For The 60th Thanksgiving Season,
Marian Heads My List Of Blessings

Today a continuation of a Thanksgiving week tradition—publication of a column (slightly updated this year) first printed 12 years ago.  It generated the most reaction from readers of anything I have written in more than 18 years of column writing.  (Favorable reaction, I hasten to add.)

I hope you will believe me when I say this isn’t mostly an effort to save precious time during an increasingly busy season of the year.  I offer it with the hope that you share my feeling that it is a message worth repeating each Thanksgiving season.  The column:

As I count the blessings that are special to me this Thanksgiving season, it’s not hard to start my list:  Her name is Marian, and she has blessed my life these past 48 years.  (It’s now 58 years.)

Today, her right arm suspended in a pillow-like sling following her eighth major orthopedic surgical procedure (she has had several more in the past 12 years), she continues to radiate that warmth of personality and concern for others (thankfully including me!) that makes her such a remarkable person.

Marian’s reaction to her long siege of surgery tells a good deal about the upbeat way she approaches life.  I’ve never once heard her complain.  Her attitude is consistently positive, grateful for the fact that her serious involvement with osteoarthritis can be surgically addressed.

She has become something of a counselor to acquaintances with joint problems.  Her consistent advice, given diplomatically but clearly, is to stop limping painfully around and consult a doctor about the possibility of surgical relief.

Marian’s resilience in the face of surgical adversity is noteworthy. She rebounds quickly, as evidenced by the fact that on her second day home after three recent days in the hospital following rotator cuff surgery, her right arm in a sling, she served me left-hand-scrambled eggs for breakfast while trying to take charge of the allocation of our tickets for the Colorado-Nebraska football game.

(I know there are readers out there who have demonstrated—or who have loved ones who have demonstrated—courage and grace in the face of physical adversity over a period of years.  In telling Marian’s story, I would hope to indicate my admiration for all those individuals whose stories would make compelling reading if I were in a position to report them.)

Remarkable Memory For Dates Important To Others

Marian’s friends and I could cite countless examples of her genuine interest in other people, their lives and their problems.  A typical example:

Late one evening I heard Marian on the phone discussing an airline ticket reservation with a United Airlines employee in Denver.  It seemed to me the conversation was taking longer than should be necessary to make a reservation.  I figured out what had happened when I heard Marian say something like:

“Well, it’s certainly been nice taking with you.  And I hope your mother gets to feeling better real soon.”

Marian’s memory for names and dates—especially people-related dates like birthdays—continues to astound me after all these years.  I can walk into a cocktail party and work hard to remember the names of two or three people I’ve met, while Marian can give you the name of everyone she’s met, where they live and how many children they have.

As for her memory of birth dates, one example:  I was on a mid-November golfing trip with the Fairfield brothers, Terry, president of the University of Nebraska Foundation, and Bill, chief executive officer of Inacom.  Marian said to be sure to wish the Fairfields a happy birthday.  She had remembered that they were born, two years apart, on the same day of the year, November 30.  (I’ll leave it to Bill or Terry to tell you which is the older.)

Concern For Others Prompts Civic Leadership

It is this genuine interest in others that, I believe, has led Marian to work so hard on behalf of so many civic causes dedicated to helping others—whether they be students at the University of Nebraska (Marian was the first woman and first non-Lincolnite to serve as chairman of the University of Nebraska Foundation) or recipients of the various services the American Red Cross or United Way of the Midlands provide to people in need.

Marian’s civic service was well summarized by Loretta Carroll of KMTV when Marian was recognized as one of the KMTV’s Women of Mid-America.  Carroll said of Marian:

“Marian Andersen…who has shown again and again that women of ability and determination can make great contributions to society.  As chairman of the National Search Committee, Marian recruited Elizabeth Dole to serve as president of the American Red Cross, and she co-founded the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of United Way.  Marian’s numerous leadership roles have brought such events as Shakespeare on the Green to thousands in our community.  If there was a glass ceiling standing in her way, Marian Andersen simply ignored it, or broke through it, becoming the first woman to head the University of Nebraska Foundation and the Heartland Chapter of the American Red Cross.”

A Special Birthday Greeting

On the occasion of Marian’s 60th birthday, I prepared a special card in the form of an “Honorary Degree of Doctor of Friendship and Concern for Others.”  Half light-heartedly and half seriously, I listed these among Marian’s achievements worthy of special recognition:

“Exhibiting the good judgment to pursue and capture a Scandinavian-American for her husband.

“Adding immeasurably to the clinical experience—and the income—of a wide spectrum of members of the medical profession, including (but not limited to) three orthopedic surgeons, a plastic surgeon, two internal medicine specialists and anesthesiologists and radiologists beyond count.

“Educating countless listeners (some of them even interested listeners) in the strategic intricacies and the statistics, as well as the personalities involved, in a wide range of competitive athletics.

“Finding time in the midst of all her other activities (civic duties, visits to hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices and all the rest) to be a splendid wife and mother.  (The fact that during her tenure as president of the Omaha Junior League, she temporarily forgot the names of her two children and on several occasions neglected to chill her husband’s martini glass was considered by the family to be forgivable departure from the norm.)

“Doing all these things with an unfailing sense of good humor and a warmth of personality and friendship based on a genuine interest in the lives and welfare of others, thereby touching many lives in a most positive way.

“Touching many lives in a most positive way,” including especially, of course, my life and that of our children, Dave and Nancy.  What better words to suggest why my list of blessings this Thanksgiving season starts with the name Marian.

* * *

I should give credit to the late Jim Murray, superb sports columnist of the Los Angeles times, and to the editors of the Times for prompting me to write today’s column.  After Murray’s recent death, the Times republished several of his most memorable columns.  One was a very moving tribute to his wife, written shortly after her death.  The column ended with the thought of what Murray had intended to tell his wife on their 39th wedding anniversary, which they never reached.  Murray wrote:

“I had my speech all ready.  I was going to look into her brown eyes and tell her something I should have long ago. I was going to tell her, ‘It was a privilege just to have known you.’  I never got to say it.”

With thanks to Jim Murray, I decided I would write the column you are reading today, making sure that Marian is here to read the sentiments I am proud to share with my readers.

* * *

There Are, Of Course, Countless Other Blessings

So much for a lightly updated version of what I wrote 12 years ago.  Marian is, of course, still my greatest blessing, but if I were to list all the blessings for which I am grateful this Thanksgiving season and every other day of the year, the list (especially the friendships) would be a very long one indeed.

So I’ll concentrate on a few of the most important, such as the privilege of living in Nebraska, in the United States of America, where I started adult life with limited financial resources but an excellent education in Florence Grade School and Omaha North High School and the University of Nebraska.

A blessing also was the opportunity to build a career as a newspaper reporter and subsequently publisher—a career which provided the opportunity for public service through the printed page and civic assignments as well as the resources to try to be of help to others.

In the category of civic assignments and efforts to be of help to be of others, I am thankful especially for the opportunities to work with Marian in joint chairmanships and to cheer her on as she took on so many leadership roles, including that of being the first woman to head the Midlands Chapter of the American Red Cross, from which she went on to become vice chairman of the board of governors of the American Red Cross.

Speaking of the Red Cross, Marian’s life was brightened by a gift and the note which accompanied it when she attended her umpteenth annual meeting of the Midlands Chapter this month.  The note said, “We love you!” and credited her with being an inspiration to all those involved in the chapter’s work.  Marian’s comment to me:  “They’re all doing a great job.”

Marian said she didn’t think I should refer to the note.  But I told her that I am exercising freedom of the press and I think that it’s appropriate and an indication that a good many other people share my feeling that association with Marian is a blessing.

Any List Must Include Children, Grandchildren

Certainly among the blessings which Marian and I share year round and are appropriately included in a Thanksgiving season blessings recital are our children and grandchildren of whom we are very proud:  Son David and his wife, the former Leslie Roe of Bennington, and their children Lindsey, Rob and Katie.  And daughter Nancy, who lives in Denver, with children Jack, James and Grant.

Enough about my special blessings. Please remember my advice to count yours, and not just during Thanksgiving week.

* * *

I’ll finish today with the same lighter touch with which, 12 years ago, I ended my Thanksgiving-season “Wife Tops Lists of Life’s Greatest Blessings” column:

Marian’s favorite among the get-well messages that have come her way was a card with a cover page which advised: “‘Sit back, relax, let people wait on you.”

Turn the page and you read:  “In other words, act like a man.”

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