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Whittle: Listening good for friendship

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By DAN WHITTLE

This is a column about a good friend ... and listening to others.

Down through the decades, young reporters would come by my newsroom desk, claiming to be out of ideas for a story.

"No problem," I'd advise. "Make an appointment at the local nursing home ... you'll find interesting people who've lived a lot of life there."

A day or two later, I'd see a refreshing enterprising story in the newspaper about a man or woman who had "lived a lot of life."

I was merely passing on journalism wisdom taught by my first crusty editor, Bob York, who was so old in the 1960s he'd actually covered the "Indian Wars" in the Wild West Era of America.

"Whittle, get your ass over to the nursing home, there's a man there that lived through the bombing of London by the Germans," Editor York advised on a day I was whining about not having a good story to work on for the next day's newspaper.
Back in the early 1990s, on a day I was having trouble finding column fodder for that weekend's edition, I recalled Editor York's advice, and ventured out to the York VA nursing home, where I found a fascinating gentleman from Shelbyville.
He had been a flight navigator on one of the two U.S. flying war machines that dropped the atom bombs on Japan. Sharing that important veterans' story with the readers was a journalistic gold nugget of my career.

Fast forward four years ago. I arose early, but not feeling well on a cold, blustery wintry day. But it was a day I had promised to show outdoor wildlife pictures to residents at Smyrna's Azalea Court Assisted Living facility.

I considered cancelling, but being taught in my youth to always keep appointments I got dressed and dragged my carcass over to the care facility.

There, I met a man who changed my life.

It seems Azalea Court resident Aaron Andrew 'Andy' White was also not feeling well that fateful day, but he really wanted to see some wildlife photography.

"I especially loved the raccoon picture, taken in the stump of a tree over in the wetlands in downtown Murfreesboro," noted Mr. White, who later allowed me to make an adjustment to his nickname.

From that day forward, the man who voiced pleasure with my outdoor pictures became 'Dandy Andy.' He called me 'Dandy Dan.'

Now, you may ask: "What was so 'dandy' about my new friend 'Andy'?"

It involves one my personal creeds about journalism. When honored to speak to journalism students, I always advise: "Listen up, and listen tight, for every person is important in the scheme of life, and they have a good story to tell ..."

New friend "Dandy Andy" proved my point.

As a young man, he had seen danger and death up close, when working 1,525-feet down in the dark shaft of a Virginia coal mine.

"All jobs in a coal mine are dangerous," Andy shared.

He candidly described one fatal coal mining accident was due to stupidity.

"Two workers slipped cigarettes past the mine 'fire boss' who had safety jurisdiction," Andy added. "When down in the mine, these two lit their cigarettes. The resulting explosion, due to gas in the mining shaft, killed them instantly."

I grew to admire 'Dandy Andy' immensely through the ensuing months when I'd make time to go visit folks at Azalea Court.

At age 65, with his shaky hands and unsteady walk, it was obvious my friend was not in good health, due primarily to strokes that rendered him unable to work.

But no matter how bad 'Dandy Andy' felt on the inside, he always presented a warm countenance to visitors and fellow care facility residents. As the years' passed, that quality greatly endeared this former coal miner from Virginia to me.

Fast forward one more time to Nov. 17, 2014, when once again I was honored to be invited back to Azalea Court to show my newest outdoor picture, to wit, a huge swan that needed half the length of a football field to get airborne over a Tennessee lake.

As I was about to begin my show, a friend at Azalea Court named Pat, from Woodbury, asked: "Do you know Andy died?"

I didn't know. The news stunned me.

After showing my pictures, I guess you could say we had church there at Azalea Court, as we shared prayers and remembrances of 'Dandy Andy,' a man despite painful failing health whom always displayed a bright countenance that helped others feel better about themselves.

With his warm personality and radiant gap-toothed wide smile due to some missing front teeth, 'Dandy Andy' left this earth a better place than he found it. That was his calling in life.

Our condolences go to his faithful and good daughter, Andrea White, director of dispatchers at the La Vergne Police.

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