As a snot-nosed reporter fresh out of college and working the night shift at Las Vegas’ largest daily newspaper, I had three assignments – monitor the police scanner, re-write obits and dig up at least one story each week for the Saturday religion page. These were the jobs for the newest reporters in the 1970s.
Believe me, I could tell you some stories from that era. Holding down the night beat in Las Vegas in my 20’s felt like the stuff of movies. (Remind me to tell you about Frank Sinatra, Billy Graham and Johnny Weissmuller one day.)
The story I tell today is about the world’s moral icon Desmond Tutu, who passed away last week at 90. As you know, Desmond is known worldwide as a warrior against institutionalized racism in South Africa.
It was 1978. He was a little known Anglican priest in the U.S. to raise awareness about the evils of apartheid and investing in South Africa.
As I sat at my desk one late afternoon in the newsroom, one ear on the cop scanner and a stack of obits to write, the phone rang. It was a Methodist minister I had met casually at a Las Vegas Ministerial Association luncheon a few months back.
“You still need religion stories,” he asked.
“Always,” I said.
“Well go to Christ Church tonight and interview this South African priest. His name is Desmond Tutu. He’s going to be somebody one day.”
Of course, in 1978 there was no Google. I knew nothing about Tutu and very little about the apartheid controversy other than a few clips I was able to gather from the newspaper clip library.
Two hours later, I found myself in the parish library of Christ Church Episcopal, a blank reporter’s notebook and a pencil in hand. Next to me was Desmond Tutu, a 40-ish, Anglican priest with a broad smile and an agreeable personality.
I began by apologizing for knowing nothing about him or South Africa. I then proceeded to ask one of my patented dumb-ass ice-breaker questions:
“So tell me, Father Tutu, how exactly do you pronounce ‘apartheid?”
He smiled broadly and said: “Oh that’s easy. In English it sounds like two words put together: ‘Apart’ and ‘Hate.’
I don’t know if that was a standard line for the man who would become the future Nobel Peace Prize winner. But, I’ll never forget it. It was then I knew that my Methodist friend was right.
This guy’s going to be somebody one day.
His passing last week brought many memories for me about that most interesting night. Rest in peace, Father Tutu.
SPEAKING OF PASSINGS
Seems only appropriate to mention the 2021 passings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and co-founder of the Beat movement. What would Sausalito be if not for Ferlinghetti?
And let’s not forget Mort Sahl, who performed in Mill Valley until the last year of his 94 years on Earth. He exemplified what an American political satirist ought to be – never one to be a weather vane, he skewered presidents on the left and the right. Marin was lucky to have had him in our midst.
The anti-cop fringe in Marin are celebrating the decision of District Attorney Lori Frugoli not to file charges against Jeremy Portje in the injury of a Sausalito police officer. They should read her statement very closely. Essentially, the D.A. suggests that while there may have been enough probable cause to justify the arrest of Portje, there’s not enough evidence to show intent beyond a reasonable doubt to proceed with taking him to court on felony assault charges. The officer’s body cam became dislodged in the scuffle, which apparently added to the DA’s hesitancy.
ONE MORE THING
– A dentist married a manicurist. They divorced because they fought tooth and nail.
– Ambassadors do not get COVID-19 because they have diplomatic immunity.
– The alien dandelion said to the Earth dandelion: “Take me to your weeder.”
– Cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny.
Remember, 2022 is now year two of the 14-day flattening of the curve. Life during COVID-19 – what are we gonna do? Well, keep reading this newspaper, of course, and patronize Marin small businesses. Until next week, dear readers, avoid soreheads, laugh a little and always question authority.
(Sherman Frederick is an award-winning journalist and publisher of Marin’s community newspapers — the Novato Advance, San Rafael News-Pointer, Mill Valley Herald, Ross Valley Reporter, Twin City Times and the Sausalito Marin Scope. He is co-founder of Battle Born Media, a news organization dedicated to the preservation of community newspapers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)