Catalina High School, Tucson, Arizona, USA
Letters From The Big Apple                                           Old Pueblo

Ford Burkhart
Editor's Note: Classmate Ford Burkhart, former International Editor of The New York Times, has kindly agreed to write a periodic column for our website. Now, he has retired and is back in Tucson, but he still likes to add his perspective to this site. Here are his welcome contributions. Thanks, Ford!
Also be sure to check out Ford's past tomes in his ARCHIVES.
Amid the snow and slush of many New York nights, I used to recall a few bright January days in Tucson, when many of us were already looking beyond graduation, to joining the big, mostly peaceful, prosperous, promising Republican world of 1959.

Castro was the big news, a cigar-smoking Robin Hood, at first, who on Jan. 1 rode in to end feudalism in Cuba, an American friend, for a while. Nixon went to Moscow as VP for a moment of high honor. We trusted capitalism and self-reliance to guide us and fix things. The Dalai Lama went into exile after an uprising in Tibet against China. Alaska and Hawaii became states. Who knew what strange twists awaited. I wrote a few segments about Castro and the Dalai Lama at the NY Times, and even learned to spell Khrushchev.

But in the hoo-hah of NYC, you miss so many things about Tucson that you'll never take anything here for granted again. Even Speedway's worst block is not so bad if you steal a glance at the Catalinas in the morning, or remember to marvel at a big moon on a winter evening through the palo verdes.
I had an e-mail today from an old CHS friend, with some nature photographs from Africa. It reminded me of a friend from our Uganda days, who still signs e-mails with:  "Two men look out from prison bars; one sees mud, and one sees stars." Whether you are a poor Ugandan, living on a few dollars a day, or a richly blessed Tucsonan, what you actually see is always your choice, and your reward.

So 50 years after the start of our graduation year, it seems a good time to share those things that we choose to see and be thankful for in these early days of 2009.

Three days before I left New York in 2007, after 11 years at the Times, we editors took our summer intern, a fellow named Adam, from Florida, out to lunch. We often wrote up a silly little newsroom poem to celebrate such occasions, and I wrote one to record my thoughts as I looked at my last deadline, and to sum up what I'd learned about the high-pressure pace there, clashes with our supervisors at the main news desk and the nit-picking colleagues called backfield editors, a struggle to learn some obstreperous software called CCI, my fondness for a fine old Englishman named Gerry Cassidy, whose last day of good health was spent working at the editing pod we shared, and my feelings about heading back to Arizona. I don't know if a college kid named Adam will remember the words or the bigger lessons, like don't forget that a deadline is just a deadline, and there will always be plenty more if you miss one. More important, somewhere there are people who count, who care about you, who constitute what life's all about. As I look at those words, dashed off in a few moments before rushing off to lunch in Times Square, they still ring true 18 months later, and I suspect they'll hold up years down the road:

"Advice to an Intern on the Foreign Desk"

There's not much to tell
our intern named Adam.
"First story, first screw up,
we all sure had 'em."

I wondered what else,
then turned on a dime
as the slot yelled,
"Let's fix it next time."

I thought about Dave
and Christie and Vin,
and Jake and old Bob,
and Gerry, again.

On your way up,
be nice to them all;
you'll meet them again,
as we rise and we fall.

"Faster, start closing.
Just drop and drag.
The news desk is starting
to whine and nag."

I remember an old time:
no backfield, no jerks,
no CCI training.
Everything works.

"Faster, check the wires.
Move it to the slot.
We'll get help from Metro,
or maybe not."

But it's just a deadline.
There's always another.
Out West, there's a life
and a gal like no other.

Out West, there's more,
a life that's the best.
"Hey, it's past deadline!"
It's time to head West.

Remembering New York; thinking of Tucson
Editor's note: Among the things that Ford wrote for his paper, The New York Times, this weekend (Jan.9, 2011), are the notes below.     

Giffords Vigil

Ford Burkhart

As the sun was going down behind the tall red-brick University Medical Center building, Melih, 3, and his sister Asli, 2, from Turkey, stood at the edge of the shadow over the  collection of vigil mementos including red, blue and white rosary beads draped over photographs.

Their mother, Pinar Erduran, wearing a black head scarf, said they would go next to the Turkish Cultural Center and pray with about 50 other Muslim Turks in the evening on Sunday (Jan. 9, the day after the shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords along with a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge who were killed, and others).  She said they had called each other during the day and decided to make prayers together. “We were so shocked. We have been praying through the day,” she said.  “I thought if I came here to pray God with his beautiful names, to please survive her, perhaps He will hear us. Insha-allah (if God wills it). It might have been us or my own children.”

She read some of the names of God from a small palm-sized Koran : “Ya Allah, Ya Rahim, ya Karim, ya Hakim.”  A yellow helicopter overhead drowned out the last of her words. 

Melih looked at the bouquets and said softly, “We forgot to bring flowers.”

Pinar replied, “It’s OK. Prayers are more important than flowers.”

Earlier, a waist-high boy in a green hooded sweatshirt toddled from the crowd in front of the UMC at 2 p.m., barely able to hold up a potted plant with tiny yellow flowers, which he placed on the grass.  His mother, Kelly Nguyen, said Lucas, who is 4, wanted to come to the vigil, his first, for Gabrielle Giffords.  Asked if he was sad on this day, Lucas, looking somber, said, “Yeah. And I wore my new shoes,” and lifted his tiny brown loafers as he sat down on the grass. 

Many of the dozens of flowers at the vigil site were yellow, and Kelly Nguyen said that color was for friendship.  “That represents what this community feels today. It’s so sad. What can we do but offer our thoughts and our prayers,” she said. “It hit close to home for us. We live only a mile from where the shootings took place. “ There were also some red, purple and yellow roses and bouquets of carnations on the large lawn.

The crowd shifted from a dozen to 30 or 40 as the day rolled on.  A man in a black T-shirt and beard walked to the curb and knelt, eyes closed, before the array of hundreds of signs.  Some said “Fight Gaby Fight,” “Get well Gabrielle, we believe in you. Love, Rain, Ashby, Tyler, Caroline. God is able.”  Others said “Peace and Love are Strong,” and “Thoughts and prayers for everyone healing through the tragedy.

There were framed and unframed photos of Giffords and the slain 9-year-old Christina Green and Judge John M. Roll,  and perhaps 120 lighted candles, many in the glass vases bearing the image of the Virgin Mary as are commonly seen in Roman Catholic churches.  A collection of teddy bears grew during the day, in red and gray, one in brown wearing a brightly colored knit winter cap.

A man parked a black pickup truck beside the vigil lawn site. The driver, Michael Lopez, said he was bringing bottled tea and Mexican food, enchiladas, rice, taquitos, and chilaquiles from a restaurant called El Charro, for the media and for police and sheriff’s officers who monitored the vigil site, surrounded by perhaps 25 television vans and trucks, among them some 12 dish antennas. “Everybody is doing what they can,” he said. “Spread the word.”