COLUMN: Heroes come in all flavors

Bob Baker
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Bob Baker is a creative and branding resource and author of a bar-style memoir, "When Life Was Wow!"

You finish reading Patrick O’Donnell’s “The Indispensables,” his brilliantly presented account of the part Glover’s Regiment played in the American Revolution. Even if you just moved to Marblehead a month ago, the next time you cross the line to Swampscott or Salem, there will be a lilt to your kilt, a decided swagger of obnoxious pride about you.

Gen. John Glover and his hardy band of mixed-ingredient soldier mariners almost single-regimentedly saved the wobbly country-in-the-making time and time again, creating the American Navy while they were at it. If it weren’t for Glover’s Regiment, we’d probably all be speaking British today.

I overheard someone talking about the book the other day say, “John Glover belongs on Mount Rushmore.”

John Glover is one kind of hero — textbook. My son, Rich, who passed away at 51 in 2016 after a four-year, live-life-to-the-fullest smackdown with esophageal cancer, was another.

Due to circumstances beyond my control in recent years and minimal contact soon after divorce, my relationship with my son was loving but distant. Other than the fact that he was almost painfully humble, a bright, happy good guy, a bass player with a wry sense of humor and a lot of friends, I saw him so seldom that I had only a sketchy notion of what he was up to. I knew he was a loyal friend of Bill — a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)— for the past 25 years or so, and as one of the more recent United Airlines employees, plus his illness, he’d been on leave from his job on the ramp crew for the past year and a half.

A month ago, I emailed a best buddy of Rich’s and asked him to fill me in — who was this son of mine? At first glance, the brevity of his friend’s response would seem to hold little promise. Probably 50 words or less.

Reading it knocked me out: “I need to tell you Rich helped someone, somehow seven days a week all over the North Shore. He was constantly giving people rides to the (AA) halls, new and old members… didn’t matter, what mattered is Richie was saving there (sic) lifes (sic) in the simplest but most profound way… Richie was a Saint of the people in AA… nothing ever expected in return.”

The blubbering outpouring of tears of euphoric aching pride I felt, and feel, every time I read that message! His lady love, who Rich lived with, told me every word of it was true.

Here’s a hero in a far less dynamic sense: My “staying true to things I value” form of heroism. The subject here is Paul Newman, whose memoir published last October made it clear he’d gone through some rough patches in his life.

My validation of the hero at the core of Paul Newman came about from this passage in the terrific Sports Illustrated sportswriter Frank Deford’s 2012 memoir, “Over Time”: “Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward lived for many years in Westport, Connecticut where we lived. I only met him a couple of times, but one night a couple of years ago, my wife, Carol, and I, strictly by chance, had seats next to the Newmans at a small musical in town.

“Paul had cancer then and had but a few months to live; he was frail, but the glorious blue eyes still had a glow to them, and when he sat down next to me, he gave Carol and me the best that remained of that you-never-know smile of his. Paul and I had some fun general chitchat. Joanne, who’d been talking with friends at the top of the aisle, came down and took her seat, just as the house lights blinked. The lights dimmed lower. Out of the corner of my eye, I sneaked a look to my right. The instant it was dark and the music started, Paul reached over and, like a teenager, took his sweetheart’s hand in his.

“I only waited a second. If Paul Newman, the handsomest, sexiest man in the world, age 82, married half a century, could… I reached over and took Carol’s hand, and the four of us held them like that while the show went on. Double date.”  

Hemingway’s definition of heroism was “grace under pressure.” Mine is “it comes in all flavors.” 

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