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Reprinted from YellowBalloonPublications.com

 

I just learned today that my friend and professional writing mentor Ted Crail passed away in April, 2014.

 

I tried to find him several times the past few years–including writing to his last-known email address and snail mail address in Kalispell MT. No response from him or his wife. That should have clued me in. (Today I also learned that his first wife preceded him in death in 1998, after 42 years of marriage.)

 

So today, after reading his book APETALK AND WHALESPEAK again for what is probably the third time in 35 years, I tried reaching out again, this time by typing “Ted Crail obituary” into the search field (a search Lisa suggested I try) –hoping against hope that I wouldn’t find him that way.

 

But I did.

 

And my heart is broken.

 

He died at age 85, after having been told many times during his lifetime, even as a very young child, that he would not live much longer. (It was with great pleasure that he reported in APETALK AND WHALESPEAK that all of the doctors who gave his family the devastating news died before he did.)

 

Here are links to his obituaries in various newspapers and one magazine…

 

http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/05/27/ted-crail-85-for-25-years-vice-president-of-the-animal-protection-institute/

 

http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/obituaries/article2598167.html

 

http://www.dailyinterlake.com/archive/article-106b735e-d557-11e3-90cd-001a4bcf887a.html

 

Perhaps it was because Ted was a miracle child–the survivor of a dread disease–that he exuded irrepressible joy and ebullience every day I knew and worked with him for the four years I spent at the Animal Protection Institute. He was always chipper, animated and smiling. At least, he was with me.

 

Some of the other employees lived in dread of Ted, which utterly amazed me! Apparently he was tougher on people if he felt they weren’t proceeding, with all deliberate speed, to fulfill the destinies that he knew they were capable of. A perfectionist, he didn’t endure slackers or timidity well at all.

 

A proactive, curious, inventive, insatiably curious man, he thought nothing of picking up the telephone or hopping a plane to engage with the people he considered noteworthy movers and shakers.

 

Case in point:

 

By way of introduction, I must first proclaim that I was, and always will be, an unabashed admirer of the Kennedy’s–not as a political dynasty, necessarily–but just because they could have sat on their moneyed butts their entire lives, contributing zero to anyone or anything other than themselves  and their immediate families (as all too many Gilded Age-like oligarchs and plutocrats have done, and still do; the current POTUS is a current example). Instead, they engaged, they acted, and three of them died in the service of this country (JFK, RFK and Joe Jr, who died when his plane went down in WWII). Fully one third of the Joe/Rose Kennedy progeny died while serving America. (Rose Kennedy’s “Times to Remember” is one of my favorite books of all time.)

 

My absolute favorite Kennedy was Robert F. –known as Bobby. The “runt” of the litter, he always had to try harder than everybody else in the family to be considered half as good. And I could see he had the spark, that he was a progressive, especially when it came to the plight of Native Americans, immigrant workers (Cesar Chavez), and black children (called Negroes back then). My favorite RFK-centric book is probably “American Journey: The Times of Robert F. Kennedy”, containing the collective memories of the people who were aboard the funeral train that carried him to Arlington Cemetery  after he was killed.

 

As the father of a tribe of kids (a total of 11 eventually, one of whom he never met, because he was gunned down in 1968), he was a dad first and a politician second. Whenever he saw a child or elder in need–of any race or creed–his heart led the way.

 

He was perhaps the only white man in America when Martin Luther King Jr was murdered who could (and certainly he was the only one who did) show up at a nearly all-black campaign rally, ask them to put down their signs, and tell them the sad news without having to worry about being shot himself in angry response to the enormity and the atrocity of the act.  Here is a video of those moments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoKzCff8Zbs

 

After JFK and RFK were killed, their brother Edward M. Kennedy (who had a long, storied career in Congress) picked up the torch and carried it for the rest of his life. (He had already been carrying it for several years when his brothers were killed.) The youngest male Kennedy proposed and helped pass more legislation than almost anyone else in the history of Congress–bills that protected workers, patients, the environment (including beleaguered and endangered animals), and so much more…

 

Well, one day I was in Ted’s office discussing an animal welfare bill that was before Congress when he directed me to “Call Senator Kennedy’s office and get a quote from him.”

 

I froze, a deer caught in headlights.

 

Me?!  Call Senator Kennedy?!! Surely I could NOT have heard that correctly…

 

When I didn’t rise from my chair, he looked over at me, frowned (perplexed, not upset or angry) and asked, “Can you do that?”

 

“Call Senator Kennedy?” I repeated numbly.

 

“Yes.”

 

I went dumb again.

 

He wasn’t used to finding me as anything less than willing, eager, and happy to comply with whatever he needed. I had matched him, joy for joy, and task for task, every time… right up until this moment.

 

“What is it?” he finally asked.

 

“I don’t think I can do that. I’d fall all over myself. I’d fumble. I’m in awe of that family. And we’re in California. He’s representing Massachusetts.” I was scrambling, trying to think of anything to sidestep the immensity of the task he’d just asked me to perform.

 

“It’s a federal animal welfare bill. So we’re his constituents, too, here at API.”

 

I was in pain. Surely this couldn’t be happening to me…

 

He finally figured out that I was something akin to star struck. He had never seen it in me before.

 

“OK,” he grinned, letting me off the hook. “I’ll call.”

 

“Thank you!” I exuded…and started breathing again.

 

Ted Crail was my writing mentor. He received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for APETALK AND WHALESPEAK, and he was API’s VP and head of the organization’s Creative Services. Nothing went out of that organization unless he either wrote it or approved it wholeheartedly. And he loved my writing abilities. He pulled me into his office one time and told me, “You are a helluva writer. You need to be doing something more than just writing for us. You need to get out there and make a name for yourself.”

 

High praise from a master!  Although my teachers and actor DeForest Kelley had told me pretty much the same thing, they weren’t professional writers, so Ted’s comments are what really got me thinking, “I can really do this. A Pultizer Prize-nominated writer just said this to me!”

 

That’s the sweetest music a writer can hear–accolades from a master.

 

When I left API, Ted wrote me a stirring, stunning letter of recommendation that I still hand out to this day. There’s a copy on the wall in my office.  Here it is in a PDF format:

 

Recommendation Ltr API Crail

 

 

I’ll end this Ode to Ted with a hair-raising story that proves what a 24/7/365 reporter he was.

 

We were flying to, or back from, an API conference one time when the plane encountered tremendous turbulence. It was so shaky and dangerous that one of the passengers broke a hip on her armrest (apparently she hadn’t heeded the “Fasten Seat Belts” request from the cabin or the flashing sign, or she was just returning from a mandatory trip to the bathroom) when the plane plunged and then lurched upward again.

 

I had been been in serious turbulence before, but this was unprecedented in my experience. Apparently it was unprecedented in Ted’s, too, because as things got wilder and even more intense, he reached underneath his seat, retrieved his camera from its bag, and started checking it out to make sure it had film in it.

 

I was seated right next to him, white-knuckling my armrests with the best of them, so when I saw him fiddling with his camera, I inquired, “What are you doing?”

 

He replied,”If this plane goes down, I’m going to have the last pictures of it.” The professional reporter in him was not about to pass up a story as dramatic as this one!

 

I thought “Fat chance of that. If we go down, your images will burn up or be smashed into dust.” Then I rethought the scenario. “But what if they do somehow manage to survive?”

 

I imagined close-ups of my frantic, panicked face as we plunged toward the ground, thought of my poor parents, sisters and friends, and shot back vehemently, “Put that God-damned thing away!”

 

(I only cuss to superiors when I’m next to positive we’re about to die…)

 

He grinned, but he did put the camera away…probably because he realized that my next action would have been to throw up or soil myself had he persisted.

 

Ted Crail will forever remain in my heart. If you read APETALK AND WHALESPEAK you’ll get a taste of him, and be glad–but I hope the taste I’ve just given you helps you understand why I am soooo sorry I didn’t stay in touch with him all these years…

 

He was one of the most delightful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

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