Why Not, Indeed!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Not, Indeed!

I lost another old chum a fortnight ago, one of the least likely in my entire ex­perience given our respective points of view.

And OtBB readers need no Carnac credentials to know who it was.

Dave Willmott and I fought numerous battles over the decades, and like many of an archly Conservative bent, he was a tough opponent because he was always convinced of the utter correctness of his position.

But we became friends, and I learned a great deal from him on any number of subjects, not the least of which was in the realm of graphics.

(Not sure if it can still be read, but the sign on the building on Montauk Highway in Westhampton which for a dozen or so years was home of the growing publish­ing enterprise Dave had started literally in his family's kitchen, read "Suffolk Life Graphic Arts Center.")

When, fresh out of The Moniebogue Press experience in Summer '72, I semi-formally went to work for a Suffolk Life supplement, Weekender, Dave was trying out, that solid­ified my previously indecisive career path.

His newspaper philosophy 40 years ago was simple: photos of community events and classified advs... "People can learn a lot about what's going on from their neighbors classi­fieds," he instructed.

"You mean the 'my wife, having left my bed and board...' type of thing?" he was asked.

"Nah, nothing as obvious as that," he said. "Someone selling a new bedroom set, for in­stance. Marital problems or money troubles?"

Never would have thought of that.

Andrea Aurichio has published an extensive obituary of Dave on NorthFork.com, and I'll not attempt to outdo her, but I do have some­thing to relate.

(And no, it's not a rehash of his most in­famous Suffolk Life typo.)

In the early '70s, I came across a little sign, a twist on the 23rd Psalm which read:

"Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest son of a bitch in the valley."

Fresh off a heated argument with Dave, I presented that to him one day.

He liked it so much he had it laminated and hung in his office. Prominent mention of the sign, with a photo, appeared in a mid-'70s profile in Newsday.

This was, of course, before Newsday realized there was a threat on the Eastern Front, and started taking a dim view of the redhead from Riverhead's expanding pub­lishing enterprise.

Not only had Suffolk Life moved Westward Ho! with more than a dozen area editions with local advertising and community announcements, but Newsday learned that Dave had registered the name "Peconic Life," and having taken a stab at... as once had the old News-Review... publishing a semi-weekly, appeared equipped to be able to launch a daily.

There was considerable institutional uneasi­ness in the executive suites in Melville after that, and when Leonard Sheldon hit on a fool-proof method of forming the long-discussed Peconic County, and fed it to Suffolk Legislator John Donahue, Newsday could barely contain themselves, heaping opprobrium on the plan and the Legislator both.

(The idea was brilliant in its simplicity. State law requires all lands of a county to be contiguous, so if Ocean-to-Sound Brookhaven Town, which had the neces­sary land mass and population to qualify, became a county, the Five Eastern Towns would have no choice but to become a county as well.)

Poor John T. Donohue could never under­stand why Newsday got so ugly with him, but then he was a meat'n'potatoes Oirishman unso­phisticated in the ways of big media... and Newsday was on the threshhold of cracking, in circulation, the top ten dailies in the country.

So, no Peconic County1, no daily Peconic Life.

Wouldn't it have been a glorious thing! A Peconic County with it's own East End-pub­lished daily that wouldn't have been controlled by big media, with smarmy Newsday on the Brookhaven border looking in.

Jeanne and I ran into Dave and Clare last year outside of some doctors' offices in Hampton Bays we were both entering.

I joked about how fitting it was that at our ages, it would be doctors' appointments that had us cross paths.

Then Dave leaned forward, opened the top button of his sports shirt, and showed off his surgical scars while running through a quick inventory of his recent procedures.

But he looked good, if a little on the less heavy side, and we gave one another a thumbs-up in parting.

I related to Jeanne the story of the "meanest son of a bitch" sign.

"Did you see those scars?" she asked. "I'll tell you he's a tough son of a bitch as well."

So long, my unlikely friend. I'll miss you.

Note
  1. Unfortunately, Peconic County is still not a reality, thwarted in the early '70s by Perry Duryea's lack of support as he didn't want to make a gubernatorial run from "tiny Peconic," and after that by Newsday's unenlightened self-interest.

Comments

1. David Willmott, Jr. said...

Hey Dean - thank you for your kind words and, as always, entertaining reflections about my Dad.

Thought I would share two things with you.

Returning home on Sunday, August 9 after Dad passed, I sat down at my desk to begin arrangements and letting folks know of the sad news. Needing a diversion at a particular moment I logged onto OtBB and read your story about mowing the lawn in the rain. I drew a certain sense of comfort from that and it reminded me of a lawn mower story invol­ving my brothers and I and Dad. Long story short, after the ride-on mower mysteriously broke and the subsequently bought replace­ment push mower also myster­­iously stopped working, Dad came home with an old fash­ioned rotary mower that was sure not to fail in cutting the acre lawn on Ostrander Avenue.

I never knew of your involvement with that take on the 23rd Psalm. I had recalled from my youth seeing it taped to a TV that no longer worked in his office in Westhampton. When I went with my siblings to the house where his momentos were stored I told them of how funny it would be if that were mistak­enly one of the readings at the funeral. Much to my pleasant surprise in a box in the base­ment I found the framed copy and you will be happy to know it occupied a prominent place on one of tables for all to see during the wake.

It is nice now to know the back story on that and it will eventually have a place of honor on the back bar at home.

Fathers and sons, may it ever be thus.

Thanks for closing the circle, David... my warmest regards to you and your brothers... don't think I ever knew your sister... in the terrible vacuum that is always left by the loss of a father, especially a presence such as your dad.
Dean

2. Howl said...

Willmott represented the rarest and most valuable part of the American political spectrum: the independent-thinking, open-minded redneck. (Rush Limbaugh and all his followers would claim to be exactly that, but they're too scared and too stupid to pull it off.)

Circa 1969, Willmott opposed offshore oil drilling, pointing out that Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the main proponent, would personally profit from any results. I don't think anyone else had publicly mentioned the Standard Oil connection.

Willmott was creeped out by the big anti-nuke rally at Shoreham in June 1979, but he must have soon realized it was just a Pavlovian reaction to the word "demonstration" because he himself very soon became a leader of the movement to shut down both Shoreham and LILCO. Along with Ann Carl and Karl Grossman, Willmott was an openly opinionated journalist whose facts and insights made it impossible for the nuclear cult to preach its doctrine to a reverent, receptive audience. Willmott arrived late on the bandwagon, but his impact was arguably decisive.

Suffolk Life became the local 'paper of record' on Shoreham, as well other issues where Newsday's agenda was a factor (such as an effort to entice Olympus to open its US headquarters on state-donated land – site of an excellent, newly-renovated home for disabled citizens).

His robust, heartfelt, fearless voice came from an America that was already disappearing fast before he was born. Unlike most of the politicians, pundits and preachers of our day, Willmott was not an echo, a mimic, or a counterfeiter; he was the real thing, warts and all.

Well-remembered, and even better stated. I thought that I was supposed to be the writer, and you were supposed to be the artist.
Dean

3. Howl said...

Writer? Artist? Huh? Just press-typers and rubber-cementers. Products of the Offset Revolution - you, me, Willmott. (as well as Rattiner, the Weather Underground, Black Panther Party, The Counterculure, Women's Liberation, etc., etc.)

I bet no one reading this even has any idea what I'm referring to! Offset lithography made notions like "artist" and "writer" passé. What we did was shovel words and pictures onto rectangular paper trays, haul them to a noisy cave, and just hours later we'd emerge with a small mountain of sweet-smelling dead trees, cut thin and light as autumn leaves, to toss into the wind, into the thoughts of our fellow citizens. That was what allowed Willmott to chop up a Life magazine cover to get his first issues' masthead (along with the threat of a lawsuit).

The socio-political effects of the Internet is all hype. Offset lithography changed the world for the better by making printing/publishing a group effort. Previously linotype operators and other experts performed their specialized tasks in splendid isolation, as scribes and monks had in earlier centuries. The coming of computers brought silence and isolation back to the publishing process just a few years later. Suffolk Life in 1972 was a non-stop riot of laughing comrades grabbing scissors and gluepots out of each others' hot paws, trying to get pages together. By the late 1980s, the staff was caged in stalls, like battery hens on Thorazine, each individual gazing into a little square screen. A faint mechanical whir of fans and the whisper of keyboards merely deepened the sense of tomb-like silence.

So now we're back to worrying who's and "artist," who's a "writer," to try to salvage (or feign) a semblance of identity in the cyber-fog...? Oy... Offset made us all into scavangers and shovelers of verbiage and imagery. The internet made it even easier (and less sociable) and now it's questionable if there's really any such thing as "art" or "writing" any more, now that we all do it. So be it. Too bad the fun, comradery, human contact and animal energy got lost so soon after they entered the process....

Actually, I was making an ironic observation, and lauding your writing skills.

For my part, I don't "worry" about who's a writer, because I'm a writer.
Dean

4. Matlynn Carville said...

I have NO idea who you are, Howl, but keep visiting.

The nice thing about the "'Net" is the joy of reading gifts to us from the likes of Speir and others-for instance: "we'd emerge with a small mountain of sweet-smelling dead trees, cut thin and light as autumn leaves, to toss into the wind, into the thoughts of our fellow citizens."

Call me crazy, but that's mighty purdy writing. The 'Net can be a force for beauty when folks like you show up.

And as far as the absence of socio-political effects of this method of communication? Can you say... Barack Obama?

Heck, how about even OtBB's effect on the local socio-political scene?

Speir here is a force for truth, justice, and the American way.

Um, thanks, but that was Clark Kent's alter ego.
Dean

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