Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Weight Loss Olympics

Just when you thought you were going to have withdrawals from having NO Olympics after watching the competitions on TV for seventeen straight days, we’ve got a little surprise for you: The Weight Loss Olympics are still going strong. And the Closing Ceremonies are set for Tuesday, Sept. 2nd!!

When we last checked in on the Weight Loss Olympics, we actually were calling it by a completely different name -- The Next Great Almost Annual Weight Loss Challenge Invitational Competition – which is awkward and hard to remember, so, being swept up in Olympics Fever like everyone else, we changed the name.

Actually, we’re just 14 fat guys – plus our mascot – trying to win the pot of $1,500 by losing more weight than any other competitors.

It was way back on July 15th that our Band of Big Bellied Brothers kicked off our seven week contest with an official weigh-in, and a lot of boasting and self-promotion. We heard more bragging from this group of Fat Guys BEFORE the competition than we’ve heard from Michael Phelps AFTER winning eight gold medals. If you could believe all the hype we heard that day, you would expect that the group, by now, had collectively lost enough weight to shift the equilibrium of the earth, and slightly knock the equator off its course.

But it probably hasn’t happened that way.

For my part, I have a doctor’s excuse. Plus, being on steroids for three weeks in the middle of the Weight Loss Olympics does not help you drop poundage.

But the other 14 contestants… well, that’s a different story. Actually, it’s fourteen different stories… most of them with great excuses at the end.

While we won’t know for sure until the final weigh-in on Sept. 2nd – the highlight of the Closing Ceremonies – here are some of my personal predictions of the “Leastest Losers”!

Jim Miles – Former S.C. Secretary of State, weighed in at 234.2 at the Opening Ceremonies. Jim has great intentions, but no will-power. Five minutes after the initial weigh-in, he was into the ice cream, setting a new Olympic speed record for quickest “fall off the wagon” start. No chance.

Barry Walker – Irmo Councilman, better known as “Fat Back”, the proprietor of Mac’s on Main, registered a 327.2 at the initial weigh-in. Theoretically, Fat Back should be a contender to Medal in the weigh loss event. But he switched coaches in the middle of the games, and now the Gold appears to be out of his reach.

Bruce Holland – the only lawyer in the group, and therefore the one holding the cash -- weighed in at 238.2. He started off strong in the competition, but let’s just say he “dropped the baton” along the ways. Chance of winning: Nill. Still, he’s the guy holding the cash, so please keep your eyes on him for us.

Lewis Gossett weighed in at a hefty 247.6. The former director of SC LLR, and now director of some sort of hifalutin’ big deal business group, Lewis was considered to be a possible medalist… until the game actually started. That’s when we realized he could never “stick his landing”. He’s out.

Kirk Luther – The defending goal medalist weighing in at 236.2. The reigning champ is the Business Manager and partner in this very newspaper, but was Not Necessarily Expected to Win Again. Still, real champions know how to rise to the occasion even when they appear to be out of the running. Plus, Kirk knows how to drink a bottle of Mineral Oil the night before the final weigh-in. Prediction: Not Necessarily out of the running.

Terry Campbell is an Insurance Executive Extraordinaire who should have been able to calculate his 0% odds of winning. He weighed in at 241.6. Could he have been a contender? Doubtful. But all hope flew out the window when he blew his strategy by confusing MORE EXERCISE with MORE FOOD. It’s a lot like being in the diving competition, and leading off with a “cannonball”.

John Wentzell’s initial weigh-in was a measly 209.4. He has as much business in this contest as Saudi Arabia has entering the Winter Olympics. No chance.

Joe Kennedy started out at 217.8, because he was already down 20 pounds from an earlier weight loss effort. That’s a lot like entering the swimming competition wearing Army Boots. Not gonna happen!

Rod Shealy, Jr. weighed in at 217.6 to start. Junior has joined his dad – me -- in this contest for the third year in row. Like Joe, RJ he seems to have trouble when it comes to calculating the math in a weight-loss contest. If this were a Marathon, RJ would have given out of steam after the first mile of the 26 mile race.

Robert Wessinger started at 251.0, and should have been a contender. But, let’s just he “tripped over several of the hurdles” along the way. When the final weigh-in comes, this current Real Estate guy will still have a little bit of DoNut belly left over from his career as a Lexington County Deputy.

Rod Lorick , of the Cayce-West Columbia News, weighed in at 312.2 to start. He’s a well known golfer who asserts himself to be the Greatest Living Athlete in Cayce-West Columbia. But he also asserts himself to be the winner of this contest. I don’t think so! In fact, Rod’s routine during the Weight-Loss Olympics have inspired a whole new event: Synchronized Buffet Line!

Shirley Towne – Our Mascot, who the guys all fell in love with. As the only female in the contest, we’re withholding the information we share on the others. Let’s just call her healthy… and BY FAR the prettiest person in this contest. But… not a medalist! A lot like the archery contestant who shot the wrong target!

Mike Andrews, the Tune-Up King from Bob Andrews Motors, tipped the scales at 282.4, making him one of the statistical favorites for this competition. But, once again, Andrews got off to a false start. Plus, he splashed his dive entry, swam into the wrong lane, got a little trigger happy on the shooting range, sank his kayak, and tipped the pole vault bar as he was going under it! Additionally, Andrews is known to have the will-power of a gnat, and suffers from the delusion that he still looks like he looked 20 years ago, which -- face it -- wasn’t that great even then, unless there was lots of alcohol involved. Best guess: Mike is well-prepared to start his NEXT weight-loss contest… after actually GAINING weight during this one!!!

Which brings us to the odds-on favorite for the Gold -- Northeast Columbia resident Don Gowrys, better known as the Store Manager of Michaels Arts and Crafts, who initially weighed-in at a whopping 381.2, and has reportedly stuck to a rigorous training schedule during the games. Can he do it? Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint… so watch out for leg-cramps in the last few miles! Our prediction: Going for the Gold.

We’ll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I have some other things to write about

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve written here about my medical condition. But I’ve decided I have some other things I want to write about.

Every four years, at about this time of year, we witness some major events: the Olympics, and the National Conventions leading to the November presidential election.

All year long, I’ve been looking forward so writing about these events, and sharing my personal, insider’s look as a former participant.

Okay, I was never actually IN the Olympics – mostly just watched it on TV, like everybody else… (Note: If they had ever added “horse” as one basketball events, as they rightfully should have, I’m certain I could have been a contender.) -- but I wanted to write about it anyway. Also, I actually WAS a delegate to a couple of National Conventions.

Anyway, I plan to get back to writing about these things starting next week, because we can wrap up the medical stuff today.

So let me start by bringing you up to date my recent surgery.

Two weeks ago, I told you that I had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Last week, when I wrote this column, I was preparing for surgery, but had no real indication of the outcome.

Well, that’s not totally true. I did have SOME indication, because of the sheer number of friends, acquaintances and total strangers who were praying for me.

The prayers worked, along with the skilled hands of Dr. Sunil Patel, Chief of Neurosurgery at MUSC. The news during and since the surgery has been very, very good.

During the surgery, Dr. Patel was able to extract the tumor without any damage to surrounding tissue, and was able to remove all indications of cancer. The tumor revealed that the cancer was metastasic melanoma, likely a recurrence of an earlier melanoma 25 years ago. Normally, this would be bad news, but a post-op MRI revealed no sign of additional cancer… which is good news. Moreover, the team at MUSC has offered even better news: that the recommended therapy to prevent further recurrence can be limited to a very targeted, “mild” therapy, rather than the harsher, unpleasant therapies that had been predicted.

Of course, it’s still cancer, and anything can happen. It is in the hands of the Lord. But as for now, it appears that the Lord wants me on this earth a while longer. The surgery, and every indication since then, has been very good news.

So, that’s the brief report from my surgery and the week since.

However, I know that’s not the stuff you readers really want to know. So I’m going to give you the answers to YOUR questions now, too.

A reader asked me this question: “Did you lose all your hair?”

The answer is “no” I did not lose all my hair. In fact, I didn’t lose any hair during the surgery that I can tell.

(A reader didn’t really ask that. I’m pretending somebody asked these questions, like all columnists do… even “Dear Abby”.)

Another reader asks: Will you lose your hair during your therapy?

The answer is “yes”… but it really won’t make a big difference, cause there's not a lot of hair to lose.

A smart-aleck reader asks: “Have you ever done this therapy before, because you sure are missing a lot of hair?”

I will not dignify that fake question with a response.

Next reader: “Do you have a scar where the surgery was?”

Yes, with metal staples. Gnarly!

Reader: “Are you on drugs?”

I was, but I kicked the habit. They were very good drugs, starting with steroids before the surgery, and some very impressive painkillers afterwards. But, there were side effects… like waking up at 3:30 am and phoning total strangers in Bangladesh. So, I decided I really wasn’t in pain any more.

Yet another reader: “How’s your brain? Can you spell and do numbers now?”

The original symptoms, which led to the discovery of the cancer, were that I was getting numbers and letters confused. Those symptoms are completely gone… although the “over 50” thing has been steadily taking its toll on my spelling, numbers, remembering, etc. for a few years now.

A reader’s question: “Did you retain your same level of comedic wittiness?”

Unfortunately, yes.

Another reader, another question: “How does this effect your weight loss competition?”

Apparently, it made the other contestants virtually give up... based on the reports I have gotten that they’ve basically quit losing weight altogether… but with two weeks to go, anything can happen.

Reader: “Does your head hurt?”

Actually, no. Strangely, no pain at all. But, of course, the first few days, I was medicated.

Reader: “Are you back at work yet?”

No. Doctor’s orders. No work until Thursday. However, he did clear me to use my cell-phone and laptop… which is pretty much what I do if I’m “at work”.

Reader: “Anybody you want to thank?”

Everybody I want to thank! We don’t have that kind of time or space. But “thanks” to everybody who wrote, called, cared, and most of all prayed.

Now that I’ve answered all the questions you really wanted to know, next week I’m going to get back to writing some of the other stuff I want to write. I’ll still keep you posted on any medical developments which might occur on my blog: doingthefirst.blogspot.com

Enjoy the rest of the Olympics, albeit without my expert, inside commentary. See you next week.

A special thank you...

I have been overwhelmed by the continued prayers and support I've received in the last two weeks from so many, many friends and aquaintances, as we as the kindness of strangers who have let me know they are praying for me. I am deeply grateful.

I know those prayers have been answered, as every day has brought better and better news.

While nothing is for certain, in now appears that for some reason, God wants me to remain on this Earth for a while... an outcome that didn't seem likely a few weeks ago.

To each and every person who has taken the time to write, call, visit, or pray, I thank your for your friendship.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Random Thoughts from the Luckiest Man on Earth…

Last week, you may know, I reported in this column that I have been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, and promised to keep you informed of my progress. Since that time, not much has changed…. EXCEPT that I will be undergoing surgery to have the tumor removed. In fact, by the time you read this column, the surgery will have already happened, and you will likely already know the initial outcome.

I can tell you that my doctors have given me great optimism going into the procedure. With cancer, though, we rarely have any long-term assurances.

When I reported this news last week, I explained a few of the reasons I feel like the luckiest man on earth. If you missed it, I hope you can visit my internet blog: www.doingthefirst.blogspot.com to read last week’s column entitled “The Luckiest Man On Earth” -- so you can better understand the pure joy I have experienced during the last week… AND so you will understand why I’m able to attempt a little levity on this subject.

This could be either the most difficult column I’ve ever written… or the easiest!!! Because we publish WEEKLY newspapers, our deadlines come a few days earlier than daily newspapers… which means I am writing this a few hours BEFORE my surgery, but you will be reading it AFTERWARDS! How ironic is that? It’s quite the conundrum.

Okay. I’ve decided. I chose the EASIEST. Go figure.

So here’s what I’m going to do. One of my favorite types of columns I have written over the years is a little something I like to call “Isolated Thoughts”… just a random collection of whatever happens to be on my mind that particular day. I’m going to do exactly that: just report to you some random thoughts that happen to be floating though my mind in these hours before surgery to remove the tumor from my brain. So here goes:

-- I am the luckiest man in the world. And this has been one of the best weeks of my life. I am blessed with friendship and love.

-- A few days before I found out about this cancer, I joined 14 of my friends in a “Weight Loss contest”. Each of us kicked $100 American Buckos into the pot, and the biggest loser after 7 weeks wins the money. One wag emailed me and said, “Man, you’ll do anything to win a contest, won’t you.” Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.

-- I’m actually trying for my second T-Shirt. When I was diagnosed with melanoma in the early 80’s, I was given a 30 percent chance of survival.

-- As I was riding from Columbia to Charleston on I-26 Sunday to prepare for the Monday operation, I couldn’t help but think of the time back in 1996 when I water-skiied from Columbia to Charleston. And all of a sudden, I received a call from my good friend Joe Agnew, who skiied along with my brother Shawn and me. So we made a date to do it again a year from now, in August 2009.

-- Everyone I have talked to has agreed that I don’t seem very worried about this upcoming procedure. That’s because I’m not worried. Not even a little bit. If God’s will is for me to survive, I will, and if not, I won’t. So why worry. Just go with the flow, and submit to God’s will. What could be better? Also, though, I’m not afraid of death, because I know that death is simply the beginning of the life that really matters. Too many of us know that, but for some reason seem afraid anyway. I think it’s just because we tend to fear change. Now, I can relate to fearing change. Like being forced to switch over from Windows XP to Vista. I fear Vista a lot more than I fear death.

-- I have just decided that this will have to be a two-week column. First of all, I might not be able to write a column for next week, depending on my condition. Secondly, there are simply too many random thoughts flooding through my mind right now to include them all in one week. It would take too much space, so I have made the command decision to write two-weeks’ worth of columns now, and save one for next week.

-- Since this occurred during Dog Days – the slow part of summer when nothing much seems to happen in the news – a handful of daily newspapers used the news of my condition to fill up news space: “Political Consultant battles brain tumor” or something of the sort. While it was nice of them to mention, as usual they got it wrong. I’m not battling a tumor. I’m just kind of laying back watching other people battle the tumor… LOTS of people… doctoring, praying, dashing about taking care of things for me. I’m just staying out of their way.

-- Have I mentioned the steroids? Wow! Those things are GREAT. Since the tumor was pressing up against my brain and affecting my communication, my friend and doctor, Oscar Lovelace, gave me steroids to control the swelling. Turns out, they also turn you into a Super Man. I’ve been averaging about 3 or 4 hours sleep per night, lots of energy, and thinking clearer than ever. Now I understand what all the fuss is about with the pro athletes.

-- Steroids will also make your feet and ankles blow up to approximately the size of a Beaufort County waller-mellon!

-- Oh! Most important of all: In case I forget later in the week: Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you. (And I’m not just printing this to save from having to spend 50-cents on a birthday card, like most- years!)

-- This is really weird. You’re going to know the results before you read this – maybe before I do. Like the people on the west coast voting for President after the winner has already been declared by the exit polls from the west coast.

-- My son, Ross, has a blog which he updates more frequently than I do, so he agreed to keep it updated with any news or medical developments which might occur on behalf of my family or myself.. If you want to know the results – maybe before I do – you can visit his blog at: Please visit www.scbarbecue.blogspot.com/

-- (This is off topic, but am I the only voter worried that since we turned ALL of the nation’s voting machines over to the computers, that the computer geeks of the world are probably going to be able to tamper with the results, and change the winners?)

-- If I get a break, I hope to use it to catch up on reading old emails. I have several hundred emails “saved as new” until I can get around to reading them. A lot of them are jokes -- those annoying “forward” emails…. Which don’t bother me at all. I love them. It lets me know somebody cared enough about me to include me on their list. I’ll read them when I can. Keep sending them. (Also, a lot of them are business. I try to get to them first…. But sometimes it takes me a week or more to get around to solving a certain problem.)

-- Prayer chains: “When you feel that little prayer wheel turning, you will know that little prayer wheel’s burning.” I think that’s how the song goes. I tell you I have been FEELING those prayers churning this week, and for that, I am grateful.

There’s more, lots more, to say… but I had to just make notes for next week’s column, and maybe a week or two after than. Just too much to say. And WAY too many blessings. Again, just to start, you’d need to read my column from last week: You can find my column online at: www.doingthefirst.blogspot.com/

Ok, I gotta go get some surgery now…in a couple of hours. I’m the Luckiest Man on Earth, because I have so many friends, so many blessings, and so many total strangers who have prayed for me this week – I just got an email from a prayer group in Canada -- and brought me so much closer to the Lord. You have made this one of the most pleasant times of my life, and given me the ability talk to you honestly, openly, and even jokingly about a surgery that I suppose should cause me to be nervous. But I’m simply not nervous. Not even a little bit. So I’m just going to slide on down to MUSC go find out what He has planned for me.

I thank you for making me feel like the Luckiest Man on Earth.

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You can read all past columns on Rod’s Blog at: www.doingthefirst.blogspot.com Your emails are also welcome on any topic of interest. Email Rod personally at: RodShealy@aol.com

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Note from Rod:

"I'm truly touched by the outpouring of support in the last 24 hours. In order to keep you updated, I've asked my son Ross, who has a blog which is updated more frequently than mine is, to post any medical updates on behalf of myself and my family. Please visit http://scbarbecue.blogspot.com/

Thanks, Rod

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Luckiest Man on Earth!

In these columns, I vary from topic to topic, but most of the time, I try to bring a little humor and happiness into the lives of readers. (Unfortunately, that’s usually result of my unintentionally typographical errors or misspellings.)

My friends and associates know that I’m what’s called “laid back”. Non-conventional. (Some would call it “goofy”). I wear funny-looking Hawaiian shirts. I’ve always valued friends WAY more than money… (which works out well for me since I don’t HAVE any money.) And I enjoy my sense of humor… even when nobody else does.

Taken all together, it makes writing these columns each week one of my favorite pastimes. But this week is VERY special… a column about how truly blessed I am. I feel like the luckiest man on earth.

I actually have proof. Three times in my life, I’ve escaped “near death” experiences. At age four, I fell out of a car traveling down the busiest street in my hometown of Lexington (U.S. 1) with speeding cars zooming around me in the dark of night. I escaped with a hospital stay, a permanent bump on the noggin’, and a picture in the local newspaper of “the little boy whose head was bandaged like a mummy”.

Then, in the fifth grade, I suffered a double-ruptured appendix which kept me hospitalized for nearly a month. Had my mom and dad waited two hours ‘til daybreak to take me to the hospital rather than leaving their beds in the dead of night, I would not have survived, doctors told us.

In 1983, I was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer – melanoma – and given a 30% chance of survival. Yet, 25 years later, I’m still kicking.

(I should probably add in the high school football injury that ruined my left knee, ended my sports career – one of the reasons you won’t be seeing me in the Olympics this month – but kept me out of Viet Nam. In 1971, that seemed a lot like luck to me.)

And then, just a few days ago, when I went to see my close friend, Dr. Oscar Lovelace, for something that seemed no more serious that a headache, I sensed his concern. We had worked together for over a year on his campaign for Governor, and I had somewhat learned to read his heart. A saw the great concern and compassion that I had often seen in his eyes before, especially when I told him of my previous melanoma. Within hours he had the results from an MRI, telling me “the news is not what we hoped for”.

Now before I go any further, let me assure you, my friends and readers, that I am optimistic that I will be writing his column for many years to come. And I hope that’s what the Good Lord has planned for me also. (Right now, I’m really hoping the Lord enjoys my off-the-wall style of humor that I sometimes slip into the weekly columns. If not… no offense, Lord… and forgive me for my bad sense of humor.)

As a political consultant and a newspaper publisher, I’m familiar with “spin”… but there’s not really much way to spin this:

A few days ago, tests revealed I have a cancerous brain tumor.

Along with Dr. Lovelace, Dr. William Butler, my previous oncologist from SC Oncology Center, confirmed the cancer, and this week, I will be visiting a specialist at MUSC to help determine what, if any course of action, can be taken.

I don’t know how other people would react to such news. But in the days since, I have been completely overcome with one central thought: I truly feel like the luckiest man in the world! I can’t even begin to count my blessings.

Obviously, I’m lucky to have a friend like Oscar, who has helped me think very clearly about my medical condition, and spent countless hours to shepherd me through tests that might normally take weeks in only days, even hours.

I also think of my friend Jerry Fowler, who during his last years allowed me to share his weekly journey with cancer with the readers of my newspapers. His courageous, positive approach of sharing his battle as a way to help others is now a blessing for me, allowing me the insight to follow his lead, and talk openly with you, similarly, I hope, in a way to benefit others. Without Jerry, it would never have occurred to me. Now, however, I am calmed by this very act of sharing with you.

But my greatest blessings are the friends and family, with which I have been blessed. At the top of the list are the Mom and Dad who brought me into this world and gave me the most loving and supporting family environment a person could have. And, most importantly, they took me to Sunday School and church every week from the youngest age I could remember, giving me a foundation of faith which has never allowed for a single solitary second a doubt that I would end up anywhere but Heaven. And, that, right now, is a very nice thought: It takes the only real issue off the table! They took me to church, I grew up believing I would live in eternity, and no other thought has ever crossed my mind.

I’m lucky to have an entire family that makes me nothing but proud. My sons, Rod, Jr. who makes me proud every day when he follows almost exactly in my footsteps, and Ross, who makes me proud when he chooses his own path, are both perfect to me. I don’t tell my wife Pat nearly often enough how happy I am to have her in my life, and she forgives me. My step-daughter, Amy, has filled my life with joy. My first wife, Becky, gave me the sons I cherish, and did it without the help she deserved, and managed to turn them into the special young men they became.

I have brothers, sisters, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and ex-relatives all of whom return the love that I have for them… topped off with two wonderful grandchildren who love their “Rod-Boy”. I cannot even recall a truly cross word spoken between any two members of my family. And, to a person, they overlook my flaws, my controversies, my occasional “black sheep” tendencies… and accept me for who I am. A lucky man.

And I have some of the most wonderful, trustworthy friends and associates you can imagine. Starting with my long-time business associates who somehow find a way to make my businesses succeed: Kirk, Kelley, Annette, Vi, Keith and many others; and my loyal and trusting clients: Jim, Andre, Henry, Richard, Catherine, Randy… the list is too long, the riches of friendship too plentiful.

In the hours since the suspicions slipped out that “something might be wrong with Rod” (or I should say “wronger than usual with Rod”), I have felt like the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Friends have poured out of the woodwork.

And as rumors started that there may be a serious problem, that I could be out of my businesses for a few weeks, that I might need to fly away for special treatment, that my insurance might not cover the bill, that I need friends to step in and help with some of my day to day responsibilities, offers to help solve any and every problem have some how found their way to me.

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I have wept many times in the last few days… Never once out of fear or concern for my life or my health… but many times out of the joy of knowing what wonderful friends I have. And, just like the movie, that to me is worth all the money in the world.

I learned two things from the blessing of Jerry Fowler’s recent experience.
First, I would have never thought of writing about this. But, if I’m able, I certainly plan to follow that lead. I’m not sure what I will write, but I will share this experience in my own way. (And I should warn you that I’m pretty sure I will attempt to mix in some humor… I just can’t help it!)

Second, near the end of Jerry’s journey in May, I learned that it’s okay to say a prayer in my own newspaper if I want to, which I did. And that, too, I will do, starting now:

“Lord, I thank you for the life you have given me, for the many friends and blessings you have showered upon me, and for making me truly feel like the luckiest man in the world. Watch over and care for all these people, your blessings to me. And, as for me, I pray only that you make me an instrument of your will. I know its not really about this life, it’s the next one… and while I sure do LIKE this one -- and would like to stay in it a while longer -- I also know I’ve had more than my share of goodness. So I’m not going to worry about myself, and just pray that you use me however you have planned for me, and I’m sure everything will work out fine. In your Sons name. Amen.”

If the Lord is willing, I’ll give you an update and let you know more next week, and every week until he says not. And I expect I can improve on the prayers I may occasionally publish… because I plan to be practicing a lot.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My Mom and Dad

This weekend, a column I wrote about my mom and dad years ago came to mind. It was long before there was any such thing as a "blog". So I decided to find and re-publish it here, even though it was written many years ago.

Happy 50th, Mom and Dad (reprinted from June, 1997)

In addition to celebrating Father's Day this weekend, the Shealys will be observing another occasion: the 50th Wedding Anniversary of our parents, Ryan and Elsie Shealy.

Ryan and Elsie Shealy -- who we usually refer to as "Mom & Dad" -- have been fairly well-known here in the local community… he with a political career which began in the 1950s and lasted into the 90s, and she with a successful career that led her to travel the nation as a motivational speaker. They are not only well-known, but well-liked and well-respected (leading to the obvious question which you, the reader, are probably struggling with in your mind right now: "So what happened to YOU?"

But that's a whole 'nother story.) As the second-born of their five children, I am understandably proud of my folks on this occasion. But as a newspaper writer I have an additional reaction: Hey, this is a GREAT story!

The truth is, I got both my political and my newspaper roots from my parents. Many times I've told the story of Dad's first run for the State House of Representatives in 1954, when I was first exposed to political campaigns. Since Mom attended all the political stump meetings to support Dad, and I was only six months old at the time, they came up with the very creative idea of putting "Vote for Pop" sign on my diapers, making me a political advertisement, of sorts. At six-months-old, I was cute…and Dad won the race!

It was my first experience in political campaigns. My newspaper roots probably took hold even before that. While they were still a struggling young couple, Dad worked three jobs to help put himself through college. One of those jobs was newspaper carrier. And when I was born in December 1953, Dad went out and collected his delivery route a little early to scrape together enough money to get me out of the hospital. I figure that episode was my earliest involvement in the newspaper industry.

That's when MY story began, but the Ryan and Elsie story started long before that. Growing up at the site of the still-under-construction Lake Murray, Elsie Porth was the youngest of five children in her family, and the first to go to college. She graduated from Columbia College and immediately took a job teaching high school.

Ryan, on the other hand, grew up plowing behind a mule to help support his family, his adoptive father having died when he was very young. He quit Batesburg-Leesville High School to get a job at the Charleston Naval Yard, later enlisting in the Navy during World War II.

Returning from the war, he decided to return to high school to prepare for college. It was there that Ryan met Elsie… his high school math teacher. But when the teacher and student began to date, the school administration was not amused. Elsie gained her soon-to-be husband, but lost her teaching job! She quickly found another teaching job, but the early years continued to be a struggle for the young couple as he completed his education.

In addition to his other jobs, he found that he could earn $25 to $100 per fight as a boxer, a talent he had discovered in the Navy. So once or twice a month, they would drive to various cities around the Southeast to engage in the sport of Professional Boxing. He ended his career after 33 pro fights with a record of 22 and 11.

In the early fifties, a sales manager for an encyclopedia company wanted to hire Ryan as a door-to-door salesman. Learning that Elsie was a teacher, he invited her to come along to the training class. Reluctantly, she attended but sat in the back of the room so she could slip out the door and leave. But something she heard in the class caught her attention! The sales manager mentioned a program which guaranteed earnings whether you sold any encyclopedias or not…just for showing books to 50 people!

Knowing she had several dozen aunts and uncles, she took the job selling World Book Encyclopedia. Now its 50 years and five children later. Things have changed. The couple which had to scrape together money to get their first son out of the hospital is now able to afford to take the entire family on a 50th Anniversary Cruise to the Bahamas… and pay for everyone!!!

The job Elsie took with World Book turned it into a career. When she retired several years ago, she was one of the top five officers in the organization: Senior Vice President for Sales for the North American continent. She was a sought-after motivational speaker, and in the late 1980's was selected as the South Carolina Mother of the Year.

After retiring from World Book, she spent five years speaking to various groups and organizations around the nation and in several other countries.

Ryan left newspaper delivery and pro boxing in favor of politics, serving 12 years in the S.C. House, leaving office for 12 years, then serving 12 years in the S.C. Senate. During his recent Senate years, he was best known for his unsuccessful one-man crusade to bring a lottery to South Carolina, and his successful efforts to block various tax increases. (Long forgotten are the earlier efforts during the 1950's and 60's, which led to the creation of such institutions as the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Lexington Medical Center, Riverbanks Zoo, and Midlands Technical College.)

If I sound like a proud son… well, I am. But, of course, this is a newspaper column, not an Anniversary Card (although it may save me the 50 cents I would otherwise spend on a card).

And since it is a column, not a card, I thought I would tell you a few of my personal favorite highlights from Ryan and Elsie's First 50 Years:

We lost on Family Feud… TWICE! During the 80's our family appeared not once, but twice, on the TV game show. We were really not very good, but apparently the producers enjoyed watching the way we lost, so they flew us back out to California to watch us lose again!

In 1959, Dad waterskiied from Columbia to Charleston… while Mom was out of town. I was five at the time. He told me not to tell Mom. Guess he didn't realize it was going to be printed in every newspaper in the state!

A few years later our family -- three kids at the time -- took a two day adventure down the river from Columbia to Charleston in a cabin cruiser. We got lost in the rice fields, and ended up ten miles from the river. Nowadays, I think about it every time I see "African Queen."

In addition to Family Feud, Dad also once appeared on "The Price is Right." He won some furniture. The whole family was in New York City at the time. Being about seven years old, I was a lot more impressed with (A) the Auto-Mat (B) sitting in the audience for "Concentration," and realizing that there were APPLAUSE signs telling the audience when to clap!

Mom likes to talk, and she's really good at it. Her company asked her to be the keynote speaker at her own retirement program. It was at some really big theatre in Atlanta. They had Zig Ziglar to speak before her, and singer Lee Greenwood to close the program after her speech. She's a really good talker.

In 1965 our family took a vacation by car to California… right through the desert. The day before we left, Dad bought a new car for the trip… well, new to us, anyway. It was a three-seater station wagon with the fold-down door in the back. We folded down the back and stacked the luggage on it. Then I rode in the back seat while Mom and Dad rode in the front and my two sisters rode in the middle. It was hot going through the desert. It wasn't until a few days after we returned from the two week trip that I discovered this car had something I had never seen before… air conditioning. (The front and middle seats had it for the whole trip… but the cool air never made it to me with the back open. I didn't have a clue!)

At a campaign speech in Pelion in 1956, Dad did something which had never been done by a Southern politician before: He publicly denounced the Ku Klux Klan.

It made headlines. It cost him votes. He knew it was not a politically wise thing to do. But he knew it was the right thing to do. And so he did it.

That was the principle which guided him through four decades of politics. He didn't really worry about what people said or what newspapers wrote. He just always tried to do the right thing.

I happen to know that is also the principle that guided Mom and Dad through the 50 years of marriage, and 48 years of being parents. And that, more than anything else, is why I am immensely proud of them.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

(Note from Rod: This column was original written in 1997... probably before I had even heard of "The Internet"... but I wanted this long forgotten column to be available on my blog. We lost Dad to cancer in March, 2001. Mom is the same great mom she's been for my entire life. I was blessed with the two best parents I could imagine.)