The death of John Mahaffey, longtime news anchor at Baton Rouge TV stations WAFB and WBRZ, brought a flood of stories about him. Here’s mine:
John, who always considered himself to be in the news business rather than show business, loved to tell stories about his reporting days. And some of them were tinged with the cynical humor that comes from years of seeing people at their worst.
But one evening at the Patio Lounge, where John sometimes dropped by after work, he told a different kind of story.
He told of being at the finish line of a Special Olympics race watching the runner who came in last, a severely disabled little guy.
He said the youngster struggled mightily to complete the race, and when he crossed the finish line raised his arms in victory, “looking like he had just won a gold medal at the Olympics.”
As John told of the last-place runner’s joy and triumph, his eyes glistened with tears for a moment.
He quickly shook if off and launched into a ribald tale that had his listeners roaring with laughter.
But those tears told me more about the man that any words ever could...
The littlest beer poet
Gail Stephenson says our April 19 story about the child singing the Schlitz jingle in church reminded her of this incident:
“In 1970, the Natchitoches Schlitz distributor ran a contest. The challenge was to write what would happen when you’re out of Schlitz beer.
“I entered with this bit of verse: ‘If I were out of Schlitz beer, all my friends would disappear. I’d be in such a flurry, as for more Schlitz I’d hurry.’
“I won, and received a hoodie with ‘Schlitz’ emblazoned across the back, a certificate for pizza for two and a pitcher of beer at a local bar, and a tankard.
“I got sent to the principal’s office for wearing the hoodie to school, and the bar went out of business before I was old enough to redeem the certificate — but I still have the tankard.”
Gary E. Penton, of Pineville, says, “We who grew up in the Florida parishes, east of the Mississippi, rarely met or heard a Louisiana Cajun.
“When I visited with a new girlfriend on Bayou Latinache, just out of Innis, she wanted to know how I found her house.
“I said, ‘The bus stopped at Melancon’s Store in Morganza and I asked for directions.’
“She and her whole family laughed at my pronunciation of Melancon.
“She finally explained, ‘You are in Acadiana — the word Melancon is pronounced Mel-au-seau.’
“After many years living in central Louisiana’s wonderful melting pot, I can now pronounce most of the beautiful French names that I meet.”
The mighty quarter
I have to admit that Mary Hamilton’s comment made me nostalgic for my childhood days:
“I grew up in the ’50s, and a quarter was a great allowance — it started when I was 10 years old.
“For 15 cents I could buy a candy bar, a cola and a small Dairy Queen cone, and have money left over.”
Special People Dept.
Rosemary Marx, of Bogalusa, celebrated her 101st birthday on Monday, April 25. She is an active members of “The Golden Girls” at Bogalusa Country Club.
Pearl Lipscomb, of Walker, celebrated her 98th birthday on Monday, April 25.
Albertha Johnson celebrated her 92nd birthday on Saturday, April 23.
Charles Stimac, of Leesville, celebrates his 90th birthday on Tuesday, April 26.
The above-mentioned John Mahaffey was an occasional, and always welcome, contributor to the column. Here are a couple of his little stories:
1. He said Louisiana wasn’t the only place that valued strong coffee:
“When I worked in west Texas, the coffee was considered ready to drink when the horseshoe floated to the top!”
2. He told of overhearing this conversation between two 9-year-old girls:
“Is Chuck still your boyfriend?”
“No, he doesn’t have class!”
“What do you mean, he doesn’t have class?”
“I wouldn’t be caught dead with a man who still watches Sesame Street!”
Write Smiley at Smiley@theadvocate.com. He can also be reached by fax at (225) 388-0351 or mail at P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.