Robin, Dan and Mario

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Time Magazine salutes Robin Williams
Time Magazine salutes Robin Williams

Time magazine’s August 25 issue features Robin Williams on the cover. That and the stories are a worthy tribute to this extraordinary artist and performer.

I most enjoyed the “10 Questions” 2011 interview at the end of the magazine. Williams answers the question about a celebrity’s struggle with substance abuse. He notes celebrity comes and goes and with tweeting and Facebook, “It’s like cybercrack.”

Withdrawal from celebrity is an interesting thing, Williams notes. “People say, “Oh, man, what am I going to do?”

“Steal some jewelry, Lindsay, That helps.”

I’ll never forget the line. I’ll miss him for that and much more.

Another funny man I’ll miss is Dan Lynch. For many of the years I wrote editorials and columns for The Journal Gazette, Dan was our political cartoonist. He also died this past week. Dan’s death is doubly sad. Just days after 9/11, he suffered a severe stroke. It mostly affected his speech. So diminished all those years since.

When I visited him at Parkview Hospital not long after his stroke, he recognized me but struggled to get out the words. I saw him with his family a few years later at a museum gift shop in Chicago. Still, he couldn’t say much. Later again, when I visited with him at another editorial writer’s home, he mostly was quiet but seemed to enjoy the conversation.

No surprise that the funeral home in nearby Spencerville, Indiana, was packed with Dan’s old friends and former colleagues at the paper. I could barely hold back the tears as I looked at the display of Dan’s political cartoons, so often making fun of our Fort Wayne and Indiana politicians. Not to mention presidents. To their credit, the publisher and editors always backed Dan up.

When I retired in 2000, Dan drew a caricature of me, which staff members signed. “We’ll miss ya'” Dan’s signature in the right-hand corner reads.

A late arrival for the memorial service, I sat in the row behind Dan’s wife Janet, their son and daughter. The minister, the Rev. Terry Anderson, an old mutual friend, spoke of Dan’s many talents, not just his art and his books but also his music. Anderson’s reassuring message boiled down to St. Paul’s in I Corinthians, “The greatest of these is love.”

The third recent death that has touched me was Mario’s. A former husband of my daughter, Mario had been living back in his El Salvador home for some years. But he had been able to stay in touch over the Internet and phone calls with Tanya and Cynthia, his now grown daughters, our granddaughters. So far away yet such a special relationship, a father and his children.

We got the call in the middle of the night from Cynthia. The girls had seen the announcement of their dad’s death on Facebook. Such a shock. Mario was only 54. “Dad’s heart just gave out,” Cynthia told Grandma.

My memory of this handsome Hispanic is of another man of considerable talent. He sure had strong and informed opinions during his daughters’ soccer games. He also was a man of great dreams, realistic or not. He treated me and my wife Toni with great respect, even deference. And what a worker! A paint contractor whose crew did work for us called him “Mario the machine.” We witnessed that totally focused dedication to the job when he did painting on his own for us.

All these deaths leave much pain and sorrow. Those of us left behind comfort one another as best we can. Yes, we have our memories. Those give us comfort, too.

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Robin Williams

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Robin Williams
Robin Williams

I met Robin Williams at a black tie affair in New York City celebrating the birthday of Time Inc. chairman and philanthropist Andrew Heiskell.

Williams had performed one of his classic non-stop talkathon comedy acts. The two of us were standing together in the back of a group of tables seating dozens of rich and famous people brought together that special evening.

On stage that moment was none other than Linda Ronstadt. She seemed to be directing her rendition of “My Funny Valentine” to Heiskell seated at the front table. Wiliams turned to me, eyes aglow, grinning ear to ear as if the song were directed to him. When Ronstadt finished, Williams asked my name and where I was from.

Such a familiar guy, so easy to talk to. I felt I had known him a long time.

I recall we chatted briefly about the event and then he left, probably unnoticed in the dimly lighted ballroom. Just then, a staff member of The People for the American Way, sponsor of the event, invited me to dance as Peter Duchin played familiar standards.

This was in 1985, in February. At the hotel breakfast the next morning, former Congressman John Buchanan, chairman of People For The American Way, which Heiskell supported financially, gave journalists awards and a check for writing and broadcasts that promoted civil liberties. My check award for one editorial was $1,000. People For didn’t offer to pay for my tux rental.

Williams missed the awards breakfast. But I always remembered those few personal moments when we chatted. Every time I saw one of his movies or saw him on TV, I felt lucky to have met this incredibly talented man. I had been a fan since my family regularly watched “Mork and Mindy,” his first big break.

Williams’ death by suicide opens yet another door of memories for me, my longtime advocacy for suicide prevention with editorials in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. I wish I could claim that groups I helped launch had prevented these tragedies in our community. But number of suicides remain about the same, year to year. The best I can do is to hope we’ve raised awareness.

Toward that end, I enlisted Mike Wallace of “Sixty Minutes” to speak to a suicide prevention conference at Indiana Purdue University in Fort Wayne. Wallace spoke movingly of his own struggle with suicidal thoughts after he and CBS News were the target of a lawsuit.

Once at Carroll High School in our county, I joined a group of health students to hear a motivational speaker talk about suicide. His main point was how selfish it is to take your own life, hurting parents and friends beyond measure. I was pretty sure the guy didn’t understand suicide.

I imagine some fans will call Robin Williams’ suicide a selfish act. I don’t think so. Yes, he enjoyed success beyond measure. He had fame and a family that loved him dearly. Yet I imagine that his depression, which he must have been using alcohol and drugs to treat, had become unbearable. His life was such a gift to all of us. Likewise, his death was a tragic loss for all of us.

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