Saturday, April 15, 2023

"Unfit to Print: A Modern Media Satire" The opening of Chapter One as we move toward publication

 With publication of my 21st book on track for October, I am working with the good folks at my longtime publisher, Crossroad Press, on some of the critical aspects of a book post-writing: editing, layout, cover design, audio, e, etc. Herewith a peek at Ch. 1.

CHAPTER ONE: Market value

Once upon a time, I, Nick Nolan, wrote exclusively about marginalized people who had little or no voice in the mainstream media. Socioeconomic and health disparities, mental health, and intellectual and developmental disabilities were among my topics. My stories prompted change. Some won awards and three were Pulitzer finalists — but, more importantly, I helped advance the social-justice agenda as only a crusading journalist can do.

When I left hard news to become a columnist, a move I believed would afford me greater power to prompt change — think Anna Quindlen and Nicholas Kristof — I was merciless when I took aim at corrupt politicians and judges, self-serving civic leaders, misogynists, unethical corporations, climate deniers, opponents of LGBTQ+ rights, and racists and demagogues wherever they were found.

My column was always on the front page, I was nationally syndicated, and I hosted a popular TV show. My website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts had hundreds of thousands of followings. Simon & Schuster published a collection of my columns and in its review, The New York Times proclaimed me “brilliant.” The Los Angeles Times went further, calling me “a writer who eloquently frames truths. The world needs more Nick Nolans.” Promising millions, a Netflix producer had reached out to me, wanting a pitch for a series about the newspaper business.

How long ago this all seemed the morning we learned that our newspaper, the family-owned Boston Daily Tribune, had been sold.

It was August 23, 2021, the second year of the coronavirus pandemic.

By then, my social media activity was tepid.

By then, my column was buried deep inside metro/region.

By then, not even bottom-feeder agents contacted me.

By then, the January 6 insurrectionists had stuck another dagger into the heart of democracy — and out-of-town and hedge-fund newspaper chains that paid their executives obscene salaries and bonuses while laying off actual journalists as they ghosted and killed local papers were pushing it in deeper.

By then, my muse had forsaken me.

More correctly, the muse had been slain.

Using Google Analytics, a member of our marketing staff had “proved,” as he phrased it, that social-justice columns did not generate the numbers of online views and engagements needed to justify my job.

Or anyone’s job, this marketer said. What do you think this is, socialism?

The new reality? Newspaper executives wanted clicks.

Fuck public service, unless somehow there was a Pulitzer in it, which would be a marvelous come-on the shrinking sales staff could bring to certain advertisers. Well-endowed non-profits, for example. But not car dealers, real-estate firms, floor and rug installers, hearing-aid manufacturers, the Jitterbug cellphone company, and shyster companies promising cures for erectile dysfunction, which remained among our biggest advertisers.

And me?

Maybe a feel-good piece every now and then that hints of public service, for old times’ sake, this marketing moron said, but that’s it. Maximize your clicks. You’re no dope. You can read the tea leaves. You still like a paycheck, right, good buddy?

Good buddy my ass.

But I held my tongue.

As real newspapering continued to die, I knew the inside game intimately. Not the time to shoot yourself in the foot. Definitely not the time to proclaim Dana Priest, Seymour Hirsch, and Neil Sheehan as three of your heroes.

So what was getting the clicks on that August 23, 2021?

Consider a few of the so-called “recommended” headlines and accompanying stories — all from free-content providers — that were posted on our website that day,

Go Topless Day Draws Hundreds, Even a Few Men

Desperate Housewives Without Makeup, the Shocking Reality

Giant Rabbit Hops Across Wyoming, Arrives Hungry in Idaho

Texas Christian Has Proof She Walked on Water

She Hid Under the Bed to Spy on Her Husband But Instantly Regretted It

Sultry Country Star Steals Rival’s Diamond Necklace, Hides It in Her Cleavage

Man Buries 42 School Buses Underground. Look When He Reveals the Inside

The Baddest Biker Girls in the World

We Can Determine Your Education Level in 25 Questions

Does Your Cat Throw Up Often? Try This One Trick

50 Photos That Show the Wrong Side of Cruise Ships

20 Hair Shapes That Make a Woman Over 60 Look 40

20 Southern Phrases Northerners Don’t Understand

17 People Who Learned the Hard Way

And there was no escaping these abominations.

They populated the home page from top to bottom and owned its entire right side, and they popped up inside every second or third paragraph of every story. Adblocking software couldn’t stop them. Rebooting and clearing the cache couldn’t stop them. Clicking on the “X” next to the dread AdChoices button in the upper right-hand corner couldn’t stop them.

You get the picture. A pathetic fucking picture. Not what I signed on for those many years ago, when journalists believed journalism really could change the world, not just line the pockets of newspaper executives and owners.

But ordered by management to get the clicks, I had “retooled my toolbox,” as the idiot marketer phrased it.

The result? I was now writing nonsense, three times a week, except for July, when I vacationed on Block Island, where I fantasized I might live someday as I wrote novels and screenplays.

Nonsense about socks, for example — 45 numbing inches about losing socks in the washer, finding socks under sofas, socks without mates, the amazing secret life of socks. I contemplated the greater meaning of winter sunsets (OK, not bad), spring robins (also not bad), and Jell-O (shoot me now), and I explored my separation from my wife, a columnist at DigBoston, Boston’s leading website. Cue violins now, please. Or barf, your choice.

I recommend the latter.

Alliteration, adjectives, and clichés had become my stock in trade, and I killed no darlings (see Faulkner, King, et. al.).

If anyone needed further proof of how pathetic I’d become, it could be found in how often I wrote about the difficulty of writing columns: 4.5 times a year, according to the smugly published calculation of my soon-to-be ex-wife. Her math, sadly, was correct.

I took comfort knowing I wasn’t alone.

Our once-mighty newspaper — defender of truth, champion of the common man, Pulitzer Prize winner, published every day since 1823 — through wars, pandemics, depressions, civil strife, patriotic and idiotic presidents, divided Congresses — was on the ropes, too.

Starting in the 1990s with the advent of the online era, The Tribune’s daily circulation had tanked, from an Audit Bureau-certified 410,000 to less than 50,000 and still dropping. We couldn’t even stabilize our flagship Sunday edition, which once had a circulation north of a million, despite cutting the subscription price, lowering ad rates to peanuts, and sponsoring online crossword contests with $5,000 cash prizes. Not sure if we ever paid them, or just dangled that out there and followed up with excuses or movie passes, but whatever, I digress. I do that a lot.

There were even rumors of moving to five-day-a-week publication, or going entirely online — or even, in a worst-case scenario that increasingly seemed possible, ending publication altogether, the presses after two centuries silenced for good.

Had we been a two-rag town, by now we surely would have become another ghost paper, run by a skeleton crew working remotely from Texas or Indonesia.

But having bought and then folded The Boston Chronicle, the only other print competition in the metro region, the Trib owned a monopoly, which meant we had a new lease on life, for a spell anyway. It meant we could hold advertisers hostage, to a degree.

It meant we still had some market value, which is why I was not shocked by the events of that August morning, when I arrived at work to find a remote-broadcast trailer with Florida plates in front of our building. A satellite dish lifted toward the sky.

The Delta variant was ravaging the U.S. that summer, but we were in Massachusetts, which had one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. Nonetheless, fully vaccinated people — and that was all of our staff, to the best of my knowledge — were required to wear masks indoors, and we were working hybrid shifts, virtually from home on most days, with a rotating schedule of only small numbers of us at the paper on select days of the week.

This was the first time we had been summoned to be on site all together.

“Looks like the rumor was true,” said Destiny Carter, my best friend. Destiny was one of the Trib’s long-time business writers and an African American, one of only two people of color on our staff. The other was photographer Erica Martinez, who was Hispanic. We employed no one who was of Asian Pacific American or Native American descent. Critics who pointed to The Trib as a pillar of structural racism were right.

“You mean the rumor we were for sale?” I said.

“What else could it be?” Destiny said.

We were standing in the lobby with our good friend, reporter Bud Fuller. A film crew was loading tripods and cameras into the elevator to the fourth-floor auditorium.

“But Gordon vowed we weren’t for sale,” I said.

Just last week, in fact, publisher Randolph E. Gordon IV had issued a written statement denying persistent rumors of a takeover.

“And two years ago he insisted we weren’t downsizing,” said Bud. “His word means shit.”

Bud was right.

Three days after his written statement, Gordon slashed the staff by twenty-five percent, albeit through buyouts that left many of the remaining three-fourths jealous. For the record, that was the last of the buyouts. What came next was good old-fashioned firings: a call to visit HR, where you were told you were terminated, your email and card key would be deactivated in a half hour, and you had until then to clear your stuff out and be off premises or security would be called.

“So, who’s the new owner?” I said.

“Must be SuperGoodMedia,” said Destiny. “It’s the only chain based in Florida.”

My stomach churned.

“They’re worse than McClatchy or Gannett,” I said.

“And you thought downsizing was bad,” Bud said. “We need to see Gordon.”

“Good luck,” said Destiny...

Monday, April 3, 2023

Review of "For the Best"

Vanessa Lillie’s debut novel, “Little Voices,” published last year, was a very tough act to follow. As I wrote in my review, the Providence resident “has arrived on the American literary scene with a flash of brilliance. Aficionados of mystery, thriller and horror will savor this intricately plotted page-turner that builds to a stunning denouement.”

Lillie was already at work on her next.

And with it, she easily escapes the dreaded sophomore slump.

While “For the Best” lacks the stunning ending that I (and many readers, based on the 2,000-plus Amazon reviews) never saw coming, her new title is in other respects the equal of her debut — and, in some critical respects, superior. More on that in a moment.

The setup is skilled, if basic, thriller/whodunit: a prominent man is found murdered under mysterious circumstances, and several suspects quickly surface. Suspect Number One is the narrator: Jules Worthington-Smith, another prominent Rhode Islander and leading figure in Providence, where much of the novel, like “Little Voices,” is set.

Worthington-Smith was blind-drunk the night of the murder and cannot explain, let alone remember, why evidence found at the scene belongs to her. Nor why she was at a seedy bar at a late hour being amorous with a man who was not her husband. The woman is clearly an alcoholic — a high-functioning one — who cannot seem to get through any stressful hour, never mind a day, without drowning in booze. Lillie captures the voice and actions of an alcoholic with disturbing precision.

Worthington-Smith’s father — with whom she and her mother, the man’s wife, have a bizarre and tormented but believable relationship — harbors a horrible secret. So does Jules. The revelations as the narrative plays out are deftly rendered and help build toward a plausible ending — one that I, at least, was certain was on the horizon. But that was no disappointment for me, as this page-turner powered me on to the final word.

Lillie has matured as a novelist since her debut, and “For the Best’ rises beyond genre to include explorations of social justice, racism, trauma and addiction — explorations that are not digressions from the tale but woven wonderfully into it. As a journalist who has written about such issues for decades, I can speak to Lillie’s authenticity.

Like her debut, “For the Best” mines deeply the Rhode Island landscape with the same so-true accents, personalities and situations. In her second novel, Lillie intersperses text with video transcripts — or, more accurately, mini screenplays. This seems to be a new trend in fiction, along with the inclusion of text messages (think: horror writer Paul Tremblay, a recent guest on “Story in the Public Square”). And I am starting to like it!

If you didn’t read “Little Voices” but recognize the author’s name, that’s because since March she has been writing “Home But Not Alone: A Coronavirus Diary” for The Journal. Some of the social-justice themes in “For the Best” have found their way into those pages, too.

Review of "Little Voices"

With her debut novel “Little Voices,” Vanessa Lillie has arrived on the American literary scene with a flash of brilliance. Aficionados of mystery, thriller and horror will savor this intricately plotted page-turner that builds to a stunning denouement.

No word of a lie: I literally jumped when I reached the reveal. This was no cheesy deus ex machina, but rather a breathtaking and logical, if unanticipated, close to this treasure of a book.

Lovers of good fiction in general also will appreciate “Little Voices” — Rhode Islanders especially. Lillie, who grew up in Oklahoma and spent several years in Washington, D.C., before moving to Providence in 2011, sets her debut in the Ocean State, with locations including Newport, Jamestown and the capital city. Her characters’ Rhode Island accents, the insider politics and corrupt politicians, the lingering stench of the Mob, the cops, the bars and restaurants, the East Side neighborhoods, the local media — Lillie has it all down, brilliantly.

“Little Voices” opens with protagonist Devon Burges, a lawyer and investigator with a checkered past (like most of Lillie’s characters), going into bloody, premature labor as she is rushed by ambulance to Women & Infants Hospital. As The Journal’s health writer and author of several medical books, I can attest to the gripping accuracy of the scene. It is an accuracy Lillie brings to every chapter, whether the passage involves medicine, forensics, psychology or crime.

At Women & Infants, Burges delivers her baby via C-section and survives, but leaves the hospital in an amnesic postpartum psychosis. In this house-of-mirrors state, she learns of the savage and unsolved murder of her friend Belina Cabrala in Swan Point Cemetery, where Burges met her the morning she went into labor. A seemingly mystical young woman who really is nothing like she seems (except, perhaps, a spectre), Cabrala also was the nanny and illicit lover of another, older friend of Burges whose marriage is rocky and whose business dealings are shady and rockier still — and whom law enforcement with good reason believes is the prime suspect.

The plot builds from there, with Burges’ husband, Jack, who works for the mayor of Providence, seeking to soothe his wife and temper (and also encourage) her quest to find Cabrala’s murderer as one "House of Cards"-like character after another takes the stage.

Lillie’s dialogue is script-tight (think: the best of "NCIS"), her prose suitably spare. But it is the recurring voice in Burges’ head that haunted me. Presented in italics, never more than a few words at a time, it is a voice of self-doubt, self-loathing, betrayal, shame and guilt. Does it result from postpartum psychosis? Is it a real-life voice from a little girl’s horrific childhood?

Sorry, no spoilers. Lillie, who is at work on another novel, indeed has arrived with a flash of brilliance. If “Little Voices” is any indication, she will be no flash in the pan.

Staff Writer G. Wayne Miller’s 17th book, “Kid Number One: A Story of Heart, Soul and Business, Featuring Alan Hassenfeld and Hasbro,” was published on Sept. 24.

Originally published on September 26, 2019, in The Providence Journal.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Virginia students win with their National History Day project about open heart surgery!

Some while ago, two students in Forest, Virginia, reached out to me regarding a National History Day project they were producing about the birth of open-heart surgery, the focus of my book “King of Hearts: The True Story of theMaverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery.”

I am always happy to help, however modestly, with enterprising young people, so along with their teacher, Regan Alber and Audrey Stinnett got on a Zoom call with me. I followed up by providing some photos of the Father of open Heart Surgery, the late Dr. C. Walton Lillehei.

So imagine how excited I was for Regan and Audrey and their teacher when I received this email recently:

“We presented our project today and it went very well. We received a perfect score, and won the ‘Best in Show’ award which means that we won first place out of all 5 categories! We are going to continue our NHD journey by attending CVCC National History Day. Again, thank you so much for everything!”

I wish them the best of luck as they continue with NHD and in their career aspirations.

Here is the video:

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Four months later, Ocean State Stories is making news


Four months ago today, on Nov. 4, 2022, I left The Providence Journal, where I had been a staff writer for 41 years, to become director of Ocean State Stories, based at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center. Much planning during much of 2022 preceded my departure, and with funding from generous organizations and individuals and everything else finally in place, it was time to get going.

During the weeks that followed, a lot of additional planning preoccupied me and Jim Ludes, Pell Center director; Pell staffers Teresa Haas and Erin Barry; and Lindsey Turowski, Salve’s director of Integrated Marketing Strategy and Brand Deployment, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, among others.

The first edition of – which is always free and free of click-bait -- was published on Feb. 8. It included the first of a two-part series onfood insecurity, written by me, and the inaugural Q&A in what is a weekly feature with Paige Clausius-Parks, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

We formed an Advisory Board representing Rhode Island's diverse communities and retained a member of Rhode Island’s Hispanic community to translate our content into Spanish and established a partnership with John Howell’s Warwick Beacon, Cranston Herald and Johnston SunRise newspapers to further extend our reach. John’s papers have carried our content from the start and we thank him!

We also are building a stellar freelancer corps (first story from the first of our contributors coming on March 15) and we pay for their stories. And we were accepted into membership with LION Publishers: Local Independent Online News, a great organization supporting news outlets across America like ours.

While we are a startup that’s been around for only a month, our analytics show impressive numbers of visitors, time on page, and total impressions. The numbers continue to climb, week by week.

So thanks to everyone who has made Ocean State Stories possible – and to our readers, who share our vision, summarized in our mission statement:

 “Our focus is journalism about issues that often are neglected or under-reported — stories that explore healthcare, education, public policy, socioeconomic and racial disparities and injustices, domestic violence, food and housing insecurities, the environment, ageism, suicide prevention, mental health, veterans affairs, and developmental and intellectual disabilities, among others. They will be told with data, expert input, and, most importantly, the personal experiences of Rhode Islanders.”

Look for more stories that matter in the weeks and months ahead as we continue to grow.


Monday, January 2, 2023

Unfit to Print: A Modern Media Satire. Coming in 2023.

From the Introduction:

In this era of so-called “fake news” and “alternative facts” and QAnon – when some media outlets, left- and right-leaning and in between, will do just about anything for clicks -- when Russia uses social media and other platforms to undermine our democracy with disinformation -- when extremists and politicians inspired by Donald Trump erode it further with lies and conspiracy theories – when social media platforms purport to be ethical but care mostly about profit -- truth still matters.

But why did I write a novel and not a memoir or exposé?

In part, because fiction allowed me to wring dark humor from a sickening reality. As the old saw has it: If you don’t laugh, you cry.

But mostly because as Ralph Waldo Emerson is purported to have said, “fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”

So, yes, truth still matters – and so do morality, social justice, quality local journalism, and doing the right thing.

Those are among the lessons that Nick Nolan, the protagonist of “Unfit To Print,” embraces as he eventually rejects the click mentality and hollow sensationalism driving much of newspapering today.

Nolan comes to believe we are better than that.

I hope he is right.

Follow "Unfit to Print" on Twitter.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Twenty years ago today. RIP, Dad.

 Author's Note: I wrote this ten years ago, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of my father's death. Like his memory, it has withstood the test of time. I have slightly updated it for today, December 11, 2022, the 20th anniversary of his death. Read the original here.

Roger L. Miller as a boy, early 1920s.

My Dad and Airplanes

by G. Wayne Miller

I live near an airport. Depending on wind direction and other variables, planes sometimes pass directly over my house as they climb into the sky. If I’m outside, I always look up, marveling at the wonder of flight. I’ve witnessed many amazing developments -- the end of the Cold War, the advent of the digital world, for example -- but except perhaps for space travel, which of course is rooted at Kitty Hawk, none can compare.

I also always think of my father, Roger L. Miller, who died 20 years ago today.

Dad was a boy on May 20, 1927, when Charles Lindbergh took off in a single-engine plane from a field near New York City. Thirty-three-and-a-half hours later, he landed in Paris. That boy from a small Massachusetts town who became my father was astounded, like people all over the world. Lindbergh’s pioneering Atlantic crossing inspired him to get into aviation, and he wanted to do big things, maybe captain a plane or even head an airline. But the Great Depression, which forced him from college, diminished that dream. He drove a school bus to pay for trade school, where he became an airplane mechanic, which was his job as a wartime Navy enlisted man and during his entire civilian career. On this modest salary, he and my mother raised a family, sacrificing material things they surely desired.

My father was a smart and gentle man, not prone to harsh judgment, fond of a joke, a lover of newspapers and gardening and birds, chickadees especially. He was robust until a stroke in his 80s sent him to a nursing home, but I never heard him complain during those final, decrepit years. The last time I saw him conscious, he was reading his beloved Boston Globe, his old reading glasses uneven on his nose, from a hospital bed. The morning sun was shining through the window and for a moment, I held the unrealistic hope that he would make it through this latest distress. He died four days later, quietly, I am told. I was not there.

Like others who have lost loved ones, there are conversations I never had with my Dad that I probably should have. But near the end, we did say we loved each other, which was rare (he was, after all, a Yankee). I smoothed his brow and kissed him goodbye.

So on this 20th anniversary, I have no deep regrets. But I do have two impossible wishes.

My first is that Dad could have heard my eulogy, which I began writing that morning by his hospital bed. It spoke of quiet wisdom he imparted to his children, and of the respect and affection family and others held for him. In his modest way, he would have liked to hear it, I bet, for such praise was scarce when he was alive. But that is not how the story goes. We die and leave only memories, a strictly one-way experience. 

My second wish would be to tell Dad how his only son has fared in the last 20 years. I know he would have empathy for some bad times I went through and be proud that I made it. He would be happy that I found a woman I love, Yolanda, my wife now for four years and my best friend for more than a decade: someone, like him, who loves gardening and birds. He would be pleased that my three wonderful children, Rachel, Katy and Cal, are making their way in the world; and that he now has three great-granddaughters, Bella, Livvie and Viv, wonderful girls all. In his humble way, he would be honored to know how frequently I, my sister Mary Lynne and my children remember and miss him. He would be saddened to learn that my other sister, his younger daughter, Lynda, died in 2015. But that is not how the story goes, either. We send thoughts to the dead, but the experience is one-way. We treasure photographs, but they do not speak.

Lately, I have been poring through boxes of black-and-white prints handed down from Dad’s side of my family. I am lucky to have them, more so that they were taken in the pre-digital age -- for I can touch them, as the people captured in them surely themselves did so long ago. I can imagine what they might say, if in fact they could speak.

Some of the scenes are unfamiliar to me: sailboats on a bay, a stream in winter, a couple posing on a hill, the woman dressed in fur-trimmed coat. But I recognize the house, which my grandfather, after whom I am named (George), built with his farmer’s hands; the coal stove that still heated the kitchen when I visited as a child; the birdhouses and flower gardens, which my sweet grandmother lovingly tended. I recognize my father, my uncle and my aunts, just children then in the 1920s. I peer at Dad in these portraits (he seems always to be smiling!), and the resemblance to photos of me at that age is startling, though I suppose it should not be.

A plane will fly over my house today, I am certain. When it does, I will go outside and think of young Dad, amazed that someone had taken the controls of an airplane in America and stepped out in France. A boy with a smile, his life all ahead of him.

My dad, second from top, with two of his sisters and his brother.

Dad, near the end of his life.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Please welcome Ocean State Stories!

I closed my November 4, 2022, farewell to The Providence Journal promising word soon of “adventures that await.”

Ten days later, I am thrilled to announce I have become director of Ocean State Stories, a new media outlet serving Rhode Island residents that will be devoted to long-form journalism about issues of importance to the many diverse communities that together comprise our state.

Based at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center in Newport – a place I know well, having been a visiting fellow since 2012 -- Ocean State Stories will be free (and clickbait-free), answering only to the highest standards of my profession.

The icing on this cake?

That I will be working full-time with the great Pell Center staff, all of whom share the mission of bettering the common good. As the university declares, “Salve Regina welcomes people of all beliefs, seeking wisdom and promoting universal justice.”

And thus, to paraphrase Mark Twain, I am happy to confirm that reports of my retirement were an exaggeration!

Read more at this link and stay tuned for further details as we move toward our launch early in 2023. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

One chapter ends, another begins


After 41 years and nine days at The Providence Journal, I completed my final shift on Friday, November 4, 2022. I left voluntarily, after deep reflection.

Last day at my newsroom desk. Photo by Michael Delaney.

During my long tenure, I was privileged to work with (and mentor) some of America's finest journalists, a few still at The Projo and others deceased, retired, or moved on to other opportunities. I owe all of them a huge debt of gratitude. I count many as friends. 

Writing for the paper brought me to places and people I never could have known otherwise -- publicly prominent people such as sociologist and author Tricia Rose, Civil Rights leader and Martin Luther King. Jr. associate Bernard LaFayette Jr., researcher and emergency room physician Dr. Megan L. Ranney, and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, and the far more numerous and diverse folk from all walks of life who did not have such prominence but whose circumstances, challenges, and triumphs reflected the rainbow of humanity.

So thanks to all of these people in the thousands of stories I wrote starting in October 1981. Stories that included breaking news, profiles, health and medical pieces (including primary Journal coverage of the coronavirus pandemic from January 2020 to October 2022), and my journalistic passion since 1983: mental health and developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

My first story: Oct. 28, 1981

Over the decades, I won many awards and honors, including being a member of the Journal team that was a Pultizer Public Service finalist for our coverage of the devastating 2003 Station nightclub fire.

The Journal was the launchpad for my non-fiction book career and even helped further my fiction writing, with several stories that were published in the long-gone Sunday magazine.

And it was also the launchpad for my visiting fellowship at the Pell Center at Salve Regina University, my founding and directorship of the Story in the Public Square program, and my position as co-host and co-executive producer of the multiple national Telly Award-winning PBS/SiriusXM show "Story in the Public Square," and much more. 

And so, departing is bittersweet. 

Bitter remembering all that was so good and now is behind. 

Sweet contemplating the adventures that await. 

Stay tuned for details about them as they are announced, and they will be soon!

75 Fountain St., Providence R.I., on my last day.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Remarks at the Sept. 24, 2022, Memorial Celebration of William Hardy Hendren III, M.D., held at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Thanks, Will, and thanks Jay, Pat, Jim, Kathy, Terry and Craig. And a big hello to Eleanor, Doug and Nancy, Linda, Rob, David and Astrid, and Charlotte and James, two of the grandchildren of Hardy and Eleanor who are here.

From the moment I first met Hardy more than three decades ago, on a visit to the Hendren home in Duxbury, I knew I was in the presence of an extraordinary human being. Whether by means of magic, divine intervention or just luck, a relationship was born that would prove professionally rewarding to me.

My 1993 biography of Hardy, “The Work of Human Hands,” launched my non-fiction book career – a career that also brought me, thanks to Hardy, to Walt Lillehei, father of Craig and the man who pioneered open-heart surgery, as recounted in my book “King of Hearts.”

But as great as the professional rewards have been, the personal rewards have been an even bigger blessing – one that everyone who has known the Hendrens has also shared. Eleanor and Hardy became dear friends, opening their lives to me and my family, including my son, Calvin, who is Hardy’s godson. We shared many laughs and stories and, as time went on, lots of memories.

So let me get a bit deeper into the personal.

And by personal, I mean the person who was William Hardy Hendren III.

In medical circles, this person earned the nickname of “Hardly Human” for what might correctly be called the superpowers he took with him into the operating room.

Here was a surgeon who could fix the unfixable and cure the incurable, sometimes during marathon operations that lasted 24 hours or more. Hardy saved and bettered untold thousands of lives during one of the most amazing runs in the history of the healing sciences. We will hear from [the father of] one of his patients, Keith Fox, in a moment.

But while “Hardly Human” works well enough as a description of the surgeon, there is a better one, I think, to describe the person.

And that is “Wholly Human” -- as in “thoroughly,” “completely,” or, as my trusty Roget’s Thesaurus declares, “in full measure.”

Allow me to give you a sense of that full measure.

I’ll start with Saltines. As Jim O’Neill just told us, hardy loved Saltines.

One Sunday long ago, I was visiting Hardy in Duxbury. Eleanor was away, but she had left freshly made soup, which Hardy and I were eager to eat for lunch. Hardy ladled a bowl for each of us, then announced he wanted Saltines to accompany the soup.

For some reason he did not explain, he wanted them warm.

So he put a bunch of them, still encased in cellophane, into the microwave and pressed on.

Full-power on.

I watched as the crackers circled inside the machine, horrified but not saying anything. This person was a master of technology, at least of the medical kind, so maybe he knew something I didn't.

He did not.

Soon enough, the cellophane ignited and we had a blazing fire. Smoke billowed and alarms sounded.

Hardy looked momentarily puzzled, but then, always cool under pressure, he removed the crackers with an oven mitt and walked them to the sink, where he extinguished the flames.

We sat down then to eat Eleanor's soup. The Saltines this time were room-temperature.


Hardy, of course, taught generations of doctors. I had no desire to become one, except, perhaps, vicariously, so there was nothing he would have taught me there.

But he did teach or re-teach me many things – among them, the importance of truth and generosity and the need to sometimes laugh at one’s self. Every time I retold the Saltines story, Hardy always roared.

Another lesson I learned from Hardy was how to cut a sandwich with scissors.

This lesson occurred during another long day at Children's when, between operations, we went down to the cafeteria to get something to eat. We both ordered sandwiches – I forget what kind – and brought them back to the surgeon’s lounge.

Which was no dining room. No knives, forks or spoons that I could see.

The sandwiches were large and I was mentally wrestling with the mess I would make tearing mine apart when Hardy came to the rescue. He happened to be carrying a pair of his gold-plated surgical scissors – the ones that Dorothy Enos so carefully kept – and with them, he cut my sandwich, then his, and began to eat.

I was amazed – so amazed that I didn’t ask if the scissors were clean, but trusting Hardy – you could always trust Hardy – I knew they were.

At home, I have since cut sandwiches with kitchen shears, and also string cheese and haddock filets -- sometimes to the amusement of observers but usually with a look that says, “Have you lost your blanking mind?”

To which I say: "I learned from the best."

As in, the best person.


I mentioned Hardy and Eleanor's generosity, and I could cite many examples of their largesse, but lacking the time, here is one: They offered their house to me for a week when they were away so that I could complete the final draft of "King of Hearts" in writerly solitude. It was an incredible week, and not just creatively, for I had the honor of sleeping in a guestroom that had been their late daughter's bedroom.

Let me close with one last story of Hardy, this wholly human person. While researching and writing "The Work of Human Hands," I spent many days in Duxbury going through Hardy's records and documents and photos. On one of those days -- it was a fine early autumn day not unlike today -- he asked if I wanted a ride on the back of his motorcycle.

I did.

We headed out from King Caesar Road, destination undeclared. After a while, Hardy turned off the main road into a church parking lot. We got off his bike and he led me to the cemetery in back.

And there was the grave of Sandy, his and Eleanor's first child, who became a nurse and worked with Hardy at The General when he was chief of pediatric surgery here.

We stood in silence and I was saddened thinking about the tragedy that Hardy and Eleanor and their other children had experienced.


The only other time I have been to that cemetery was this past March, when, after Hardy's funeral, his ashes were placed in the ground next to Sandy, who died of complications of diabetes in 1984 at the age of 37, here in Mass. General Hospital.

During that March service, I was privileged to throw sand from Eleanor and Hardy's favorite beach onto Hardy. And I, like others, was invited to say a few words.

On the verge of tears, I recalled what Hardy said one time when I asked how he never tired during those crazy long days in his OR, where he was working his wonders.

He said: "Don't forget, there's a great big rest at the end."

Rest in peace, Hardy. The world will never see another person like you.

W. Hardy Hendren III, M.D. Memorial Celebration

MGH O’Keefe Auditorium    September 24, 11 AM – 1 PM

Program Photo History of the Life of W. Hardy Hendren, III

Welcome                                                                 Keith Lillemoe, MD


American College of Surgeons Icons in Surgery Video            


Remarks/Recollections                                             Jay Vacanti, MD

                                                                                    (In the video)


Medical                                                                      Patricia Donahoe MD


                                                                                    James O’Neill, MD                                                                                                                       


                                                                 Kathryn Anderson, MD                                                                                                                                                                           

                                                                                    Terry Hensle, MD


                                                                                    Craig Lillehei, MD   


Author                                                                       G. Wayne Miller


Patient                                                                  Keith Fox                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Family                                                                        William G. Hendren, MD                                                       


Minister                                                                      Father Daniel Dice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

“Thanks for the Memories”


Closing remarks                                                        Allan Goldstein, MD



Retire to Russell Museum for reception 1 – 2 pm

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The (future) King and I

In late-summer 1986, the young Prince Charles visited Harvard to speak at the school's 350th anniversary celebration. I was among the journalists who covered the visit -- and attended a private party with the now King Charles III at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Herewith my reports:

Faculty member Emily D. T. Vermeule with Prince Charles,
 350th celebration of Harvard's founding.

From the September 3, 1986, Providence Journal:

                                        The Prince Meets the Duke

                                                                 By G. Wayne Miller

The jet was waved to a stop, the engines were killed and the rear door opened. The British ambassador bounded on board. In a minute, he reappeared. There was a pause. Gathered on the Logan Airport tarmac, a dozen VIPs waited. Behind them, the mock colonial militia stood at attention. On the roof of a nearby hangar, a police sharpshooter scanned the proceedings. A motorcade of Jaguars and a gray Rolls was ready, engines idling.

 Prince Charles stepped into the early evening and a small knot of invited well-wishers cheered.

 He didn’t say much - not that the crowd could have heard it over the roar of jets taking off. But he did shake hands. He shook Governor, (sometimes known as the Duke) Dukakis’s hand. He shook Mayor Raymond Flynn’s hand. He shook Ambassador Antony Acland’s hand. He shook the hand of Francis Burr, the chief marshal of Harvard University, which is celebrating its 350th anniversary this week, and which invited the prince to speak tomorrow at a convocation.

When introductions were over, the militias, fifers and drummers began to play the national anthem.  Accompanied by Dukakis, the prince passed in review. He was impeccably attired in blue shirt and dark suit.  His face, which many say is handsome, showed no emotion. He seemed humorless. On how many occasions has the prince, who has been around the world countless times, had to review the local colors?

 It was different when he got to the crowd of Union Jack-waving spectators, many of them British. Charles broke into a big smile, and he waded fearlessly into the mob, enthusiastically grasping every hand he could reach.

“It was so marvelous,” Helena Nultey, a British employee of the British Consulate, would later say. Nultey was one of the lucky ones: She got a piece of the prince. Sixty-two years old, and it was her first meeting.

“Such a handsome man. So charming. So much better looking than in photos. This is one of the most exciting moments of my life.”

 Another few minutes, and Charles was gone - whisked away by motorcade to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where he is spending two nights on his first visit to Boston. He will be alone, as his family stayed behind at Balmoral, a royal castle.

 If yesterday’s welcome was fleeting, it nonetheless was a reminder of what royalty in the age of congresses and parliaments and dictatorships still can be. Ceremony, in a word. Carefully coordinated ceremony that goes off like clockwork. Even the prince’s jet was on schedule.

Like him or not, Charles is the real thing, not some nouveau-riche opportunist who made his money in shopping malls and then managed to buy a title on Europe’s phony pedigree market.

Centuries-old monarchy

The prince, 37, the heir to his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, is part of a monarchy that traces its roots to William the Conqueror. As such, he is related to just about any English king you might name off the top of your head - all those Henrys, Edwards, Georges, Richards, many of whom wound up in Shakespeare. Queen Victoria was his great-great-great grandmother.

He doesn’t have a last name, but Charles Philip Arthur George, as he was christened, has more titles than you could ever hope to buy: Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick and Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Chairman of the Royal Jubilee Trusts, to name a few.

Naturally, he’ entitled to respect - even here in America, which got rid of one of his ancestors a couple of hundred years ago. Earlier, by phone and during a press conference, the consulate staff gave reporters tips for being with the prince. On introduction, for instance, he is addressed as His Royal Highness - HRH, as the consulate refers to him in its news releases. Subsequently, he may be called “Sir.” And one never independently extends one’s hand to HRH; one waits until he offers his, and if for some reason he doesn’t, tough luck. In America, a bow is optional.

No contact with public

Not that many people yesterday had a chance to practice their protocol. Except for a small reception last night at the Ritz, to which reporters were invited only on condition that they not report any conversation with Charles, the prince had virtually no contact with the public.

Also from the September 3, 1986, Providence Journal:

                        No secrets here: HRH is a man who knows how to meet the press

                                                                By G. Wayne Miller

“As you are probably already aware,” the note from the British Consulate began, “His Royal Highness has asked for an opportunity to meet some of the working correspondents who will be covering the visit.

“The reception will be a purely social and informal event, by personal invitation only. It will be wholly off the record. No cameras, microphones or notebooks will be allowed. No reference should be made subsequently to specifics of any conversation with His Royal Highness.”

 Fine. We agreed to the ground rules of last night’s reception at the Ritz-Carlton - who could pass up the chance to meet Prince Charles? And HRH, as he is sometimes known, will be be pleased to learn that we’re not about to divulge any of his deepest, darkest secrets.

 Actually, no secrets were confided - but without breaking our word, we feel we can report that:

 * There were about 50 guests, and except for a handful of Scotland Yard’s finest, almost all were reporters. Surprisingly, there were almost no names - excluding HRH, of course.

 * The caviar, sliced fresh salmon and foie gras were delectable. They were served by waiters who wore white gloves.

 * HRH drank a single martini, with a single olive.

 * He wore a dark two-piece suit and a blue shirt. It was not an Oxford collar, but it was cotton. This is one dapper dresser. No surprise there. As others have remarked, he does indeed seem more handsome in person than in pictures.

 * Charles smiles easily, talks pleasantly and went out of his way to mingle with the crowd. His questions showed a knowledge of America and an enthusiasm for his position as prince. And why not?

From the September 5, 1986, Providence Journal:

                                            Harvard’s 350th: A Royal Occasion

                                                                    By G. Wayne Miller

Harvard, an institution for far longer than America has been a republic, congratulated itself yesterday on its 350th birthday with a convocation flavored by all the colorful pageantry the nation’s oldest and wealthiest university could muster.

 As it does for graduations, the university transformed that most revered of academic places, Harvard Yard, into a flag-filled amphitheater. During the two hours that it overflowed with an estimated 15,000 people - many dressed in top hat and tails or cap and gown - a bell pealed, a band played, anthems were sung, prayers were offered and  speeches were delivered.

 Yesterday’s ceremony was but part of a week’s celebration that will cost about $1 million. It was a spectacle worthy of royalty - and royalty there was, in the person of Britain’s future king, Prince Charles, who delivered a main address that began with humor and ended with a standing ovation.

 Like others who spoke before him - Yale president Benno C. Schmidt Jr. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology head Paul E. Gray among them - Charles paid tribute to Harvard, whose graduates and professors over the years have had a tremendous influence on politics, science, medicine, business and the arts.

“After all,” the prince observed,  “[Harvard] has produced a cornucopia of leaders for the United States in many fields, not to mention the fact that six Harvard men have become president.”

 After making a joke or two about Yale, Harvard’s perennial rival, the prince became serious. And he turned away from Harvard for a moment to issue America and all of its schools a challenge - the challenge of educating young men and women as moral beings with a sense of spirituality and decency.

“While we have been right to demand the kind of technical education relevant to the needs of the 20th Century, it would appear that we have forgotten that when all is said and done, a good man - as the Greeks would say - is a nobler work than a good technologist.

“We should never lose sight of the fact that to avert disaster, we have not only to teach men to make things, but also to produce people who have control over the things they make.”

 After a round of applause, he continued:

“Never has it been more important to recognize the imbalance that has seeped into our lives and deprived us of a sense of meaning because the emphasis has been too one-sided and has concentrated on the development of the intellect to the detriment of the spirit.

“Surely it is important that in the headlong rush of mankind to conquer space, to compete with nature, to harness the fragile environment, we do not let our children slip away into a world dominated entirely by sophisticated technology - but rather teach them that to live on this world is no easy matter without standards to live by.”