for a parent is to know their child will live “happily ever after.” Until that day comes, parents never fully sleep well at night.

Autism. Special Needs. On the Spectrum. These three phrases are diagnoses. They have no face or heart or soul. They are clinical terms that correctly categorize individuals who are “not like the other ones” in their age group, in their neighborhood, in their peer group, in their family. In the time that the world outside of medicine has been aware of autism, there is still so much to learn and understand about what it means to be in a world of your own, and others who are not like you are seeking to communicate with you. And there is a difference on both sides of that. There is no right or wrong. Just different ways of communicating with those who love you using different language.

On November 19, host Shannon Penrod interviewed Joanne Lara, Kiki Ebsen and Clifford Bell to talk about this weekend's upcoming fundraiser. Penrod has an important daily broadcast, Autism Live, and their conversation can be found here:

Music works miracles.

Singer Kristina Marie Aguilar has studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music and is making quite a name for herself as an ingenue cabaret jazz singer across California. She’s beautiful, she’s talented and she is on the spectrum. A young woman born into a world of “different,” it was when she heard the music of Disney films, that inspired her to reach out and show others how it moved her. Today, she communicates effusively through her music, and she is at “home” in front of and interacting with crowds and confesses only to a little stage fright before a show, like every other performer! That’s absolutely beautiful. Clifford Bell discovered her and so far, her recent performances have included sold-out audiences and standing ovations. Those are her "normal" today.

And so, on Nov. 24, at the gorgeous @Feinstein's at Vitello's, the newest hot spot in Studio City, you can groove this Sunday afternoon, while world-class entertainers entertain you with hit songs from their world, each of them touched and inspired by Joanne Lara's dedication and the wonderful people who learn from her and who are inspired to create and follow their own dreams, because she did it first.

Entertainers and Co-Hosts Kiki Ebsen and Clifford Bell have designed a beautiful brunch time musical interlude for you to have “you time” as you can Groove on a Sunday Afternoon! (Below: Clifford Bell and Kiki Ebsen)

Says Clifford, “Kiki will have a chance to mix it up between Jazz, Pop, Great American Songbook and her original Singer/Songwriter creations. There's really no genre that she doesn't make 'her very own,'" Bell said.

"We're so excited to have Terry Wollman; he is a celebrated producer, arranger and iconic guitarist. He has produced music for film and TV, produced his own jazz guitar albums as well as a recent album by legendary Melissa Manchester. This savant from Berklee College some years back has become known as the go-to best studio guitarist" among his peers. And he also has his own radio show, "Making it with Terry Wollman" on EnterTalk Radio as well!

Melanie Taylor, says Bell, has one of the "warmest and most pleasing voices I'd heard in quite a while, with an emotional clarity and authority of lyric.” Melanie recently concluded another international tour supporting entertainment icon Barry Manilow, and she and husband Terry Wollman, often enjoy performing together.

Corky Hale, who first came to fame with her amazing harp player, began her career first as pianist for jazz great Billie Holiday. From there, Corky became a fantastic musician and song stylist of her own accord as well as “one of my longtime dearest personal friends,” Bell said.

Warming the hearts of all audience members will be Katrina Marie Aguilar, Bell said. “Her story is beautiful but her voice is even more beautiful.”

Stephan Oberhoff has a superb career as a renowned producer, arranger, composer and pianists. "We are so fortunate to have him join us," Clifford said.

"Drummer Tom Bowe is my first-call drummer who brings such experience and versatility to our concerts," Bell noted.

"This gifted and lovely woodwind player is really Julie Sussman, but she is so spectacular on the saxophone that we've nicknamed her 'Julie Sax' and that's who she is to us now forevermore!" Bell said.

"Paul Morin on bass has exactly the right touch for our 'Giving Thanks' show," said Clifford Bell.

"Brad Ellis knows what I'm going to sing before I sing it so he can anticipate me perfectly as I sing my favorite songs," said Bell. All artists will be supported by a single band, led by renowned producer/keyboardist Stephan Oberhoff (Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Melissa Manchester) with Tom Bowe on drums, and Julie Sax on sax and flute, and Paul Morin on bass. Special guest Brad Ellis (“Glee,” “Bunheads”) will accompany Clifford Bell on his songs.

Tickets are only $25 (require two-item minimum purchase) to $100 (for VIP seating, valet parking and pre-fixed brunch) and all proceeds go to Autism Works Now. Purchase tickets at

Music is the universal language of love. Music heals hearts that are hurt and soothes minds that cannot bear any more cacophony of an outside world that doesn’t understand them. Music is the great equalizer and when everyone is united in voice or flowing across a stage or dance floor, the pieces of the puzzle all come together.

And all you see when you look straight ahead—is a beautiful blending of life and love. When you support “Giving Thanks” this weekend at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s, who knows who your funds can inspire to go live out their dreams? It's only lives you are changing with your donations. The season of "Giving Thanks" is the perfect time to support the nonprofits you respect and show love to the people who run them 24/7 and devote their lives to giving back to others. Joanne Lara, these songs are for you!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sharing and Playing Well With Others, Basketball Championships, and Attitudes for Success

Remember back in elementary school when we had the left-hand side of the grade cards for the academic aspects of our growth progress and the right-hand side was devoted to our deportment? That’s a word we rarely hear or see some 50+ years later. Under Deportment, one of the elements on the right-hand side was “Plays well and shares with others.” As I recall, I always received the grade of S+ for that element. “Stays silent in class”…well, let’s go back to “Plays well…,” shall we?

When I was a youngster, I recall being guided, trained, instructed, and otherwise subliminally exposed to the concept of sharing thanks to my mother. Mom was one of, eventually, eight children in her family and I was an only child. Mom said she had always wanted five children, that was her dream, and I was her five. Took me years to figure out that she wasn’t kidding.

Sharing, though, means more than just taking turns on your own toy. It’s a matter of taking turns on a team, allowing others to shine just as much as you get to shine. That hit home for me on Thursday, when my “I have two families” dog, Barney, had his world upended briefly by the arrival of a cold, wet guest doggie, whom I recognized finally as “Paco” from a few blocks over. I’ve already described that adventure, but I went from doggie reunion to watching the Aggie men’s game on Friday night with a longtime friend and basketball buddy.
As I watched our (young) men's team in Reed Arena really foul up, trying to pass the ball and even hang on to the ball when we got it, I was turning my head to the right—a bunch. The bursts of energy and promoted quick movement are both good concepts but unless they’re followed by play execution, they don’t mean anything. Our players had enthusiasm but they shape-shifted so often they forgot their original goals of alignment.

Sometimes you should just stop and take the shot yourself. If you’re not making your shots, though, you have to pass. Although the crowd for Gonzaga was small in number, they certainly were loud enough. When one lady took to yelling what I can best make out to have been “Theo, thee-o, thee-ooooh, theeee-o,” that sent me to Google what the heck she was yelling. Google referred me to a “wall of sound” that Gonzaga Bulldog Kennel Club fans enjoy creating that usually means jumping up and down in the bleachers.

I was reminded by that on Saturday as we all entered the beautiful, large gym at the church school as the site for “the big game.” Before the game my pal had been a picky eater, remembering “Mom doesn’t like me to eat much before the game” (wise, because it makes his tummy upset) and enjoying an experience at the Cheesecake Factory where he received three separate iPad/phone calls from his big brother, his dad and his mom, all of which couldn’t quite get through because of a bad connection and interference in a busy, loud restaurant.

But the point was made. They were right there with him in spirit, and they would remind him to practice his lay-ups. This particular weekend with parents doing things had already been set months ahead before Mom had found his basketball schedule, and that was perfectly fine with my pal. He didn’t focus on who was not there, as he knew everyone loves him and wished him the best, and he'd seen all your posts on Facebook Saturday wishing him luck in the games. So many of his "team" have seen the other games, when his siblings weren’t sick, requiring one to be home with them. This particular weekend Pippa and Poppy were keeping him and making sure he got to the game (in the correct grey uniform shirt) and Mommy had packed everything including his special basketball shoes. Those shoes are quite challenging as it took Poppy, Ms. Dawn Lee, and my pal’s team coach each a turn at tying the double-laces yesterday.

The following photos are not ALL of Hunter's team, so know that there are more even unpictured, and feel their love, too. This Pal is the reason for bringing so many people together. We all try and guess what his future career profession holds, and everyone has their favorite hopes and dreams for him, but whatever it is that he chooses to do, he will be a success, he will be a leader, and he will be a man of integrity, a positive influencer, and he will be forever loved. Of that we can all be sure.

Now let’s talk about sidelines coaching a little, shall we? I can hear my grown-up pal laughing as she just read that last sentence. It’s okay, I’ve gotta tell it like it is. Two weekends ago Pippa and her daughter (Pal’s Mommy) were taking turns correcting each other on what to yell and when. It went something along the lines of “That’s not what you say.” “You’re coaching too much.” “Pal, focus! Keep your head in the game. Pay attention.” Um…I sat there just shaking with laughter as mother and daughter could not agree on which one of them was the distractor. My little Pal just looked over and smiled and went back to the game.

Now, I’m not here to judge or grade the level of sidelines coaching but I will say that right after Mommy said, “work the ball up to the net and go for a layup,” my Pal nailed a half-court shot, turned and looked at Mommy, both arms extended as in “what?” as he ran back down the court. Mommy was a great sport about it.

Dad encourages layups because those are (correctly) often neglected and free points. The team all shared the ball, thanks to a truly gifted and wise team coach, who finds a way to commend every team member each week and not every player is given a medal of some kind (hurrah) as they learn to be proud of the team members who give exemplary effort and output.

After Pippa had “held forth” a little yesterday, I couldn’t resist turning around and teasing her, “Um, where do you think your daughter gets it?” And she just laughed, as she yelled out, “Focus!! Concentrate!!” That chorus was harmonized by her husband as Poppy (NZ accent and all) chimed in “Pay attention, focus, focus!” and I’m sitting there quiet as a church mouse, taking photos same as all of them. I just think it’s so cute. Now other players have their own families there and I can’t quite hear what they’re saying in my section of the symphony but that’s okay. You know everyone has a cheering section. It’s like that and it’s precious. The message is always heard: “We love you,” no matter what is being yelled.

So, Pippa piped up and asked me, “Okay, what are we doing right or wrong in the cheering? You’ve been entirely quiet down there, what should we do?” I smiled and said “Y’all are doing what you want to do, and I’m just sitting right here doing what I want to do!” and I meant it. Everyone needs to do what they feel in terms of encouraging youth. I’m just more like his another of his sets of grandparents, who smile and watch on the sidelines. Well, most of the time.

Although last week, to tell on myself, Mommy laughed at me after Pal had made a superb shot when I found myself doing the Arsenio Hall classic “whoo, whoo, whoo,” and we both laughed. Mommy nodded and said, “Uh huh. You’re in it now.” Oh, and the coach himself had signals he used with his team and did a beautiful job, too. There’s that fella! He’s really so wonderful, I cannot say enough about the special spirit of Pal’s coach.

These were definitely young person’s size basketball goals, with the height properly adjusted to the 6-yr-old and 7-yr-olds playing the game. I’ve never focused on the age and height of my pal’s teammates before because it seems like I only speak of him. But, I’ve always watched (and cheered for) all team members whenever they play out there. We all do, in fact. And we know all the players’ names, too. I’m a team player (reference: strict childhood training!)

Boys and girls are team members on each side and player heights range as much as one foot smaller and taller than the average player. Now, my 7.5 -yr-old pal is very tall for his age, but it doesn’t define him, and he doesn’t treat those not as tall any differently. I’m continually impressed how nonjudgmental this team is of one another’s height disparities. And, each week I’ve watched as often the team’s most talented player can be the tiniest one out there on the court. Not being a real coach, I’m reminded that team heartbeats such as point guards can be 5’0” tall and the game MVP.

That said, this was a game in which my Pal wasn’t the star player, as he has been in virtually every other game in this season. He is good about passing, but this time he tried to take more shots than he made and he wasn’t satisfied with his own game playing. He did pass the ball and he was wonderful in rebounding—in fact, he shined in rebounding and I was extra proud of that. But what I was most proud of was when he missed the ball, he didn’t get down on himself, and he didn’t sulk, and he didn’t do anything except concentrate more on subsequent shots, stayed moving up and down the court just as fast as he had and he never let up.

Another thing that makes me proud is that he is so good on the court, that each game the coach sits my Pal, and another player, out of the game for the first 7-minute triad (they play three 7-minute sessions) to give everyone playing time. And, my Pal accepts it so beautifully even though day and night he’s had a basketball in his hands as he loves this game with all his heart. But still, it takes maturity to show patience. And he’s only 7 ½!

The game, by the way, was a runaway win for “our” team, from the get-go in fact. And it was the smallest player on the team who drove down the court, stopped full out, aimed and took his shot and made them, one after another and another. He’s learned to dribble this season as have all the players. The refs have been very flexible on insisting on the dribbling part. And, on the opposing team, it was the player who was not even 3-feet tall who sunk a half-court shot for their side, in a lesson not to judge a book by its cover. And, it was so cute when the tiny towhead had this air pump with both fists to show something akin to an air dunk, so he was no stranger to making baskets!

About my pal not shooting at his usual exemplary level this week. This was a week in which the stakes were different. It was not as much about winning the game as getting everyone playing time, same as always, and letting each child find a special moment, memory, or basket that they could say contributed to the game's winning score. That didn't allow my Pal as much shooting time as he might have otherwise taken. My opinion...he seemed a bit disappointed in himself that he didn't make more baskets, but he did not let himself get down about it. That didn't spoil his joy in his team's victory either. That's a level of maturity that's unparalleled for a 7.5-yr-old.

He does love his teammates to pass him the ball, and he goes after rebounds very enthusiastically, when he's reminded to, and his favorite shot is the half-court shot. Look for him to be Mr. 3-point-shot as he continues to grow. Of course, his favorite player "is" Steph Curry and his coach knows that about him. This, to say, that Steph also passes the ball well, plays defense, and takes his shots but everyone on the team gets to shoot. I like that very much about my Pal's hero. Even Pal's GrandMama loves Steph Curry and the two have meaningful chats about that, and GrandMama is as much of a basketball junkie as we all are.

There are typically two coaches for each team, the main coach and the helper. The main coach finds something positive to say about each player after each game, tells them why he’s proud of them, and why they are such good team members…affirmation, repetition, support, encouragement. All those variables lead to success and self-esteem in life as well as in the game.

When your cheering section is loud and involved (to whatever extent they find comfort), the child knows you’re in their corner. We all needed that when we were growing up, and many of us had it in different quantities. Some succeeded despite no cheering sections being there because work responsibilities kept parents away so food could be on the table. That’s when a school or team coach is such a key variable. None of these concepts are new, nor are they groundbreaking.

But, what I did see that brought me to the keyboard are the invisible ways in which every adult who loves a child makes an impact. Last weekend my Pal and I were in the car heading to our next destination because Mommy let him ride with me, and he talked to me all about fishing and what Dad taught him. The way he described all the different kinds of fish that Dad had taught him was very clearly presented, logically so. Also, my favorite thing was when he said, “Dad said that I am now responsible enough to handle my own fishing hooks and lures so I know how to bait my own hook. I’m responsible and can do that.” I just loved that, what Dad said. And my heart skipped a beat when he said, “And Dad said that Santa might bring me my own rod and tackle box because I’m capable of taking care of them now.” “Responsible,” “capable,” and other adult words he understands and knows are his character traits.

There was a game of “H.O.R.S.E.” that Dad had played with him the week before where my Pal beat his Dad. The way my Pal described it, they were neck and neck in the game and it looked like Dad was going to win, but there was a key shot and Dad just missed it. Then Pal made his shot and won the game. They’d both been teasing each other who was going to win. And Pal said, “And he really missed it, too! Then I made mine!”

A better gift of love I cannot imagine. There’s a quite famous recent Aggie football legend whose father never let him win, not once. Ever. And, although I’m not a parent, nor do I play one on TV, I’m willing to bet the house that part of that particular adult-child’s psyche damage came from never being able to win his father’s affirmation, accolades, or genuine approval because Dad never let him win once. Pal loves his Dad and loves to challenge the envelope all the time, as any wise growing child will do. But Dad has it all dialed in and knows just how much to let out the line into the water, and when to reel it in, with patience and love.

These days with my 7½-yr-old pal are precious. Conversations we have in our time together find me continually fascinated with his mastery of his accelerated learning and understanding, of life and of book learning from school. This week we discussed reading comprehension and that the third grade means the STAAR test and Pal said he was not looking forward to those. I challenged that assessment and said, “Wait a minute. I loved reading and reading comprehension. You love reading. Why don’t you love reading comprehension?”

Pal said, “You have to read a whole chapter book and then answer questions about what’s in the chapter book.” I said, “That’s okay, honey. You read the chapter book and you have a wonderful memory. Are they questions like, “Did the farmer have four hens or five? Did they grow peanuts or corn?” “Yes,” he said, “I think so.” Then, I said, “You’re going to do well in those questions, honey, because you always remember what you read and you tell me all about the books.” “Oh,” he said, “Okay.”

Took me back quickly to when I was in first grade, and I was talking with Dawn Keogh and Carla Carter, who were in second grade, asking them about what second grade was like, what did you do in Math and what did you do in reading, etc. They reassured me that multiplication was pretty fun, that I was doing addition and subtraction and they knew I’d be really good at multiplication and the reading was fun and that I liked to read, so I’d enjoy that. Tricia Boyd reminded me that I’d love my teacher, Mrs. Kumin as much as I loved Mrs. Hines and that I shouldn't worry, to just be patient and I'll be ready for it when it gets here. I thanked them all and stopped worrying.

Now, the fact that I said what I said to my Pal? That won’t make the difference. It’s not about me. It’s about remembering that no matter our age, we are always planning ahead for the future. It’s how we travel through growth processes. We look to our peers, to our coaches, to our friends and to our family for testing out new ideas. We take in all the data we want, and others that we accept whether or not we want it, and we decide for ourselves who we will become. Watching this young version of the team “The Rockets” made me feel very happy about the world to come. There are some amazing young future leaders currently in formation on this team. They’re gonna make a lot of things better for us in the future. Sharing a few game photos of the champions. They rock!