Friday, August 24, 2012

Sadness in Paradise

Block Island, 8-23-2012

One electronic message can sure change a day.

Just 24-hours ago Richard and I were having breakfast in a small cafe on Main St. in downtown Mystic, Ct.

I was looking at Facebook on my iPhone and saw a note from Natasha Newcomb, whom I had met at Barbara Mack's house about four years ago at a woman's potluck in Des Moines. She wrote how sorry she was to learn of Barbara's death. 

'What?!!!" I responded. More Facebook updates confirmed the news. 

Richard and I both had histories with Barbara Mack. Mine tangential, Richard's directly when she was corporate counsel to The Register and Tribune Company at the time he was president. When the company properties were sold off and Gannett bought The Register, Barbara joined the faculty at Iowa State University.

Barbara Mack was two years younger than I am. Our first jobs at The Des Moines Register were as 'copy kids'.  As I drifted through my 20s and 30s, Barbara was focussed and driven in ways I better understand now that I read a feature story a former student wrote about her when she began working in the office of the president of Iowa State. An alcoholic and abusive father tried to thwart her college education, and as Barbara was quoted: "…Gave me the only broken bones I've ever had."

Phone calls started coming in from former Register staffers who knew Barbara. There's a primal need to connect when a member of 'the tribe' dies.  As the day unfolded, Barbara Mack's Facebook page was flooded with tributes from her former students, mostly, talking about how she had changed or shaped their lives. I learned more about Barbara Mack via this strange new medium than any obituary or sermon could ever capture. 

An unexpected and untimely death draws one inward and being on a seemingly limitless body of water, as we were traveling from Mystic to an island off of Rhode Island,  both of us were in a reflective, quiet mood. 

What kind of legacy are we leaving? What's left to do? Barbara apparently thought about her legacy a good deal. Without children of her own, she adopted those she taught and yesterday many of them wrote to say she was the best professor they ever had.  It's clear she had a direct impact on the betterment of these young lives. 

 This loss also underscores decisions such as buying and cruising Bel Sito. 

None of us know what tomorrow will bring let alone if there will be one. Apparently, there were shootings moments ago near the Empire State Building in downtown NY, not far from where we were just a few short days ago. News alerts are just starting to stream in. A Facebook post from a NY'er just says: It's mayhem in Mid-town.

Each day on this journey we marvel at the sunset and say to one another:

Many more sunsets. 


Anonymous said...

Julie and Richard
Sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.
Each loss a message to cherish the moment.
John Schuler

Julie Gammack said...

Thanks, John. Many more sunsets to you!

Anonymous said...

Richard hired me for my first news director's job at WQAD-TV in Moline. Barbara was our corporate lawyer. She was bright, intuitive and one of the best friends a journalist could ever have. She obviously left a mark on an awful lot of people. While many like to believe that today is the first day of the rest of your life, remember also it is the last day of your life so it accordingly. A great way to do that is to hop on a boat and embark on a fantastic journey!!!

Michael Bille

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie, This is John Whitehurst. I worked in the editorial art department at the Register when you were a "copy kid" with Barb. I just googled her name tonight and found out she has passed away. It's been 38 years since I left the paper and since I would have seen her, but I will never forget her! She was sharp as a tack and very beautiful as well......I know I had a crush on I'm sure a lot of guys did :) Another lesson in how precious our time here is.

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