Archive for the ‘Recollections 9 to 5’ Category

A few years before I retired, pads of the routing slip below quietly surfaced at work.

When I realized the form had been tampered with, I confiscated a small supply for my souvenir file.

I suspected that my friend Larry was responsible. But then, Larry was blamed for everything, whether he did it or not.

I have no idea how many of these forms got into circulation, or how many people used them unawares. For all I know, they’re still in use today.

That would be perfect. Worthy of Dilbert.

Routing slip

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Keeping It Clean

Back in the 90s when I was working at Lithonia Lighting, one of the higher-ups issued orders to have the warehouse cleaned up. The dirt and dust were pretty bad out there, and it got trashed quickly.

After the clean-up project, someone printed a stack of signs and posted them in the warehouse aisles nearest to the executive offices. This is the sign.


By the next morning, someone had written at the bottom of several signs in longhand, “What are Lets?”

I didn’t do it, but I wish I had.

Home of the Lets.

Home of the Lets.

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Who Goes There?

One of the defining characteristics of every Air Force base is the presence of transient flight crews.

It is, after all, an Air Force base. Every day, huge numbers of aircraft are criss-crossing the world, engaged in all manner of business. At the end of the day, the majority of them land somewhere so the crews can get food, fuel, and rest.

Arriving pilots are housed at the Visiting Officers Quarters. They also have access to the Officer’s Club, dining halls, theater, and other base facilities, time permitting.

I know this because I was raised as an Air Force brat, and I also served four years in the Air Force myself. That was long ago, but some things don’t change.

In 1966, my second year as a lieutenant at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, our base commander had an inspiration. As boss types and wont to do, he came up with an idea that created work for others while making him look good to his peers.

The idea: an extra duty assignment in which his junior officers would become lackeys for the transient pilots. He dubbed the role Transient Services Officer.

Specifically, all lieutenants at Cannon Air Force Base were required to serve as TSO on a rotating basis. The duty began at 6:00 PM and ended at 6:00 AM. During those hours, you were required to stay at Base Operations on the flightline, greet arriving aircrews, and tend to their needs, if any.

We had a few other minor duties, but our main assignment was to be available to serve the transient pilots.

The thing is, every military airfield already has plenty of staff to handle both routine and emergency occurrences. They even have a Duty Officer to take care of stuff nobody anticipates. The idea of a TSO was strictly political.

In practice, most of the visiting pilots were either puzzled or amused by the presence of the TSO. Pilots are almost always seasoned senior officers. They know what to do. They don’t need lackeys underfoot. Usually, they thanked the TSO and shooed him away.

Naturally, every lieutenant at the base hated TSO duty with the intense, burning hatred of the trapped and frustrated; it was a pointless, demeaning, shitty assignment that we could not avoid. Every lieutenant at Cannon probably felt he or she detested the duty more passionately than anyone else. I know I did.

We junior officers pulled TSO duty about once a month. Between the day TSO was invented and the day I was promoted to captain, I performed TSO duty about 15 times. Every one of those times was 12 forgettable hours of boredom and fatigue… except one.

It was April 9, 1967. We seemed to have quite a lot of air traffic for a weekend. The long runway was closed for repairs, so the secondary runway was extra busy. But at least that gave me something to do.

Just after dark, a sergeant from Civil Engineering came to get me for the nightly check of the runway lights. I hopped behind the wheel of the TSO Jeep, and we headed out.

A few minutes later, we had checked all of the lights on the runways and taxiways except for one last stretch beyond the last hangars.

“Sarge,” I said, “The lights on the other side of those fighters — do we have to drive over there? I don’t want to clip a wing in the dark.”

He agreed that we could verify the lights from our position. So, instead of driving around the F-100s, I just drifted closer to them. It turned out to be too close.

“Halt!” shouted a voice from the darkness. I halted the Jeep.

“Who goes there?” the voice demanded.

“TSO and the CE light man!” the CE light man replied.

“What are you doing in a restricted area?”

“Checking the runway lights. Didn’t know we were in a restricted area.”

“Turn off the engine! Set the emergency brake! Put the lights on bright! Dismount from the passenger side!” We did.

“Stand in the headlights with your hands over your head! You on the right!” — meaning me — “Stand with your legs spread apart!” I did.

“Ranking man! About face!” I turned around, hands still on my head. In the glare of the headlights, I could make out the shape of a helmeted Air Policeman, firearm at the ready.

“Where is your 1199?” the AP demanded.

Air Force Form 1199 is a restricted area badge. My 1199 was affixed to my TSO badge, which I was required to wear at all times, but which I inconveniently did not have on my person.

“I, uh, left it at Base Ops,” I told him. The dog ate my homework, Mister AP.

“Prisoners! Double-time out of the RA! Move!”

So the CE man, the AP, and I double-timed out of the restricted area — which isn’t easy with your hands on top of your head.

“Halt!” the AP commanded when we got beyond the RA boundary. “Lie down with your hands out in front of you!”

The AP took out his radio and reported to his superiors that he had apprehended two people in a restricted area.

Within 60 seconds, 10 or 12 more APs arrived, bristling with flashlights and weapons. The NCO in charge stepped forward.

“At ease,” he told our AP. “The tower confirms this is the TSO and the CE light man. Let ’em up.”

The NCO gently chastised me for not wearing my TSO badge, but otherwise was friendly and understanding. The AP who apprehended us, not so much.

After it was clear I wouldn’t be shot, all I wanted to do was get to a phone and call my roommate John. He, of all people, would appreciate the Kafkaesque scene that had played out on the runway that night.

John was one of the base legal officers, a captain. He was irritatingly exempt from TSO duty.

When I contacted John, he was way ahead of me. He had been playing pool that night at Base Ops with Captain Henryson, the Duty Officer.

They heard the entire incident on the radio.

An F-100 Super Sabre, circa 1967.

An F-100 Super Sabre in its restricted area.

Those crucial runway lights.

Those crucial runway lights.

Sleep tight tonight -- your Air Force is alert!

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It was vintage Larry Flowers: a clever prank on the perfect foil. This one had all the earmarks of legend.

In 1997, I was a copywriter in the Marketing Communications Department at Lithonia Lighting in Conyers, Georgia. Larry, my boss, was a proud and accomplished trickster.

Larry wasn’t merely skilled at perpetrating practical jokes; he was a bona fide genius. An artist.

Which is why, when a co-worker ran into my office and breathlessly announced that a prank was about to go down, I sprang from my chair and followed a parade of other people outside to watch.

It was a few minutes before 5:00 p.m., almost quitting time. On the way out to the parking lot, I learned what was about to happen. The prank, as the best often are, was simple.

Larry’s boss, the late Dick Morse, drove a beat-up, high-mileage Honda Civic. Dick was a well-paid vice president, but it was no secret that he came to the company with financial problems. His constant penniless condition, and the series of decrepit vehicles he owned, hinted at the extent of his troubles.

Dick was a past president of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and as you would expect, given to theatrics. In his role as our boss, he developed a sort of faux gruff demeanor, but it was exceedingly faux. In truth, Dick was good-natured, good-hearted, and undemanding. We knew it, and he knew we knew it.

Which helps explain why he was an ideal foil for Larry’s machinations.

Sometime after lunch that day, Larry had gone out to the parking lot and, using two small axle jacks under the front wheels of Dick’s car, raised the front tires one barely-noticeable inch off the pavement.

The Honda, Larry reported later, sat rock-steady on the jacks, and it looked perfectly normal to any casual observer, including Dick.

By the time Dick emerged from the building at 5:00 p.m., half of the people in Marketing Communications were stationed in and around the cars, waiting for him.

On the surface, it appeared to be the usual afternoon exodus. We were anonymous among the hundreds of company employees leaving for the day.

But our attention was quietly focused on Dick. Some sat in their vehicles, feigning activity. Others stood in small groups, feigning conversation. I watched from the vantage point of my car 20 yards away.

Dick walked out to his parking space carrying his briefcase and a purloined box of K-Dry paper towels. He unlocked the Honda, placed the items on the back seat, and got behind the wheel.

He rolled down the window, poured some stale coffee on the ground, lit a cigarette.

He started the engine, put the vehicle in reverse, and turned to look over his right shoulder, preparing to back out.

The engine roared. The tires spun in mid-air with a mighty whine, but the Honda went nowhere.

Dick eased off the gas, and the engine subsided to an idle.

He turned off the engine, restarted it, and tried again to back out. Same result.

I watched his head bob as he looked left and right, up and down. He leaned out the window and peered at the tire.

Leaving the engine running, he got out of the vehicle and paced back and forth, looking at the grill and hood. Dick knew less about automobiles than the average 10-year-old.

As we relished the scene, trying to keep our snickering inaudible, Dick raised the hood of the Honda and looked for… he knew not what.

As he stood figuratively scratching his head, Larry got out of his car a few spaces away. “Hey, Dick!” he shouted. “What’s up?”

I couldn’t hear Dick’s reply, but I watched gleefully as he explained his plight to Larry, gesturing at the car, shrugging his shoulders, shaking his head.

Then Larry put an arm on Dick’s shoulder and pulled him closer. For a few seconds, Larry talked and Dick listened.

When Dick finally grasped that it was a joke, the moment was unmistakable. He looked skyward, then dropped his head to his chest, then shook it slowly from side to side.

The rest of us emerged from concealment and gathered around the two of them, laughing and chattering. Dick laughed as heartily as anyone.

Soon, the jacks were removed. Dick drove away, and we dispersed. For the umpteenth time, I mentally tipped my hat to the prankmeister himself, Larry Flowers.

For years, that was how I fondly remembered the episode. But as usual, there was more to the story.

Recently, I emailed Larry and asked him to refresh my memory about the car-jacking incident, so I could write this post. His reply was wholly unexpected:

Rocky, I tell you the following with mixed emotions. I set out to have some fun and play a trick on Dick. But once it was done, I felt pretty bad.

Dick came to Lithonia Lighting in poor financial shape. He was just divorced, and the IRS was all over him. His pay was being garnished. He had no money.

Dick knew little about mechanical things. One time, he poured a gallon of windshield washer fluid into the oil filler of his Cabriolet, blowing the head gasket.

When I walked over to his Honda that day, he had a worried look on his face, and it hit me. The man had just borrowed money from the bank so he could have wheels to get to work. That car was  his lifeline to Conyers and what little money he was able to keep. I made him think it was ruined. I felt pretty lousy.

When I explained that it was a joke, I expected him to be angry, but he wasn’t. Not at all. He was just relieved that his car was okay.

He just said, “Larry, get it off the jacks so I can go home.” It made me feel really terrible, and I’ve regretted it every since.

Dick left Lithonia Lighting in 1998. He died in 2002. He said many times that we would miss him when he was gone, and he was right.

As Larry put it:

Dick was a lovable scoundrel, a master of getting by with stuff that still amazes me. But he was a true advertising man. A good writer, a man of impeccable taste.

Wherever Dick is right now, I know he’s got something going on, and he’s surrounded by his precious books and cats. Rest in peace, Dick.

Amen to that.

Richard V. "Dick" Morse

Richard V. "Dick" Morse

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Why I wrote this bit of fluff is a mystery. The meaning is equally elusive.


July 11, 1982.

Legend has it that in the early years of Lithonia Lighting, top management assembled a team of brilliant scientists to conduct highly secret experiments covering issues vital to the corporate mission.

Sworn to secrecy, this crack team labored late at night, delving into technologies at the cutting edge of science. They immersed their considerable intellects in the fine points of heat and light, metal and glass, paper and plastic.

Such matters, and more, consumed the scientists utterly. Yet, only a select few at Lithonia Lighting were even aware of their presence.

Then one day, tragedy struck. Blinded by the siren call of their god-like powers, the team went too far. Their machinations stretched the very fabric of time and space. The laws of physics took a terrible revenge, and chaos reigned.

The brilliant scientists, to the last man and woman, vanished in a blinding flash — consumed in a furious maelstrom of glass shards, ozone, lab coats, and warehouse dust.

Only an eerie silence remained. Company officials said it was a tornado. But perhaps the truth is otherwise.

Today, the ghosts of these ill-fated scientists are rumored to walk the halls of the Main Plant still. They wander here and there, appearing to be ordinary employees, going about their duties in a purposeful manner.

You may see these apparitions hurrying to a meeting, or pushing a mail cart, or delivering bagels to the Display Room.

But ask yourself… How well do you REALLY know that Marketing Trainee? Who exactly IS that woman coming down the stairs from the second floor?  IS there a second floor in this building?

Perhaps that person leaving the restroom is a real Lithonia employee, perhaps not. The truth may never be known.

Some suggest that late a night, the lost Lithonia scientists continue their dark inquiries still, laboring eternally in a bleak and miserable netherworld.

It certainly gives ME the willies.

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In 1986, restless for a creative outlet, I indulged in a modest office prank that I felt was harmless enough to risk. This is what happened.

A common business practice, as you know, is to send out announcements about promotions and new hires. At Lithonia Lighting, printed notices heralding the latest changes were posted daily on every bulletin board in every department.

They were issued by Olin Pickens, our Director of Personnel; this was in the old days, before Human Resources was invented.

Olin had a difficult task. He was required to report the same occurrences over and over, day in and day out, year after year. Inevitably, the bulletins all read alike, following the same familiar formula. Only the names and job assignments changed.

When I stood at the bulletin board and read one, the structure and tone brought to mind a teacher mechanically taking attendance. “Bueller. Bueller.”

In time, I came to see Olin’s announcements as so lampoon-worthy that I was compelled — compelled as a journalist — to compose my own series of bogus personnel changes.

So, every morning for about two weeks, I prepared a counterfeit announcement. These were hand-typed, cut-and-paste jobs; this was in the old days, before we all had computers.

Each day, when no one was looking, I thumb-tacked another announcement to the bulletin board.

Nothing happened. My announcements were not removed, nor did anyone in the office mention them.

Were the fake announcements invisible because nobody read the real ones anyway? Was I the only audience? Had I miscalculated terribly?

Actually, no. Months later, one at a time, a number of my co-workers mentioned, with a chuckle, that they enjoyed the phony bulletins.

Thank God.

Packrat that I am, I still have copies of those bulletins. Here is a sampling.




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The date: February 5, 1971.

The time: 10:00 A.M.

The place: Georgia State Capitol, outside the Governor’s Office.

The players: Honorable Ben Fortson, Secretary of State; Honorable Lester Maddox, Lieutenant Governor; various bystanders (Capitol porters, staff workers, tourists).

The scene: Fortson and Maddox are looking up at the Lieutenant Governor’s official portrait, which was hung in the Capitol a few days earlier. Their conversation is heated, but courteous. They focus intently on the portrait and never make eye contact.


HON. BEN FORTSON:  I’m just sayin’ the location ain’t right. That ain’t a good wall for it. People walking by, they’ll be turned the other way, lookin’ toward the Governor’s office.


HON. BEN FORTSON:  You cain’t hardly even SEE the thing, with the sunlight glaring on the lacquer at this angle.

HON. LESTER MADDOX:  Yessir. But I don’t see that it’s too big. Now, if it was out there in the rotunda with Herman Talmadge and Walter George, where Herman’s portrait is 54 inches long, and George’s is 44, it might make a difference.

HON. BEN:  I didn’t say it’s too big. I said it’s too big for where it’s at!

HON. LESTER:  But bein’ up there by itself, it don’t make no difference.

BEN:  That’s right. But Lester, you got that glare in the lacquer, so you cain’t see it! And, like I’m telling’ you, it ain’t doin’ you justice here where people ain’t gonna notice it.

LESTER:  What if they’re lookin’ for it?

BEN:  (Pointing) Now, that wall down yonder by my office — we could move those two portraits somewhere else and put yours right there. Then you would be properly displayed and be noticed and all, and you wouldn’t be in this hallway.

LESTER:  Yessir. You know, the last two governors, their portraits were hung in the Governor’s office after they left, right up there on the wall. (Turning to young tourist passing by) Howdy, friend! You doin’ all right this mornin’? Yessir!

BEN:  Well, it ain’t no good where it‘s at. That wall next to my office is the right place for it, in my opinion. (He swivels his wheelchair around and heads toward his office.)

LESTER:  (To second tourist walking past) Yessir, friend! You makin’ it all right today? Yessir!

BEN:  (Abruptly turns around and wheels back to Maddox) I’m telling’ you, Governor, it just ain’t doin’ you the proper justice for your high office. Now, it ain’t an oil painting, like all the others are. It’s a photograph that was blew up large and painted over with lacquer, and it’s mighty handsome, I might add –”

LESTER:  It ain’t an oil painting, but that don’t make no difference.

BEN:  –but that don’t make no difference. The thing about it mostly is the location. Now, we could take it down from this wall and hang it down yonder easy as pie.

LESTER:  (Pointing to a small portrait, in a hall leading to the rotunda, of a man in a powdered wig) Mr. Secretary, who’s that fella up on that big wall there?

BEN:  I don’t know. I’ll take a look and tell you.

(Both move toward the small portrait, Fortson in the lead. Maddox turns toward a large group of tourists entering the building and waves enthusiastically.)


(Scene: Capitol elevator, moments later. The doors open. A newspaper reporter steps in. A Capitol staff worker nods in greeting.)

REPORTER:  Did you see Fortson and Maddox down there a minute ago?

STAFFER:  Yeah, I saw ‘em. Lester wants more visibility for that blown-up photograph of his, and Fortson would like to set a match to it.

REPORTER:  Yeah, well… Sillier crap than that goes on around here.

(Elevator stops and both get off.)

Lester Maddox


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Making History

One of the characteristics of a large organization, whether a business, a government agency, or other large entity, is the presence of a formal group history.

Through the years, members of the group solemnly document, and ritually acknowledge, this common heritage. They honor, cherish, and celebrate it with pride.


Sometime in 2004, I was working hard at my desk as usual, when my telephone rang. It was Larry.

“Come over to my office,” he said. The glee in his voice was unmistakable. “This is too good.” He hung up.

Immediately, I went next door and sat down in front of Larry’s desk.

“They want me to design a new display case for this building, next to the front entrance,“ he said with barely controlled delight. “A Lithonia history type of thing. No problem. I have plenty of material left over from that display we built in the Lighting Center.”

He chuckled. I knew this was shaping up to be really good. I always trust Larry on these things.

“I was thinking,” he said. “I have this great photo Loretta gave me, of a relative of hers — a third cousin or something from the 1800s. What if we passed him off as one of the founding fathers of Lithonia Lighting?”

A light bulb went on above my head. Larry was way ahead of me.

“I already have his name,” he snickered. “Lorenzo Luminelli!

“This is good,” I said, rubbing my hands. “This is really good. Lorenzo Luminelli… a scientist… he influenced the founders of Lithonia Lighting to…”

“Lorenzo Luminelli, the Father of Luminescence!” he declared, joyfully pounding the desk.

“I don’t care about the rest,” he said. “Write up something. Do your thing! Just make it believable. I’ll have it typeset, we’ll add the photo, and into the display case it goes.”

“The thing is, they won’t notice this one little element in the display,” he said. ” They want to get the project done, but they don’t care about the details. Trust me, it’s foolproof!”

I stood up. “Larry, you’re a genius,“ I said. “An absolute genius.”

I went back to my office, sat down, and got out a yellow pad. The story of Lorenzo Luminelli came effortlessly. Believable? Oh, yes.

The next day, I took the draft to Larry. He read through it, chuckling ever more as he progressed.

He pounded his desk again. “This is perfect — perfect,“ he said. “But he needs a middle name. A middle name adds, you know, importance.”

“Ah — gravitas,” I said. “Good idea. Hmmm.”

“Garibaldi!” he exclaimed. “Lorenzo Garibaldi Luminelli!

I answered with an emphatic double thumbs-up.

Weeks passed, and the display case project went forward. I had no role at that point, so I turned my attention back to the actual work of the department.

Then one morning, my phone rang, and it was Larry. “Lorenzo goes into the display case today,” he said. “The unveiling is tomorrow. Wanna see how our boy came out?”

Five seconds later, I was sitting in front of his desk.

The result, in my estimation, was superb. A tour de force. For the umpteenth time, I mentally tipped my hat to the master.

In 2004, Lorenzo G. Luminelli assumed his position as one of the fathers of Lithonia Lighting. I retired from the company in 2005. Larry retired in 2008. But the display case still stands, inside the entrance to our old building.

And Lorenzo Luminelli also remains, a giant in the history of that great company, destined to be celebrated with pride by succeeding generations of employees.

Such is their heritage.






Lithonia Lighting, Inc. was founded in 1946 in Lithonia, Georgia, by Samuel P. Freeman, who served for many years as Chairman of the Board. I  have no idea if Mr. Freeman attended the Chicago World’s Fair, which, by the way, was held in 1939, not 1938.


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The Toe Test

In November 1979, I took a job as a copywriter in the Advertising Department at Lithonia Lighting in Conyers, Georgia.

Back then, I was an experienced writer in my mid-30s, but my background was in advertising agencies and government. I had never worked for a large corporation. A business environment would be a new experience for me.

On my first day, I reported to the department head, a feisty Irishman named Don. He took me around the office to make introductions.

First on the list was the Art Director, Larry, Don’s second in command.

I don’t recall what Larry said when we were introduced, but I remember noting with surprise that he was good-natured, high-spirited, and a really funny guy.

That was all wrong. The art directors I had known were not casual, happy, and friendly. They were slave drivers and hatchet men for the bosses. I remember thinking, This guy is the Art Director?

As I would discover, he was a fine one. But at the time, I was only an hour into my first day.

Before long, Don summoned a few of us to a meeting. We filed into the conference room and took seats at the table. Larry sat directly across from me. Next to him sat Amelia, the number one graphic designer.

Don started the meeting, and I, naturally, tried to appear attentive and professional.

This was not an easy task, because under the conference table, someone’s toe was slowly, delicately, sensually stroking my leg.

Now, I didn’t know Larry, and I didn’t know Amelia. But I knew that one of them was trying to communicate with me.

Was it Amelia, a confident, attractive married woman?

Was it Larry? He DID say he was married, didn’t he?

I’ve always heard that if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. So nothing is what I did. I remained stone-faced…

… until finally, Larry broke out laughing.

I worked with Larry for the next 25 years. I watched countless times as he subjected others, and occasionally me, to the Toe Test and much more.

Somehow, in all that time, his antics never wore thin.

He even changed my opinion of art directors.

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The Morse Years

The late Richard V. Morse was my boss through most of the 1990s. Dick was a former New York adman who came south. Shakespeare was his passion. He was smart, melodramatic, charming, and proudly amoral. Dick was a lovable scoundrel.

To end a conversation, Dick was fond of saying, “So – do we have a clear sense of direction?“

When Dick left the company, I wasn’t there for his retirement party, as the following letter explains.


September 10, 1998.

Dear Dick,

I regret very much that I won’t be here for your retirement ceremony. I considered postponing my vacation, but after thinking long and hard about it, I decided, “Nah!”

I want to take this opportunity to express my thoughts in writing – using the very skills that you, during your long tenure here, sometimes allowed me to use.

There were times – Lord, were there times – when I have gone into your office, sputtering and fuming about some grievance, mad as hell.

There were other times – Lord, were there other times – when I disagreed strongly with something you said. Or did. Or didn’t do. Or forgot to do. And I went into your office, jaws clenched, mad as hell.

And every single time I did that, you let me have my say.

In all these years, you never failed to listen when I wanted to talk. And you always treated me with courtesy and respect.

As time goes on, and I think back on the Morse Years here, I probably will remember one thing above all else: you allowed our department to be a comfortable, friendly, fun place to work. No other department in this company has enjoyed a work environment like ours.

I must say, in all honesty, that this long journey with you – this long, long journey – now that I think about it, this really, really long journey – did have its bumps in the road.

For example, some years ago, you spat out a certain rash pronouncement about me and my copywriters that keeps coming back to haunt you.

But I believe sincerely that when you said, “Screw the Copy Department,” you were merely expressing affection.

And I believe just as sincerely that it was your wry Pennsylvania wit at play when you said, “Moral high ground? There is no moral high ground!”

I’ll miss you, Dick. Thanks to you, even when I don’t know where I’m going, I’ll always have a clear sense of direction.

Kindest regards,



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