May We Remember

October 30th, 2014

Last week, Ben Bradlee died. If you don’t know who that is, you are far from fully informed about one of the biggest stories of the 20th century.

Last week, I visited with Lyman Aldrich. If you don’t know who that is, you are far from fully informed about the biggest party in Memphis.

Last week, I was reminded of a story that changed a country, and one that changed a city.

As published in The Daily News, October 31, 2014, and in The Memphis News, November 1-7, 2014

(Photo: The board of Memphis in May, 1980)

MIM Orig Board


The day after Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee died last week, I told my audience that I was going to open my remarks with a question, and I knew I was going to be depressed by the answer.

“How many of you know who Ben Bradlee was?”

There were about 150 people in front of me and five hands went up. Five people out of 150 had heard of the legendary executive editor of The Washington Post, the man in charge of Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and the newsroom that broke the Watergate story, the bulldog that barked the truth to power and, as much as anyone, caused the only resignation of a sitting President in our history.

Five out of 150. And that’s not the most depressing part. The 150 were in a Mass Communications Class at the University of Memphis, the majority journalism majors.

This is not an indictment of them for failure to be informed, this is an indictment of us for failure to inform.

This is about forgetting, something I get better at every year, and about reminding the present of things past pertinent to who and where we are now. It’s about stories that still need to be told. Nationally. Here.

Which brings me to Memphis in May – helluva segue don’t you think?

The day after I spoke to that class, I ran into Lyman Aldrich at RiverArtsFest. How many hands up for Lyman? 

In 1976, Lyman was a young banker working Downtown, and Downtown was dying from the malaise that began with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The chamber was bankrupt, South Main was boarded up, Beale Street was quiet and dark and so was the spirit of the city.

So, Lyman and a few friends threw a party – Rodney Baber, Harold Shaw, Mose Yvonne Hooks, Tif Bingham, Martha Ellen Maxwell, George Brown, Robin Davis, Jeanne Arthur, Philip Strubing, Richard Bethea, Wise Smith and Tom Batchelor among them. That diverse group took a dormant idea from the struggling chamber and turned it into the reality of the Memphis in May International Festival. They lit the fire under the barbecue cook-off, turned on the amps for the music festival, tuned up the Sunset Symphony, focused the eyes of entire countries on Memphis and returned the entire city to its riverfront and its soul.

They gave us our pride back and shared it with everybody.

So, if you happen to see Lyman or any of the volunteers from those first years, tell them thanks. They’re not responsible for Memphis in May today, or the RiverArtsFest, or the many celebrations we share so often, but without those folks, none of those things would have happened, and none of us would be celebrating what would have happened to Downtown.

As for Bradlee, he’s not responsible for what passes for journalism today, but without him, we wouldn’t know what we know, and truth would have been given a pass.

I’m a Memphian, and truth and parties are worth remembering.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.

The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.



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