Military, obits, true crime

Rest in peace, Colin Powell…

Yesterday, the news reported that General Colin Powell died at age 84. He’d been suffering from multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s Disease, and then he got COVID-19, even though he was fully vaccinated. Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s immune response by making plasma cells go haywire. So even though General Powell was vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease process made the vaccine less effective for him. Add in the Parkinson’s Disease and his advanced age, and it makes sense that he passed.

I’ve seen a number of people lamenting that Colin Powell died, with some blaming unvaccinated people. While I think any regular reader of this blog knows that I am for the vaccines, I don’t think it’s productive to blame the unvaccinated. The truth is, he was battling some serious illnesses even before COVID-19 struck. He was also 84 years old. Even if COVID never existed, his time was probably drawing short. I just hope his passing was peaceful.

General Powell lived a full lifespan, and he made great use of his time. Besides being a highly respected Army officer, Powell was also the United States’ first Black Secretary of State. And he had a long, loving, and enduring marriage to his wife, Alma, as well as loving relationships with his children, grandchildren, and friends. Personally, I think he was a great man, but even great men have to die someday. It’s just life.

Hearing about General Powell’s death reminded me of a very old friend of mine who died at age 21. Her name was Lisa Bryant, and at the time of her death, it had been years since our last visit. Lisa and I both lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England, back in the late 1970s. My dad was the base engineer there, and her dad was an Army officer who had gotten a special assignment at Mildenhall (or maybe Lakenheath– I’m not sure). Lisa had an older brother who was my sister’s age.

The Bryants were a Black family, but other than that, they weren’t all that different… or, at least it hadn’t seemed so to me at the time. I just remember that Lisa and I used to play together and attended the neighborhood birthday parties. Somewhere in my storage back in Texas, I have pictures from my fifth birthday party, and Lisa is there.

When our fathers were transferred, our families both moved to Fairfax County in Virginia. I remember going to Lisa’s house for another birthday party in Virginia. After that, we lost touch, mainly because my parents only lasted two years in Fairfax before they decided to move to Gloucester County and open their own business.

I never saw Lisa again, but if we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have definitely known who she was and probably would have known her well. She graduated from James W. Robinson Secondary School, the same school where one of my sisters and two of my cousins got their high school diplomas. My aunt also taught math there for years. Lisa was a big woman on campus in high school, having been homecoming queen for the class of ’89 and making top grades. Although we were born in the same year, she was a year ahead of me in school. If we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have gone to the same high school.

After she graduated high school, Lisa went to Princeton University. She was there on a ROTC scholarship, so she was required to fulfill a commitment to the Army post graduation. Lisa did big things at Princeton, too. She recruited students from the Washington, DC area and founded the cheerleading team. She graduated summa cum laude, and joined Delta Sigma Theta sorority. From what I read at the time of her death, Lisa meant to do her time in the Army and leave the service for a civilian career. She had big plans for her life. Sadly, she never had the chance.

Colin Powell was a close friend of Lisa’s father’s. They knew each other from their Army days. I remember reading that Powell had attended her wake, and his wife, Alma, went to Lisa’s closed casket funeral. The reason her casket was closed was because Lisa was murdered at Fort Bragg. She had gone there for a brief training course before she was to move to Germany for her first assignment. On the evening of July 9th, 1993, she had gone to a bar that was adjacent to her dormitory. That’s where she met Ervin Graves, who was a staff sergeant and ROTC instructor.

Graves had reportedly asked Lisa to dance with him. She said no, which was entirely appropriate. Not only was she an officer, while Graves was a non-commissioned officer, but she also had a boyfriend. Graves was also a married man. When Graves persisted in trying to get Lisa to dance with him, she decided to go back to her dorm. Graves was staying in the same dorm.

Lisa called her boyfriend, who was in California. She’d used the pay phone, because she didn’t want to bother her roommate. While she was on the phone, Graves attacked her, marching her to his dorm room where he meant to rape her. She managed to break away from him as he was attempting to restrain her. He responded by shooting her four times in the face with a 357 Magnum he inexplicably had with him in the dorm. She died in the hallway of her dormitory, right in front of the door to Graves’ dorm room.

Prior to the murder, Ervin Graves had been an exemplary soldier. He’d been a member of the Old Guard, where he had participated in presidential inaugurations, led parades, and been part of many ceremonies, both solemn and festive. His family was reportedly shocked that he was accused of a crime. His wife and sons were devastated. And Lisa’s family, especially her parents, were also extremely devastated. It had been many years since I had last seen Lisa, but even I was totally shocked when I heard about her death. She was a woman who was going to go places.

My mom called me at college to tell me about Lisa’s murder. I didn’t find out about it until a couple of months after it happened. People Magazine, which I used to read religiously, ran a story about Lisa. I remember later reading that Colin Powell and his wife were there to comfort the Bryants in their time of need. That always stuck with me, especially since Powell was such a powerful and famous man. But before he was an important man, he was also primarily a soldier, and when one of his brothers needed him, he was there.

In an article I read about Colin Powell’s death, Washington Post reporter, editor, and author, Bob Woodward, wrote that he’d spoken to General Powell in July. Powell reportedly said, “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old,” said Powell, who died Monday. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.”

Even up to the end of his life, Powell remained personable and friendly to Bob Woodward, even though his wife didn’t like him speaking to Woodward. He offered his thoughts on President Biden’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Powell wisely noted that we had to get out of Afghanistan eventually, and that with the massive drawdown of troops in recent years, it needed to be done expeditiously.

When Woodward asked who was the greatest man, woman, or person Powell had ever known, his response was immediate. He said, “It’s Alma Powell. She was with me the whole time. We’ve been married 58 years. And she put up with a lot. She took care of the kids when I was, you know, running around. And she was always there for me and she’d tell me, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ She was usually right.”

I know not everyone approved or appreciated Colin Powell’s politics or even his leadership, but I think of him as one of the good ones… While he had been a Republican throughout his career, he was not a Trump style Republican. He didn’t approve of Trump’s tactics. And when Woodward told Powell that one of his journalism students had asked, “What does the truth accomplish?”, Powell’s response was:

“This is scary… You just scared the hell out of me if this is what our kids are saying and thinking. Where are they getting it from? Media?”

I tend to agree with Powell. It IS scary that so many people are willing to overlook the importance of the truth, or the need to have good and decent– humane– people in power. Colin Powell was basically an honest man with integrity and strength, and he deeply loved and was loved by many. My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife, Alma, as they mourn their great loss. I’m sure the Bryant family is mourning, too… but maybe if there is a place after life, General Powell is with Lisa now.

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nostalgia, true crime

Juicy threads!

I belong to a Facebook group that is dedicated to us old fogies who went to Longwood University when it was still Longwood College. I love nostalgia groups. I have a really long memory for obscure details and I like to share them with people who can add to them or are amazed by them. Yesterday, I really got on a roll and started three threads in that group.

The first thread was about the Tea Room at Longwood. It was basically a “fancy” restaurant for students. For five bucks, you could have a steak dinner… or something like that. I only got to eat there once. I didn’t know it existed for most of my time there. I was in a music fraternity for women (Sigma Alpha Iota) and a regional representative came to visit our chapter. We took her to dinner at the Tea Room. I remember enjoying the experience.

Sadly, a few years after I graduated, the building the Tea Room was in caught on fire. They rebuilt the Rotunda, but I don’t think the Tea Room survived. A bunch of people had memories of it, though… and lots of people like me didn’t know it existed. I’m glad I had my one chance to try it. Longwood actually had good food in the 90s, though.

The second thread was about French Pool. In my day, French was a dormitory, but I guess at one time, it was a gym, and I believe right now, it’s a computer lab. When I was at Longwood, French had racquetball courts and a pool. Other people said that it also had a basketball court, but I don’t remember ever seeing that. I do remember swimming in French Pool one time. It was an indoor pool, but there were garage doors that opened so that you could get some outdoor weather. The pool at the Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center was also like that, back in the day. And, just like the pool at Natural Bridge, they also closed the French Pool.

When I was at Longwood, the French Pool was kind of on its last legs. It was often closed. However, it was a really pretty pool– very old school, and kind of small. I read that Longwood got rid of its other pool, which was in what was known as Lancer Hall when I was a student, but is now called Willett Hall. I remember swimming in the pool at Lancer Hall when I was a freshman. A friend of mine was a lifeguard there. We used to go in the evenings and I remember doing flips off of the diving board (which I figured out how to do quite by accident). That pool also had a natatorium, which allowed people to watch swimmers from a window under the water surface.

I guess the pool has been drained because it looks like the college is going to open a new convocation and events center and the old pool is obsolete, having been opened in 1980. Hopefully, they will include a pool, since I doubt people want to have to go to nearby Hampden-Sydney, a private men’s college, to use their pool, or rent an apartment off campus to have pool access. Especially since the “Hamsters” can be a bit snobby about Longwood. The funny thing is, when I was at Longwood, you had to pass a swimming test in order to graduate or take a swimming class and pass it. Now they don’t have a pool? WTF!

And finally, there was more talk about Erin McCay George, whom I have written about a few times on this blog. Erin George, author of the book A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women, was editor of the school newspaper when I was at Longwood. She abruptly left school before graduating. Word on the street was that she left because she was caught embezzling money intended for the newspaper to fund a trip to England to meet her boyfriend, James George. She met James George on the Internet when it was still in its infancy.

I posted about how Erin had run a couple of really controversial stories in the paper that had the whole campus outraged. I wrote about that in this post, which includes links to two posts I wrote for my original blog about how I came to realize that Erin had written a book about prison life that is now being used in a lot of criminal justice classes. Anyway… after reminiscing with people who were at Longwood at the time and knew Erin, I’m beginning to think that the spicy newspaper stories from 1992 that so upset people on campus were, in part, intended to be a distraction from what she was doing with money that she had allegedly stolen from the student newspaper.

Longwood had, and probably still has, a strict honor code. Lying, cheating, and stealing were not tolerated. Since she was evidently creatively using college funds to enhance and advance her relationship with her British boyfriend, it could be that the scandalous news stories were intended to shift focus from her alleged illicit activities to the content of the newspaper. Or maybe it wasn’t…

Erin went on to marry her boyfriend and then, just six years later, shot him in the head at point blank range for $700,000 in insurance money. She was eventually sentenced to 603 years in prison. Of course, she won’t serve that many years because it’s impossible, but I think it was mainly passed down to ensure that she is never released. Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, although some convicted felons can be released from prison early if they meet certain requirements and if they committed their crimes when parole still existed. Erin committed her crimes after parole was abolished.

Anyway, it’s clear that a lot of people didn’t remember the newspaper scandal in the 1990s and even fewer knew that Erin was in prison and had written a book. I reconnected with someone who was at Longwood when I was and knew Erin, explaining that Erin had a friend in one of the few eccentric English professors at Longwood during that time, a man named William Woods. I had Mr. Woods for a couple of classes. He was a lot of fun. I seem to remember that in the early 1990s, when this was going on, Mr. Woods was obsessed with Madonna’s Sex book, an expensive “coffee table” book that was full of erotic images. At the time, it was considered very risque.

I remember Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) was popular then, and Madonna had dated him. I think some of their sexy pictures were in that book and Vanilla Ice broke up with her over it. According to a Huffington Post article about their relationship, Vanilla Ice said of Madonna to the British tabloid, News of the World,

“She was older than me and a great lover… But I broke up with her after she printed that book because I was hurt to be an unwitting part of this slutty package. It was disgusting and cheap. We were in a relationship yet it looked like she was screwing all these other people.”

Since Mr. Woods was supposedly Erin’s ally, and he was so fascinated with Madonna’s Sex book (as well as the Price Club), I wonder if maybe he influenced her to dedicate an issue of the Rotunda to “safe sex”, which included the free distribution of condoms in the paper. Of course, at that time, one of the fraternities at Longwood also used to have an annual “safe sex” party, which included t-shirts one could buy. I believe that fraternity was eventually kicked off campus for hazing. That’s just speculation from yours truly. I really don’t know where the truth lies. Still, so many years after all of that happened, I kind of wonder if the prosecutors who worked to bring Erin to justice ever looked at her time at Longwood, which led up to her relationship with her victim and his ultimate untimely demise. Looking back on that time, it’s clear that trouble was brewing years before it culminated in murder.

I read a couple of old news articles about Erin George’s case and they implied that she confessed to the murder, claiming that George would not give her a divorce. According to those articles, one of her former cellmates said that Erin told her that her husband, James George, “had it coming”. But looking at the evidence– George was buying insurance but backed out because he was a smoker and it would cost too much– and two days later, Erin falsified his signature on paperwork and paid the premiums with a secret account she had… and then claiming that it was “normal” for her to sign his name on stuff since she “handled the business in their relationship”, I can’t help but think of Bill’s ex wife. Bill’s ex, a narcissist who abused him, also “handled the business” in their relationship, to disastrous results.

I doubt very much that James George refused to give Erin a divorce. I think the issue was, she simply didn’t want to have to deal with him anymore and murdering him for insurance money was the easiest way, in her mind, to make sure he was out of the picture for good. She clearly wanted to split from him, but she wanted to make sure she got paid handsomely without incurring the high cost and personal risk of divorce… and would never have to deal with custody issues, his influence regarding their three children, or the children having a stepmother. But again– just my speculation, having been married to a man whose ex wife was also very destructive (though thankfully not yet murderous– that I know of, anyway) and similarly narcissistic. I will admit that I don’t know anything more about this case than what I’ve read and deduced on my own, based on my own dealings with this type of person. I could be wrong, and I doubt we’ll ever know the real story.

Sometimes, I wonder if I missed my calling as a true crime writer. On the other hand, looking back at Erin George, I wonder if, had she been slightly less narcissistic and antisocial, she might have had a great career as a provocateur or paparazzo. She clearly had little fear of publishing things that would upset people. Longwood, in the 1990s, was a pretty conservative place– though not as conservative as Liberty University, just down the road in Lynchburg, was– and still is.

Posting the link to Erin’s book for those who are interested. As an Amazon Associate, I get small commissions from Amazon when sales are made through my site.

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musings

I don’t like Meat Loaf…

Today on my music blog, I wrote about how I got a mild ration of shit for not enjoying Janis Joplin’s music. It always cracks me up when I express an opinion, particularly about a certain food or type of music, and someone tries to convince me that I’m wrong. There’s no accounting for taste. Opinions differ. I know a lot of people like Janis Joplin’s music. Many people think she was extraordinary. A lot of people feel that way about Barbra Streisand, too. I like songs by Janis and Barbra, but I think they’re overrated singers. It’s just my opinion. I’m entitled to it. You’re entitled to yours.

Anyway, as I was writing about the contentious Janis Joplin thread I had going last night, it occurred to me that I don’t like Meat Loaf, either. I mean, I don’t like the singer– not the dish. I actually LOVE meatloaf, the dish. I make a mean one, stuffed with cheese, ham, and loaded with Italian spices. It’s been too long since I last made one, too. Maybe we’ll do it this weekend. As I look for a photo of meatloaf, I see that it doesn’t look appetizing… but damn, it tastes good!

In fact, here’s the recipe for Stuffed Italian Meatloaf. You can’t say I never gave you anything.

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 C soft bread crumbs

1/2 C tomato juice (or tomato sauce– I have used leftover Ragu sauce successfully)

2 T parsley

1/2 t oregano

1/2t salt

1/4 t pepper

1/2 clove garlic

2 lbs ground beef

6-9 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

3 slices mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (176 Celsius). Combine all ingredients except meat and cheese. Mix in ground beef, form 10×12 rectangle on waxed paper. Sprinkle cheese almost to edge. Beginning at short side, roll up meat, sealing edges and ends. Place seam side down in 9×13 baking dish. Bake 1 1/4 hours. Place cheese slices over top and return to oven to melt. Serves 10 to 12. If you want to, you can also put thin broiled ham slices under the shredded cheese as more stuffing. This recipe comes from the Virginia Hospitality cookbook and I’ve served it to many people with great success!

Back to Meat Loaf, and why I don’t like him. There’s a reason I’m not a fan of Meat Loaf, also known as Michael Lee Aday. It’s not because he’s a bad singer. I fully recognize that he’s a great entertainer and a talented singer. I know people love his music and appreciate his theatrical style. He has a powerful, operatic voice, as well as a sense of humor that appeals to many. I don’t own any of his music, though, and I own music by lots and lots of musicians from a broad array of genres. Meat Loaf was popular when I was a child and I heard him on the radio a lot. I probably could have taken or left him, if not for an incident that occurred in early 1994.

One weekend, during my senior year in college, I had gone to visit my relatives in Natural Bridge, Virginia. It was cold outside, so it must have been in the winter– I think it was February, because I remember telling my aunt that graduation was coming up in just a few months. My cousin, who was then a senior in high school and very popular with males, was invited to a party. She asked me to go with her. We went to some guy’s house… I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he had a son named Brian who was about my age. My cousin is four years younger than I am, so that would mean Brian was an adult, while she was still a minor. They were apparently dating at the time.

So there we were at Brian’s father’s house. We had gone there to pick up “dad” so we could all go to the party together. As Brian was getting ready for the festivities, dear old dad struck up a conversation with me. He told me that he’d gone to high school with my Uncle Steve. Steve was born in 1945, which means that he’s 27 years older than I am. Steve has two children and they’re both slightly older than I am. My cousin and Brian were making eyes at each other. Dear old dad was apparently making eyes at me. I was oblivious.

He turned on the stereo. Meat Loaf’s hit song, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” was playing. I remember it was the first time I’d really heard that song, although I’d heard about it from my friends. I don’t know how I missed it, since it was probably Meat Loaf’s best loved hit.

I HATE this song, however it’s notable since the female solo part was done by Ellen Foley, who went on to star on Night Court in the 1980s.

I remember listening to the music as Brian finally got finished gussying up. We went to the party in Brian’s car, while my cousin’s car was left at Brian’s dad’s house. Brian and my cousin eventually disappeared together, and I was left there alone, talking to people I didn’t know very well. I remember meeting a woman who went to Randolph-Macon College and was roommates with a woman I’d gone to school with in Gloucester County. I wasn’t good friends with her roommate. In fact, we’d had a very contentious history. Her younger brother ruined my very first Walkman knockoff by putting it in a swimming pool, and her mom got angry at my dad for requesting that she pay for the damaged item. I don’t think their mom ever forgave my dad, even though her son had purposely ruined my radio. He’s probably completely forgotten that incident, but I haven’t.

Anyway, it was kind of interesting that my old schoolmate’s roomie was at this party, which was clear across the state from Gloucester and Randolph-Macon College. That was probably the coolest thing that happened that night. She eventually got up to get some beer, and I was suddenly confronted by Brian’s father, who was EXTREMELY drunk. He’d apparently spent a couple of hours at that party just sitting there getting hammered. He was so intoxicated he couldn’t keep his eyes open. It was not an appealing or attractive look for him, and frankly, it made me nervous to talk to him.

Brian’s dad then proceeded to hit on me. I was 21 years old. He was in his late 40s and piss drunk. Here I was, sitting alone while my cousin made out with Brian. Brian’s dad slurred, “You’re sooo cute… Let’sh go to my housh and wait…” He wanted me to accompany him to his house and hang out there with him, alone. I don’t think he would have harmed me, unless we died on the way out of there. He was so wasted that he was close to passing out.

I told him I didn’t want to go with him. For one thing, he was dead drunk and had absolutely no business driving. For another thing, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in him, especially in his inebriated state. I didn’t want to hang out with him when he was that drunk. I doubt I would have wanted to get to know him when he was sober, either. He quickly revealed himself to be an asshole of the first order. So I said no… more than once. He wouldn’t take it as an answer.

“Aw come on…” he begged. “Let’sh go. You’re shoooo pretty… I knew your Uncle Sh’teve in school…” Those beer goggles were strapped on tight!

“No.” I said. “I need to wait for my cousin.”

“She’s okayyyy…” he slurred. “She’s with my Sh’ON!”

Yeah… that was what I was afraid of, especially if his son was anything like him. So I said, “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Bitch!” he shrieked, suddenly not finding me so “cute” anymore. “You’re jusht a bitch!” He finally staggered off in a rage.

At that point, I got distinctly uncomfortable and decided to remove myself from that situation. I found the party’s hostess and asked if I could borrow her phone. The hostess was very apologetic as I called my aunt to come and get me.

My aunt showed up a little bit later, very upset. She hissed, “I feel like taking her to the emergency room!” referring to my cousin.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“What do you think they were doing?” aunt said, fuming. Clearly she assumed they were having sex.

I looked over at Brian’s car and sure enough, the windows were fogged up. I could see him on top of my cousin. It looked like they were kissing passionately. I don’t know if anything else happened that night, and I never asked. I do remember trying to drive my uncle’s truck home with my cousin in it, as her mom had gone to retrieve my cousin’s car. The truck had a “three on the tree” gear shift, so I kept shifting wrong, making the ride home even less comfortable than it otherwise would have been. I apologized to her for “ratting” her out, but I didn’t see any other way to get out of that situation with Brian’s drunk dad, who was making me very uncomfortable. I didn’t have my own transportation and didn’t know where she was, so I had to call for help.

Another song by Meat Loaf that I’d pass on… especially now.

My cousin was surprisingly chill about it and didn’t get angry with me. Maybe she was relieved that I called her mom. Unfortunately, Meat Loaf’s music is now completely ruined for me. I didn’t really like most of his songs that much anyway, though. I remember right before that incident, he had a hit in “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”, a song that I never liked. After meeting Brian’s dad at that party, I can say that I like it even less!

Isn’t it funny how music can trigger memories? Some are good. Some are distinctly bad. I know people love Meat Loaf and hate meatloaf. I love meatloaf, but would rather pass on Meat Loaf. Every time I hear his music– especially “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”, I’m reminded of Brian and Brian’s drunk ass dad. Come to think of it, I don’t really like parties that much, either.

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