Durham News: Opinion

Larry Stogner anchored in our hearts

Much has been written about Larry Stogner over the last weeks. Mr. Stogner (it just seems right to call him “Mr.”), has been diagnosed with ALS, and in turn has retired from the ABC11 anchor desk. Durham viewers, more than most, feel the impact.

Mr. Stogner has been honored, celebrated and cherished in rare, remarkable ways.

Most meaningful by far, though, were his words during the on-air farewell. Marked by class, understated eloquence and gratitude. “I always considered it a privilege to come into your homes each night,” he said.

The journalist-storyteller, and he’ll always be one, spent his time thanking others in the face of the fierce battle ahead of him. That’s what the best among us do: put others first. Disguise the hurt or fear inside so others don’t feel it, too.

Mr. Stogner did what he’s always done. He towered over people with his tall frame, and let his voice and his values calm the crowd. Yet he would not really be the story, even as the story was all about him. He was above it, saying, in essence: thank you for letting me be me all these years. I loved it, and I love you.

Like most of us, I did not know Mr. Stogner directly. I wish I did. Martha Quillin’s piece on today’s front page, originally published in The N&O, captured the man, his career, and his current thoughts exceptionally.

I do know something about Mr. Stogner’s business. I was a TV reporter for 13 years. I did a spot of anchoring here and there, and not particularly well. But like the ABC11 legend, I came across and told an amazing, almost unending array of stories. One of them is relevant today: on ALS and two people who had it.

That piece was for a show called “Breakthrough,” which was produced here in Durham, broadcast on PBS stations, and sponsored in part by GlaxoSmithKline.

I remember nearly every frame of the stories on Sharon and Mark. They were living at different but advancing stages of the illness known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Their grace mirrored Mr. Stogner’s.

I can’t forget Sharon sitting at the kitchen table with family, make-up on, eyes keen and smart, looking beautiful as her body betrayed her.

Nor can I ever put aside what Mark’s wife told me after she wheeled her husband to his exercise class, and then rushed down the hall to teach her own. She was driven to fight Mark’s fight with him. She elevated him as he elevated her.

Mark’s my hero, she said, fighting tears.

And in this story on and for Larry Stogner, I’d like to close with something more like a TV script. Mr. Stogner knows them well. I could never hold a candle to him, but there’s something about the tight, vivid phrasing of television news that he and his loved ones might appreciate.

Just imagine the pictures as you read on:

A man of few words spoke so many to ... so many.

Spent his life shining a light on people and places

We’d have never seen without him.

A man who served his country and then his community

With devotion and daring. In the living room. In the limelight.

Living as if he weren’t … anything special.

Larry Stogner commands attention with his calm.

Commands respect with his heart and humility.

Invited us on air to care about the tragedies and triumphs

That surround us. About hope for a better humanity.

We can always be better, he knew.

A young man from Yanceyville took a “town” in his arms and said:

I’m going to help you see, and help you understand.

And then when he stepped down, he stepped up.

It’s just what I chose to do, he said. You carried me along.

And now, it’s time to embrace Mr. Stogner as he did us.

Thank him, talk to him, transcend who he was on TV.

All he did was become our close friend when we needed someone

To lean on or something to laugh about.

When we wanted to sort through all that life surrounding us.

One storyteller can do that? Larry Stogner did.

Always there. Always close.

You can’t forget the voice, the smile, the smarts,

And the selflessness. And you won’t.

Why would you ever want to?

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.