The Week: What Caught Our Eye

June 25, 2022

A view of a forest and lake from the top of a mountainBehold the Palmertown Range, named for a driving range that once existed there, just minutes from Saratoga Springs, roughly 40,000 acres of forest in the northern tip of bustling Saratoga County, open to the public and encompassing Moreau Lake State Park, Daniels Road State Forest, and Lincoln Mountain State Forest. (Ray O’Conor)

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

Welcome to the summer of we’re back.  Here’s to making the most of it.

WITHOUT FRANK WILLS, the Watergate would still be just a five-star Washington hotel. Wills was just 24, a contract security guard patrolling the halls of the Watergate office complex on June 17, 1972, shortly after midnight, about to take his break, when he discovered that a door to Democratic National Headquarters had a lock that had been duct taped. Twice. On his first swing past the DNC offices, Wills took off the tape. When he returned and found more, he called the police.

Arrested inside the ransacked DNC headquarters were five men, there to bug the place. They turned out to be working for the re-election committee of President Nixon. They were convicted, and the administration paid them hush money. Wills was not so fortunate. He was said to have been given a raise of $2.50 a week to $82.50, but it was less than he thought he deserved, so he quit and spent the next 20 years moving from job to job.

He ultimately left Washington and returned to North Carolina to care for his aging mother, who had suffered a stroke. They survived on her $450 per month Social Security checks. In 1979, he was convicted of shoplifting and fined $20. Four years later, he was convicted of shoplifting again, this time a pair of sneakers allegedly swiped from a store in Augusta, Ga. He was sentenced to one year in prison. President Nixon got a pardon. Wills did not.

By the time of his mother's death in 1993, Wills was so destitute that he had to donate her body to medical research because he had no money to bury her.Frank Wills died in a hospital in Augusta at the age of 52 from a brain tumor.

This summer, the 50th anniversary of the bungled break-in that changed the world, CNN is featuring a series recounting the events and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodard is speaking to the Ladies Library Association in Brewster, Mass. HBO’s “The White House Plumbers,” partly filmed in Albany, is expected later this year or early next.

Albany’s connection to Watergate, Harry M. Rosenfeld, who helped oversee The Washington Post’s coverage of the most significant political scandal in 100 years and who was editor of the Albany Times Union for two decades, will miss all the tellings and retellings he would have relished and gently corrected, as necessary. He died last July at 91.

TITLE IX TURNS L: Title IX, the landmark legislation that bans discrimination based on gender in education, athletics and activities that receive federal financial assistance and opened new opportunities for girls and women, especially in sports, turned 50 this week. It was championed in the Senate by Birch Bayh of Indiana, known by many as the “Father of Title IX.” As the Indianapolis Star makes clear in a riveting, in-depth look at the life and influence of Marvella Bayh, the Senator’s wife, he was inspired by her experience of having been denied entrance to the University of Virginia because of her gender. She would become a trusted political guidepost, a passionate and articulate public speaker who, in another time, might herself have been an excellent candidate for public office. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1971 and died at 46 in 1979, never having seen the full impact of the law.

GOLDEN SWOOSH: The swoosh was Carolyn Davidson’s creation. She was a college student when she drew the trademark for just $35. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, did not like it at first. Where she saw a nod to Nike’s wings or a checkmark signifying accomplishment, he saw a smudge tha resembled a big comma. The swoosh would become an iconic trademark and, of course, that meant controversy. In 1998, it was denounced as the “swooshticka” when allegations surfaced of child labor and unsafe working conditions at Nike subcontractor factories in Asia. All that has passed, the swoosh is now 50 and said to be worth $30 billion.

HEY, HEY, WE’RE THE MONKEYS: For years, scientists have pondered the wonder of human speech. What is it in the brain that allows humans to speak, sing, shout, warble and yodel, to change the volume and the pitch at will, and to control their breathing? It looks like the key to speech has been found in marmosets, a species of monkey living primarily in South America.

GETTING PERSONAL: Headlines are seldom as direct as the one above Dr. Mary T. Bassett’s essay this week on Elle.com: Without My Abortion, I Would Not Be New York’s Health Commissioner. She writes that it was “not a difficult decision for me,” coming as she was on the cusp of starting her medical career. Now a mother of two adult daughters, she wrote before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a decision she said would be met with “disgust and disappointment. It is a reality so difficult and so dystopian that it is hard to fathom that, once again, our country is here. … Now is the moment to actively reaffirm the core value that all people must have agency over their own bodies — a medical freedom and human right.”

THE WAY WE WERE: Pigs once dominated Saratoga County, N.Y., the way horses do today. In the years around the Civil War, roughly 20,000 were being raised on farms that are now suburban neighborhoods. The pigs were taken to Albany where meatpackers turned them into bacon, ham, sausage, and salt pork to feed New York City and Buffalo. A Milton, N.Y., farmer originated a popular brand of pigs — The Duroc, prized for its size, big litters, and hardiness. But this is not a story about pigs. It’s about a local journalist who covered Saratoga County for 40 years, skillfully weaving its rural roots with its modern history of Northway-inspired growth and prosperity. The Daily Gazette’s Steve Williams has compiled his popular “Off the Northway” column into a new book that reminds us that it wasn’t always like this.

BEWARE THE HOGWEED: Spongy moths are ugly and devour trees, but they’re nothing compared to giant hogweed, an invasive plant whose toxic sap can cause third-degree burns, potentially permanent scaring, or even blindness. The plant begins to flower in early summer, and Upstate New York has some of the largest and oldest hogweeds sites in the country, especially concentrated in the Buffalo and Rochester areas.

PALTRY POURS: Don’t sweat the $5-a-gallon gas. The real insult: Meager pours of wine in some restaurants and bars, at higher prices no less. The standard six-ounce pour shrunk to five and now has become four in some spots. Other places are tacking on an additional dollar or more to drown one’s sorrows.

DEBT-FREE DARTMOUTH: Dartmouth College this week became latest institution of higher learning to effectively eliminate debt for students beginning with the incoming freshman class. Dartmouth said it would replace student loans with need-based “expanded scholarship grants,” made possible by gifts from 65 families totaling more than $80 million. One anonymous donor gave $25 million. Williams College and Emory University also have announced plans to replace student loans with grants.

Soft morning light over a small field and lake with mountains int he backgroundAnother summer of promise, opportunity, joy, and reflection arrives in the quiet of an early morning on Lake George. (Kathy Flacke Muncil)

WORK HAPPY: A high-pressure, run-and-gun workplace may yield results in the short term, but research suggests the costs — in stress-related illnesses, employee turnover and burnout over the long term — are far higher than in workplaces that prioritize well-being and a positive culture at all levels of the organization. Bosses can set the tone by fostering social connections, showing empathy, being helpful and encouraging people to talk to them about problems. It’s worth a shot — even CEOs are saying they’d seriously consider quitting for a job that is better for their wellbeing.

PRESS PRESSURES: The Pew Research Center surveyed 11,889 U.S. journalists about their own feelings and the state of the industry, and while 77% said they would choose the same career, 72% chose a negative word — chaos; struggling; biased; difficult — in offering a one-word description of the journalism business today. They also recognize that much of the public doesn’t trust them, and are worried about the future of press freedom, widespread misinformation, political polarization, and the impact of social media. Still, 70% said they were either very or somewhat satisfied with their jobs.

PRICELESS GENEROSITY: Dmitry Muratov, a Russian journalist who shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, sold his Nobel medal at auction this week, with proceeds designated to aid children displaced by the war in Ukraine. The final bid: $103.5 million, a dramatic leap from the previous high bid of $16.6 million and nearly $100 million more than the previous record paid for a Nobel medal.

BACK TO YOU, POPS: A father-daughter TV anchor team is the big news at CBS affiliate WROC in Rochester. Natalie Kucko is joining her dad, longtime anchor John Kucko, in a rare on-air pairing. Pittsburgh’s  Bill and Patti Burns are said to have been the first father-daughter on air team when they were assigned the noon news in 1976 on KDKA.

BASEBALL IN THE BACK COUNTRY: Long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, there were the Cuban Giants, a touring team of Black professionals who routinely visited small towns in the Adirondacks to mop up the local talent while pretending to speak Spanish, to make the crowds more comfortable. Local hotels like the Sagamore and Fort William Henry also fielded teams, with staff entertaining wealthy patrons between their other duties. Historian Maury Thompson did the research, and the talented Tim Rowland takes it from there.

MAN OF LETTERS: Ed Surovell has taken countless journeys around the world, seeing it from the perspective of centuries, through times of war and peace, and been privy to the thoughts of the brightest and most creative minds in history. He’s gotten there through the pages of the 10,000 carefully curated books in his personal collection, which he keeps at his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I was destined to buy books,” Surovell told Bridge Michigan for a profile in which his appreciation for books takes on a mystical quality. “I couldn’t escape the things. I was born to them and married them. They come whispering to me in the middle of the night.” Now 82 and legally blind, the retired real estate broker no longer can distinguish words on the page, so he has begun the process of giving them away, many rare and valuable, to libraries, scholars and researchers.  

ALEXA, SAY CREEPY: Amazon.com said this week that Alexa, the voice-activated device that will tell you the weather, turn on your lights and do other things on demand, will soon be able to mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio. The marketing pitch is that a loved one’s voice can replace that of Alexa, but some worry that the technology will be weaponized to create deep-fake videos and for other nefarious purposes.

TOUGH, LOVE: At 93, Ray Rinaldi, a legend in Syracuse, N.Y., is still teaching the city’s young people how not to get hit. He runs a boxing gym, the West Area Athletic and Education Center, that has taught generations of disadvantaged kids how to box and avoid trouble, and those who stick around also learn something else — how much he loves them. “I see these kids,” he told Syracuse.com, “and sometimes I wanna cry they turn out so well.” He’s slowing down, though, and worries what will become of the gym when he’s no longer the driving force behind it.

LIVES

TOM PARK played the straight man for years in TV ads for the Fuccillo car dealerships in Upstate New York, delivering the details of the deals before the late Billy Fuccillo would step in to assure viewers that whatever they just heard, it was huuuuuuge. Before becoming an ad man, Park was the lead guitarist for a band called Talewind, with his wife, Jenny Lou, as a vocalist. “My man, Tom Park, married to for 48 years, rock and rolled for our best youngest years, had two sons who brought him the most joy in life, a proud Papa to his 5 granddaughters, car commercial G.O.A.T., hottest guitarist, puppy to his kitty, lover of fishing and golf, passed away today from cancer at 6:21 p.m. surrounded by family,” she wrote on Facebook, announcing his death at 69.

GREGORY T. KACZMAREK served as chief of police in Schenectady, N.Y., at the turn of the 21st century, a time of upheaval and corruption in the force that resulted in racketeering convictions for four police officers and a federal civil rights investigation that coincided with the suicide of another. Appointed despite rumors of prior illegal drug use, Kaczmarek pleaded guilty to felony drug possession in 2008, after his retirement from the police department, and served time in federal prison. He died of cancer at 70.

MARK SHIELDS was a fixture for decades as a liberal TV commentator and pundit, serving as a moderator and panelist on CNN’s weekly “Capital Gang” from 1988 to 2005 and on “Inside Washington,” another weekly program that aired on PBS and ABC until 2013. He started his career as a Democratic campaign operative and briefly wrote a newspaper column before making the transition to television. He also wrote books and taught courses on politics and the press at Harvard and Penn. He was 85.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
— Title IX, signed into law by President Nixon on June 23, 1972

THE SIGNOFF

FROZEN TREAT(?): It’s good the U.S.-Canadian border has reopened. Otherwise, we might never get to enjoy the wonders of a ketchup-flavored popsicle.

___

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THANK YOU to our contributors: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Emily Behan, Claire P. Tuttle, Ray O’Conor, Kathy Flacke Muncil, John Brodt, Lisa Fenwick, Tina Suhocki, and Tara Hutchins.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.  www.behancommunications.com

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback.  

Let’s make it a conversationmark.behan@behancom.com

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