YAM Notes: July/August 2014

By Marty Snapp

As I mentioned in January, Ned Flynn is an avid license plate collector and a member of the American License Plate Collectors Association Hall of Fame. On March 30 he received a text message from another collector in Arizona listing ten plates for sale.

“I scrolled down and saw a 1969 legislator plate from Tennessee,” he says. “I stopped and looked quizzically at the initials. The plate was VHA-1. VHA? VHA? Why are those initials familiar? Duh! I suddenly realized the initials were those of none other than Victor Henderson Ashe, elected to the Tennessee assembly in ’68 at age 23. So I left my company, went upstairs, and immediately placed a ‘buy’ order with the seller. All of $25. Good thing that I did, as not five minutes later some collectors from Tennessee wanted it. But I was the first. The seller had found this tag at a plate meet in Crossville, Tennessee, about a month ago. He had no luck unloading it in March at plate events in Vegas and Tombstone, Arizona, but found several interested parties after he posted it to the website. I should have it within the week.”

Speaking of Victor, an American Linden tree honoring him was planted in Knoxville by American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812 on the occasion of his retirement from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (to which Victor, a Republican, was appointed by President Obama). “When the executive board pondered a parting gift for Victor Ashe, the former US ambassador to Poland and the five-term mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, we decided that instead of a plaque or a sculpture or another dust-catching item, the most fitting tribute would be a living tree planted in his honor,” the union explained in its announcement. “It will be a living symbol of our appreciation for Governor Ashe’s commitment to make US international broadcasting the beacon for the free world which it used to be, as well as a tribute to his efforts to fight for right against might.”

I e-mailed Victor and said, “It’s not every day you see a labor union honoring a Republican.” And he replied, “Yes, a real unusual situation, but I am part of an endangered species called a moderate Republican. Reagan would be considered moderate today.”

The tree, as yet still a sapling, is located in Victor Ashe Park, due south of the popular playground and pavilion area and adjacent to the Victor Ashe Greenway trail. (Victor is a legend in Knoxville because of his longtime support for local preservation and the environment.)

And while we’re in a hail-to-the-Victors mood, I received this e-mail from Edward Kimball ’68: “I am the next-door neighbor and friend of your classmate Victor Lieberman, who is a history professor at the University of Michigan. I suspect Vic is too modest to tell you, so I am taking it upon myself to let you know that he recently won the 24th annual University of Michigan Golden Apple Award for Outstanding University Teaching. This award is given by the students of the university to honor one of their best teachers. I think the Class of ’67 can be very proud of your distinguished classmate.”

Yes, Ed, we are. And you were right about him being too modest to tell me.

Finally, Rick Whitaker passed away on November 27 at his home in Port Arthur, Texas. His life was a fascinating intellectual journey. As a lawyer from 1971 until 1995, he spent his career trying to assist those in need of assistance but unable to afford it. He won cases in both South Carolina and Vermont defending whole classes of people who were being wrongfully detained. In Vermont this resulted in a change in the state constitution.

Giving up law in 1995, he taught English at Plattsburgh State, the University of Vermont, and Cobleskill Community College. At one point he was teaching at the University of South Carolina and in the South Carolina prison system at the same time! Then he changed careers again, starting out as a law librarian at the Maryland State Law Library in Annapolis. He received his library science degree from the University of Maryland in 2000 and held various library positions in Washington, Baltimore, and Delhi, India. In 2009 he joined the Port Arthur Library System as assistant director and remained there until his death. He was responsible for significant expansion of library services, creating a more favorable working environment, and assisting the director of the entire library system to achieve greater funding and stability of resources. “He was a great man to work for, a leader, an example to us, and ethical to a fault,” said one of his co-workers.

“Rick was smart, witty, and an inveterate weekend road-tripper to Smith and Holyoke,” recalls Jim Lavery. “Always sharp-looking in a jacket and tie, ready for the next event, whether a Berkeley mixer or a drive to one of the seven sisters. An intelligent guy who exemplified the best of the pre-coed time, when Yalies worked hard during the week and had fun on weekends.”

Russ Sale adds, “He was genuine, down-to-earth, and completely unpretentious, with a ready smile and wry sense of humor that was accompanied by what I perceived as a rather bemused smile, as though observing the world as a comedic stage from a vantage point of slight detachment. Maybe it was his philosophy major coming through. I regret not keeping in touch with Rick, as I admired him from a distance for reinventing himself so many times over the years, and for a life that didn’t seek fame, power, or money, but was spent in service to others, whether in law, as a teacher, or in the library. Requiescat in pace.”

My sympathies to his wife, Adelaide McGill, and his entire extended family. Memorial contributions may be made in Rick’s name to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104, or a charity of your choice.