Two deaths happened this week in April – both made headlines across the world but for different reasons.
I will discuss the first death – April 4, 1968. It was a school night as I sat at the kitchen table and finished my home work. In the distance rock music played on the old radio. The closer the final school bell the better, I thought. It was less than two months away which seemed like a life time. For a 16 year old it was. I planned to try out for cheerleader again and hoped I would be chosen. So much to do – and cram into the life of a teenager whose ideals shaped by savvy public relation Park Avenue types. Their power reached into the hearts of many whose sole connection was a teen magazine or the latest hit record. I was too young to understand the word manipulation or impressionable.
However I was not too young to stop and listen when I heard the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination. He died in Tennessee, a state my family and I had visited the year before. I remembered the lush landscape and rolling hills. It was difficult to imagine such a vile deed could occur in such a state. It did and the world rocked to a different beat and for a variety of reasons.
Few said anything negative in my hearing at school the next day. Every African American student wanted to take the day off for Martin Luther King’s funeral. At first the school wavered and could not commit. Finally wiser heads prevailed and all students who chose to miss school the day of the funeral would be given a pass. A crisis was avoided. I remember telling one classmate – if they were not excused to attend a funeral – I would join them in picketing. Dr. King had yet to achieve legendary status among those whose opinions would shape our young lives.
The media covered the funeral – with respect. Mules delivered the coffin to the cemetery in Georgia. The heat was oppressive for April. Yet coats and ties worn and the man of small stature was laid to rest.
In 1976 Howard Hughes, legendary billionaire businessman died on his way to Houston from Acapulco, Mexico. His funeral was a private affair in Glenwood Cemetery. The site is a virtual whose who – with film stars, politicians and the social elite buried in as beautiful a location as one could hope to see. The downtown area is close by and the expansive of Houston has created an interest back drop.
Howard’s grave at one time had a gas flame which created a somber mood. It was open to the public for years. Now the grave is surrounded by iron fences which makes it all but impossible to view the grave of a man who was a brilliant inventor, businessman and blazed many trails.
Both men were legends. They are unforgettable. One died a violent death and the other a death which lead to more questions than answers. There is much to learn from both – and despite the passage of time their lives continue to serve as invaluable lessons.
When I visit Howard’s grave in Houston I stop and pause and consider.