The Mountains Miss You, And So Do I : Saying Goodbye To Steve Crandall

Photo By Tommy Stafford : My friend, the late Steve Crandall looks at the Blue Ridge Mountains off in the distance. Steve was always in awe of the beauty that surrounded where he lived. May 8, 2006

Roseland
Nelson County, Virginia
By Tommy Stafford

I’ve thought for months what I’d say when this day finally came. I really, really hoped I wouldn’t have to, but here we are. My friend Steve is gone. Mind you there are countless people that knew Steve far better than me. Lots of people have been friends with him much longer than the 17 or so years I knew him, but this is my personal remembrance.

Long before there was a Devils Backbone, Yvette and I became friends with Steve . We became friends with his wife Heidi and his children, Mallory, Justin & Brittany. Mallory was the first baby sitter our kids ever knew. One of their absolute favorites too! Heidi and other friends even hosted a baby shower at their farm for our first child, Adam, back in 2008.

Steve’s youngest daughter Mallory with our son Adam. On the left he was weeks old in 2008, on the right one year later at the one year anniversary of the opening of Steve’s Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company. November 2008 & November 2009.

When a younger and more naive Tommy & Yvette came to Nelson, Steve welcomed us with open arms. When we started our magazine with nothing more than a red notebook binder with writing in it that said, “Story goes here, ads go here, etc,” Steve said, “I’m in.” He bought the entire first year and paid it up front. He barely knew who we were back then. But he believed in what we were doing. That magazine lasted 16 straight years. 193 issues. Steve was our first client, but this wasn’t a first for Steve. He did many firsts in business. But that’s not what I remember Steve for.

Steve with Yvette back in November of 2016 here in Nelson County, Virginia at his restaurant.

When Yvette and I were trying to have kids, and it wasn’t as easy as it looked, Steve constantly encouraged me. He said, “Being a father will be the greatest thing you will ever do in life!” He was right. Steve loved, loved, loved his family. Back then his kids were working their way through the final years of school and college. He was always talking about how proud he was of his entire family.

Steve was already sort of a celebrity in Nelson. His construction company Tectonics II was already very successful and it was normal seeing Steve around. I remember what Greg Shifflet, the former and longtime owner of Graves Grocery said about Steve when we did a story on the store back in the early 2000’s. “I don’t know how many people who come in, all they gotta do is shake their head at me and I can whip their sandwich up,” he laughs. Steve Crandall of Tectonics II in Beech Grove, eats breakfast there every morning. “He comes in, waves his hand,  and I got it for him because I’m the breakfast man!”

Steve (right) with his son Justin Crandall back in March of 2015 during the relocation of the old Arrington Depot across the lot at Devils Backbone. Justin took over ownership of the family construction business, Tectonics II, a few years ago.

Steve and I would often have what we started referring to as the men’s quarterly lunch. It was just guy talk about life and such. Steve always invited us to get togethers at his farm to make us relative newcomers feel welcome. Birthdays, Christmas parties, and such. I vividly remember two such parties. One was Steve’s 50th birthday, the other in July after a huge derecho hit the county. The temps were around 100 degrees and power was out everywhere, Steve still had his 4th of July party. And it was fantastic!

Steve (left) with one of his best friends, Tom Saunders just after a 2008 turkey hunt. Steve and Tom spent many days hunting and teaching others how to hunt.

Though Steve wasn’t responsible for teaching my wife Yvette how to hunt, he was the spark that got her interested. One of Steve’s very best friends, Tom Saunders, actually took Yvette under his wing and made her a very good hunter. But that started with Yvette being introduced to all of the amazing meals we had with Steve. Many from hunts he’d been on.

Steve in this photo from June 2012. His wife Heidi shot this as he was sawing his way down Route 151 after a major windstorm (derecho) downed trees from Northern Virginia to the NC/VA state line. Steve was literally clearing the highway where people could make it down the road after the storm.

The Steve I personally knew and liked wasn’t so much the energetic business, brewing and building icon that many others knew of him. It was just the guy that would sit on the tailgate of his truck and look in awe of the mountains and say, “Don’t we live in a beautiful place?” Or when the derecho downed trees everywhere he could be found sawing his way down 151 with a making the way for others. Or just calling me (at 5:45 AM!! – he was an early riser!) just to chat about something he was thinking about.

After spending the first 10 years in the north part of Nelson County, we finally bought a farm on the other side just a mile or so from Steve. He and his family became neighbors. I would pass his house several times a day headed down the mountain into Nellysford. Never in. million years did I think I’d be passing there one day and looking to the right and knowing he was gone for good.

I won’t go into details here other than to say that cancer took Steve’s life. He shared a lot of details, and concerns in those early days after the diagnosis. Fear wasn’t one of them, at least not back then. Steve was full of life and he knew all things in nature have a shelf life, including him. If it was going to be his time, so be it. He wanted to pass at home and, thankfully, he got that wish.

The last time I saw Steve and got to talk to him in person was shortly after Thanksgiving 2020. His wife Heidi called and said they had a lot of pumpkins if we wanted them for the pigs. While I was loading them, Steve walked out and chatted for a bit before walking over to his side by side and took off with a friend to check some game cameras. I spoke once more to him by phone in early 2021 and that was it. He never said it outright, but I could tell it wasn’t good. I never saw or spoke to him again after that. But I never quit looking at that house and farm on the right every single day as I passed.

And I will never stop looking at that house and farm on the right ever single day as I pass. I’ll smile and remember you Steve and all of those great memories of the past.

See you on the other side my friend.

 

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The Friend I Never Got To Know

I barely got to know Sam. In a matter of months we first met, became friends, and just like that he was gone. No, he didn’t die, but it almost felt a little bit like he did.

For 7 years we’d put up with a less than desirable neighbor. When you have a neighbor out in the country you generally have a lot of property bordering each other. So, it’s either really good or nothing at all. Ours was the latter. So when the property finally sold and one of the people living there was Sam, I was ecstatic. Sam was this slow talker with a thick Texas accent. Every word had at least three syllables. But he was good as gold, with a golden heart to match.

Sam was old school. And that, was just fine. He often quoted scripture. He was a brilliant cabinet maker and custom woodworker, turning out some of the most beautiful work I’ve ever seen. He’d often stroll down from the pine woods bordering our property when he’d hear me on the tractor. We’d have long conversations about current times, people and yes, Texas. Sam never quite felt at home in the Virginia Blue Ridge. Wind and snow didn’t help as we were transitioning from winter to spring. He missed those hot Texas days and many of his Texas friends. It was complicated too, I’ll leave it there. But …  Sam was my friend. Yvette had become really fond of Sam too.

I got a text one morning from Sam. He came in to load up some gear he was taking back to Texas. He said, “Hey I left you something on you back porch to remember me by!” I never got to see Sam in person before he headed back. I wish I had, I wanted to shake his hand, give him a hug, and a proper thank you. Don’t get me wrong his other friends that live there now are fine people and are truly wonderful neighbors, but I’ll always miss Sam dropping by to say, “howdy.”

That photo above is what Sam left on our back porch last week. It’s a custom made Texas star from wood collected out of a barn built in 1890. Sam used to make them back in Texas. He had a slogan for people he sold them to. “We can’t make you a celebrity, but we can make you a star!”

It was a perfect gift and a perfect reminder of the friend I sort of got to know. I’ll look at it often and remember those great conversations sitting on the tractor talking forever about life, God, and so much more.

You were a good one Sam and I’m glad we got the chance to meet. You truly are a star.

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10 Years Ago Today TV News Lost A Legend. I Lost My Friend : Remembering Doug Viar

Doug and his wife Margaret during a visit they made to see us here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. June 2007

Ten years ago on this very day Doug Viar died. I’ve written a similar post to this one every year on the anniversary date of his death. I can’t believe it’s already been a decade.

This year’s anniversary remembrance was going to be different. I was coordinating a get together back in Memphis with some of the still remaining news people that worked with or remember Doug. Thanks to Covid that’s not happening. Doug wouldn’t have wanted us to make a fuss over him anyway, but he’d also be mighty pissed that people are refusing to live their lives now. He would be saying something like this. “People better get on with their lives. We aren’t here forever!” He would know. He died at just 69 years old. He was watching severe weather that had been developing that morning. Got up to go to the kitchen and dropped dead. Given the alternative of lingering in some horrible state, I assure you Doug would have wanted to go that way versus the alternatives.

Above, his voice became so familiar to those living in the mid-south. Doug was a real newsman. He would completely laugh at what’s become of the TV news business today. Heck, he was already making fun of most of it as he was leaving.

Doug and I met when I was a teenager. He finally hired me as a DJ at country music radio station back in the late 70s. That’s where I finally got to do a little news too. Guess you could say that was the start of my broadcasting news career.

Where my broadcasting career all began back at this tiny 1000 watt (daytime) 500 at night country AM radio station. WDSG in NW-TN Now dark for over a decade. – We played actual vinyl albums and 45’s. Bumper ID’s and commercials were cart machines. Zero automation! But some really good memories there! Circa late 70’s ish. Doug Viar was the station manager that hired me there.

Photo courtesy of Clayton Hayes. There’s me, Tod Hayes (left) and the late Doug Viar covering a presidential visit by Bill Clinton back in the mid 90s in Northwestern Tennessee. Dyer County.

Doug was a serious newsman, but didn’t like to be serious all of the time. He knew how to have fun for sure.

Above that’s Doug back in the early 80s trying to do the into for a television magazine show he produced and appeared in. It’s one of the funnest moments I remember. He simply couldn’t get the words out!

Doug was admired professionally all across the industry. Nationally and locally. One of my former weather colleagues from Memphis, Tennessee station WMC-TV said there was none other like Doug.

“I worked many remote shots with Doug Viar running the satellite truck. He was the consummate pro. We never missed a time slot and the feed was always flawless. I had enormous respect for Doug and found him very easy to work with. We lost him way too soon.” Dave Brown, retired Chief Meteorologist, WMC-TV Action News 5

That’s Doug on the far right with Dave Brown and his wife Margaret. Dave believes this may have been at Jack & Shirley Parnell’s 50th Anniversary in Memphis.

Once I moved to the Virginia Blue Ridge back in 2004 Doug and I didn’t get to see each other as often as we once did. But whenever we got the chance, to visit we did. We talked several times a week. I remain good friends with his wife Margaret and his daughters Lori and Michelle. Also I stay in touch with his brother, George. Ironically George was my flight instructor back in 1980. Little did I know Doug , also a pilot, and I would fly hundreds of hours together chasing news stories all over the mid-south and Southeastern U.S.

Doug and me during a visit at a local restaurant in Dyer County, TN in May 2007. I was back visiting friends and relatives at the time. We always made it a point to see one another the I was back that way.

10 years is a long time. I miss being able to pickup the phone and ask Doug what he’d think about all of the stuff happening these days. I know what he would say, but I won’t say it here. Whenever I see severe weather breaking out, or a prison break, or an airplane taking off into the sky, I think of Doug, There’s probably not a single day that goes by that I don’t have a memory of some story we went on. A missile silo that exploded, a plane crash, a barge accident, a murder, a manhunt, or dozens of other stories we covered together over the years.

I learned lots from Doug, and I hope I’ve been able to pass just a little of that on to news people of today.

See you on the other side one day Doug.

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I Knew This Day Would Eventually Come – Happy Trails Printed Blue Ridge Life Magazine

A much younger Tommy & Yvette. This was our first publisher’s photo in April 2005. It was taken a few months before at Kris Kringle / Saunders Christmas Tree Farm in December 2004.

Roseland
Nelson County, Virginia
By Tommy Stafford

It’s amazing how fast 16 years can go by when you’re an adult, and you’re adulting. Not so much when you’re a kid and you’re waiting on the 16th birthday so you can drive! April 1, 2021 makes 16 years to the day we launched then Nelson County Life Magazine which was later rebranded as Blue Ridge Life Magazine.

Our first cover of then Nelson County Life Magazine back on April 1, 2005. To the right our first publishers statement when we just began. Click on the image above read the very first From The Publishers.

Back then there were a few wineries here in Nelson. No breweries. No distilleries. And other than a hand-full of long-established local eating places, the only other dining option was Wintergreen Resort. The resort has already sold twice since those days and is now leased and managed out of Utah.

Back then we didn’t have kids and spent most of our days renovating a 1900s farm house we’d bought in Greenfield the year before in 2004. When finished up for the day we’d either get a pizza from the old Ashley’s Market nearby or head up the road to D’Ambolas Italian Restaurant to eat.

Yvette in March of 2006 renovating our first house here in Nelson County. She was building bookshelves in what would eventually become the parlor. We sold that house after 10 years in Greenfield and bought our current farm in Roseland in 2014.

Our path to starting the magazine was a bit curvy, with lots of twists and turns, much like the mountain roads we drive today here in Nelson. We met in the TV news business back in Tennessee and continued reporting into the early 2000s in Memphis.

Circa 2000. Yvette and me on the set of Action News 5 (WMC-TV) the NBC affiliate in Memphis, TN where we both reported and I did occasional weather. This was about 3-4 years before we left the TV news business permanently.

At the same time we were developing an exit strategy from that business. It was certainly better then vs now, but not by much. We literally sold drinking jars on the internet to get out of the news business to be able to buy our first home here in Virginia.

There we are almost two decades ago. October 2002. NW Tennessee. We literally sold drinking jars with handles and canning jars on the internet. This was just a small part of the inventory. The company we founded was RuralRoot.

We sold that company, RuralRoot, about a year after moving to Nelson in 2004. It’s long since closed down. But the couple we sold it to did a great job with it until the markets changed. (Google, Wal-Mart and the like took it out several years later.)

We launched Nelson County Life Magazine on April 1, 2005. Facebook had technically started just a year before, but was barely heard of back then and had no advertising component at all. Today Facebook dominates (for bad or good) advertising markets. Cheap $20 ads that target specific places. Local print advertising isn’t over, but it’s on life support in a lot of places. In spite of its downsides – and there are many – Facebook is good medium to share info and stay in touch. Most of you got to this article because it was posted in social media and led you here.

A few years after NCL started we realized we needed to broaden the reach. We’d boxed ourselves in with advertisers and stories. We rebranded the magazine to Blue Ridge Life starting with the January 2013 issue. It was well received and it took off!

We survived the housing bust of 2008. That almost took us out. In just a month more than a third of our revenue disappeared. It took five years to get back to where we were. But we did by 2013. Because Yvette and I had started the business from scratch, we’d done every single job there was to do, from delivering magazines, to taking photos, to laying it out and selling all of the ads. So when 2008 happened we went back to the basics, survived, kept hunting unique story ideas, and kept publishing.

August 2011, Brian Shanks (L) and John Washburn, founders of Bold Rock Hard Cider stand on the original grounds of the cider barn construction. In the coming years the operation would double in size time and time again. The local company eventually sold to a large adult beverage corporation.

When a new brewery or eating establishment was planned, we were there. From the time the footers were poured, to the roof going on, until they were in operation. Many of those establishments advertised, but as they were sold off to corporations, they dropped off. It was an evolution, and a predictable one.

October 2008. Jason Oliver, Head Brewmaster for Devils Backbone Brewing,  stands behind the bar under construction. Nelson’s second brewery would open to the public several weeks later. The entire operation eventually sold to Anheuser-Busch Companies, a division of InBev.

 

December 2006 – Blue Mountain Brewery founders Matt Nucci, Taylor Smack, and Mandi Smack look over the property where Nelson County’s first brewery would open about a year later in October 2007. Blue Mountain continues today as a locally owned brewery.

As the years ticked by, digital media grew. It began taking more and more of our market share. But there was still place for a printed magazine like BRL, especially in a big tourist location such as Nelson. It was actually the only way to get the message out to some in a county with still-sparse internet in places. It remained highly successful.

Enter the Covid scare of 2020 which essentially shut down all restaurant and hospitality organizations for weeks. They still aren’t back at full operation today. What was left standing of those businesses greatly curtailed or eliminated their advertising dollars.

Enough of how we got there. We. Are. Here.

Within the last two years we knew this day was approaching. Long before any of us heard of covid. We were already looking for the right time to exit. We learned from previous businesses, to leave when you’re strong, not limping over the finish line. In early 2021 we made the decision to end run with BRL on issue 200 in November. We could take our time to fondly reflect over the past 16 years and land nicely just in time for the holidays. A way to take plenty of time to say, “so long.”

Then a few weeks ago one of our large advertisers decided to not renew their advertising contract. This meant the loss of big money. We’d already been propping up the magazine in some months with money from other companies. So we decided that instead of limping over the finish line as discussed above, we’d finish strong. April 2021 would be our last issue. Exactly 16 years after we started.

Photo By Kate Simon : You’ve become accustomed to seeing our family in the publisher’s photo each month for 16 years. This was one of our final ones taken in March 2021.

So this is it, folks, for the printed edition. The website (blueridgelife.com) will continue for the foreseeable future. We continue to use the Blue Ridge Life Magazine brand. I’ll be maintaining it mainly for breaking news and weather information, as we’ve always done. We all remember that derecho!!  Our smartphone app will continue as well, along with our social media pages. They all have thousands and thousands of followers and I won’t be pulling the plug anytime soon. Yvette’s real estate business is soaring and I have more than enough on the farm and handling soon-to-be teenagers!

We cannot adequately express our gratitude to each and every one of you for the past 16 years.  You and the advertisers are the reason for the magazine’s success. You always saw us out front, but there are countless people behind the scenes over the years that made it happen. Names like Jennie Tal Williams, Paul Purpura, Diana Garland, Marcie Gates, Hayley Osborne, Kat Turner, Lisa Davis, Stephanie Gross, Kate Simon, Victoria Godfrey, Elizabeth Ferrall, Woody Greenberg, Lynn Coffey, Mary Withers, Chet White, Lee Luther, Olivia Carter, Kim Chappell, Rachel Ryan, Ray Whitson, Woody Elliot, Earl Hamner, Jr, Norm Shafer, Joanie Dodd, Christina Kline, to name a few. There are so many more over the 16 years who I can’t remember right now, but you mattered just as much.

September 26, 2013 marked the final publication of The Hook that was launched back in 2002. Hawes Spencer the publisher was a loyal confidant in helping us get our start at BRL.

I have a couple of others I want point out. Hawes Spencer. Former publisher of the now shuttered, The Hook. Hawes had no clue who we were and offered all kinds of advice to help get us started. He never asked for a thing in return. He just wanted to see us succeed.

Steve Crandall in this photo I took back in May 2006. This is the exact field where Devils Backbone Brewing stands today. Steve told me not long after we met in late 2004 that he dreamed of having a brewery there one day.

Steve Crandall of Roseland. Steve was our first advertiser when he was still running Tectonics II. His son Justin has taken over that business today. Steve bought an entire year of advertising the first day we launched back in 2005 and paid the whole thing on the spot! He took it on faith. He didn’t really know us either. We have never forgotten that. Years later after founding Devils Backbone, we all prospered once again. Though it was a tough ride those first few years.

Finally and most importantly: my wife, Yvette. All 193 issues you have read, she put together. Through derechos, blizzards, child birth, illnesses, she never, ever missed a single deadline. Not one. That’s unheard of. But then again, that’s Yvette. She deserves the rest, and the praise.

Yvette back in November 2006 with our rescue kitty Angelo. She was busy laying out one of the early issues. Our final issue of April 2021 marks issue 193.

For me personally, I will echo what Charles Kuralt said on his final broadcast of CBS Sunday morning back in the mid-1990s.  (Here’s a link to that Kuralt final broadcast by the way. It’s a fantastic farewell.) It’s also in the final printed April 2021 issue. I echoed those thoughts to our longtime writer and friend, Victoria Godfrey, in our very last story. Here, it’s in the caption from the image below which was taken in my favorite place, Pinecone Land. Our daughter Peyton named it that when she was about 4 years old.

“Time for us to part, you and I. Saying goodbye to the viewers of “Sunday Morning” is like saying goodbye to old friends. That’s the way I feel. Thank you for making me feel that way. I aim to do some traveling and reading and writing and to watch this program the civilized way for a change: in my bathrobe while having breakfast.
“There is a rhyme by Clarence Day which says what I want to say: ‘Farewell, my friends, farewell and hail; I’m off to seek the holy grail; I cannot tell you why; remember, please when I am gone, ‘twas aspiration led me on; tiddly-widdly-toodle-oo, all I want is to stay with you, but here I go, goodbye.’”

As Yvette said in our final From The Publishers, “This isn’t good-bye.”

Stay Tuned. 

 

 

 

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Processing Day

I always take a photo a day or two before the pigs leave. I always want to remember them back on the farm. They become very loyal over time. That’s what makes their final day so hard.

Roseland
Nelson County, Virginia

The day the pigs leave the farm to go to the processor is always a tough one. Let’s just call it what it is. It’s the kill date. Processor just makes it sound nicer. I was around this sort of thing during my childhood back in Tennessee but never was involved so much on a personal basis like here in Virginia. We’ve raised hogs for food for almost all of the 7 years since we sold our other house up the road and bought here. This particular day never gets easier. When we started, it was Yvette’s idea. I really wasn’t interested in going back to livestock on the farm. It’s a lot of work. Before, during and after. But it’s always so satisfying knowing you’ve grown and provided your own food. Now more than ever before. As the months ticked by Yvette became so busy I had to take on more of the involvement until I finally took it over completely. And have grown fond of it again! When you get pigs just a month or so old them and raise them till they are ready for slaughter, you can’t help but get attached some. If you don’t. You’re not human or you lack a soul. I commend those farmers who slaughter on site. It’s not easy, mentally or physically.

Right after getting back to the farm from picking up the pigs over in Madison. October 2020.

A fellow farming friend of mine, Elizabeth Van Deventer over on Davis Creek, always helped me out this on perspective. She has lots of livestock and poultry. She always thanks the animal for their life and what they provide. A prayer if you will for each one.

Elizabeth Van Deventer in a story about her farming techniques. This was back in 2010. You can click on that magazine cover above to read her story and how she feels about the right way to raise animals.

I’ve done the same here. I did it today before the pigs left. I know Yvette does when she slaughters chickens. Each one. They are to be respected. Appreciated. Honored. Confined industrial feed operations are horrible and are as far removed from how livestock should be raised. These animals have open spaces and fresh pasture. The end is nearly the same. The in-between is not.

As the trailer leaves the farm headed for the processor. March 19, 2021.

Today Yvette drove the pigs to their final destination. After spending every single day in with them I didn’t have the heart. From picking them up as little pigs to feeding and moving them in storms, wind, and snows. They look up to you to provide. Having your own meat is rewarding. But if your head is on straight and your heart is right, you never gloat on this particular final day.

Now the removal of temporary electric fencing begins. Removing the shelter, and replanting the pasture for the coming season.

It’s strange when you walk back into the field to remove the feeders, the housing, the fencing. It’s quiet. Strangely eerie. With spring coming now it’s time to till up the ground where the pigs once were and plant new pasture. The hot days of summer are ahead, and I’ll be bush hogging the pasture a lot in the coming months. With each pass. I’ll remember each of the animals raised here and honor their memory.

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Godspeed My Friend & Fellow Pilot, Steve Shannon

Steve back in early December 2001 doing what he loved to do most. Piloting across the Mississippi River bottoms of Western Tennessee.

Dyer County, Tennessee

I was sitting in my favorite Mexican restaurant here the mountains of Virginia when I got the message from a mutual friend Joe Markham down in Florida. “Steve Shannon died this morning.” Within a minute I had a message from his daughter Stephene telling me the same thing. How do you describe Steve Shannon? It’s hard to do, but I’ll try my best.

For years when I was piloting TV news tapes all around the mid-south in a private plane Steve would often ride co-pilot just to hang out and enjoy the flight. I enjoyed the company since many of those flights were by myself. I’d made the routes so many times it got major boring at times. Years later Steve had the bug and got his own pilot’s license. He mainly flew for fun in a Piper J-3 Cub that his brother in law at the time had. I eventually even had Steve fly me in that plane when I needed some aerials from a nice low and slow plane.

The only time I had a near death experience in an airplane Steve was with me. As was his daughter Stephane mentioned above. She was about 14 at the time. It was just a few days before Christmas in 1984. I’d flown from the Dyersburg, TN airport (KDYR) to the Jackson, TN airport (KMKL) to pickup a news tape from the late Doug Viar. From there I was to fly it down to Memphis and drop it off at the Downtown DeWitt Spain airport (KM01) right on the Mississippi River. From there a cab would take it to the station to air. Then we’d take off and head back home to Dyersburg. I’d made the flight dozens of times. Uneventful. This time we’d just climbed out to about 3500′ and headed into a fleeting sunset as the night lights starting coming up. Then the engine started coughing violently. Though it never quit, I had no power. Nothing worked. His daughter Stephanie in the back understandable got scared and started crying. Steve who had just lit a cigarette and settled into the pretty night ride dropped his cigarette in floor of the plane when the coughing motor startled him. I made a gentle turn back to the airport in hopes to make the runway. If I didn’t it was going to be Interstate 40, at night! Yikes! We’ve made it back and had to be towed off the runway. Lucky. We all laughed eventually but knew we were damn lucky.

Steve back in 2001 fueling up the plane for us to take a short trip over backwater in the river bottoms.

Steve and I were business partners for years. Steve didn’t play. He was as generous as they come, but also had zero tolerance for bureaucratic BS. My wife’s nickname for him was always Sneaky Bastard. She was right when she said Steve wasn’t always the most articulate, but he was damn good in the trenches. And he was. From tower projects, to two way radio systems, to founding a major alarm company, to being a reserve deputy and constable that would ride with me at night when I was a cop, Steve had his hands in just about everything. Steve taught me to water ski. He helped me become a better pilot. How to navigate life and not take BS from people that dished it out.

I haven’t seen Steve in person in probably 10 years. The last time was right after he’d been recovering from one of his many heart surgeries. Steve smoked a lot. I mean a lot. When we met up that day, we had BBQ and French fries. He had a cigarette after lunch. That was Steve, hard headed but solid. Good in the trenches. Yes, Yes he was.

As we say in flying when the skies are clear blue, “Rest easy Steve. Severe clear ahead!”

It was a mighty good run Steve, glad I was along for some of the ride.

 

 

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Happy Trails Meteorologist David Reese!

Meteorologist David Reese in the CBS19 Weather Center snacking on some raisins during severe weather coverage back in April of 2018. David leaves his post at CBS 19 next month. He heads to a position with the National Weather Service in Brownsville, Texas.

Charlottesville, VA > Brownsville, TX

If I’ve learned anything from my stint of 20 years back in the TV News business, it’s this. You’ll make a lot of great friends, but don’t get used to them hanging around too long. Folks come and go. A lot. They move to other TV markets or totally out of the business. My former weather colleague Meteorologist David Reese is one of those leaving the TV side of the business and headed for the National Weather Service next month. NWS just got damn lucky. Really lucky. David is absolutely one of the best mets I’ve ever met. (see what I did!)

David told me a few weeks ago he’d gotten a position with NWS in Brownsville, TX, but Tuesday he announced it to the Twittersphere and his viewers in the tweet above.

I never got my meteorology degree. I was one of those weather guessers from another era where the emphasis wasn’t so much on the science as it was the presentation. David is the real deal. And he’s never failed to show how well he understands meteorology. He’s brilliant. And though he’s a weather science nerd, he’s absolutely one of the nicest and down to earth people you’ll ever meet.

Me in the foreground alongside former CBS19 Meteorologist Jack Durkin (L) and soon departing CBS19 Meteorologist David Reese. I had to honor and pleasure to work with David and Jack for a number of years when I was a relief weather guesser at CBS19 from March 2014 until December 2019. In this photo we’d just finished up some severe weather coverage in 2019. Jack literally drove back in that day in his flannel from a trip to his home state of NY!

Ironically David and I started at CBS19 about the same time. He already knew the weather systems we were using at the station. He was a tremendous help on coaching me through some newer technology. I’d been away from on air weather for a decade (used to do it some back in Memphis) when I stepped back in to do fill-in at CBS19. David’s patience with me is something I will never forget. And, his excitement to teach and watch an old dog learn new tricks! Between he and Chief Meteorologist Travis Koshko they got me up to speed after being away for so long.

I’m sure I’ll still stay in touch with David once he settles in Brownsville NWS. I continue to stay in touch from others that have left CBS19 and all of my formers stations all the way back to the late 80s and early 90s. But, it will feel a bit different knowing David isn’t looking at the skies and models for the Blue Ridge. He mastered forecasting here in an environment that can be one of the trickiest in the country!

David, happy trails to you. I started this post by saying NWS Brownsville is lucky to get you. And in a few weeks, they will learn just how lucky. Good luck down there and we’ll be looking for your name on a few NWS products in the not too distant future!

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I Think I Know How My Dad May Have Felt When Paul Harvey Died. And Why

There I am as a youngster on the farm. That’s my pinto horse named Apache. This would have been around 1970 ish. To the left is my late father’s blue Chevy pickup that I remember hearing Paul Harvey playing in everyday we would ride around the farm or on my way to school.

Northwestern Tennessee

Growing up on the farm back in rural west Tennessee I always remember Paul Harvey being a mainstay on the AM radio in my dad’s old blue Chevy truck. He’d take me and my brother and sister to school in. We lived out in the county, but my parents made the drive everyday into town to take us to the city schools.

Paul Harvey was a radio icon. He was born in Oklahoma and became one of the most widely listened to commentators on radio between 1951 to 2009. Those who remember him know what The Rest of The Story means and that famous sign off, Good Day! His last broadcast was February 16, 2009. You could hear the shakiness in his voice. He was tired, but still going at it. Just a dozen days later he died.

My dad was still around when Harvey died, Though he was in his twilight years, I know he was saddened by his passing. He probably reflected back all of those hot summer days working on the farm. Putting up fences with the truck door open listen to Paul Harvey. There was a certain comfort in having something routine day in and day out as you go about life. That was Paul Harvey on the radio. For me it was sort of neat to hear it all of the time even as a kid. I can still hear his voice as my dad drove us down that dusty gravel road leading us to the house. The July humidity so thick you could barely breath.

This past week almost 12 years to the exact date another mainstay radio legend passed on. Rush Limbaugh died on February 17, 2021.

 

Make absolutely no mistake, Harvey & Limbaugh were vastly different in their delivery and approach. But both earned a well deserved position in their broadcasting careers. Say what you want about the man, but having 22 million listeners is nothing to sneeze at. Much like Harvey was the mainstay in the background to my dad, Limbaugh became that to me. When I was piloting tapes back and forth to TV stations I’d tune in an AM station on the non directional beacon received in the airplane with Limbaugh playing as I was making the trip. When I was zigzagging across the mid-south covering tornados, prison breaks or whatever, talk radio stations had Rush on the air.

Ironically, Limbaugh grew up not that far away from me. In nearby Cape Girardeau in Southern Missouri. That was across the Mississippi River from me and up Interstate 55 a couple of hours. Like me he got his start in radio, was fired a few times, but eventually became the conservative radio mogul of the AM airwaves. He essentially saved AM radio from a sure death as FM radio was front and center and direct delivery was gearing up.

That’s me back at WDGS AM 1450 in about 1979. It was a little 1000 watt station where I got my start in far NW-TN. It was best known for it’s county music and Cardinal Baseball. Even talk radio couldn’t save it. A couple of decades later it went dark.

To understand the impact of Limbaugh, you almost had to come from the business. We all knew we were living in our final glory days before Limbaugh was ever known. There were signs AM radio was dying a slow death and Limbaugh pretty much came riding in on a white horse.

Mid-South News legend, mentor & friend the late Doug Viar (L) in this photo with me back in 2007. We were catching up at Neil’s restaurant in Dyersburg, TN about three years after I’d moved to Virginia permanently. Little did I know four years later, Doug would be gone.

His death didn’t hit me anything like that of my friend, mentor, fellow pilot and broadcasting legend Doug Viar. He will have been gone for a decade this April 2021. Doug, too, was a fan of Limbaugh and appreciated the climb he made to success. It wasn’t easy and we all know it, because we’d been there.

I’m not here to discuss Limbaugh’s politics. Heck I’m not even party affiliated anymore. Years ago I was a republican, but I left during Bush II’s second term. The Patriot Act and infringements were too much coming from a party that talked independence and freedom. While certainly not a democrat any day, I can’t say libertarians would be a great fit either, though I have voted for their candidates a couple times in the last 10 years.

I do think the vitriol slung at Limbaugh’s death by some is horrible. It speaks volumes about their personal character and an emptiness in their hearts. But again to each his own and I respect and defend free speech and a person’s right to express that. Always.

I am not sure who can fill the shoes of Limbaugh. I don’t think his wife is the person, but who knows. Maybe. One of the daily guest hosts, perhaps. It maybe someone we don’t even know. I am pretty sure Rush already addressed this before his death. I am betting he did a farewell message as well, but it’s yet to be released.

Regardless, the talk radio airwaves have a strange silence to them these days, no doubt.

 

 

 

 

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See Ya Facebook!

Leaving Facebook and other forms of social media platforms was long overdue. Over this weekend I will share more as to why I made this decision.

I’ve tried to breakup with Facebook so many times in the past I can’t even remember them all. Today I have. This website, texting, emails, phone calls, and of course most importantly in person, will become my primary format for communicating with friends and others.

I’ve just seen how divisive Facebook has become and how it’s made enemies out of people that used to be friends. I’ll openly admit I’ve seen the sides of people this past year that are pretty ugly. Unattractive and qualities I just don’t share. Sadly, or maybe no so sadly I have distanced myself from those negative types.

I’ll be updating here on my own webpage more in the coming months. It already feels better. Facebook will be deleted this week at some point after I have retrieved some of my photos. Twitter is next.

Until then, remember. Hug your fellow human, kiss. Play and laugh. Don’t let this ridiculous behavior we have all be fed continue. Be human again, live life and love.

Be well.

 

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Dodging The Bullet. Lesson Learned.

The halls I walked to stay as fit as I could. This was my view for a few days after my initial operation at a local surgery center. I was emergency admitted to Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville after developing a severe infection that was going into sepsis. I cannot sing enough praise to those at MJH who literally figured out, on the fly, what was happening and saved my life. More on their greatness down below.

Albemarle / Nelson County, VA

To say I dodged a bullet would be accurate. For several years I’ve needed to get a nagging hernia repaired. Essentially that’s a torn lower abdominal muscle. It wasn’t big, wasn’t really showing (only really found on ultrasound) and rarely caused any noticeable pain. Most that know me, know I’ve gotten into fitness over the past several years. In August I ran more and more topping 50 miles in a month. For me that was significant. This past summer the hernia would bother me more and more after runs and just the normal lifting and labor I do here on the farm. Then a physical exam in the early fall found I had actually developed another one on the other side. I was likely overcompensating for the torn muscle. The decision was eventually made to fix them both.

For a year or two I’d been researching how to have the hernia surgery done without having mesh put in as a means of fixing it. Few places do it and almost no surgeons locally do. But I managed to find Dr. William McKibben in Fishersville that would consider it. If possible. Though, after lots of discussion,  he and I eventually decided mesh would be the best. As active as I am and as much heavy lifting as I do, not to mention recovery from the surgery, it would be the way to go. It was minimally invasive, it would be done laparoscopically. That’s where small incisions are made and tools can be introduced to make the repairs and then the small cuts are sewn up. Recovery is far less than typical surgery where they cut you open. The next question is where to have the surgery. Generally, all of my healthcare has been through Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital system. But my own search for a “mesh-less” surgeon led me elsewhere. Dr. McKibben was on staff at Augusta Medical Center and also on staff at Monticello Surgery Center in Charlottesville. I was frankly, being frugal as well, since we end up having to pay lots of the costs out of pocket due to the current state of healthcare over the past several years. I’d had surgery in Augusta a decade before and they are a fine facility. No question. But when I went to ask about exact costs for the procedures I couldn’t get an answer. They would not furnish me with the costs of what I was having done. That coupled with knowing that a surgery center would be far less, and they gave me exact costs, led me there.

I want to say up front, Monticello Surgery Center was very professional. These are seasoned nurses, surgeons, etc. You never feel that your care is less than top notch. My surgery was same day in around 12:15 PM for the surgery and on way home by 5 or so that afternoon after recovery. The surgery went flawlessly. One detail in surgery is what set me on the path you are about to read. Since I was on the table for about 2.5 hours, it was decided to place what’s called a foley catheter in my bladder. Yeah, it’s not glamourous. It’s pushed in through the end of your business and up into the bladder. But since you are having IV fluids dripping the entire time the pee has to go somewhere! Thankfully the entrance into said business and for the pull out of said business, I was already put to sleep. A good thing! I was released with a painkiller prescription and sent home to recover.  My wife had it filled, and off we went an hour away back to the farm to settle into recovery for the coming days.

My wonderful wife Yvette picking me up at the door just after surgery at Monticello Surgery Center in Charlottesville. We were headed home for the 45 mile drive to what we though would be a normal recovery in the coming days. She has been my rock through all of this. I simply couldn’t have made it without her.

I had typical post surgical pain, and initially some pain when peeing. But I thought, “Hey they just shoved a hose up my junk, it’s probably gonna be sore.” By the next day it was better and so was the surgery, I was less sore and didn’t require any painkillers about 48 hours out on Friday. I was mobile and things were improving. Until they weren’t …..

So there I am in the ER at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in the early morning hours of Saturday – November 21st. A picture of what was unfolding was becoming clearer. A severe infection most likely introduced by the urinary catheter in surgery was transitioning into early sepsis. That means entering the bloodstream. A serious and life threatening medical emergency.

Just after we’d finished supper on Friday night and were mini-celebrating a good day,  began having some burning in my urinary track. By the hour it worsened, greatly. By 10 to 11 PM it unbearable and I began having severe chills. (Rigors) Something wasn’t right. My wife had briefly nodded off while I was frantically trying to locate an emergency after hours phone number for my surgeon. The one listed on my discharge form from the surgery center was his office. There was no after hours answering service. I left a message, which ironically wasn’t heard until “normal business hours” on Monday. I called the surgery center for emergency info. Nothing there, if it’s an emergency with your surgery call the number your surgeon gave you. Yeah, really? I even tried to reach the anesthesiologist that put me to sleep. Her number was listed but the voice mailbox was full and hadn’t been checked in days. By now my wife was up again and saw what I was doing. I said you know, my surgeon is also on staff at Augusta Health, they didn’t do this surgery but maybe they have a way to reach him. Eventually their own on call surgeon did call us, and really didn’t offer much. It wasn’t his case and it didn’t take place at that hospital. He did say my surgeon would be on call later in the morning and he’d pass the message along. “Thanks.”

With no other options I then called for my own primary care physician at Martha Jefferson. I didn’t actually expect to get my doc but knew I’d get somebody. I did and when I described what was happening he said, do not screw around with this. “Get to the ER. “These things have a way of spiraling out of control very quickly just after surgery.” He was so very right. With roughly an hour drive ahead of us my wife loaded me into the truck and headed toward Martha Jefferson ER from here in Nelson County.

We arrived around 1:30 AM give or take an hour, I can’t remember. I was taken back within 10 minutes and the staff there immediately jumped on this. Once Dr. Erin Talman of the staff there saw what was up, she said,, “I don’t like your heart rate, and I don’t like your blood.” Mind you I am an active runner with a resting heart rate of 50-55 BPM and resting in the ER I was at 110 BPM. She didn’t like the initial lab work and suspected I had an aggressive infection in the urinary tract that had begun migrating to the blood stream. In fact it had as later tests confirmed. I was admitted. I later learned that my physical fitness probably helped me over this rather than becoming more serious.

For parts of three days this was my view from my hospital bed at MJH as they were giving me IV antibiotics to fight the infection that was in early stages of sepsis. I was able to get up and walk to hospital halls and did as often as I felt like it.

Once I settled in at the hospital on the floor at 3rd Cornell I was placed into the care of the staff physician there. Dr. Nicholas Brandt was a true professional with the bedside manner of any nice relative you might have. He personally called often to check on me, made sure every question and need was met. The nurses there were spectacular. There was Brittany the first fully day, then Susan at night. Marcie and Candi came in on the final day I was. I’ve never had such great care before.

The meals were amazing. I couldn’t believe this was hospital food. I’ve been to nice restaurants where it wasn’t as good. Every single detail from the ER to the discharge was perfect. To be as sick as I was, the experience was absolute the best you could expect!

A rare indulgence. I was able to watch some of my former news and weather colleagues over at CBS19 doing their morning show, For five years I did as needed on air weather there until December of 2019. I’d done TV weather in as part of another career over a decade earlier back in Memphis.

Eventually Dr. Brandt and the entire staff at MJH got the infection under control enough to send me home and finish up on pills by mouth. I was tested to see if I could take one I was mildly allergic to years before and it didn’t show any signs there. I was released!

My beautiful wife Yvette as I was discharged and leaving MJH on Monday afternoon November 23rd.

From here we picked up prescriptions and headed out on the 45 mile drive back to the farm. But, by Tuesday I was starting to have an allergic reaction to my oral antibiotic. The on call doc for MJH said stop it now. I already had a followup appointment with my own MJH doctor the next day. By the time I got to Dr. Steve Schmitz’s office that Wednesday afternoon the bacterial infection was already regaining some of it’s foothold from being off of antibiotics. “Dr. Steve” as we all call him jumped right in as he always does and figured a plan of action. He knew the bacteria was sensitive to the antibiotics I was getting in the hospital, so he needed to duplicate that in the field in his office. Otherwise I was headed back to the hospital. He was able to mix an injectable form of the antibiotic and hit me in my butt to kickstart the treatment. Then we needed to find an oral form of that antibiotic as closely matched as we could.

Me on the table in Dr. Steve Schmitz’s office in Afton, Virginia on November 25, 2020. I’ve been a patient of Dr. Steve’s since he began practice with Dr. Bob Raynor in the early 2000’s. Steve is a total gentleman doc with a thoroughness and gentleness that’s rarely seen these days.

Knowing he would, Dr. Steve found a good match. We got the prescription filled and headed back home, this time just a few minutes away, not an hour. Friends of mine had been praying for my recovery. I was humbled and honestly mentally broken. I’d had very little sleep in a week and the close call earlier in the week had wiped me out.

Over the next few days my condition improved dramatically. It was night and day. My energy returned there was zero pain from surgery and my mobility was back. Other than finishing out a few more days of oral antibiotics, I should be ok and fully recovered.

In the beginning I mentioned a lesson learned. Remember, this is my experience. That doesn’t mean there aren’t just as many great experiences. As a matter of fact, I’d give my surgeon and the surgery itself 5 stars on the procedure. I’d give him a F on followthrough. Ditto the surgery center.

When you have major surgery, you should be able to reach your surgeon when you have a an issue after hours. Being given an office number with an answering machine that isn’t monitored doesn’t cut it. Though the surgery center did make a routine call to check on me the next day, that was it, and it felt more of a formality than anything else. So they could check the box. As far as I know my surgeon never reached out to the docs at MJH to even confer with them about my situation even once he actually knew. Unacceptable. Conversely, the staff, all of them at MJH, were top notch. On top of it from the time I hit the ER to the time I have been at home.

What have I learned from all of this? Next time I have surgery, especially one that’s major, I’ll be having it done at the hospital. While I initially saved money by using a surgery center, that will probably end up costing me thousands more vs just having it done in a hospital outpatient setting. The continuity of care just isn’t there. Had this all been done under the roof at say either Augusta or MJH, there wouldn’t be this question of who was in charge, or where did this happen, it would be theirs to figure out. Period.

Most of all I am thankful to everyone at Martha Jefferson Hospital for what you did. And I mean everyone. From housekeeping to dietary, to the medical staff. You got me back home to those that matter most to me. And I to them.

My hat is off to the people of Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville and all of their affiliate staff and doctors. Well done, well done and thank you for getting me back to my family and what matters most!

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