A hugely popular song called “7 Years,” by Lukas Graham, opens with pensive piano chords, then these lines.
“Once I was seven years old my momma told me, ‘Go make some friends or you’ll be lonely.’”
Momma’s usually right. And a guy soon to graduate from his seventh decade sure has a lot of friends.
My recent Q&A with former ABC11 anchor Larry Stogner received more response – in online comments, emails and calls – than any piece I’ve done in these pages over my three years. By far.
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I am not surprised.
Stogner’s reputation accounts for astonishing name recognition. His struggle with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is poignant and powerful, as well as achingly grim. “Sad” just doesn’t cut it.
We feel as if we know our longtime news anchors, even if few of us do.
In his emailed replies to me, Stogner put it all out there. His health is failing, but he is not. He’s solid as cedar.
And average voices resounded to the man with the big voice that resonated in our living rooms for so long.
“I can hear you answering all those questions, Larry.” From Lori.
“It hurts me to read this interview. Keep pushing ... keep praying.” From Monica.
The 69-year old’s announcement early last year that he had ALS, and must therefore retire, flew beyond the radar far and wide. So, too, the latest word that the one-time broadcaster has all but lost his voice, is on oxygen most of the time, and is losing energy and weight.
“Knowing some of what you would be going through, I cried.” From Rick, who lost his mother to ALS a decade ago.
Yet, Stogner remains on his feet, still walking his dog, driving, visiting with and sharing stories with his buddies.
He has not been silenced, even as he endures a disease that promises no healing.
“I am touched by your story and your strength.” From Traci.
“Beautiful interview. My heart goes out to all involved.” From Shawn.
I got emails from a childhood friend of Stogner’s. A couple that he and his wife, Bobbi, met on a recent cruise and took a picture with. Folks who vividly remember chance encounters over the years.
Anthony Wilson, an ABC11 reporter, saluted Stogner’s candor. Long-time station personality France Scott commented simply, “I love you, Larry.”
After the column, I met with Stogner at a Durham restaurant for about two hours. To thank him in person. He was warm, welcoming and engaged, as expected. Exhausted, too.
His face was drawn but determined. Determined to keep taking every day and development head-on.
This is a time of such discord, vitriol and violence. Lives matter, yet we keep losing them to bullets and bombs, machetes and M-16s, ideology and incoherence.
What about the near-routine violence here in Durham, like 21-year old Kevin David Powell found dead on Linden Avenue little more than a week ago? Shot multiple times.
Powell was targeted, police believe. Happens time and again in this town. Yanceyville’s Larry Stogner saw it all, conveyed it all. Plenty of terrible news. Triumphant news. Tough questions. Beautiful writing. Bold choices in what he brought attention to.
Now this, in an email I received: “I believe he is helping others by fighting and being honest about his good and bad moments.” From Terri.
The steady stream of emotion every time people hear how Stogner is doing: that’s the state of this country, too. All these people have a compass and a conscience.
They don’t want Larry Stogner, or anyone afflicted with ALS or Alzheimer’s, cancer or other chronic illness, to hurt. Stogner says he gets great solace from the outpouring.
Once more, from “7 Years.”
“Remember life and then your life will be a better one.
And if we don’t meet before I leave, I hope I’ll see you later.”
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.