Death a re­minder of pri­or­i­ties

The Covington News - - OPINION - DICK YAR­BROUGH COLUM­NIST You can reach Dick Yar­brough at yarb2400@ bel­lsouth.net or P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ga. 31139.

If this sounds like name-drop­ping, I apol­o­gize, but I am try­ing to make a point here.

I picked up the news­pa­per this past week and dis­cov­ered that Larry Speakes, the long­time spokesman for Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, had died at his home in Cleve­land, Miss. He was 74 and ac­cord­ing to re­ports, he fin­ished out his days suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s, as did Mr. Rea­gan.

One of the great priv­i­leges of my ca­reer was to work with and be friends with the man. He was liv­ing proof that “you can take the boy out of Mis­sis­sippi, but you can’t take Mis­sis­sippi out of the boy.” De­spite his lofty sta­tus in the Rea­gan White House and in his later ca­reer in cor­po­rate Amer­ica, Larry Speakes re­mained downto-earth and unas­sum­ing. As we say in the South, “He was good folks.”

At my in­vi­ta­tion, he came to my beloved Grady Col­lege of Jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia on his own dime and wowed the stu­dents and fac­ulty with his sto­ries of be­ing on the world stage dur­ing some mo­men­tous times in our his­tory. Later, he was kind enough to pro­vide some gra­cious com­ments for the cover of my book on the 1996 Cen­ten­nial Olympic Games.

So why am I telling you all this? Not to im­press you that I have come in con­tact with some im­por­tant peo­ple over my life­time. We’ve all done that. I do so be­cause I am feel­ing a lot of guilt today. I lost con­nec­tion with some­one with whom I should have stayed in touch, and I let the years get away from me for no good rea­son. I guess I as­sumed that friends will al­ways be there. At my age, I should know bet­ter.

Main­tain­ing friend­ships should be easy. We have more than enough so­cial me­dia avail­able to do the job. We have email and tex­ting and the tele­phone and, if we are so in­clined, even pen and ink and pa­per. The only other re­quire­ment is the ini­tia­tive to make it a pri­or­ity. Alas, I found other things to do with my time.

As I write these words, I am try­ing to re­mem­ber why I was too busy to stay in touch with my old friend from Mis­sis­sippi. At this point in our lives, there was lit­tle we could do for each other pro­fes­sion­ally. Our re­spec­tive ca­reers were pretty much in the rearview mir­ror.

But I could have tapped out a few lines on my com­puter and asked, “How are you do­ing?” or “What’s go­ing on?” or maybe shared some po­lit­i­cal gos­sip or lamented about the sad state of today’s par­ti­san pol­i­tics.

I could have been there if he had wanted to talk about some­thing that was both­er­ing him. I don’t be­lieve my days were so full that I couldn’t have taken a few min­utes to do that. Now, I find out in the news­pa­per that I won’t have the op­por­tu­nity again.

It makes me won­der who else have I let drop off my per­sonal radar for no rea­son other than that I haven’t taken the time or shown the in­ter­est to reach out and let them know that their friend­ship has been and re­mains mean­ing­ful to me. That begs the larger ques­tion: Just what kind of friend am I? Today, I’m not sure I like the an­swer.

You and I may not share po­lit­i­cal philoso­phies. Our views on re­li­gion may dif­fer markedly. There is a good chance that we don’t like the same foods or fash­ion or foot­ball team. We surely don’t look alike. (Be thank­ful for all small fa­vors!)

But, we all have one thing in com­mon: There are peo­ple in our lives — past and present — who have ac­cepted us for who we are and what we are and not for what we can do for them. And, most im­por­tantly, they are there when we need them. They are our friends. Friend­ships are like flow­ers. Main­tain them prop­erly and they grow. Ig­nore them and they will wither away.

The Leg­is­la­ture is now in ses­sion, and I sus­pect you are await­ing my un­var­nished ob­ser­va­tions about the go­ings-on un­der the Gold Dome. I plan to get to that task post haste, but be­fore I do, I thought it im­por­tant to take a mo­ment of per­sonal priv­i­lege to re­mind you how tran­si­tory life is and to urge you to never lose track of old friends be­cause you are too self-ab­sorbed in your own lit­tle world.

Sad to say, but I did ex­actly that to an old friend who de­served bet­ter from me.

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