Archive for May, 2009

The Graduate

May 31, 2009

This was a very special graduation season for me, and I attended a very special graduation and celebrated it in novel, and most enjoyable way.  I’ll get around to the celebration in another blog post, but for now we’ll concentrate of the graduation and what medical professionals face in the future. 

Nova Southeastern University Healthcare Professionals Division 2009 graduation, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Nova Southeastern University Health Professions Division 2009 graduation, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

I said this was special graduation for me. It’s always special when a family member you have known from birth gets to put “Doctor” in front of his name.  I flew from Columbus, Georgia to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to attend the graduation of my nephew Gibson Gray – well, he’s actually my grand nephew since he is the son of my niece Janet Sue Gray – from the medical college  of Nova Southeastern University.  

As I sat with Gibson’s mom and dad, Janet Sue and Gordon Gray, his brothers, Schafer and Taylor, and his wife Catherine, I felt, with them, a great sense of elation.  I mean,  doing what it takes to become a physician is quite an achievement – and who doesn’t want to be able to say, “my son, the doctor,” or in my case, ” my nephew, the doctor” ?

Gordon, Janet, Catherine, Schafer, and Taylor Gray, Nova Southeastern University Graduation, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Gordon, Janet Sue, Catherine, Schafer, and Taylor Gray, Nova Southeastern University Graduation, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

It is a tremendous acheivement, considering all of the years of study, and the tremndous costs – the majority of medical students have to  get student loans running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars – that it takes to get a medical degree.

Dr. Gibson Gray, Uncle Richard (me)

Dr. Gibson Gray, Uncle Richard (me)

Well, by George, our Gibson did it, and we are all bursting with pride.  He is not through yet, though. Now he has to do three years of residency in a hospital.  He will get paid, but it is a very low salary, and he won’t be able to pay back any of the loan until he finishes that.  

Naturally, he and his family, and all of the medical graduates and their families, are keenly interested in what will happen to healthcare in the United States.  It’s for sure that something is going to happen.  The American people put it at the top of their list of concerns about the future.  Costs have gone out of sight. 

The issue was not ducked at the Nova Health Professions Division graduation ceremony. It was squarely faced by Florida Democratic Rep.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the keynote speaker.  We’ll look at that it in a future post.  Stay tuned.

Linn Gets Ready to Fly the Airplane He Built

May 23, 2009

Want to buy a brand new airplane for less than $180,000, which is about what you would pay for a new Cessna?  Easy.  Just build your own for $50,000. That is, if you don’t count the labor that you put into building it yourself.  How do I know that?  My friend Linn Hall told me.  He should know.  He did it,  and it’s ready to fly. He has already taxied it around  a little, and he says the Federal Aviation Administration has already inspected and licensed it. 

Linn Hall rolling his RV-6A out of his hangar, Columbus Metropolitan Airport, Columbus, GA

Linn Hall rolling his RV-6A out of his hangar, Columbus Metropolitan Airport, Columbus, GA

Oh, if you do plan to follow Linn’s example and build your own plane, you’ll need not to be in a hurry.  It has taken Linn eight years to build his.  It is a kit plane,  but things like wings did not come assembled.  He had to do it, and it took 16,000 rivets.  He had to cut out the dash panel,  and since he didn’t get it quite right a couple of times, he had to keep doing it. 

Linn Hall shwoing how he had to cut out ports in the instrument panel, Columbus Metropolitan Airport, Columbus, GA

Linn Hall showing how he had to cut out ports in the instrument panel, Columbus Metropolitan Airport, Columbus, GA


RV-6A Cockpit

RV-6A Cockpit

“You must have enjoyed building it to have spent that much time doing it.  How many days a week did you work on it?”  I wanted to know.

“Oh, five days a week.  Not all day, of course. I have to make a living.  I’m a data systems administrator at TSYS.  And, yes, I did enjoy building it. It gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

Linn, who is originally from Oklahoma, came to Columbus to work at TSYS.  A veteran single engine plane pilot,  he brought a Moony with him.  He liked the plane, but he said it was just too expensive for him to maintain.  That’s one reason he built the RV-6A.  He said, “If you own a plane like a Moony, or Cessna,  the FAA says you have to use their maintenance service.   However, if you build your own plane, the FAA allows you to maintain it. That’s a lot cheaper.”

The RV-6A,  a two-seater whose parts and building plans are sold by RV of Seattle, Washington, will cruise at about 185 m.p.h, with gas tanks that will allow you to fly about four hours.   That mean, as an  example, you could fly it from Columbus, GA to Washington, D.C. in a little less than four hours and have a few gallons to spare.

Linn Hall and me in posing in front of his RV-6A.  Fellow retired brodcaster Don Nahley took this picture.

Linn Hall and me posing in front of his RV-6A. Fellow retired broadcaster Don Nahley took this picture.

Being an experimental craft,  he gets to use some parts not approved by the FAA for commercially built planes.  Instead of an aluminium propeller, he is using one made of  a graphite composite over maple wood. It provides better fuel efficiency and more speed. 

Turnabout is fair play so I took this shot of Don and Linn

Turnabout is fair play so I took this shot of Don and Linn

He also uses a dry cell battery, which he says is better than the wet cell ones used in commercially built aircraft. 

Dry cell battery in Linn's kit plane

Dry cell battery in Linn's kit plane

Why hasn’t the FAA approved those for commercially built planes?

“They just haven’t gotten around to inspecting and approving them yet.  I’m sure they will eventually.”

“Are you going to take anyone with you on your first flight?”

“No. The FAA won’t allow that.  I have to have over 40 hours in the plane before I can take anyone up.  I have flown one like it so this won’t be the first time I have flown in an RV-6A, but that 40 hours  has to be in this plane.”

After putting on a few finishing touches,  Linn plans to take his maiden flight early next month.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Construction Delay Almost Doubles the Cost of the Mildred Terry Library

May 17, 2009


New Mildred Terry Library,  Veteran's Parkway, Columbus, Georgia

Delaying construction of the new Mildred Terry Library, which opens on June 2nd,  was quite costly, something that voters may think about when it comes time to vote on the new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for the school system.   Dr. Philip Schley says the new SPLOST will avoid those costly delays for new projects by selling bonds this time.  Projects  listed in the 2003 SPLOST  took so long to complete  because  money could not be spent until taxes were collected.  There will be no need to wait this time since bond money can be spent all at one time.  The bonds will be paid off as taxes are collected. “Hopefully,” he says, “the interest paid will be less than the cost of delaying construction.”  That depends on the economy.  If there is inflation, money is saved by not delaying construction,  but if there is deflation,  waiting would save money.  As is said, timing is everything.

Mildred Terry, the downtown branch of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries system, has a proud history – opening in 1953 as the Fourth Avenue Library,  it was the first public library for blacks in Columbus, because they were not allowed to use the Columbus Public Library – and every library friend that I know supports the new and improved facility, but it really didn’t have to cost $4.7 million dollars.  It could have been  built, some believe,  for the $ 2.5 million provided for in the SPLOST  had it been built in 2003, the year the SPLOST was approved,  and the Library Board would not have had to resort to using reserve funds to finish the project.

Ft. Benning soldiers, volunteers from the 39th AG,  move piano from old Mildred Terry Library to new Mildred Terry Library, Columbus, Georgia

Ft. Benning soldiers, volunteers from the 39th AG, move a piano from the old Mildred Terry Library to the new Mildred Terry Library, Columbus, Georgia

 Dr. Philip Schley, chairman of the Muscogee County School Board,  to which the library board must answer, explained that the Mildred Terry was “pretty far down the priority list.  Critical needs had to be met first.  While the new Mildred Terry Library is larger and nicer,  the old building served the public well so that need was not considered critical.”

Kelly Pridgen, chair of the library board,  said the situation really isn’t as bad as it sounds.  Yes,  the library board has to spend part of the library’s reserves to complete Mildred Terry, but, she added,  “That’s what reserves are for.”   And, yes, next year’s budget will be trimmed, with $100,000 budgeted for book purchases being cut, but that doesn’t mean books won’t be purchased.  Last year’s book budget will remain in place.  The $100,000 would have been an increase.  She says private funds will, hopefully, replinishthe reserve fund.

Friends of the Lbraries Book Store,  Columbus Public Library, Columbus, GA

Friends of the Lbraries Book Store, Columbus Public Library, Columbus, GA

 I am unabashedly a supporter of the library system.  I’m on the Friends of the Libraries board, and I work in the book store at the Columbus Public Library.  I am a friend of the library because the library is my friend.  A library card makes a world of information, entertainment, and art available for everyone, and it’s all free. As Claudya Muller,  executive director of the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Libraries, says, “The library empowers people to achieve their goals in life,  and it is for everyone.  A library will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no library.” 
Because of the recession, the library is getting a lot more use.  And since we are on the subject of economics,  the quality of a public library is one of the first things that industries seeking to locate in a community check out. Thanks to community leaders who know the value of a library, we have one of the best in the state.


LaGrange Revisited II

May 13, 2009

The memories poured back recently when I spent a couple of days in LaGrange.  Downtown  has changed since I was there,  but a lot is just like it was in 1950 when I was a 19-year-old radio announcer at WLAG.  My first major assignment at WLAG was to play Santa Claus and read letters to him. I faked a big deep voice and did a lot of ho,ho, hoing.  In my regular voice,  I also did  newscasts, disc-jockey work,  and commercials. 

WLAG, LAGrange

WLAG, LAGrange

WLAG is still on the air.  It’s an all-sports ESPN affiliate.  When I was there, it was a Mutual network affiliate.   It’s still on Broome Street,  but it’s across the street from where it was in 1950.  Standing where the old studio was located is the relatively new Promenade Parking garage that serves the downtown area.

Promanade Parking garage, downtown LaGrange, GA

Promanade Parking garage, downtown LaGrange, GA

 That parking garage and the rest of the downtown revitalization program has been made possible, in large part, by donations from the Callaway Foundation.   That foundation was established by Fuller Callaway, Jr.  in 1942 with a $1.5 million donation.  That $1.5 million, the only contribution ever made to the foundation,  has grown,  totally though investments,  to almost $200,000,000.

Main Street, LaGrange, GA

Main Street, LaGrange, GA

When we went over to Main Street, where more Callaway Foundation money has funded extensive renovations,  making historic old building viable for use today,  it looked a lot like it did in 1950.  There is a vast difference though.  Main Street now sports some fine restaurants. We tried Tulla’s Cajun Bar and Grill.  Outstanding food and ambiance.  

Another dining experience I would recommend is the Lemmon Tree, where we had lunch.  Best vegetables I have ever tasted,  and the corn bread is like “Mama use to make.”   

LaGrange 10 movie multiplex, LaGrange, GA

LaGrange 10 movie multiplex, LaGrange, GA

When I worked at WLAG,  I spent a lot of time at the LaGrange Theater, which was about a 20-second walk from the station. Among the great movies I saw there was “Twelve O’clock High,”  with Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger.  Jagger won the 1949 best supporting actor Oscar for his role in that one.     There is still a LaGrange theater at that location,  but it’s a lot bigger, sporting 10 screens.  Carmike Cinemas,  whose national headquarters is in Columbus, operates the multiplex, but even this was made possible by Callaway Foundation downtown revitalization money.  The city used the money to build it and leases it to Carmike. 

Callaway Mills are long gone from LaGrange – the late Fuller Callaway, Jr. sold the mills in 1968 –  but the legacy of mill profits that went into the Callaway Foundation lives on.  You see it everywhere in improvements that make LaGrange a nice place to live.  The latest beneficiary of that money is LaGrange College.  I’ll tell about that on a future post.

Wayne Bennett’s First Retirement Party

May 10, 2009
(Left to right) Dave Platta, Jason Dennis, Paul Therrien,  Cheryl Morgan Myers, Wayne Bennett, Borden Black,  Kurt Schmitz, Bob Jeswald,  Columbus, GA TV personalities

(Left to right) Dave Platta, Jason Dennis, Paul Therrien, Cheryl Morgan Myers, Wayne Bennett, Borden Black, Kurt Schmitz, Bob Jeswald, Columbus, GA TV personalities

It was like a family reunion at the Borden Black and Cheryl Morgan Myers “oldtimers” retirement party for WTVM anchorman Wayne Bennett . Wayne’s last night on WTVM will be Friday,  May 15, 2009.  Just as it did for me when I retired in 2000,  the station will give Wayne a few minutes at the end of the 6 p.m. newscast to say goodbye. 
Wayne Bennett, retiring WTVM anchor,  Jason Dennis, Fox 54 anchor and Fox 54/WTVM reporter

Wayne Bennett, retiring WTVM anchor, Jason Dennis, WXTX Fox 54 anchor and WXTX/WTVM reporter

Jason Dennis,  who anchors the 10 p.m. news on WXTX, Fox 54 and also does some reporting that airs on both WTVM and WXTX,  has been preparing reports on Wayne’s broadcasting career.  Wayne is happy with that.  “I requested that he be the one to do it,” he said.  “I asked him to keep it light,  not make it into an obituary.  I’m not dead.”  That could be a clue that Wayne will keep his goodbye light Friday evening. 

“How would you sum up your 20 years at WTVM?” I asked him.

“That’s a loaded question, Dick.  I have to be careful because you’ll put it on your website,” he quipped.

I smiled and suggested, “Just tell the truth.”

“Well,  the truth is that television has been good to me.  I have enjoyed it,  but,  I don’t like the direction television [news] is taking so I am glad to be getting out at this time.  That’s the truth”

The sentiment that TV news has been and continues to go downhill was prevelent among the oldtimers who are no longer in the business. 

But, the serious stuff didn’t dominate the party.  There were plenty of laughs, and folks had a good time remembering stories they had covered over the years.  Though there is concern about the future direction of TV news,  it was clear that the oldtimers love the business.  Like I have always said,  one thing is for sure,  you won’t be bored if you work in television news.  It does, indeed, get very exciting.

Wayne and Betty Bennett, Wayne Bennett's  "oldtimers" retirement party

Wayne and Betty Bennett, Wayne Bennett's "oldtimers" retirement party

Now, like me,  and Dee,  Wayne gets to kiss the crushing deadlines goodbye  and to relax a little.  And that’s what he plans to do.  He and wife Betty, after a brief stay in Florida, are heading for Panama, where they plan to live. The cost of living there is a third less than in the United States, Wayne told me.  How long?  “Well, that depends on how well we like it.  If we don’t like it, we’ll go somewhere else,”  Betty  said. 

“Sounds like you are going on an adventure.”

“That’s right,” she said. “We are going on adventure and we look forward to it.”

Sounds like a fine plan to me.  After all, life is for living, as the cliche’ goes.  Bon voyage to both of you.    

For years, Wayne sported a mustache, but shaved it off a few years ago.    I asked him, “Are you going to grow a mustache now?”

“I’m probably going to grow a full beard,” he said.

He gets one more retirement party.  WTVM is having one for him Saturday.

LaGrange Revisited

May 3, 2009

Hills and Dales, Fuller Callaway Mansion, LaGrange, Georgia
Hills and Dales, Fuller Callaway Mansion, LaGrange, Georgia

You really don’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to find interesting places to visit, which, in these economic times, is a good thing.  For instance if you live within a 50 mile radius of LaGrange, Georgia,  you will probably enjoy spending a couple of days there.  I did, last week.

LaGrange holds sort of a special interest for me because, not only do I have some friends there,  I lived there myself almost 60 years ago.  And, yes it has truly changed in that length of time. I went to work at WLAG in LaGrange in December of 1949.  I’ll get into that on a future post.

In 1950, LaGrange was most definitely a mill town,   the Callaway Mills’ town.   The power of the Callaways in LaGrange was legendary.  “You don’t open a business in LaGrange unless Fuller Callaway, Jr. says you can,” someone told me.  I don’t know how true that was,  but after I saw Hills and Dales, the Italian Villa style mansion last week,  it was easy for me to grasp that the Callaways were royalty in LaGrange.

Hills and Dales Italianate Villa, Front Entrance, LaGrange, Georgia

Hills and Dales Italianate Villa, Front Entrance, LaGrange, Georgia

The incredible opulence and beauty of this place is close to breathtaking.  It was built in 1916 for Fuller Callaway, Sr, the founder of the Callaway fortune.   Fuller’s wife Alice devoted a lot of her time to the estate’s sumptuous formal gardens.  It looks like something you would see in a European palace,  or that great American Palace, the Vanderbilt Home in  North Carolina.

When Fuller Callaway, Jr. died in 1992,  the  family followed his wishes and gave the property to the Fuller Callaway Foundation and opened it to the public, which is what the Vanderbilt family did when George  Vanderbilt II died in 1914.

Picture taking is not allowed inside the Callaway villa, “but you can take all you want on the outside,” our guide told us.  That’s the reason you don’t see any indoor shots.  It was about what I would expect it to be on the inside,  large rooms with high ceilings,  expensively ornate and pretentious.

Titanic Grand Staircase, 1911

Titanic Grand Staircase, 1911

The living room with its grand staircase made me think of the grand staircase on the Titantic. 

Hills and Dales formal gardens,  LaGrange, Georgia

Hills and Dales formal gardens, LaGrange, Georgia

And everywhere you turn in the formal garden you can take an interesting picture.  One of the most intresting topiaries is the one that spells the word God,  which was first planted and developed by Sarah Ferrell who started the gardens long before Fuller Callaway purchased the property. 

Hills and Dales formal gardens, LaGrange, Georgia

Hills and Dales formal gardens, LaGrange, Georgia

As I toured this estate I had to reflect on the wealth it represented and the way the money was earned, for the most part, with the help of many hundreds of mill workers who ran and maintained the looms and lived in mill villages.  Some of those workers tried to unionize in the mid 1930’s,  but were unsuccessful.   The Callaways took a patriarchal approach, supplying many services for the workers and their families,  including a big gymnasium and swimming pool.  They also gave a lot of money to public institutions in LaGrange, including Lagrange College.  And the Callaway Foundation continues to pour money into civic projects and public institutions in LaGrange to this day.  

Coming up on this blog,  how LaGrange has improved its downtown area, including a restaurant that serves the best cooked fresh vegetables I have ever tasted.