Rest in Peace, Dr. Lee Thornton

It’s been a few months since this happened but after finding some old emails, I felt compelled to write about one of my favorite teachers I had at the University of Maryland. Her name was Dr. Lee Thornton. She taught my Broadcast Journalism class my senior year in 1997. That was my major. This class – Journalism 361 – was one of my most memorable classes for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of her.

When she died, I learned from her obituary written by my colleagues at The Post that she “in 1977 became the first black woman to cover the White House regularly for CBS.” I didn’t know that. Nor did that matter as to why I, or subsequent students, would remember her.

She was one of four professors I kept in touch with after college (three of whom I ended up working with at With Dr. Thornton, it was personal.

Her class was great. Her teaching style was great. But it went beyond that. We shared interest in movies, screenwriting, and even investing in the stock market (before the bubble burst in 2000). She, like myself, tried hard to get our fiction work published. About ten years ago, she asked for my help in researching the story of Marie Thérèse dite Coincoin for a screenplay, after Edward P. Jones wrote “A Known World” and won the Pulitzer without doing a ‘stitch of research’ – something that I believe annoyed her.

After she died, I read through some of my old correspondence with her. She once told me – several years after I graduated – “Believe it or not, I’ve thought of you often.  You ARE among my faves!”

After watching tributes that students gave her after she retired, I wasn’t surprised to learn she had lots of ‘faves.’

I was one of her ‘faves’ only because she brought out the best in people, and she did that with me.

Rest in peace, Dr. Thornton.

Rest in Peace, Big Josh

Photo taken April 23, 2011.
April 23, 2011.

I didn’t know Josh Burdette, who was widely known as “That Guy from the 9:30 Club.” I only spoke to him once in person, when I asked to photograph him wearing his Caps jersey before a playoff game. I conversed with him a few times on Facebook, like when I sent him an article that mentioned him that he hadn’t seen before. I have never been to the 9:30 Club – his employer (where many people knew him from) – and I can’t say that I run with a crowd that lists tattooing and piercing as a hobby.

Yet, I read every article about ‘That Guy’ and followed his Facebook page. I found myself curious for whatever reason about what he had to say – about his life and opinions. My first time seeing him was in the mid 90s in the Stamp Student Union at University of Maryland. We were about the same age. And though it was ultimately his appearance which made folks – myself included – notice him, I can honestly say that there was something else I saw – something about him that was clear to me that he was a good person. Yet, I knew nothing about him at the time.

He proved me right over the years, as so many folks shared a nice story about him and had great things to say. The interviews he gave to newspapers and magazines about what he does for a living – security at concerts – showed an extreme level of class and morale.

After watching his handling of an incident involving a skinhead at a concert this past June, I went home and wrote to him: “I have a renewed appreciation for what you do for a living after watching you handle the situation with the skinhead after GWAR. Great job.”

Josh replied that night: “Thank you, sir. That situation could have easily gotten ugly. I’m glad we were able to resolve it without anyone getting hurt.”

Finding out about his death (from a WJLA TV reporter, no less, who asked my permission to use my photos of him on the air), upset me greatly. But learning that his death was a suicide tore me to pieces.

I can only speculate why he would do such a thing. I wonder – despite the thousands of folks who complimented him and got to know him – despite all his friends and 9:30 Club family – was he lonely and depressed? Was the appearance he worked on, and the (positive) attention he attracted from it, one of the few things that kept him going in the first place? Did he find himself fed up in a profession that attracted so many trouble-makers and sleazeballs? Did, collectively, these things weigh on his mind to the point that he couldn’t take it anymore, and saw no way out? He died three days before his 37th birthday. Birthdays are often a time for self-reflection. Did that play a part?

Again, I can only speculate, and I could be completely wrong. But what I do know is that this world was a much better place with Josh Burdette in it, and whatever pushed him over the edge is still here, looking for its next victim. Rest in peace, Josh.

Military Tribute to My Grandfather

albert owensMy grandfather, Albert Owens, died back in December at the age of 86. We had the memorial service on Friday at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery in Cheltenham, Md.

This was my first time witnessing a military salute at a funeral and I hadn’t any idea what to expect. After some words and prayers, Taps played, and the Marines folded the flag, presented it to my uncle and waited until he left so they could salute the flag on the way out.

Though I’m sure this is routine, these men didn’t know my grandfather, but they knew him to be an honored Marine, and they showed him a level of respect with these gestures that I can only admire.

Rest in Peace, Albert Owens

My grandfather, Albert Owens, died on Dec. 3, 2012, a month before his 87th birthday, at Calvert Memorial Hospital.

As a Marine, he served in the Pacific during World War II. He survived a snake bite to the eye while in Okinawa. He had six kids, and spent much of his life working in construction. The eldest of six children, he outlived two siblings, and his son, Michael Owens. He was married twice, and a ‘ladies’ man’ up until the day he died. He enjoyed singing, usually Hank Williams, and cracking jokes that you’d expect out of an ole’ Tennessee boy. He will be missed.

Albert Owens, January 3, 1926 – December 3, 2012