Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Shouts and Murmurs: It’s easy to admire the quiet ones

June 11, 2003

Often it's the quiet people that we wind up admiring the most. For instance, take Norman Walker, an almost-75-year-old Tonganoxie man who has hauled gravel for more than half a century. When I called him about an interview, he readily agreed. To get to know more about his work days, I asked if I could ride along with him in his dump truck. Several hours later, Walker held my camera while I climbed into the passenger seat of the truck. As he shifted the truck into gear and headed toward the gravel plant in Bonner Springs, Walker told me a surprising fact: In all the years he'd been working on the job, no reporter had ever called him. Not once -- not ever.

He's simply a man who has done his job year after year, decade after decade, never boasting about who he was. Perhaps that's what compelled us to feature him in this week's special Progress section. Obviously, Walker could have retired several years ago. But he continues to work, long past the time that others have retired, because he loves his job. In his humble attitude, he may not realize he's an inspiration, but he is.

Recently, Bill Snead, senior editor of the Lawrence Journal-World, interviewed my father, 75-year-old Phil Stevens, about his longtime and continuing medical practice in Tonganoxie. The whole story came about at the insistence of one reader -- Karen Bartlett, who lives in Basehor and runs a restaurant in McLouth.

Bartlett urged me to write the story about my father, with whom she had doctored for years.

But first, because it would have been a conflict of interest for me to write the story, Caroline Trowbridge, the editor and publisher of The Mirror, asked our favorite writer, Bill Snead to step in. He wrote a wonderful story about my father -- a story that will be treasured by generations to come.

But the funny thing was, Dad's initial comment to me after Bill Snead called him to set up an interview was this: "Why would they want to write a story about me -- I've never done anything."

I guess it's all in how you look at what you've done.

No, Dad didn't set out or turn out to be a famous neurosurgeon. For most of his years in medicine he's practiced without even seeing his patients in a hospital. And he's never been president of the state medical society.

But he has been a loyal and knowledgeable physician in a town where there was a need for someone like himself. And he someday, as those who are in the long run fortunate in life, will be missed by many.

It's the same with Norman Walker. He didn't start out to be the best gravel spreader in Leavenworth County. He probably didn't plan to work well into his 70s. He seemed surprised, shocked even, to learn that a local resident calls him "the Michaelangelo of gravel spreaders."

And yet to this day, throughout his life, he has remained a humble man, a reliable man almost oblivious of the good light in which others perceive him.

I think Walker could have spoken for himself, as well as Dad, when he said he supposed some day he'd retire. After all, he said, "All dogs have their day."

Thanks to both of you for sharing those days with us.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.