Archive for January, 2013

I and many other former Kansas City Star employees got a surprise on Tuesday when we reached the end of The Star’s excellent news story about Adele Hall’s death and found that first reporter credited with providing information was former society editor Laura Rollins Hockaday.

The surprise was not that Laura was involved. She would have been a natural for involvement in the obit, except for the fact she retired 13 years ago, after 38 years with the paper.

I jumped to the conclusion, as some other people did, that Laura had heard the news, pulled her boots on and made a beeline for the newsroom. Had that been the case, the appropriate headline for the back story would be Former society editor to the rescue!

That’s not how it unfolded, however. Today I got the story behind the story from Hockaday and Darryl Levings, who edited and assembled the A-1 story.

Hockaday said Star reporter Lisa Guttierez called her about 4:30 Monday afternoon, telling her that Hallmark had just released the news of Adele Hall’s death on Sunday in Hawaii, where she and her husband Don Hall own a home.

I can assure you that getting a call at 4:30 p.m. on a story of that magnitude is challenging and often frustrating for reporters and editors because, first, they know they’re going to be working late and, second, they know they’re going to have trouble reaching sources after business hours.


Laura Rollins Hockaday

Hockaday said Gutierrez asked her for the names and numbers of people the reporters could try to contact. Hockaday said she provided contact information for several people, including Mary Shaw “Shawsie” Branton, a close friend of Adele, and Irvine O. Hockaday Jr., another longtime Hall family friend and the only non-Hall family member to ever serve as Hallmark CEO.

Oh, and did I mention that Laura and Irvine are first cousins?

He’s a tough man to reach…for the average person, anyway.  I know that from experience, although I once had his personal number at Hallmark and got through to him on it one time.

Getting ahold of Irvine is not difficult for Laura, however. “I gave them every phone number I had for him,” she said.

As a result, Irvine Hockaday was quoted at length. Branton also was quoted.

In addition, Laura told Gutierrez it was imperative that The Star get ahold of someone in administration at Children’s Mercy Hospital, which was the top beneficiary of Adele’s charitable and fund-raising endeavors. Thus, high in the story, The Star quoted CMH board chairman Jack Ovel as saying of Adele:

“She was quick to give others credit. She was always telling other people, ‘You are the wind beneath my wings.”

As for the rest of her contributions to the story, Laura said that the reporters used some material from an interview she had done with Adele many years ago.

In short, Laura asserted that her contributions were minimal..no big deal.

“I don’t deserve any credit at all…I was very honored to be called,” she said. Jokingly, she added, “I’m surprised they remembered that I had worked there.”

Now, here’s the other side of the back story, from Levings, the KC Star editor who assembled the 40-inch story.

Levings said The Star had in its files what is called an “advance obit” on Adele. Laura had prepared and filed it many years ago, and it sat around waiting for the inevitable day.

In an e-mail, Levings said:

“Laura’s prepared, two-page obit, sitting in our files since before she retired a decade ago, was the blueprint and safety net for our efforts. Lisa Gutierrez and Lee Kavanaugh (another reporter on the story) had it when we started. Lisa, I believe, called Laura for potential sources. Hallmark sent their three-page version, which we used to fill in some material.

“The reporters did an excellent job zeroing in on excellent sources quickly, to the point that I had more than I could use.”

So, why did Levings decide to put Hockaday’s name before the names of the three full-time reporters who were included in the credit box?

“I wanted to honor her earlier work,” Levings said.

That placement was a great and much-deserved tribute to Laura, who is a friend of mine and a loyal reader of this blog.

My take on this is that there is no substitute for institutional knowledge on stories involving notable people and major developments with links to the past. Calling Laura was a brilliant, if logical, thing to do. She had what The Star needed — longstanding civic, social and personal connections to Adele.

Bravo, then, Laura; you deserve a lot of credit.

And bravo, Kansas City Star; you gave a great lady a thorough and well-written news obituary.

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I missed President Obama’s inaugural address yesterday, but I caught the last part of the event and was excited and uplifted.

Indulge me in a few reflections and observations, if you will:

:: One of my foremost impressions of the inauguration was that it probably will be a long, long time before the nation sees a couple as handsome and appealing (appealing from the standpoint of vigor and well being) as Barack and Michelle Obama.

The day’s events were a photographer’s dream.

And how about Michelle? Wow, that woman knows how to dress! A fashion critic was quoted by CNN as saying her style is “ladylike with a twist.” The twist is that she always adds her own distinctive touch to her outfits.

My favorite photo, which appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, was this one by Times photographer Doug Mills


It perfectly captured the joy and celebration of the day.

…I know. You Republican readers are probably curling your upper lips and muttering uncharitable things about now. But how could anyone say that the first couple and their daughters Malia and Sasha did not emanate vigor and electricity?

:: Unfortunately, the inauguration wasn’t authentic from start to finish. I was shocked and appalled to learn Tuesday that a performing artist committed felony fraud.

I can almost always tell when a performer is lip-syncing, but I’ll be damned if Beyonce (accent aigu over the final “e”) didn’t slip one by me. And by almost all other viewers, I’m willing to bet.

At the end of her stirring rendition of the National Anthem, I was on my feet singing with her, just not quite as beautifully.

And then I learned today that she did, indeed, lip-sync.

What a chicken shit!

Kudos, however, to Kelly Clarkson, “American Idol” star, for her outstanding rendition — SUNG LIVE — of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”  Her performance prompted Sen. Chuck Schumer, master of ceremonies, to say, “WOW!”

(Also, who can forget Aretha Franklin’s rendition of the same song four years ago at Obama’s first inauguration? And, yes, she sang it LIVE.)

As for Beyonce (accent aigu over the final “e”), I never heard her sing and never paid any attention to her before yesterday, and she’s now won a spot in my personal trash bin of overhyped musical artists.

:: I’ve got to give credit to our hometown Kansas City Star, too, for the way it played the inauguration. A photo of a smiling and ramrod straight President Obama taking the oath of office, with Michelle holding two historic Bibles in her gloved hands, swept across the front page, down to the fold.

Good call at 18th and Grand. Surely, a lot of Democrats who don’t subscribe bought copies when they saw it in the newspaper stands.

:: A couple of weeks ago, a commenter to my blog predicted that Obama would go down as “the most hated President ever.”

I replied, “More hated than Nixon???”

And now, as the nation embarks on four more years under Barack Obama, I’m going to predict that he will be long remembered for, among other things, his achievements, his even temperament, his judicious choice of words, his humanness and, finally, for bringing us the finest first lady we could possibly ask for.

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I’m startin’ to get pissed off…It’s that Andy Reid thing. Not his coaching; it’s his sartorial inadequacy.

If you didn’t see The Kansas City Star photo that I ran with yesterday’s blog, check it out. And on the sidelines, he looks worse. When I would catch glimpses of him when Eagles games were on TV, he didn’t cut a very appealing figure with that walrus mustache, ball cap and zip-up jacket.

This deplorable situation got me thinking about some football coaches who really dressed well, even impeccably.

Here are the first three that came to mind, plus a throw-in…


Former Cowboys coach Tom Landry…A winning smile is not necessary when you’re this dapper.


The late, great Paul “Bear” Bryant in his trademark houndstooth hat


Who needs a smile with hair like that??? I noticed when looking at these photos that Bear Bryant always had a rolled-up program in his hand. Ah-ha! So that’s where The Mentor got his inspiration.

And for the road…


If only he had been as attentive to his moral compass as he was to his sweater collection…

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The last few weeks have been great for newspapers — from the news standpoint, anyway.

From Hillary Clinton’s concussion to the tax deal in Washington to the Chiefs’ lightning-bolt hire of a new coach, it’s been a windfall for us news hounds.

Today, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to comment on a few of the stories that have caught my attention.

1) Like most Chiefs’ fans, I’m glad that Andy Reid will be coaching the team for the next few years, at least. He seems like a very down-to-earth, honest guy, and he’s got a lot of wins on his resume. But, holy smoke, did you get a load of the guy’s wardrobe? He needs a new tailor…real bad. Just because a guy is fat doesn’t mean he has to look like he’s a fabric salesman’s dream come true…


Kansas City Star photo

2) Once again, the Jesuits have demonstrated that they are the best at educating our youngsters and doing everything possible to mold their students into responsible citizens.

Rockhurst High School’s new drug-testing program, to begin next summer, is bound to intercept and redirect many students who are using recreational drugs, like marijuana. Wisely and correctly, Rockhurst officials are pitching the initiative as a “health and wellness” program. The first time a student gets caught, he will be brought in for counseling; the second time, he could be disciplined and will be put on notice; and the third time…well, he’s out.

Not only does the program look excellent, but the way Rockhurst officials, including Principal Greg Harkness and President Terrence Baum, rolled it out was a thing of beauty. After two years of study and groundwork, Rockhurst officials informed faculty, students, parents and the news media in a matter of a few hours one morning last week. Then, Harkness answered questions from the media all afternoon, and several students were made available to discuss the program on the record and in front of cameras.

Congratulations to Rockhurst on skillfully planning and publicizing this unprecedented program — unprecedented in Kansas City, anyway.

3) On the national front, President Obama has chosen an outstanding person, in my opinion, to head the Defense Department. You’ve got to love it, don’t you, when a guy like Chuck Hagel, who has been in the battlefield, says he views war as the very last resort? The last thing you want in that job is some trigger-happy muscle flexer who wants to crack skulls all over the world.

I predict that the Senate will approve him. Yes, he made a big mistake in 1998 when he described a U.S. ambassador nominee as “openly, aggressively gay.” I’m sure, however, that his views on that subject have changed significantly — just like those of a lot of formerly homophobic folks. As liberal as I am, I have to admit that coming around to a “live-and-let-live” philosophy regarding homosexuality was difficult for me.

4) bloombergIn an open letter in today’s New York Times to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, columnist Joe Nocera praised Bloomberg for wielding the shrillest and most effective voice on gun control. Nocera called on Bloomberg to go to bat for gun control with his energy and his money (net worth $20 billion, says Nocera) after his third and last mayoral term ends in December.

“There is, quite simply, no one else in America who has a better chance of moving the country toward a saner gun policy than you,” Nocera wrote, addressing the mayor. “It is an effort worthy of your talents, and your money.”

5) Let’s end on a head-scratching note…In a story out yesterday, some scientists have concluded that the cause of fingers wrinkling after being in water for some time is a function of evolution. Laboratory tests have confirmed a theory that wrinkly fingers let us get a better grip on wet or submerged objects, acting like a treads on a car tire.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go bathe my hands and make a run to the Plaza to get as many coins as I can from the Mermaid Fountain.

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