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  • Writer's pictureBeverly Stoddart

SILENT VOICES: Denise Robert, John Milne

The following essay appeared in the Union Leader on Sunday, August 9, 2020.

Voices. Silent voices. When someone dies, the one thing you wish you could have is to speak to them one more time. Hear their voice. Listen to their tone, influx, and hear the determination. But, once they are gone, the sound cannot be heard again.

There are two voices I am referring to in this essay. One was a friend and colleague, and one was a person of history and knowledge.

On Sunday, August 30, 2015, Denise Robert was shot in the head on Ray Street in Manchester. I cannot temper my words for you. Denise's death needs to be as blatant as possible because there was absolutely no reason for her to have been murdered.

She and I worked at the Union Leader newspaper as retail salespeople. We sat across from one another. Frankly, I was not in the same category as Denise and her tenacious, indefatigable way she went about selling ad space in the UL as well as our suburban papers. No one could match her joyous intensity. All this energy came from a 62-year-old tiny, 5'2" powerhouse who could not have weighed more than 100 pounds.

One of my regrets is the countless times Denise would call my cell phone and leave a breathless voice message, and I did not keep those messages. Who could know a harmless and kind person would be targeted for death? I believe she was targeted and killed for reasons we may never know. It was not a random act of violence.

Understand, Denise was warmly known as a pushy, unrelenting salesperson. So, when I would get these calls, admittedly, I did not always pick up. She would have discovered a new business and call me with a breathless "Bev" only it would be more like "Bheeev!" I don't know why I would not have kept at least one of them.

And so, on this upcoming 5th anniversary of her death and the countless prayers I say on her behalf, I know you are at peace. If only, I could hear you one more time.

September 5, 2020 is the first anniversary of John Milne's passing at the age of 73. John was a preeminent political journalist working for forty years in the rough world of politics. When John was fifteen years old, he talked his way into a press conference with John Kennedy, who was running for president. A feat unheard of today.

I met John through a book project I'm working on that talks to United Press International journalists, and how they covered important stories in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

I have the unique privilege of having over two hours of recorded conversations with John. The interview took place in his home in Concord, where he and his wife, Lisa, were packing up all their belongings to move closer to family in Maine. He was in failing health when we talked.

John’s amazing career reporting the news included some of the biggest stories of the day. Milne was on the desk when a news tip came in about an auto accident on Chappaquiddick. John said, "We're calling around and all of a sudden somebody finds out whose car it was. It was Kennedy's car. In the quaint vernacular, all hell broke loose."

He talks about William Loeb and the infamous Union Leader letter to the editor, known as the Canuck letter. He was one of three reporters covering Senator Edmund Muskie's speech in front of the Manchester Union Leader, and Muskie cried, or did he?

The question was, who wrote the Canuck letter? John shares what he knows. "And it is most likely that it was one of the Nixon dirty tricks. I'm saying it because I don't know or remember where they were from, either the Committee to Reelect the President or if they were working in the White House. One of Nixon's guys tells a television reporter in a rather tender moment that he had written the Canuck letter."

I say to him, "In a tender moment? I love it."

And he replies, "Would you like another euphemism?"

We talked about Hillary Clinton and what he called 'the Benghazi business.' However, some of the most exciting stories were about Meldrim Thomson, Jr., the three-term governor of New Hampshire. Those stories are a book in themselves.

So, it is with as much gratitude I have his voice and his words to listen to in contrast to the few words I wish I had from Denise.

With so much focus on words and their meaning today, we need to listen, remember, and record them.

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