Thursday, October 29, 2009

Walt Brown, Rest in Peace

My former father-in-law, Walter "Walt" Brown, died Saturday at home in Addison Township. He was 92.

During the time I was married to his daughter, Susan, Walt and I spent many hours together. Because I worked nights in Flint, my days were free and Walt loved to cut wood, do projects around his and our house and generally kept himself busy. It was my joy and honor to spend all those many hours with him outdoors.

I learned more from Walt in those few years about wood working, tree-cutting, cement mixing, roofing and life than pretty much the sum total of all my years in school. He was a reservoir of common sense in a world where it is very scarce. There's a morning room built on to the back of my house today that is a testament to what I learned from Walt about carpentry and roofing.

Like all three of my father-in-laws, my father and stepfather, he was a survivor of the Depression and World War II. For Walt the Depression was the defining time of his life. He was a believer in not paying for something unless you could pay cash for it and he conserved energy by burning the wood available to him for free.

He taught me the importance of checking the wind before falling a tall tree and the ins-and-outs of a chain saw. He taught me that sharp was safer than dull and that you always "measure twice and cut once." He taught me that a man was judged by the neatness of his woodpile.

Walt also taught me that there was no such thing as a mistake, but just "errors." He also told me that a good spoken "sonofabitch" would fix most carpentry problems. Well, that and a well timed and aimed hammer stroke.

If he spoke the word "politician" it came out sounding like a curse word. He had no use for those who couldn't relate to people who worked hard and broke a sweat to make a living.

He built Susan's house with his own hands, each nail lovingly driven in by himself. Once after the house was more than 10 years old, we called after one of the windows fogged up during a cold snap. The call was made not to ask him to fix it, but just in passing the time of day.

About 1/2-hour later (this was about 8 p.m. at night) we heard Walt's truck pull into the driveway and he emerged with his toolbox and came into the house and fixed the air leak that caused the fogging.

Walt joked that not many builders would come back and fix the house they built ten years after it was finished. But then not many builders were Walt.

At one time he worked for Mrs. Wilson of Dodge-Wilson at the Meadowbrook Mansion in Rochester Hills. it is now a tourist attraction but he remembered the days that Mrs. Dodge-Wilson would call out for "Walter" to fix this or that.

During the time I knew him he was only rarely without his beloved retriever by his side. That dog followed him everywhere and it was rough when I had to ride in his truck to a woodlot because Jesse didn't like sharing the front seat with anyone but Walt.

He and his dog shared his lunch and his love. I've never met a man with a closer touch to nature than Walt. He loved animals. He had the rare ability to coax a wild chipmunk into his hand the first time he saw it.

But he also loved to hunt deer. Although it was more about the sitting in nature than it was in the taking of the deer. I recalled this story recently about one of Walt's hunting "trips."

Susan and I lived on 7-8 acres in Oxford Township. The back lot was a stand of pine trees - all planted by Susan and Walt, by the way - and when they were mature enough he would make a deer blind in the back and during hunting season it was not uncommon to hear his military truck pull into our driveway and head back to the woods about 5 a.m.

While Susan was at work during the day I usually did chores around the property, but when I knew Walt was back "hunting" I stayed up near the house so as not to spook the deer.

One day, I was watching out our back picture window when I saw a big 10 to 12-point buck that Walt had been eyeing for months, walk to the pile of corn and apples in the back lot. I watched for several minutes waiting for the inevitable blast that would take down this prize buck. It never came.

A little while later I heard the truck driving up the path next to our horse pasture and met Walt in the driveway as he headed home for lunch.

"Why didn't you shoot that buck?," I asked him

"Please don't tell me the buck was there, I fell asleep for a while," Walt said. We both had a good laugh about the 'one that got away.'

Like so many of his kind, Walt is in that disappearing group of heroes from World War II. During his youth around Rochester, Walt made a name for himself ski jumping and he had the newspaper clips to prove it.

When World War II came those skills were in demand in the Army's 10th Mountain Division, which Walt proudly served both in Europe and the Pacific. He came home and never left after the war. He was married to his childhood sweetheart, Eva, for 68 years. She used to kid that he loved his dog and spent more time with it than her, but she was wrong.

You can read the whole obituary here. There's a nice photo of Walt there as well.

He once told me a story about a German soldier that was shot in the heel someplace in Italy and when they approached him with guns drawn the German spoke in good English, "don't shoot, I'm from Detroit."

In recent years he made one of the "Honor Flights" to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., one of the very rare times he left his home.

There are many great stories he told that would fail in my telling here because they were good because of the way he told them.

Walt, you will be missed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Will Northwest Airlines add a charge for 'longer' flight

My father, my resident expert of all things aviation, wondered in an e-mail to me about the recent 'extended' Northwest flight from San Diego to Minneapolis.

In case you hadn't heard, a pilot and co-pilot overshot the Minneapolis airport by more than 150 miles when they were otherwise occupied (some say sleeping, some say arguing and today they said they were reading on their personal computers) and simply missed their airborne exit ramp.

So my father wonders, what with all the new airline fuel and baggage fees, if Northwest will now bill the passengers on the flight for the extra fuel used in the sightseeing flight over Wisconsin. You know, with all the airlines bad public relations, it wouldn't really surprise me if they tried.

By the way, my father is a docent (and a darn good one) at the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport near D.C. He gives a great tour. My father served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and was a general aviation pilot during my formative teenage years.

Unfortunately for him I never got the 'flying' bug and when he asks me what kind of aircraft I flew on during a trip, he gets very frustrated when I say, "a big one with two or three engines." Not that I don't love flying, my favorite assignment remains the assignment and story on my flight on the B-24 "Liberator" bomber that visited Flint.

He wants details and I give him, well, not details. Above is a photo of my Dad during a tour he gave my wife and I at the museum. Its a great museum with some really great exhibits. One of my favorites is the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Story outlines former Mayor's "access" fee

The brief item on isn't written very clearly, but it is an interesting take on former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's "access" fees.

Oakland Press gains readers from Free Press, News and Flint Journal

Give the Oakland Press credit for pursuing the daily newspaper readers abandoned by the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and Flint Journal when they shrunk publication of the printed version to three days a week.

New numbers show that the OP picked up several thousand readers (not a great coup for sure) but at least they went up, and not down in circulation.

Thanks to a frequent reader for the link.

The real loss of beat reporting

Since my retirement I have been working part time doing public relations work. Last week I went to a public information officer conference in Saginaw.

During one of our break out sessions I was talking to a public relations person for a non-profit organization in Grand Rapids. She related the frustration of the new reality of newspaper reporting.

The hospital she works for had for years had a dedicated health reporter that covered it. Things went along well and with the relationships that built up stories were done that were accurate and timely.

Not so anymore, she said. Now, it's a roll of the dice that on a day-to-day basis the hospital will even know who is responsible for health coverage. Often they get a different reporter each time there is a story, she said.

That has created a situation where there have been many errors in stories, both online and in print. Corrections are made online, but without any mention of the previous error.

The woman said she has had a number of conversations with the editor of the Grand Rapids Press, but there seems little hope that it will be better any time soon.

Where's the vaccine? Can you say Hurricane Katrina all over again

OK, so last April the panic over the Swine flu began. Everyone predicted that it would come roaring back in the fall and winter and all the flapping gums expressed a need for an expedited vaccine.

So, where is it? People are starting to get sick in flocks and there is an inadequate supply of vaccine for folks who want it.

This is FEMA and Katrina all over again. The government simply does not have the capability to respond to disasters of the moment or the ones that they know are coming months in advance.

So President Bush rightfully got blasted for Katrina and when will the press start putting the blame on the new Adminstration for its failure to secure and expedite the H1N1 vaccine.

The press needs to be all over this. President Obama has declared it a National Emergency and yet with six months planning, we are dreadfully short of the vaccine. By the time it is ready, the crisis will be over.

Yeah, keep pushing that government option for health care.