My co-worker Jason has a story in today's paper about the anniversary of the Challenger disaster.
I will never forget traveling to Chattanooga back during the 90s to cover a couple of things at the Tennessee Aquarium -- one was a new exhibit, the other was an IMAX film about Mount Everest. I was sitting in the IMAX theater with Katie Fulgham, who was the aquarium's PR spokesperson at the time, waiting for the movie to start and we were talking about some of the themes related to exploring Everest.
"It's like when my father was killed in the Challenger explosion," she said at one point.
I was startled. Had I heard her right? Should I ask her about this? If I didn't hear her right, am I going to come across as an idiot?
I asked. Katie Scobee Fulgham was, in fact, the daughter of Dick Scobee, Challenger's commander. We didn't really have a chance to talk more about this -- the movie was about to start. Later, in the wake of 9/11, I read a moving column that she wrote about what it's like to see your family's personal tragedy replayed over and over on television, and how she sympathized with the people in 2001 who were replaying what she had experienced in 1985.
Something like Challenger is certainly a national tragedy -- but we can't forget that it's also a personal tragedy, for the people who actually knew and loved the people involved.
This week marked another sad anniversary -- the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma State University plane crash which killed two pilots and eight passengers from the school's athletic department. One of those passengers was Kendall Durfey, who had been my best friend when we were students at Oral Roberts University in the early 1980s. Kendall's father, Dr. Thomas Durfey, was my academic advisor, and Kendall and I roomed together the year after college while working for the Durfey family's radio station in Oklahoma. While at ORU, Kendall and I produced parody radio ads which I played on the PA system prior to campus movies (I was campus film chairman for 2 1/2 years.)
I'm friends with Kendall's mother on Facebook, and my heart hurt for her when I saw her posts this week. Kendall also left behind a wife and a daughter -- I never had the chance to meet them, even though I called Kendall every year or so.
We never know when or how we're going to leave this earthly life. Be deliberate about telling people how much they mean to you.