Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Sad Day

I woke up this morning, poured myself a cup of coffee, grabbed my netbook and crawled back in bed to read the blogs and news, completely unsuspecting that tragedy would hit twice and personal this morning: former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was killed in a small aircraft crash near Dillingham, Alaska; and genealogy blogger Terry Thornton, known best for his blog "Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi" has passed.

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I don't believe I ever met Senator Stevens, but I grew up with him being a part of my life, sitting in the background, if you will. I was born and lived in Alaska until I was twelve, and as constituents, my family regularly received congressional updates from the senator as well as our other political representatives. I remember they would come in white envelopes with the return address in blue ink and a small bust of Stevens embossed with his signature "Ted F. Stevens" in the upper left hand corner. My parents were supporters of him and he did a lot of good for Alaska in the nation's capital. Additionally, we had a personal connection as well. My granduncle's widow, Mary E. [--?--] ERWIN SHORES, was one of his secretaries in D.C. She had been married to my paternal grandmother's biological brother, and although Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary were separated at the time of his early death, Aunt Mary and my grandmother remained close. In 1970, when I was three years old, we visited my extended family in Michigan in a trip from Alaska. From the Grand Rapids area, my parents and I took a road trip to D.C. with my paternal grandparents. Some of my earliest memories include seeing the Capitol lit up at night while driving by, as well as playing with Aunt Mary's little dog in her home.

Over the past few years, I've been trying to find out more about Aunt Mary. My grandmother has Alzheimer's, so I cannot turn to her for answers. I believe Mary was a Michigan girl who married my granduncle James Erwin. After his death, she married Michael Shore. I have tried to find death information on Aunt Mary and Uncle Mike, but without knowing more details, I can't distinguish them in the lists of Mary Shores and Michael Shores in the Social Security Death Index. Looking for their obituaries online has proved fruitless. A couple of years ago, I considered writing Senator Steven's office for assistance, but that was in the middle of his corruption scandal and federal trial (which further cements in my mind my opinion that lifetime political careers should be banned, no matter what the party or how effective a leader one is). Just a couple of weeks ago, I came across annual Congressional reports of various senators' and congressmen/women's staff and salaries; some staff had small biographies, and although I found Mary E. Shore listed several times with her salary as a secretarial staff member for Stevens, I could not find a biography.

All these thoughts flew together as I read the news about Stevens possibly being in a crash. I well remember the news of the crash he survived in 1978 that claimed several people's lives, including his wife Ann's. You don't grow up in Alaska without knowing someone that has died in an aircraft crash or has drowned. My parents lost some good friends whose helicopter flew into the side of a mountain during poor visibility, and one of my best friends survived a shipwreck and a subsequent month stranded on an island in the coldest winter in Alaska in 70 years...at 12 years old. So when I hear this story on the news, my heart goes out to the friends and family members of the people who were in that plane...that has got to be one of the most frightening ways to go.

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The other sad news is that genealogy blogger William Terrance "Terry" Thornton of Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi and other popular genealogy blogs passed yesterday. His cousin, Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian, and good friend the footnoteMaven who also writes for The Graveyard Rabbit (of which Terry was a founder) have some moving tributes on their blogs.

I never had a chance to meet Terry, but for several years we corresponded regularly by email. He featured a number of my posts on his weekly column "Harvest from the Blog Garden," and I did have an opportunity to speak with him on Skype once or twice while a group of us were batting around an idea of a genealogical bloggers' society (which eventually became The Geneabloggers Group).

To quote Ralph Fletcher: "Artists develop a love for the feel for their tools, the smell and texture of clay, wood, or paint. Writers are no different. Writers love words." Terry was a true writer, and he had a wonderful gift. He will be missed.
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