In the words of the late Paul Harvey, “And now, for the rest of the story.”
We weren’t lifelong friends. In fact, we only met in person twice and spoke by telephone once. But Richard McCasland made a difference in my life.
McCasland, a retired military officer and health equipment sales executive died last week, about two weeks after I’d interviewed him by phone from a hospital room in Houston, Texas where he’d just received a tough diagnosis. A cancer he’d experienced previously was back, and the outlook was not good.
When Leader news editor Lori Freeze suggested one day that I interview McCasland for a weekly column, I had no idea who he was, or that we’d previously met, or moreover that we’d parted ways in a verbal conflict. I would have accepted the assignment even if I had known, but not knowing is sort of what makes this story special.
I’m at the front line in the Leader office, desk just to the right as you enter the front door. That frequently makes me the first point of contact regardless of what someone wants. One day last October, it was McCasland who walked in, and we struck up a long conversation about life in Mountain View and other topics. Regrettably, as many conversations did during that time, the topic turned inevitably to politics.
I remained quiet as I normally do in these conversations as my opinions are rarely mainstream for the territory. Richard offered a thought or two or three or four that I couldn’t have disagreed with more, and I cut our conversation short. It wasn’t a polite thing to do, or the greatest way to handle the moment. I’d let my emotions get the best of me, and knew immediately I was wrong. Richard wanted to talk it through. I was finished. As I said, I was wrong.
Fast forward several months to a moment when Richard wasn’t feeling well, and a local nurse practitioner made a call that resulted in his cancer diagnosis at MD Anderson in Houston. He’d grown up in Mountain View, and always considered it home, but lived away for many years before returning. He was so grateful for the friendly welcome back to town, and especially for the swift, professional medical care he received here, he wanted to say “thank you,” and to make a bigger point about life in general.
He wanted to purchase an ad in our paper to express those thoughts, but Lori and I agreed my column might be a good venue to express his wishes.
Without a clue who he was, I called him about three Saturdays ago. His first words were these:
“I’m not sure if you remember who I am, but we had a disagreement in your office that day. I want you to know that I’m sorry if I said anything that offended you, and I’d really like us to be friends.”
My heart sank.
Here was a man facing one of the most difficult situations anyone can face, probably a million more important things on his mind, and he was offering me an apology and wanted to make things right for a situation that was mostly my fault.
“I appreciate that, Richard, and I’m also sorry. And I’m sorry for this situation you find yourself in. There’s no way to fully understand what you’re going through.” I still felt like a jerk.
For the next 20 minutes Richard explained to me what he wanted to say.
Upon his return to Mountain View, he’d been welcomed by a church that wasn’t even his denomination, old friendships were renewed, and a staff member at a local clinic had gone out of her way to determine the source of his pain. Someone even loaned the use of a jet for medical travel. It was an example, he said, of how the world ought to be.
“I’ve been gone a long time since I graduated high school in ’78. It’s amazing that the people in the community … pull that much together for someone who hasn’t been part of the community for a long time,” he said. “Honestly, it’s as if I never left at all.”
When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you get a sense in some interviews of things not to talk about. Richard seemed more intent on discussing the goodness of others than he did the difficulty of his personal situation.
So, I asked him what he might like to say to all those people.
“A lot of people act religious and talk about being Christian, but it’s the true actions and the way you live your life every day, and how you treat other people that matters. And I think when you help people without being asked, that’s the true example of how you show yourself as real.”
This much I know.
Richard McCasland showed himself as a man who put others before himself. He walked his talk.
In an age where so many of us just want to be right, and where we show a zero- tolerance attitude for the opinions of our friends and neighbors, Richard just wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to be a friend.
I am better for knowing this good man.
See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins is a reporter/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at email@example.com)