Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Gadfly On His Knees

Passings: On my knees this week. First, longtime friend Marian Opala, 89, passed away. The Supreme Court justice was state courts administrator when I first met him in the late 1960s. We became coffee shop friends and when I went to work in the governor's office, he regularly stopped by to visit. A World War II hero of the Polish Underground (which I did not discover until far later) and super-proud American, Marian was his usual larger-than-life self (and given his size, this was no small feat) when last I saw him at the shoeshine stand at 50 Penn Place. "Mike!" he exclaimed, "You've retired and you don't look a day over humrph mumrph!" Smooth Sailing, Mister Justice.

Mike McCarville aka
'The Gadfly'
And then I learned of Jim Standard's death at age 70. I first encountered Jim in 1961 when I returned from Army service, enrolled at OU and joined The Daily Oklahoman-Oklahoma City Times Norman Bureau. We were introduced on one of my trips to the 4th and Broadway building. A year later, when I joined the newspapers fulltime in Oklahoma City, we were deskmates. Jim was a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners newsman. We hit it off; we both had Arkansas backgrounds (he, Little Rock, me, nearby Conway), were the same age and were ambitious. Jim wasn't arrogant about it, he just wanted you and everyone else to get the hell out of his way. Get too close to him and the ashes off his ever-present cigarette would dribble on you just like they dribbled all over him, his desk, the floor around him. A year later, as I was planning to purchase a weekly newspaper and move on, I left the OPubCo building early on November 22nd after working the police beat on an early shift on The Times. Jim was working on a police beat project for the morning paper and was in the office. When President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, the editors wanted to send a reporter immediately; Standard was there. I was not. Jim was standing less than four feet from Jack Ruby when Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Department. Jim stuck with the newspapers far longer than I thought he would, and wound up as managing editor, then executive editor. He "retired" early, in 1995 and moved, quite mysteriously I thought at the time, to Rome, Italy. I later learned Jim had moved to Florence, Italy and was...the pastor of a church! He later returned to the U. S. and pastored a church in Lampasas, Texas. At the time of his death, he was pastor of Atwood Baptist Church in Atwood, Oklahoma. I didn't see Jim in his pastoral years; wish I had. I'd have marveled at that transformation. Blue skies, friend of my youth.

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