Monday, April 13, 2009

The amazing but sorrowful side of Googling

Whenever I have nothing better to do, I often turn to Google and type in the names of old friends and acquaintances with whom I have lost contact. I'm inquisitive by nature--some might call me a busy body--and I'm curious to know what's happened to these people since I last saw them.

The other day I concentrated on men with whom I had worked during the 1950s and early 1960s at the McGraw-Hill/Business Week Washington news bureau, and I entered the names of three of them.

I was saddened to learn that they are all dead and that two other former colleagues have also passed away. According to a Washington Post obituary shown in Google, one of my former colleagues, Boyd France, died just a month ago in a suburban Washington hospice at age 88.

Boyd I shared a small office cubicle for about 10 years. We used to joke that we spent more time with each other than we did with our wives. Boyd covered the State Dept. and developed an extraordinary roster of diplomatic news sources. He was also the National Press Club's chess champion.

Boyd's father was a prominent corporate and civil rights lawyer. I remember that one day his father visited him and discovered that Boyd had no will. His father prepared one for him, and Boyd brought it into the office and asked me to sign it as a witness.

I casually read the will and was so impressed that I asked Boyd whether he would object if I copied the will's contents and used them as the model for my own will--with the names, of course, changed. I did not have a will of my own at the time. Boyd did not object. Today, so many years later, my current will is still essentially based on the one prepared by Boyd France's father.

Boyd's career began in France where, in 1947, he became widely publicized as the young reporter who swam out from a Mediterranean port to interview the Jewish Holocaust victims aboard the Exodus, the famous ship which the British had barred from landing in Palestine.

My next Google discovery was a reference to the Donald O. Loomis Memorial Scholarship in Journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It was established to honor the man who, as co-head of the Business Week Washington bureau's news desk, was involved in hiring me for the magazine in 1952. Don died in April 2008 at age 93.

The scholarship is awarded for achievement in journalism and for "the demonstration of a well-rounded range of activities and interests outside the classroom as exemplified by the life of Donald O. Loomis."

I e-mailed the university, inquiring how to extend my belated condolences to his son, David Loomis, a sponsor of the scholarship. Don had been in the Washington bureau for 35 years and was, indeed, the type of renaissance man who would inspire the scholarship applicants.``````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````ould
In addition to being my primary editor, never failing to sharpen and improve my writing, Don was a lifelong, ardent athlete who was my frequent tennis partner. He also introduced me to golf, but on that score he failed. I never could develop enthusiasm for the game.

I received an acknowledgment from Don's son, David, a longtime newspaperman who is now a journalism professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. David had some more sad news, informing me that another longtime Business Week colleague, Dan McCrary, who was his father's close friend, died this past January at age 77.

I had worked with Dan both in Washington, where he covered the Justice Dept., and in New York, where he edited what Business Week called "the front-of-the-book," the magazine's section on latest news events.

I also typed the name of another former Washington colleague, Seth Payne, into Google. I was always intrigued that Seth, who had been raised on a ranch in New Mexico, was a merchant marine officer during World War II. He later became a naval reserve officer.

With his Navy contacts, Seth backed me up in my assignment as Business Week's Pentagon correspondent while working on his own beat, science and technology. When the Russians launched Sputnik, creating a new journalistic specialty, space technology, Seth also took on that assignment.

The Google reference revealed that he had established the Seth Payne/Evert Clark Award in 1988 to honor Clark, his longtime friend and Business Week colleague, who died that year. Seth Payne himself died several years later.

The award is granted annually to a distinguished young science journalist. I did not know Clark, a science and aviation writer who later worked for Newsweek magazine, very well. During my time in the Business Week Washington bureau, Clark worked in an adjoining office for Aviation Week, which like BW was a McGraw-Hill publication.

But I had the same kind of office intimacy with Payne that I enjoyed with Boyd France. A glass wall separated Payne's small office cubicle from mine, and his desk was opposite my desk. We could not avoid closely observing each other at work each day. Both Payne and I became the fathers of boys at the same time, prompting us regularly to compare notes on our new sons' development.

I regard Google as one of the technological wonders of our time. It is an extraordinary source of information of all kinds. My search for information about former colleagues, however, brought me both sadness and a reminder of how honored I was to work with these men of great talent and character.

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Blogger Sylvia K said...

Oh, Mort, that is sad, but to be able to find all that information is wonderful. Google is quite amazing! Your post reminds me once again what an incredible life you have had and enjoyed. It's sad to lose friends, but finding out so much about them even now is a little like touching base with them again. Have a good week, my friend.

Monday, April 13, 2009 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Kay Dennison said...

I am with Sylvia. You've had an incredible life but then, you are in incredible person and I am honored and proud to know you via blogging.

In fact, what you've done here is gild the lily. You've added to the stories and memories of your friends friends who have passed away.

I think the thing I hate most about getting older is that I keep losing people.

And yeah, I google old friends and acquaintances, too, sometimes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 2:28:00 PM  
Blogger Darlene said...

There is little I can add to what Sylvia and Kay said about you, Mort. We are all privileged to get to know you through your blog.

Your life was much more interesting than mine, but we are contemporaries in age and I enjoy reading about the life of someone who shared being young during the same era.

I hope your wife is improving and please tell her that we think of her, too and are wishing her good health.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 5:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Morton:

I too am a Google addict. For an additional source of information
go to:


Tuesday, April 14, 2009 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Lydia said...

Oh, how I do love these posts of yours that bring the past to life. I could see the scenes and get a sense of how very fine your former colleagues were. It's sadly ironic that your Google search was a tad late in possibly reestablishing contact with them. I think it's remarkable the long lives each had, certainly beating longevity statistics. Intelligent and effective men. Good and long lives.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 5:16:00 AM  

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