While few and far between these days, good stories still soothe
By Gary Lloyd
The words have stuck with me.
I had this sports writing professor at the University of Alabama, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg, who won last year’s UA Last Lecture Award, the only lecture on the Tuscaloosa campus in which students choose a lecturer to speak at the end of the spring semester.
Bragg titled his lecture, “So People Won’t Forget,” a label he came up with from an encounter years ago with a woman he interviewed in New Orleans. A stray bullet had killed her son, and Bragg apologized for having to talk to her about something so awful, so tragic. She told him she didn’t mind, that people would forget if the story wasn’t written down. It has stuck with him.
“In the age of texting and tweeting, a good story still has the power to melt the ice around people’s hearts,” Bragg said.
I didn’t write a good, incredibly detailed and descriptive feature story. In fact, it was somewhat of a basic news story, most of the subject, admittedly, over my head.
It was about Jamison Franklin, a Hewitt-Trussville High School graduate critically injured Jan. 24, 2011, when an off-road auto accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. He fractured his neck at C1-C2 and his back at T4-T5-T6. Three days after the accident, doctors thought Franklin’s chances of survival were slim. Chuck Franklin and his wife, Holly, decided to wait and see, and the next day Jamison woke up and was fully cognitive despite brain swelling.
The story was about a fundraiser effort to raise enough money, roughly $2,600, to purchase a WREX exoskeleton for Franklin’s right arm, a device that helps his muscles lift and move his arm by removing the weight created by gravity. It would give him full range of motion with his right arm.
The story is on the top of page 6 in the March 7, 2013, edition of The Trussville Tribune. And Steve Adams saw it.
Adams is a CEO from Grand Rapids, Mich., affiliated with Pets Supplies Plus stores in the Birmingham area. He’s in town through Saturday for a conference. He picked up the newspaper Thursday, and the photo of the Franklin family with movie director Steven Spielberg caught his attention. At dinner with two business partners Thursday, the trio decided to pay “whatever balance is remaining to help Jamison get this device.” He said this in an email to me Thursday night. He included his affiliation with Pets Supplies Plus just as an introduction to me, to let me know why he was in town. Promotion of cat food and squeaky dog toys was never a topic of conversation. Adams lives in Michigan and none of his four Birmingham-area pet stores are in our coverage area, so what would be the point of self promotion? He may as well have introduced himself as Joe Schmo. All he was looking for was a way to get in touch with the Franklins.
I called Chuck Franklin soon after I got the email. The family had raised roughly $730 with 50 days left for the fundraiser. I asked him if he wanted some good news, and told him someone he had never met, someone he had never heard of, wanted to foot the rest of the bill for the WREX device. Mr. Franklin asked if I was kidding.
“I’m just in awe,” he told me after a bit of what felt like stunned silence.
He was clearly appreciative, thanking Trussville community members who have prayed for the family, anonymously paid for dinners, donated to Jamison’s cause.
Adams told me today that the story is touching and hits home. One of his colleagues, Chad Bush, and Chad’s brother, Greg, were both paralyzed in September 1992 after a motorcycle crash. Bush, a paraplegic, is now 40 years old, married and has three children.
“It’s just neat, that a person can overcome all that,” Adams told me.
With this device, Franklin will be on his way to overcoming day-to-day obstacles he’s faced over the past two years. Franklin will be able to operate a keyboard, scratch itches on his nose, feed himself, operate a joystick and more.
Like Bragg’s story on the little boy killed by a stray bullet in New Orleans, people — especially the Franklins — won’t forget this act of selflessness by Adams and his colleagues.
And you, our readers, maybe you’re accustomed to stories about the brutal murder of elementary students in Connecticut and moviegoers in Colorado, a bankrupt county in Alabama, a national fiscal cliff, a tank of gas as expensive as a week’s worth of food.
I think we’ve grown accustomed to the bad news, news we seem to expect every morning in the newspaper, every day on Twitter, every night in front of the TV. Those stories can leave that icy layer around your heart that Bragg referred to last year. Stories like Adams’ selfless act for the Franklin family, seemingly few and far between, melt that ice.
I titled the March 7 story on Franklin, “Device could be ‘life-changing’ for injured HT grad.”
Now, I can title the next story, “Device will be ‘life-changing’ for injured HT grad.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.