Stories from the Rolodex
Don Davis died.
Why is his death meaningful? You might have heard of him if you read one of his NY Times bestselling books. You most likely don't know about Don before becoming an author; he was a journalist and photographer, working for the United Press International wire service. Don is featured in my book Stories from the Rolodex, and his passing reminds me of why it is so important to get to know this group of professionals who covered news all over the world. Their work informed us, and for most of them, they did it anonymously. No bylines. No accreditations.
Stories and history die with people, and if we don't document them before they pass, they are lost forever. I was fortunate to have spent nearly two hours with Don on the phone hearing about his life of being in the South with Martin Luther King, Jr, and Governor George Wallace. He told me what it was like to be on Vietnam's battlefield and needing to change a tire on his Jeep. His voice was deep, and it had a Georgia twang never lost from his childhood. He was funny, and I was fully aware of the importance he shared.
In 1983, I was hired as a salesperson for the Boston Herald. Rupert Murdoch of Fox News fame had bought the paper. Murdoch was famous for his London tabloids, where bosomy women appeared on page 3 wearing nothing but bikinis.
One day I wandered into the office of United Press International. At one point in its history, the famed news service had over 6,000 media subscribers: newspapers, radio, and television stations worldwide. Forgive the language, but piss-poor management took UPI into a downward spiral, and at one point, it sold for just $1.
The Boston bureau of UPI rented space from the Herald and was closing. On one of the desks sat a card-carrying behemoth Rolodex, the largest I'd ever seen. This was at a time when there were no cell phones. There wasn't any internet, at least, none that had widespread access. To keep track of your contacts, you used a Rolodex: a wheel that held 4" x 2" notched note cards where you filled in name, address, phone number, and any other essential tip to describe the contact.
I asked one of the men what would happen to the Rolodex, and he said, "Throw it away."
I saved the Rolodex that day, and it has rescued me. Everyone needs a purpose in their lives, and the Rolodex gave me a path forward. You see, the cards represent the lives of people who have important stories to tell. The cards are from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and let me tell you, that is beginning to be a really long time ago. Their stories need to be preserved, and with over 700 cards on this wheel, that's a lot of history. There are sixteen mini-memoirs of journalists. Two have passed since I began the journey of compiling the book.
The linchpin in Stories from the Rolodex was the Baby Fiske card. It had a phone number and two words: liver transplant. The story of Baby Fiske took place when there was no such thing as a transplant database. It's a truly heroic tale of doing whatever a parent must do to save a daughter from certain death.
Everyone knows Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame and the bringing down of President Nixon. Who you don't know are the equally talented journalists who worked the stories of a generation, and you read in your morning newspaper. Stories from the Rolodex puts a name and a face on the journalists who brought you headline stories. Every newspaper reader has read the news coming to us through wire services with credits like 'by United Press International' or 'by Associated Press.' Nameless, faceless writers.
Stories from the Rolodex is a howdunit book where strippers and congressmen are chased and cornered and where politicians and reporters are stalked to save a life. Spin the wheel of the Rolodex and pick a card, any card. It will lead you to the Golden Dome for a drink or the No Name Restaurant for chowder. You could reach Red Auerbach at home. You can see where Henry Kissinger's ex-wife lived or discover Gloria's Cash and Carry had luscious subs. You will see pictures taken by journalist Wayne Phaneuf, where he reported on Operation Homecoming when Vietnam POWs were returned to the United States in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the night.
Stories from the Rolodex will publish in December. To order your copy go to www.BeverlyStoddart.com.