Writer, world traveler and Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award winner William Saroyan titled a memoir “Places Where I’ve Done Time,” which would be a suitable appellation for a summation of the lives of many newsmen, including this one. In “Places,” Saroyan dispenses with the wisdom typical of him, including having learned young “that it was folly to expect big things from people. It was enough to get the little things. The biggest thing, of course, was love ...”
Among the many places where I’ve done time is Waynesboro, Virginia, a onetime mill town of some 25,000 people situated in the Shenandoah Valley near the entrance to the Blue-Ridge Parkway and roughly at the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. There, I met, among others, three businessmen whom I count as friends for life.
One of them is gone now, taken too soon. Two remain, both with Huntington ties. Frank Lucente, Waynesboro’s former mayor, is known for Sam’s Hot Dogs, which he opened in the River City in 1983 along with close friend Rocco Muriale. Five years later, Reo Hatfield, a graduate of Marshall University’s College of Advanced Transportation, co-founded a logistics company. He remains an industry executive.
Our paths crossed long after Frank and Reo had forged their successes. I came to regard them both as brothers. Frank and Reo are alike in being men of strong mind and deep kindness. Their wisdom has been a guide and their empathy a comfort in hard times. We do not see each other often, but they are among a small number of friends who are always with me in spirit.
When Reo emailed me last week asking me to share his message of unity, I was eager to oblige. You might have noticed his last name, Hatfield. He is a direct descendant of the family forever linked to the McCoys in America’s most famous feud. It is difficult to imagine Reo feuding with anyone. Known for his carefully coiffed white hair, Reo could make friends in any environment. His personality fueled his success in sales, which allowed him to launch his business.
A year after the 9/11 attacks, Reo worked with the McCoy family to broker a formal truce to the feud. Of course, the hostilities long since had ended by that point, but Reo thought the message of the two warring families uniting was important. That is the message he wanted me to repeat.
“We may disagree on details,” Reo wrote, “but as the Hatfield and McCoys did we put aside the ignorance of self for the UNITY of all.”
Saroyan’s truth still holds. America’s problems are many and they are large. Big things must happen to right the country. But it is folly to expect big things from people, and it is more foolish still to expect elected leaders to rise above the fray of a divided electorate. Getting the little things starts with finding and uniting on the points upon which we all can agree, starting with the fact that while we are many tribes, we are one country.
If those two famous warring clans could learn one day to turn to rather than on one another, the rest of us surely can do the same. That is the first and most essential step toward a stronger America.