Friday, February 19, 2016

The Common Ground of Peyton T. Hairston Jr. (1955-2016)

In November of 1994, I was assigned to profile a new senior vice president of labor relations. The idea was to show some twenty unions that this guy knew his stuff: he had worked for the National Labor Relations Board, a big firm in Indianapolis, and two major international companies with employees all over the world, from longshoremen and meatpackers to plantation workers in South and Central America. “So many unions. So many issues. So many needs,” as he put it. 
    Soon after meeting this new SVP, I realized that we were only a year apart in age. He mentioned his undergraduate alma mater, NC State. I asked, “Did you know David Thompson?” He answered yes, Thompson, the great college hoops player, had been a fraternity brother. In a brief discussion about Thompson and his tragic drug problems, I got the feeling that we shared a certain generational outlook on many things. Over the next fifteen years or so, as I helped him with many speeches to many groups, that feeling was borne out in what I consider a very productive, pleasant way.
     As part of its goal to demonstrate that this person was tough enough to tangle with hard-nosed negotiations, the profile from that first day led with some violent realities of a strike:

Peyton T. Hairston Jr. was just a few months out of Wake Forest Law School—working as a Field Attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Cincinnati—when he found himself examining bullet holes, shattered windows and mangled machinery amid a coal miners’ strike in West Virginia.
   Hairston’s job was to investigate management charges of unfair labor practices—namely, that strikers had been shooting at security guards, threatening other workers, and sabotaging mining equipment.
     “This kid had never seen anything like that,” says Hairston. “Coming from Winston-Salem, where we didn’t have any unions, I’d never seen the kind of passion that’s involved in a strike. And I learned a great deal from the experience.
     “I learned there are always two sides to every story. And I learned that the process of negotiation depends on being able to find common ground between two parties. If there’s no ground, you can’t get anywhere.

     Peyton always empathized with workers in what they are up against and understood the emotions and violence that are sparked when livelihoods are threatened. He was of a new breed when it came to sitting down and listening to work out contracts.
    As a speechwriter, I often typed words to union groups like, “We can’t promise job security forever. But together we can work on the items that are important to you.”
    Peyton spoke often to bar associations and other lawyer groups about the importance of diversity as a marketing tool. Firm can’t afford to cut themselves off from growing markets, and so it behooves them to foster young lawyers of new genders and hues, providing them not only a shot, but also mentoring and guidance. He spent time as head of diversity, and always used practical, business language in making the case for diversity being beneficial to the bottom line.
     Peyton was a good writer himself. Like many executives who are good writers, he saw the value in the extra perspective a speechwriter can provide. In conversation he often emitted an infectious chuckle that lilted softly toward higher registers. He was always kind, collegial, and appreciative. I think I had a special advantage from the get-go in understanding how he might want to approach a speech.
    In doing that first profile, I learned that he had come from a large, extended family in Winston-Salem. His father, Peyton Sr., had been an elementary school principal. His mother, Jannie, taught math. In working with people, he emulated his grandfather, Braxton Hairston. “He never met a stranger,” Peyton told me. “He was a part-time Baptist preacher and a lifetime employee at an R.J. Reynolds cigarette factory. He always taught me the value of work—that no matter what people do, you should respect what they’re doing, because everybody who works is adding to society.”
     Peyton was an intellectual and a sensitive person. His flexibility of mind enabled him to take on many different administrative roles over the years. As his obituaries have noted, he also played an active role in our Knoxville community. He was often asked to deliver speeches at Martin Luther King Day celebrations. I was proud to assist in preparing for these, and doubly proud when I heard that Peyton had received a standing ovation.
     Like so many colleagues, I join with Peyton’s family in feeling the loss of a truly great guy. And I again invoke that generational bond in saying that sixty is way too young. As he said, we can’t guarantee certain things when we negotiate. But I can’t help but wish that he’d gotten a chance to find a little common ground and craft just one more of those win-win contracts. I already miss that mirthful chuckle.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Happy 70th Birthday to Tucker Clark -- and a weekend with Jack Kerouac

Tucker Clark was born in St. Louis, Mo., on June 25, 1945.

Today he is 70. By any measure, Tucker (my oldest brother) has been and continues to be an enduring touchstone of 60s culture.

For just a literary taste, we will take GTOTD readers back in time, to the University of North Carolina in 1963.

Tucker arrived as a freshman, having spent the summer building roads in Gambia with a program called Crossroads Africa.

He took part in a protest to integrate the lunch counters in downtown Chapel Hill. Since Main Street in Chapel Hill was also a federal highway, Tucker recalls, “on TV there were shots of the Feds hauling us away on charges of obstruction of a federal highway."

When he was a junior, he lived in a house off campus. His mother, Charlotte, recalls visiting him there. “It was the first time I saw MAKE LOVE NOT WAR. It was on a car in front of the house."

At one point, one of Tucker’s friends was on the road when he was picked up hitchhiking by … well, let’s let Tucker tell it:

My buddy, Marshall Hay – who is still at the Meher Baba Ashram in Myrtle Beach, S.C. – was hitch-hiking back to Chapel Hill after his first one-month stay down there, giving up the psychedelic life for Baba, when the first car that picked him up was a bunch of Lowell, Massachusetts, Indians and a drunk and bloated ---dah-dum --
 Jack Kerouac!!! 

He was coming from his mommy’s house in South Carolina. Marshall convinced the crew to come get drunk in Chapel Hill and sequestered them in the Tempo Room and went and got me, Russell Banks, and all the other UNC literati, who proceeded to Russell's house, where Kerouac berated hippies, the screwed-up California scene and how sick of everything he was. 

He consumed lots of cheap-by-choice wine and told Russ and other erstwhile writers that they all sucked. Later on in New York Russell Banks wanted us to reconstruct each of our vantage points of that weekend for a Vanity Fair article-- never happened. It was so seminal -- and a part of Chapel Hill lore. 

From Chapel Hill, Tucker went on to the Peace Corps in Nepal, a commune in Maine, an ahead-of-its time drug-education firm in Cambridge, Mass., a couple of decades as an alcoholic treatment counselor in Harlem, and now as a man-about-town in Westport, Conn.

Tucker with his daughter, Charlotte Spring Clark

At right, Tucker with his daughter, Charlotte Spring Clark.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

As Yogi turns 90, a list of Yogi-isms

Yogi Berra turns 90 today, proving the wisdom once again of his words, "It ain't over 'till it's over." 

Interested readers might want to read the great humorist Roy Blount Jr.'s wonderful 1984 Sports Illustrated story about the wisdom in Yogi's words.  

Note also that the GTOTD staff was sitting in a glass-walled office on the 20th floor of the Time & Life Building next to one in which Roy was typing this story on a Royal typewriter, ripping out the pages, crumpling them up and throwing them into a pile in the corner.  

Though the story, cited recently as one of the 60 best ever run in the pages of SI, reads as if every word, phrase and sentence poured out with ease and fully formed, know that great humor is harder than it looks.  :-)

That same year, the GTOTD staff asked the great question of whether Yogi Bear was based on this rotund baseball great.  For the answer, click here.    

Here is a fairly complete list of sayings attributed to Yogi Berra. (Although, as Yogi himself once said, "I didn't really say everything I said.")

"This is like deja vu all over again." 
"Half this game is 90% mental."
"If I didn't wake up, I'd still be sleeping."
"Slump ? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hittin'."
"Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical."
"You can observe a lot just by watching."
"He must have made that before he died." -- Referring to a Steve McQueen movie.
"I want to thank you for making this day necessary." -- On Yogi Berra Appreciation Day in St. Louis in 1947.
"I'd find the fellow who lost it, and, if he was poor, I'd return it." -- When asked what he would do if he found a million dollars.
"Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?"
"It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future."
"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
"I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early."
"If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else."
"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."
"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."
"It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much."
"A nickel isn't worth a dime today."
"Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."
"It gets late early out there." -- Referring to the bad sun conditions in left field at the stadium.
"Glen Cove." -- Referring to Glenn Close on a movie review television show.
Once, Yogi's wife Carmen asked, "Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?" Yogi replied, "Surprise me."
"Do you mean now?" -- When asked for the time.
"I take a two hour nap, from one o'clock to four."
"If you come to a fork in the road, take it."
"You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left."
"90% of the putts that are short don't go in."
"I made a wrong mistake."
"Texas has a lot of electrical votes." -- During an election campaign, after George Bush stated that Texas was important to the election.
"Thanks, you don't look so hot yourself." -- After being told he looked cool.
"I always thought that record would stand until it was broken."
"Yeah, but we're making great time!" -- In reply to "Hey Yogi, I think we're lost."
"If the fans don't come out to the ball park, you can't stop them."
"Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel."
"It's never happened in the World Series competition, and it still hasn't."
"How long have you known me, Jack? And you still don't know how to spell my name." -- Upon 
receiving a check from Jack Buck made out to "bearer."
"I'd say he's done more than that." -- When asked if first baseman Don Mattingly had exceeded expectations for the current season.
"The other teams could make trouble for us if they win."
"He can run anytime he wants. I'm giving him the red light." -- On the acquisition of fleet-footed Rickey Henderson.
"I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn't my fault that I'm not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?"
"It ain't the heat; it's the humility."
"The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase."
"You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours."
"I didn't really say everything I said."

Monday, March 2, 2015

All hail the Queen of Commas!

Yes, the 75th anniversary New Yorker contains the memoirs of Mary Norris, who descended from the frozen North (and her job on a Vermont cheese farm) to the Vatican of word usage, where, over the course of decades, she earned her place among the great grammarians of the ages. Her defense of the serial (Oxford) comma is, of course, exhaustive and eloquent.   If you have enough "free views" on The New Yorker site, you can click on this link and enjoy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

When to capitalize family titles

Here's a handy post from the Grammar Gremlin, Don K. Ferguson:

When referring to family titles in your writing, should you capitalize or use lowercase?
For example, is it “father” or “Father,” “dad” or “Dad,” “mother” or “Mother”?
If these terms stand alone and are being used as the name you use for the person, they are capitalized.
Example: “Have you decided yet, Mother, whether you and Dad will be able to take your trip?”
If you are merely referring to the person, use lowercase.
Example: “My mother and father are planning to a trip to the beach.”
If “uncle” or a similar family relationship term is used with the name, it is capitalized. Example: “They said Uncle Bill might go with them.”
Otherwise, it would be “my uncle.”
Don K. Ferguson, retired U.S. District Court chief deputy clerk, is a former member of the Knoxville City Council. He may be emailed here.

Don K. Ferguson

Friday, December 5, 2014

The book "Wayfaring Strangers" highlights the Scots-Irish music of Appalachia

From Ronald Radosh's review of Wayfaring Strangers in the New York Times Book Review:

"Wayfaring Strangers tells the story of how Scottish immigrants to Ulster in Northern Ireland merged their own musical traditions with those of the Irish before coming to America and adding their music to the American songbook. These Scots-Irish immigrants moved principally to Appalachia, where their traditions took new forms in classics like “Barbara Allen” and “Shady Grove.” As Dolly Parton writes in her introduction, “I grew up in the Smoky Mountains listening to these ancient ballads that had crossed oceans and valleys,” songs that became the basis for folk, bluegrass and country music."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Add ‘s' to main element of compound

Another great tip from Don Ferguson's Grammar Gremlins: 
A university professor commenting on a national television show about the election of several new governors used the term "governor-elects."
He should have said "governors-elect."
The rule is that the plurals of hyphenated or spaced compounds are formed by adding "s" to the main element of the compound.
In "governor-elect" the main word is "governor," and it gets the "s."
Other examples: "attorneys general," "fathers-in-law," "holes-in-one" and "runners-up."
But with nouns ending in "ful," the "s" is added at the end.
Examples: "cupfuls," "spoonfuls" and "mouthfuls."
Don K. Ferguson, retired U.S. District Court chief deputy clerk, is a former member of the Knoxville City Council.