Three of us were in the room. A Friday in August, mid-afternoon.
I remember being glad it was a bit cooler than usual, because the 6-foot-4-inch, 69-year-old gentleman with me had faltered some on the sidewalk when we walked toward the office’s front door.
Not because he was 69. But because he was dying of ALS.
Inside, Chuck Adams, editor of the book publisher Algonquin sat across from us, a serene, tree-lined view behind him in the window.
To my right, Larry Stogner.
The retired WTVD-TV anchor was in shorts, leaning back in the chair. He’d lost so much weight but still, few chairs could handle his size without showing it.
The oxygen tank and tube Larry was using 24-7 did their duty without discernible sound. The type of ALS Larry had meant his respiratory system was failing fast.
On the conference table in front of Larry was a Boogie Board, a device he could write on with his index finger in conversations. He’d lost the ability to talk many months earlier.
When we met at the Durham Chili’s in July, the former anchorman communicated that losing his voice was harsh and humbling, even if expected. After all, he was a man of words, of quick thinking and humor.
That day at the publisher, after about 10 minutes of kindness and keen reaction to the book proposal and sample chapters I had submitted on Larry’s behalf, Adams looked at the author.
He said, “Larry, the writing is simply excellent. I will present the idea to my editorial board.”
Larry nodded, then leaned toward the table and scribbled on his little board. “What if I don’t finish?”
There was silence for maybe ten seconds. Too true. All three of us at that table knew he wouldn’t finish.
A couple of minutes later, Larry coughed the hardest I’d heard him cough in the three months I’d known him. You could see and hear how much it hurt.
When I’d asked Larry in an early July interview (http://bit.ly/2a2zPGn) whether he thought he would succumb to the disease before his 70th birthday on the 25th of this month, he responded, “No idea. I can only hope my doctor is wrong.”
Larry’s doctor turned out to be right.
I knew in the middle of September, when I hadn’t heard from Larry for a week, that things must be bad. He’d been writing at an almost frantic pace for a man so ill, but then the chapters, the diary-like entries of his daily experiences, just stopped.
I talked to a family member, who filled me in. He’d been sleeping a lot those days.
The material Larry had sent me was remarkable. Pointed and poignant, intense and inspiring.
He wrote chapters about his service in Vietnam, his interviews with Billy Graham and President Obama, his trip to Haiti after the massive earthquake there, his parents and upbringing in Yanceyville.
Each piece has a fine-tuned pace, telling dialogue, and strong commentary. The words were patently honest. No throwaway lines.
The shorter sections about Larry’s ALS struggle, the lack of energy, the people he met with and the decisions he faced, were exacting. One was headlined, “Shopping for Tombstones.” In the piece, Larry said browsing was actually the better word.
One of those stories was about a hello, and essentially a goodbye, that he had with a well-known industry colleague and friend.
Larry wrote about his first inklings that he was seriously sick, and about telling his bosses. He wrote candidly about the tears he’d cried.
At the end of one of our visits, Larry gestured to me to walk outside with him. He directed my eyes toward his license plate, a plate the DMV had issued him about a year before his diagnosis.
I stared at the letters spelled out before the numbers. ALS. I looked up at Larry. He just shook his head, eyes exhausted.
He no longer thought those letters were random. Larry Stogner had always believed deeply that there was a plan for him.
Larry’s life story moved him along until a week ago tonight. And what a life it was.