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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, January 12, 2011 • Posted January 12, 2011

An Extraordinary Tom…

When December of the old year surrendered to January of the new one, media folks in the Metroplex faced the daunting task of condensing the contributions of a public servant to "fit" newspaper columns and radio/tv news slots. Media could but "hit the high spots" of this true Christian statesman.

The death of Tom Vandergriff, a beloved figure for more than a half century and a respected patriarch for decades, triggered immediate tributes. They flowed from both the high and mighty and from brethren who fit into the "least of these" category.

One friend observed that Vandergriff’s life of 84 years was marked by "more public service than most others could record in centuries. His was a life of triumphant highlights only dreamed of by others." Indeed, "lowlights" were few and far between….

* * * * *

A rare "lowlight" concerned his runner-up "finish" for a news reporting position with a Los Angeles radio station soon after receiving a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.

Dejected momentarily, he returned to Arlington where he was elected "boy mayor" at age 25. He hit the ground running, maintaining an unbelievable pace until retiring as Tarrant County Judge in 2006 at age 80.

Oh, a bit more about the radio job he didn’t get. It went to the late Chet Huntley—the one who exchanged "good nights" to close evening newscasts with co-anchor David Brinkley. Huntley in New York City and Brinkley in Washington were giants in TV news for NBC from 1956-1970….

* * * * *

Vandergriff led efforts to bring major league baseball, the General Motors plant and Six Flags Over Texas to Arlington and was a leader in numerous humanitarian causes. The visionary worked tirelessly to change Arlington from the "hyphen" between Fort Worth and Dallas to exclamation points. He served one term in Congress and was an executive with the automobile firm founded by his father. Hundreds of civic audiences applauded his lectern presentations. They howled at his classic "car-selling story" about a customer who made a virtual steal. Unbeknownst to Tom and his dad, the crafty customer moved back and forth, getting lower and lower bids from each Vandergriff.

Tom was a member of First United Methodist Church, but adherents of all faiths gathered at his massive memorial service held at the University of Texas at Arlington, an institution he championed for decades.

Someone said that ever so rarely we come across folks that on their dying day, that’s all they really need to do. The extraordinary Tom Vandergriff was one….

* * * * *

Uncle Mort, my 98-year-old kin down in the thicket, will never be confused with folks who are "steady in the boat." Typically, he’s flailing about, simply trying to stay afloat.

And whatever is said about him is usually self-proclaimed. Now he’s "dabbling in prophecy." Mort seems certain that he can clear up speculation concerning former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s future plans. He contends that "Arnold will be a major player in the rodent and pest control business."

Asked to clarify, he explained, "For years he’s been called ‘The Terminator.’ Now, he’s sure to be the EX-terminator."…

* * * * *

Mort is all excited about attending his "first picture show in 60 years." A great-great-grandson kindergartener dragged him to see "Yogi Bear," a new three-dimensional film, during the holidays. "The last time I went to the picture show, they had wooden seats and evaporative cooling, but it was worth it to see James Stewart in ‘Harvey’," Mort recalled. "Back then, we were fortunate to get two-dimensional films that didn’t darken the theater with film breaks more than a couple of times."

Blown away by 3-D, he bragged about getting lots of exercise "shielding his kin from all the objects flying toward them from the screen." He was surprised that they showed a Roadrunner cartoon similar to one he’d seen six decades ago, noting that neither the bird nor Wile E. Coyote "have aged a bit."

Mort chirped a hearty "beep-beep" just before the roadrunner made the same sound. His grandson laughed. Mort cared not at all that the youngster was laughing AT him, not WITH him….

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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