I picked up the newspaper this past week and discovered Larry Speakes, the longtime spokesman for President Ronald Reagan, had died at his home in Cleveland, Miss. He was 74 and according to reports, he finished out his days suffering from Alzheimer’s, as had Reagan.
One of the great privileges of my career was to work with and to be friends with the man. He was living proof that “you can take the boy out of Mississippi, but you can’t take Mississippi out of the boy.” Despite his lofty status in the Reagan White House and in his later career in corporate America, Speakes remained down-to-earth and unassuming. As we say in the South, “He was good folks.”
At my invitation, he came to my beloved Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia on his own dime and wowed the students and faculty with his experiences of being on a world stage during some momentous times in our history. Later, he was kind enough to provide some gracious comments for the cover of my book on the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
So why am I telling you all this? Not to impress you I have come in contact with some important people over my lifetime. We’ve all done that. I do so because I am feeling a lot of guilt today. I lost connection with someone with whom I should have stayed in touch and I let the years get away from me for no good reason. I guess I assumed friends will always be there. At my age, I should know better.
Maintaining friendships should be easy. We have more than enough social media available to do the job. There is email and texting and the telephone and, if you are so inclined, pen and ink and paper. The only other requirement is the initiative to make it a priority. Alas, I seemed to have found other things to do with my time.
As I write these words, I am trying to remember why I was too busy to stay in touch with my old friend from Mississippi. At this point in our lives, there was little we could do for each other professionally. Our respective careers were pretty much in the rearview mirror. But I could have tapped out a few lines on my computer and asked, “How are you doing?” or “What’s going on?” or maybe shared some political gossip or lamented about the sad state of today’s partisan politics. I could have been there if he had wanted to talk about something that was bothering him. I don’t believe my days were so full I couldn’t have taken a few minutes to do that. Now, I find out in the newspaper I won’t have the opportunity again.
It makes me wonder who else have I let drop off my personal radar for no reason other than I haven’t taken the time or shown the interest to reach out and let them know their friendship has been and remains meaningful to me. That begs the larger question: Just what kind of friend am I? Today, I’m not sure I like the answer.
You and I may not share political philosophies. Our views on religion may differ markedly. There is a good chance that we don’t like the same foods or fashion or football team. We surely don’t look alike. Be thankful for all small favors. But, we all have one thing in common: There are people in our lives — past and present — who have accepted us for who we are and what we are and not for what we can do for them. And, most importantly, they are there when we need them. They are our friends. Friendships are like flowers. Maintain them properly and they grow. Ignore them and they will wither away.
The Legislature is now in session and I suspect you are awaiting my unvarnished observations about the goings-on under the Gold Dome. I plan to get to that task posthaste but before I do, I thought it important to take a moment of personal privilege and remind you how transitory life is and to never lose track of old friends because you are too self-absorbed in your own little world.
Sad to say, but I did exactly that to an old friend who deserved better from me.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga. 31139.