All Hail! Uncle Norty…

Even though you have been gone for more than 50 years, I still to this day appreciate your guidance and wisdom. The advice you gave urging me to attend your alma mater Northeastern and experience the co-op opportunities, were invaluable. During my time spent in the late ’60s at Northeastern as an English major and on the editorial staff of the Northeastern News, I had the distinct privilege of meeting and interviewing some very famous people. I never realized how lucky I was. This column is dedicated to you.

Everyone knows Robert Downey Jr., but I interviewed his father, who starred in the infamous 1969 movie “Putney Swope.” Now that was one interesting actor and personality! Speaking of personalities and infamous movies, Liza Minnelli graciously allowed me to meet with her when she was publicizing her movie “The Sterile Cuckoo,” where she played Pookie, an unpredictable and kooky main character.

Robert Shaw was another actor I interviewed before his claim to fame as Quint, the shark hunter in “Jaws.” Full transparency, Uncle Norty, I was one of many reporters in his hotel suite at the Ritz-Carlton, where he drank scotch and chain-smoked cigarettes. He told us that he “always wanted to be a sex maniac and a politician.” I assume in that order.

Jerry Rubin, now more famous than ever because of the recent movie “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” came to speak at Northeastern and started with one of the great opening lines: “My Name is Johnny Cash. I’m glad to be at Northeastern Penitentiary.” He brought down the house!

Uncle Norty, do you remember when I went down to D.C. with other News staffers to cover the Vietnam protests? You told me to be careful, but nothing could have prepared me for the riot police, the tear gas, the mass arrests. I had never experienced, nor reported on, “such total fear. There was no escape, just people fighting people.”

But one of my most rewarding stories was covering the blue-ribbon opening of the first McDonald’s in Boston, on Huntington Avenue. For $.25, one could buy a hamburger, fries and a Coke. The line to get in snaked around the block. Now those were the days.

During my co-op semesters, I gained invaluable writing experience at the Hartford Courant, the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country. Starting with obituaries, I moved onto the copy desk, proofreading stories and writing headlines, and during my last stint there, wrote news and feature stories, most with my byline.

I interviewed a young woman, originally from Kenya, Africa, who came to the United States for high school, via the sponsorship of a local Baptist Church. We were the same age and became very friendly. At my urging, she applied for and was awarded a full scholarship to Northeastern, and we maintained a close relationship until she returned home many years later.

But one of my most profound experiences was in 1967, when Dr Martin Luther King Jr. came to Hartford and spoke at a testimonial dinner. He spoke of “two Americas. One flows with the milk of opportunity and the honey of dignity, but the ‘other’ America has a daily ugliness about it.”

What an honor it was to be in the same room as Dr. King.

Fast forward 50 years, and you may be surprised as to how my life evolved. First, I married a chemistry major from Northeastern, with whom I shared many connections and backgrounds. Two years later, we moved to Delaware, because that was where the science jobs were. I applied to our local newspaper as a reporter, but, for various reasons (primarily because I was a woman), it was not meant to be. Since I had a Master of Education degree, I was offered a position teaching reading, primarily because I was from Boston and sounded “smaht.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the 40+ years I spent teaching regular and special education English/Language Arts to high school students and adult learners. This was so ironic because I was never, ever, going to teach. My students faced significant challenges every day. Many came from dysfunctional families, had addictions, unexpected pregnancies and other impediments to their success. So, instead of reporting on social issues, I was directly involved in supporting and encouraging them.

We have three children, all professionals with advanced degrees, and three grandchildren, who are boisterous, brilliant and beautiful.

My life certainly did not turn out as expected. In fact, I never would have imagined the trajectory it took. Uncle Norty, you always told me to expect the unexpected and to never say “I should have, I could have, would have.”

You were absolutely right!