As a snot-nosed reporter fresh out of college and working the night shift at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I had three assignments – monitor the police scanner, re-write obits and dig up at least one story each week for the Saturday religion page. These were the jobs for the newest reporters in the 1970s.
Believe me, I could tell you some stories from that era. Holding down the night beat in Las Vegas in my 20’s felt like the stuff of movies. (Remind me to tell you about Frank Sinatra, Billy Graham and Johnny Weissmuller one day.)
The story I tell today is about the world’s moral icon Desmond Tutu, who passed away last week at 90. As you know, Desmond is known worldwide as a warrior against institutionalized racism in South Africa.
It was 1978. He was a little known Anglican priest in the U.S. to raise awareness about the evils of aparteid and investing in South Africa.
As I sat at my desk one late afternoon in the newsroom, one ear on the cop scanner and a stack of obits to write, the phone rang. It was a Methodist minister I had met casually at a Las Vegas Ministerial Association luncheon a few months back.
“You still need religion stories,” he asked. “Always,” I said.
“We’ll go to Christ Church tonight and interview this South African priest. His name is Desmond Tutu. He’s going to be somebody one day.”
Of course, in 1978 there was no Google. I knew nothing about this guy and very little about the aparteid controversy other than a few clips I was able to gather from the newspaper’s sparse clip library.
Two hours later, I found myself in the parish library of Christ Church Episcopal, a blank reporter’s notebook and a pencil in hand. Next to me was Desmond Tutu, a 40- ish, Anglican priest with a broad smile and an agreeable personality.
I began by apologizing for knowing nothing about him or South Africa. I then proceeded to ask one of my patented dumbass ice-breaker questions:
“So tell me, Father Tutu, how exactly do you pronounce ‘aparteid?”
He smiled broadly and said: “Oh that’s easy. In English it sounds like two words put together: ‘Apart’ and ‘Hate.’
I don’t know if that was a standard line for the man who would become the future Nobel Peace Prize winner. But, I’ll never forget it. It was then I knew that my Methodist friend was right.
This guy’s going to be somebody one day. I followed his career from afar from then on.
His passing last week brought many memories for me about that most interesting night. Rest in peace, Father Tutu.
HARRY REID PASSES
Nevada lost former Sen. Harry Reid late last year. Personal decorum requires me to wait a bit before putting his life in perspective as I see it. I will note that if I’m reading the social media posts correctly, flags were ordered to be flown at half mast for Reid, but somehow the post office in his hometown of Searchlight didn’t do it. That’s a pretty good jumping off point for a future column on this most enigmatic Nevada figure.
ONE MORE THING
– A dentist married a manicurist. They divorced because they fought tooth and nail.
– Ambassadors do not get COVID-19 because they have diplomatic immunity. – The alien dandelion said to the Earth dandelion: “Take me to your weeder.”
– Cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny.
Until next week, dear readers, avoid soreheads, laugh a little and always question authority.
(Sherman Frederick is a Nevada Hall of Fame journalist and co-founder of Battle Born Media, a news organization dedicated to the preservation of community newspapers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)