Home after a Encounter with the Desert West (March 2005)
By Edward Shanahan
Returning from two weeks observing this year’s explosion of wildflowers in the deserts of Arizona, Nevada, and, most particularly, the Joshua Tree National Park in California, it’s time to readjust to the routine of life back home. So here goes.
For those of us who were living in Northampton in the 1970s and 1980s, it was impossible to avoid being aware of the antics of Dr. Rudolph Turcotte, a psychiatrist, who relentlessly thrust himself into the limelight.
A source of amusement, then derision and finally anger, Turcotte was a prolific writer of letters to the editor of the newspaper on a range of subjects. He was also a frequent solitary marcher along city streets, carrying a balloon-festooned umbrella, even on sunny days, calling attention to a personal cause of his, Fathers for World Peace, whose mission was unclear. He was distinctive for his snow-white mane and thick, unkempt white beard, resembling a kind of Santa Claus figure, which it turned out he emphatically was not.
Often he was seen in concert at public events with his long-time friend, the Rev. Joseph Quigley, director of the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Turcotte and Quigley seemed almost joined at the hip, their friendship was so strong.
But there was a dark side to Turcotte, who at one time was on the staff of Northampton State Hospital, and later in private practice. This involv ed the long-running and very messy legal tangle of Turcotte encouraging one of his male patients to become the foster parent of one of Turcotte’s young children. And this in turn, resulted in state authorities finally stripping Turcotte of his license to practice. So public were these bizarre events that Turcotte took to demonstrating in front of the Gazette offices on Conz Street.
I was reminded of all of this sadness and very public travail with the news that Augusten Burroughs's book of a few years ago, “Running with Scissors,” is currently being made into a movie involving some very big Hollywood stars. There are many aspects of the book that make one think about Turcotte, not least its Northampton locale, and details of Burroughs's experience as a foster child in a wildly dysfunctional family.
Having read the deeply troubling book a year or so ago, and having lived through the Turcotte years, I have no zest for seeing the movie.
Besides finding wildflowers in the west, we also tracked down the Liberace Museum during a brief visit to Las Vegas. It was almost the most unusual aspect of our stay there. I had forgotten how huge an entertainment personality Liberace was. He was the Michael Jackson of his era, but even more so. And the small museum he established contains not only his mirror- covered and bejeweled automobiles, but many of his hundreds and hundreds of outrageous outfits. It also
houses his non-profit foundation that dispenses grant money to young classical musicians. And there is no more appropriate setting for such a museum. In Las Vegas no dream or fantasy, architectural or financial, is small or inhibited. We, on the other hand, were inhibited – we each gambled and lost a total of $1 on the slot machines at the Orleans casino.
Recent news stories about the massive financial mismangement, or perhaps, non-management of public funds at the Hampshire Community Action Commission, leave some questions unanswered. One overriding issue would be who was minding the store – where were the directors of the agency whose legal and fiduciary responsiblities are to keep track of and account for every penny raised and spent by the agency.
Yet, the movers and shakers who had responsbility as directors were derelict. And so they all resigned en masse and washed their hands of any accountability, lamely saying they had not been paying attention. That’s not a good enough excuse, especially now that the agency, which serves people without resources who are not highly educated movers and shakers, is losing many of the programs intended to assist them. The establishment did not care enough about those they were selected to serve.
Such lack of accountability at the top, of course, is not new: remember the missing money at the former Family Planning Council of Western Massachusetts, or the millions and millions of dollars and jobs that went down the drain at the Heritage Bank heist where the directors or trustees, all community leaders from Northampton, Amherst and Holyoke, simply slunk away from their responsibilities to stockholders, employees, and the federal treasury.
We need to know more about who among the HCAC directors knew what and when did they know it.
The recent death of the Pope just after we returned from vacation, recalled for me the year 1978 when each time I went out of town for various reasons a Pope would die.
You’ll remember that deadly year. Pope Paul VI, who had served as Pope since 1963, died on Aug. 6, 1978, while Ann and I were in Winterport, Maine, visiting her father’s grave. And on Sept 28, I was in Portland, Maine, at a professional meeting when John Paul I, the successor to Pope Paul VI, suddenly died. Walter Sobzak, who used to work with me at the Gazette, regularly would kid me that it was seriously bad form for a newsman to be missing in action for such calamitous events as the death of two Popes.
For those of us of a certain age, we spend more time than we would like at doctors’ office and the hospital. So far the medical care at the hospital has been fine – it is the difficulty of finding a parking space there that will finally do me in.