Memory is an acute thing. It can baptize you, take you over, reflect on where you’ve been and, in some extreme cases, incapacitate you. Memory can also warm, warn and welcome you — and this story is a matter of the latter in the name of one my earliest mentors and influencers, Rick Alloway. Yes is hard. No is easy. Rick Alloway was always a Yes Man in the most honorific possible way.
Rick gave me my start in radio at KFOR 1240 and KFRX 103 in Lincoln, Nebraska when I was 13-years-old, and he helped correct me, win me and convince me in every single way of the world. He was never harsh or cruel or condescending — even when you earned such treatment. His greatest talent was simply listening and being infinitely patient. In the radio advert below, Rick is in the front row wearing a mustache and I’m right next to him sporting the sun-sensitive hipster glasses.
I’m more of a Twitter person than I am a Facebook one — merely because I find the instantaneous Wild Westness of Twitter more familiar, fun and challenging — and because genius Twitter founder Ev Williams is a child of the corn — but also because most of my old friends and associates prefer Facebook over Twitter where they can hunker down and sink into the past while still being actively connected to the present.
Rick and I are connected on Facebook, and here’s an interesting thread of a Facebook conversation many of us old timers shared in December of last year that still sings within me today.
Rick commented on a blue butterfly:
Danny, when I was in grade school, I drew a blue butterfly during an art project in class. My mother loved butterflies, and I thought she would like it as a gift. My teacher stopped by to look at my work and said “that’s nice, but you know, there are no blue butterflies.” I was crushed. And when I told my parents, my mother, also an elementary school teacher, was furious with my teacher for squashing my creative expression. Not to mention, she was flat wrong about the existence of blue butterflies. So I have used that story with my own sons, and now, with my journalism students, about the choices we make with our words. I just closed my last journalism class with that story, encouraging my students to use their words for positive purposes, and leaving them with a PowerPoint slide of a blue morpho.
I prefer to read and watch on Facebook — but that day, I was inspired again by Rick — and I leapt into the conversation:
Here’s my Rick Alloway Mother Story! 35 years ago Rick and I were walking along the street in front of what was then the Stuart building, and I was stressing out about an upcoming interview, and Rick said, “My mother told me, whenever I was under stress to stop everything I was doing and listen to the birds singing. Just stop. Go outside. Forget about yourself and listen and you’ll feel better.” The moment struck me as beautiful and simple in the instant and has stuck with me all these years, even in my darkest moments, proving that these important teaching moments are not just generational, and they move beyond blood into the conditional human memetic. Now, whenever I want to get out of the mind of the current situation, I stop and listen for the birds — and they’re always there! In Times Square. In the subway station. In the mall. In a desert of concrete and steel — there’s always a bird waiting to be heard. I’m glad your surgery went well and I’m grateful your family and friends will have you around for a long time!
The neat thing is when you listen, the birds come to you!
The conversation took off from there and many others joined in the reflection and reminiscing. I continued:
If you spend any time at all with Rick, you’re going to come away with lots of great lessons rich for the sharing. There’s a Jan Berniklau story waiting to be told. I interviewed her for my KFOR show and Jan and I had the giggles and Rick was producing the show. She sang on the show — one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard now, then and forever — and Rick had to edit out all our laughter. We had 30 minutes of laughing in a 10 minute show. He was not happy when he showed me the reel-to-reel tape had just as much white edit tape as there was black recording tape. He should’ve just postponed the show and made us do it all over again, but he didn’t. He saved the show with masterful, second-by-second razor edits — with a real razor blade! — that made everything whole and right again.
I wrote earlier about Rick’s compassion and understanding, and here’s the extended example that includes his lovely wife, Shelley — they’ve been together since high school:
Yes, he was a little mad at me that I didn’t behave better and he had to spend hours cleaning up the tape so it could run the next morning. I will have to get the Frisbie story! Here’s my Shelley Alloway Story: When I had my first heartbreak breakup, I was a mess. Rick invited me over to his house to talk me through it and Shelley baked me cookies! They were absolutely delicious! What a family! You can’t make up this sort of kindness when you live it! SMILE!
Rick Alloway gave me a great many gifts of mind and heart and thoughtfulness, but the one thing that has never left me is how he selflessly helped others, and in his spirit, I have done my best to imitate and honor that sense of pressing the future forward beyond the selfish.
Rick doesn’t compete with his students or mentees — he just simply… intuitively and inherently — makes everything, and everyone, around him better just by knowing him.
If you’ve ever enjoyed or appreciated something I’ve done, written, produced, directed or performed over the years — Rick Alloway is the centerstone reason for your joy.