Anyway, there is a life's worth of achievement that gets lost in my interpretation of the man; the stories he'd unfurl at a moment's notice and the photos that adorned his "Vanity Wall" (moniker coined by his loving family) served as evidence of just that. This snapshot of him with Eleanor Roosevelt and JFK now graces my own, otherwise pale imitation of the wall. His obit in The New York Times exactly two years ago today does him more career justice than I ever could; it also stands as a painful personal parallel to the sentiments Rob outlines in his post below.
One of the positions Grampa Jack held that the Times didn't include was president of Pittsburgh public TV station WQED from 1955-1959. During that time, he/they recruited Robert Frost to tape 10 or 15 editions of an award-winning show called Heritage. While doing so, the esteemed poet was staying with some friends of my grandparents; while he was there, those friends invited said grandparents over for dinner with Mr. Frost...but asked a favor.
At that time, my Uncle Mike was attending the Falk School, a grade school affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh; one of his classmates was the son of Jonas Salk. Dr. Salk had been working at Pitt for nearly a decade, had gotten to know my grandparents, and, oh yeah, had developed the cure for polio. Robert Frost had asked that the Whites bring him along so he might meet the suddenly famous scientist.
And this became the story my grandmother cherishes most of all -- amid an abundance of anecdotes that has decorated her many years.
She'll launch into it with the slightest provocation:
"Whitney, I tell you, it was like watching royalty meet. Your grandfather and I felt like wallflowers, sitting back and watching two forms of greatness interact. We just sat there and listened. Jonas had been struggling to cope with his newfound fame, unsure how to balance quiet humility with the heaps of accolades coming his way. With great reverence for the old poet, he leaned in and asked him: 'Tell me, how do you handle all of the praise? How do you reconcile the acclaim? How do you take it?'And if all my grandfather had ever done in his life was to put Jonas Salk in the same living room as Robert Frost, I'd still appreciate him for the story.
Robert Frost smiled, but looked intently at him and replied [with a thought neither of my grandparents ever forgot]: 'Take it. You must take it. In this life there are those who do and those who appreciate. You do, so allow others to appreciate.' "
* * * * *
Fast-forward 50 years to the Nation's Capital. Three weeks ago, somewhere in that sea of political giants, mental midgets, military leaders, G:TB readers, Southeast thugs, Councilmen on drugs, unauthorized bugs, White House shrugs, sages with mugs, HOV slugs (a phenomenon that baffles me to this day), and a slew of woefully, pitifully underachieving sports teams, there was a union of two local heroes with global reaches. It was a meeting later described as possessing "a kind of palpable magnificence to the moment usually reserved for international summits and such."
That's right. TeeJay met Gheorghe.
And here's where I'll let Teej himself take the writing utensil...
[Grabbing crayon with fist]
Years ago, on a dark, foggy night in Little Italy, this simple man bumped into the man, myth and legend who graces the marquee of this here blog. It was a rushed encounter, but historic nonetheless, if only for me blurting out what I consider a classic line in celebrity encounters: "Hey Gheorghe, you, Little Italy? Ironic, huh?" Sure, Big Gheorghe and his interpreter were both confused and frightened by this, but it's still a major highlight in this dope's brief time on the planet. For years, I hoped Gheorghe and I might meet again, especially given the expansion of this little corner of the blogosphere, but I figured it would never happen...
Fast-forward to three weeks ago, and my place of employment finally came up huge... Gheorghe was slated to be the featured guest at one of our conferences, and I was determined to buck the trend and make the sequel better than the original. I was more excited than Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB Gun -- I was going to chat with Gheorghe Dumitru Mureşan. Skirting all true work responsibilities, I sauntered up to the big guy, muttered something about his awesomeness, and shook his hand. Shaking his hand is akin to one of us grabbing a marble -- just an absolutely massive individual. Hell, take a look below: the guy's as big as me SITTING DOWN. (And in case you can't tell, I'm a 6'2", 230 lb. load...Whit, you couldn't have airbrushed out the double-chin?)
This time, I was determined to make the most of my brush with ghreatness. After a bit of small talk, and surrounded by work folks who probably expected me to do work all day, I simply said to our hero, mentor, and namesake, "Google yourself sometime, Gheorghe -- you'll be pleasantly surprised."
Ghita, on the off-chance you ever take my words to heart, this post is for you...
And there you have it. Let the wild debates ensue about which was a more monumental meeting, but I'm calling it a wash. Say what you will about Frost-Salk, but when rabid blogger and unknowing, 7'7" bloggee convene in the same nine-square-foot Convention Center removable floor paneling, it's gotta be something special. In fact, if we really, truly are "dedicated to the premise that life would be better if we all took ourselves a little less seriously," this latter encounter pretty much supersedes every interaction we at G:TB have ever had.