HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
In high school, Mark attended the MYF, or Methodist Youth Fellowship, at Mansfield's
Central United Methodist Church. It was quite an active group and two of his best friends were Keith Lamb (whose father was
chief engineer at the Tappan Stove Company and whose mother Bonnie was the best friend of your Granny Jean) and Roland Wilhelm
(whose father was a German-born engineer and inventer and who worked at a drafting table at home but always wore a tie and
kept regular office hours and whose wife would no more have asked him to run over to the store during office hours than some
other wife might have called her husband at the shop to run home with a loaf of bread.
Keith, Roland, and Mark were considered three of the ''brains'' of Malabar High
School and nobody could join in their conversations because nobody could figure out what they were talking about.
For Christmas, about 1977, Mark asked for a programmable calculator. It's hard
to imagine, today, but people have not always had pocket calculators. I had never even used one but Mark, Keith, and Roland
talked about one that could be programmed; you could write a math program and store it in the calculator. We gave it to him
for Christmas, and he was pretty sure he was getting it and had made plans for what he would do with it.
He learned all about programming it and wrote a program that would predict just where
an earth satellite (like the moon) would be at any given time. It was much the same kind of problem he'd be working with much
later in life.
It's time to tell you about Mark's room. At first, Mark had the smallest
bedroom and Steve and Dave shared the next largest room. But when Mark was about twelve we finished the basement with a drop
ceiling and hardwood panelled walls and enclosed a large bedroom for Mark. He became the envy of his brothers and many friends,
for he had a lot of privacy (he had a concrete stairwell going up into the back yard) and a deep pile
carpet and he was next to a bathroom and a recreation room with a wood-burning fireplace.
When he went off to college he could have kept his room for coming home on holidays,
but instead he generously moved his things up to the small room, Dave's room, and Dave moved to Steve's room, and Steve moved
to the luxury room downstairs. Then when Steve went off to art school the luxury room became Dave's.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, with its rustic wood frame, looked beautiful in the
luxury room but it went off to college and only hung in the Yorkwood house while Mark was in the army.
Mark, like everyone else, could make mistakes. But he could learn from his mistakes.
When Mark was about sixteen there were a brother and sister in MYF; she was your daddy's age.
It happened at a youth activity when I went along as a chaperone. She was very
nice to Mark and it seemed to me to be a ''boy-girl'' kind of niceness. I thought she was attractive and very likeable and
I thought Mark would be pleased and flattered by her attentions.
I was wrong. It's hard to figure out male-female relationsuips in the teen years
(or any other age, for that matter), and maybe Mark just didn't feel ready for a boy-likes-girl kind of friendship. Anyway,
he spoke to her in a rude and insulting manner. She walked away, nearly in tears.
That didn't even seem like Mark. I told him afterward how disappointed I was in
him; if he wasn't interested in her that was his business but he had no right to be cruel. And that was the end of the story,
Sixteen years later (the girl and her family had long since moved away from Mansfield)
Mark mentioned her name and said ''Dad, I know how shocked you were by the way I treated her. I've been ashamed of it
ever since. I wish I could tell her I'm sorry. I've thought of writing to people who knew her to try to find her address but
she's probably married and it might not be a good idea.'' I agreed that it might not.
Mark had made a mistake and had spent half his life regretting his un-Mark-like
rudeness. I think what he learned from that had something to do with his magic.
If Keith and Roland were Mark's intellectual sparring partners Mark had two other
schoolmates who were his close friends. At MYF Mark met Brian Dunlap and the two of them knew Tammy Upham; they were both
a year ahead of Mark although Brian was a little younger and had skipped two grades.
The three of them became the best of friends and remained so all Mark's life.
But at first Mark didn't think so. He told me ''Tammy and Brian are friends, but
between Tammy and me it's a romance.'' But there were no dates. The three of them just spent time together as the three musketeers.
Years later Mark told me ''I really had a crush on Tammy but she set me straight
and told me we were best of friends and would always be best of friends.'' And they always were.
(And when I first wrote the above I got Tammy's address and sent a copy to
her and she granted me permission to include it here.)
Brian's dad liked Saabs, a Swedish make of car. Along about 1976 Brian
bought a 1969 Saab station wagon of an ugly green color. I've never seen another car like it; I've seen a sedan Saab of that
model, but not a station wagon, and definitely not of that ugly color.
Except one. In about his senior year Mark decided he could afford an old car so
he answered a classified ad for a used Saab. When he saw it he couldn't believe his eyes - he thought he was looking at Brian's
car. They were almost exactly the same, including color. When Mark and Brian drove somewhere, following one another, people
thought they were seeing double.
Mark seemed to think every car should have a name, and since Saabs are made in
Sweden he gave his car a nice Swedish name: Yosta.
Well, after Mark started to college he needed a better car so he bought a used
Toyota (whose name I don't remember) and let his brother Steve drive Yosta. Then Steve went away to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh
and left Yosta with Dave.
Then Yosta blew her engine. Brian was then going to school in Columbus, where his
Saab's frame rusted so badly that it collapsed and he had the car hauled back to Mansfield on the bed of a truck; Dave bought
it and switched Brian's engine into Yosta's body. He eventually sold Yosta to a friend who had time for repair work, and it
still might be on the road somewhere for all I know.
Thus ends the saga of the Saabs. But one of Mark's greatest regrets was - nobody
ever took a picture of those two cars together.
Mark looked forward to backpacking through Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.
He wanted to prove he was as tough a hiker as anybody in spite of what Bruce Drushel had once told the scout troop while Mark
was still in grade school.
As he approached his fifteenth birthday Mark had his chance. The troop had bought
an old Greyhound bus, ''Explorer'' they named it, and Scoutmaster Tom Dorsey invited the more mature boys to go on the backpacking
trek. There were eleven boys in the crew, including Mark.
Tom would have loved nothing better than to have hiked with the boys, but he wore
a pacemaker for his heart so that was out of the question. They asked me to go along as the crew's adult advisor.
Our backpacking trek was about sixty miles long, through the Cimarron mountains,
and took eleven days of hard, grueling hiking. We started July 1 of 1976, our nation's bicentennial year. Philmont gives every
crew a small American flag to fly over their camp, and on this year the flags all had a circle of thirteen stars - the Betsy
Ross flag. I still have the flag carried by our crew.
For most of our hike Mark made an effort to be out in front of the whole crew.
I knew he was trying to prove something.
On the Fourth of July of our bicentennial year we didn't hear a single firecracker
but we did something even better. On the north side of a mountain knob the boys found a patch of snow, still remaining from
the winter before, and celebrated Independence Day by skiing down the slope on the seats of their pants.
Many crews hike the various trails at Philmont, something like 15,000 scouts and
leaders every summer. There are special activities at different places in the the huge ranch, if your crew is within walking
distance. At one spot they have a group of cowboys serving a chuck wagon supper - a beef stew - and when we ate there we were
joined by about a hundred other hikers; they were tired of cooking their own meals over open fires, using the dehydrated trail
food they carried in their backpacks.
As we ate we heard people shout ''Bear in the camp! Bear in the camp!''
A bear was in the midst of the crowd, scared to death as he ran away from the scouts
who were running behind to watch or take pictures.
A major item was the mansion of Waite Phillips, the oil millionaire who once owned
the ranch as his hunting and fishing resort and had given it to the Boy Scouts of America. We were running down the long grassy
slope in front of the house when I heard one of our boys scream ''Mark! Rattlesnake!'' It was right in front of Mark but he
jumped over it and kept on running.
Each crew carried a Bear Bag, a burlap bag attached to the center of a long rope.
Every night all crew members put everything with an odor that might attract bears - all food, soap, toothpaste, camera film
- into the bear bag and the boys would hoist the bag high between two trees, out of reach of all bears.
One night we were awakened by the familiar cry ''Bear in the camp!'' We all ran
out of our tents to see, by the dim early morning light, a bear walking out of our camp. And there are two good stories about
The first story concerns Mark's backpack. He had broken the cardinal rule the night
before: he had left some food in his pack. The bear had torn it open to get the food - a packet of dehydrated pancake syrup.
The second story concerns a photograph. One of the boys had grabbed his camera
in time to get a picture showing a black bear silhouetted against a dimly lighted background. In later years Mark told me
''I wish I had a copy of that photograph." Neither one of us could remember who had taken it.
But one of the boys was named Doug Wyatt. In Mark's final months of life, seventeen
years after the Philmont trip, Mark flew to Mansfield for a visit, and then visitted Brian Dunlap and his wife, Kris, at their
home in Columbus. Brian had heard that Doug was living with his wife and two children in Cincinnati and he called Doug. Doug
said he'd come to see Mark. And that's not all.
Brian told Doug how much Mark wanted a copy of the bear photo so Doug made some
phone calls and got the photo and brought it along. Your mother probably still has it.
And Doug said that when he told his kids he was going to visit an old friend named
Mark Little, they said ''Mark Little? Isn't he the guy that got robbed by that bear?'' As you can see, the bear robbery was
one of the high points of the Philmont trip.
In summer of 1977 Mark worked as a counselor at the Boy Scout Camp. He taught the
younger scouts pioneering and the skills of living and exploring in the wild. He used trees that had been thinned out from
some of the camp's woods, and taught the boys to use ropes to lash those trees together to build small bridges. He showed
me a tall signal tower he had helped them build, lashing tree trunks together.
The camp had an archery range and he had helped some of the scouts get their archery
merit badge. He told me how much fun it was to teach kids new things.
I still have Mark's merit badge sash from Boy Scouts, with a total of 25 badges.
In scouts he worked his way up through the ranks, and certain merit badges are required for some of the ranks. When
he got to his Life Scout rank the next step was the supreme one: Eagle Scout.
To make the Eagle rank he needed a total of 21 merit badges. You'd expect an Eagle Scout to
be a good citizen, and to be able to take care of himself in the out-of-doors, so some of the merit badges were required:
three different Citizenship badges (in the world, in the nation, and in the community), Communications, Personal Development,
Environmental Science, Safety, First Aid, and Camping. Beyond that, Mark could choose what badges he wanted to work on, out
of the 119 badges in the Boy Scout Handbook.
If I tell you what other badges are on his sash you'll have an idea of some of
the things he liked to do. There are badges for Indian Lore, Swimming, Life saving, Music, Archery, Scholarship, Public Speaking,
Engineering, Wood Carving, Cooking, Basketry, Pioneering, Hiking, Mammal Study, Fingerprinting, and Surveying.
But there was another requirement for Eagle Scout: he had to ''plan,
develop, and give leadership to others in a service project -.'' Just southwest of Mansfield is the Gorman Nature Center.
It was a farm that had just been given to the County Park Board and in those days had almost
no trees. Mark got the Troop Committee's approval for his service project: to organize a group of friends to plant trees in
the back end of the nature center.
He had four friends helping him, and the Department of Agriculture furnished hardwood
seedlings and helped them get started.
I hope someday I can take you for a hike through the Gorman Nature Center. The
trail winds through the forest that Mark planted, and the young trees, maples, ash, and tuliptrees, are thirty feet tall.
And your daddy became an Eagle Scout.
IN HIGH PLACES
Mark and I had several private jokes we'd kid
each other about. Sometimes we'd be working on a car or an appliance and he'd ask ''Let's see, which way do I turn it to loosen
it?'' Even with his brilliant intelligence he had more trouble than most people in remembering the simple Clockwise - Counterclockwise
And he'd kid me about my fear of heights.
Sometimes our family would go to Cedar Point, the amusement park on Lake Erie. Once I drove up there with Mark and Steve. As we approached the park we had to wait in a long line of cars,
and to pass the time we began to sing ''The Ship Titanic,'' quite loud. People in other cars stared.
As we stood in line for the ''Gemini,'' the park's newest and fastest roller coaster,
Mark and Steve gave me a pep talk just to get me ready. I told them it wasn't the ride that botherered me so much as the suspense
of going up that first long steep hill.
As we rode up I was in a seat by myself, with Mark and Steve right in front of
me. Mark turned around and must have thought I looked kind of sick, for he said ''Sing something, Dad!'' So all the way to
the top I sang, with Mark joining in ''Oh, they built the ship Titanic, for to sail the ocean blue - .''
Once when our family went to Cedar Point Mark took a date. Among the park's various
eating spots is a cafe with a theme of the early 1900's. They had a really good floor show including tap dancing and an old
fashioned sing-along. They furnished papers with the words of the songs, and there's nothing Mark and I enjoy more than a
sing-along. We sang, at the top of our voices, ''But you'll look sweet, upon the seat of a bicycle built for two."
But his date? It wasn't that she was timid; she was a cross-country runner and
one of the class leaders at Malabar high school. But a sing-along just wasn't her kind of thing. While Mark and I were having
the time of our lives she looked like she wanted to crawl under the table.
Malabar high school has a large and attractive auditorium, so nice in fact that
in the whole State of Ohio the Miss Ohio pangeant was always held there. Mark had a part-time job working backstage and of
course he enjoyed talking to all the pretty contestants.
Above the stage is a high gallery, the fly gallery, for raising stage scenery when
it's not in use and then lowering it onto the stage when it's needed. Mark told me there's a ladder going up to the top of
the fly gallery and if you climb up to the top (a dizzying height) and hook one leg over the top rung you can lean way out
and write your name on the wall. But only a few of the stage hands have been brave enough to write there.
If you ever climb that ladder (and I hope you never will) you'll see the signature
It's a good thing Mark didn't have my fear of heights, for in the army he took
parachute training. More about that in another letter.
Mark was a top-notch
student in high school and definitely wanted to go to college. But he knew the high cost of higher education and he knew that
if his parents sent him they wouldn't have much left if his brothers wanted to go. He told me he'd made up his mind
to pay his own way. First, he'd apply for every scholarship he could find (and he got several). Then, he'd go to a college
that offered work-study programs. And the University of Cincinnati is one of the best. You go to school for a while (two quarters,
for example) and then work for the same amount of time for a company that's involved in the same type of work you're studying.
If you're studying for a degree in interior design you might work for an architect. If you're studying engineering you'd work
for an engineer. The company pays you, in addition to giving you experience.
And one more thing: Mark decided to apply for an ROTC (Reserve Officer
Training Corp) scholarship. That meant he'd take military courses through college and after graduation he'd be expected to
accept a commission as a Second Lieutenant.
Mark was as peaceable a guy as you could hope to find, but throughout
high school he talked to me about the duty of defending your country. He applied for and got a four-year scholarship in Army
Mark was always well-organized, dressed neatly and kept his room neat.
His brother Steve was just the opposite. He took great pride in being voted his high school class's Worst Dressed Senior Boy.
He was disorganized and his grades were awful and his room was a disaster. But whenever Mark came home from college he'd do
things with Steve and it was clear they were best of friends. I said ''Mark, I'm surprised that you and Steve get along so
well, when you're so different.''
He answered ''We're not really that different, Dad. We think alike.''
I've never been quite sure what he meant but I think he meant things like personal integrity and human compassion.
Mark's relationship with his brother Dave, didn't always run so smoothly.
Dave got into every kind of scrape you can think of, except that he was never in trouble with the law.
Except once. He ran away from home one night and walked over to South
Main Street and began hitch-hiking to Nashville. The first car that stopped had lights on top.
Dave was as much a worry to Mark as to his parents. Mark tried
to encourage him to take some direction in life. He was disgusted when nothing seemed to work. And Dave complained about his
But I'd better add that sometimes Dave and Mark could have long
conversations, and Dave will tell you those conversations made a difference. Perhaps there was magic at work!
When I said Mark was well-organized, here's
an example. He made plans for his life and decided to start by getting a degree in engineering.
Then he'd serve in the Army under his ROTC agreement. Then he'd get a Master's degree in physics, get married, and then get
a Doctor's degree in physics. He showed me those plans, written down on paper.
But Mark was smart enough to know that the best laid plans often go sour and
he wanted to be free to change his plans as the need might arise; that's why he decided to get his first degree in engineering
instead of physics. You see, there are plenty of jobs for people with engineering Bachelor degrees but nobody hires a phsicist
unless he has a PhD, a Doctor of Philosophy. A Bachelor of Physics isn't a very marketable degree.
As it happened, Mark later decided he needed more practical experience
and less theory. He decided to get a Masters in Engineering and then go no further, but he put down this change of plans -
There are many branches of engineering, and he chose what he considered
to be the most theoretical branch - Applied Mechanics. This is all about the airframe design of aircraft and space vehicles.
Mark was becoming an accomplished computer programmer, and the company
he worked for was Structural Dynamics Research Corporation. His job was to talk to scientists and engineers to find
out what kind of programs they needed, and then take one of his own company's computer programs and tailor it to fit. Structural
Dynamics was located right there in Cincinnati but they had a small branch office in England. They needed someone to work
for six months in the England office, and - they sent Mark!
Mark saw as much of England as he could, and they gave him a week's
vacation so he spent that week traveling in Switzerland. They have Youth Hostels there, where young people stay
in simple surroundings without having to pay much. He travelled by train (with his bicycle in the baggage car) and enjoyed
talking to other youthful travelers, speaking in English and German (he had taken several years of German in school.)
One of his favorite stories was about walking down the street of a small
Swiss village and passing an open window and hearing someone yell ''Mark Little!''
It was a young man he had once talked to on the train. He was living
in a one - room apartment there so your Daddy went inside and they had a great conversation. Imagine walking down a street
in Switzerland and just happening to hear someone call your name!
Something Mark did once, a very small thing but it meant a lot to me, was
a phone call. I wrote to him in 1981 to tell him his mother and I were getting divorced. He called to ask how I was getting
along, and when I told him everything was fine he answered ''Oh, I'm glad. I was kind of worried about you.''
That meant a lot. It was part of his magic. Parents often worry about
their children's well being but it doesn't always work the other way around.
Something happened that hurt Mark very much. He became engaged
to marry a girl named Linda. (For someone who nearly became my daughter-in-law I don't remember much about her, not even her
For some reason, he wasn't sure himself, her parents didn't want her
to marry him so she broke it off. He told me it wouldn't have been so bad had she decided to end the engagement
but what really hurt was that she let them do it for her.
And when he married your Mother, half a dozen years later, he told me
how much he appreciated your Grandmama and Grandpapa. They've both told me they couldn't love Mark more if he had been their
In May of 1984 I went to Cincinnati to Mark's graduation. They passed
out printed booklets listing all graduates, and right next to ''Mark Gregory Little'' were the words ''Magna Cum Laude." That's
Latin for ''With great honor'' and it's an honor awarded to outstanding students, but Mark hadn't even mentioned to me that
he was getting it.
After graduation he took the oath into the military forces, and then
came to Mansfield for a month vacation, and then he was in the Army.
Somtimes you might wonder what kind of music your Daddy liked.
Mark, Steve, and Dave enjoyed most kinds of music, all except one: I
never heard any of them listen to Country. As far as I can remember there was never any Country music in our house. And it
wasn't until Mark was in his 'thirties that he told me he really liked the Country singer Garth Brooks. He broke the news
very gently to me, as if afraid I might not be able to stand the shock.
Mark and Steve took piano lessons and played in recitals put on by the
Music Teacher's association, but you couldn't say they liked the music they played.
But Mark got more enjoyment from the violin. He played in the Junior
High School Orchestra, and about the time he joined the High School Orchestra he started taking lessons from a young violin
teacher, Betsy Lape. He played very well, but he told me it wasn't nearly well enough to consider a career as a concert violinist.
But it gave him a love for classical music, for most of the pieces he
played in violin recitals were classical.
All three boys liked Don Mclean's album of ''American Pie.'' They had
the disk and used to fight over it, for a while, but then they lost interest and I didn't hear it again.
Years later Mark laughed and said ''Dad, we used to like "American Pie,"
but then we heard you singing some of the songs. We decided if it appealed to somebody your age we didn't like it any more.''
Mark liked the album of ''Have You Never Been Mellow,'' by Olivia Newton-John.
And he liked mellow vocal groups like the Carpenters, and Simon and Garfunkel.
All three boys played the guitar. And when Mark went away to college
he bought a classical guitar and taught himself to play. It looked similar to an ordinary acoustic guitar but had a wider
neck and all the strings were gut, and it had a softer tone.
Talking to him about that guitar taught me a couple of interesting things.
You've heard of Stradivarius who made some of the world's finest violins? He also made some of the world's finest guitars.
You've heard of Bach who wrote masterpieces for the pipe organ? He also wrote masterpieces for the classical guitar.
Mark played one of Bach's guitar compositions; I wish I could remember
He liked church hymns that were majestic and triumphant. Toward the
end of his life he asked that the great Lutheran hymn, ''A Mighty Fortress is our God'' be sung at his funeral, and that it
be sung joyfully and triumphantly. He told me that the death of a Christian should be a time of triumph.
After marrying your Mother he got CD's of some of the musicals by Andrew
Lloyd Webber and used to play them for me when I visitted. One was the show ''Cats'' and the most familiar song has the words
''Mem'ries, all alone in the moonlight - .''
One of the best things about his guitar was that he played it for group
singing when he was the adult leader of the church youth group in Huntsville, Alabama. They sang the religious songs that
are popular in church camps.
And in that way, Mark's music became part of his light given to others.
In the Army, Mark requested Airborne training - trainining in parachute
jumping. They sent him to Fort Benning, Georgia, and sometimes he'd call me to tell me how they were building the men up for
the big moment: their first parachute jump.
Then he called to tell me he had made it. It was scary when the plane
took off because he knew he wouldn't be on it when it landed.
But the jump went just the way it was supposed to. Military 'chutes,
he told me, are different from the canopy 'chutes that sky divers use. Sky divers' canopies come down slowly and give the
jumper plenty of time to do stunts and to control the point of landing. Military 'chutes are made for war and come down fast
because somebody might be shooting at you.
Mark said that all the way down he kept wishing the ground wouldn't
come up so fast.
People used to say that parachutists always pack their own 'chutes.
Their lives depend on those chutes opening and they won't trust ther lives to anyone but themselves.
But Mark says that isn't true. He says they feel safer with parachutes
packed by experts.
His second jump didn't go so well. His harness wasn't adjusted quite
right and the straps were pressing painfully into the groin and he was in agony, and the ground couldn't come up fast enough
to suit him.
He completed four jumps and received his Parachute Wings.
Then he was sent to work in military weapons research at Redstone Arsenal.
The work they do is in the design of guided missiles. The thing that made a real difference in Mark's life is that Redstone
Arsenal is at Huntsville, Alabama, your Mother's home.
He said his duties weren't really much like Army life. Nearly everyone
he worked with was either a high-ranking officer or a civilian. He was a low ranking officer, a lieutenant. One day a major
saw him in the hall and said ''Lieutenant! Follow me!'' He led Mark into an office where a captain was sitting at a desk and
said ''Captain, I finally found somebody you can boss.''
Mark was about the only person there below the rank of captain.
Mark had a reputation for being well organized. People from Redstone
have told me he liked to write down lists of everything he had to do. Knowing Mark, that's easy to believe.
The secretary in the office where your Daddy worked was your Grandmama,
Becky Clanton. Mark told me they enjoyed talking together, and liked each other. But Mark met your Mother, Becky Ann, through
other people, and they began dating. But I'll leave it to her to tell you about that.
Mark's church was an important part of his life in Huntsville. Although
he had gone to a Methodist church most of his life he began attending a Lutheran church and really loved their rituals.
He sang in the church choir and sometimes was asked to sing solos. He
gave me the music for ''Oh, Magnify the Lord,'' one of the solos he had sung.
He remembered the church youth group that had meant so much to him when
he was younger, and volunteered for the job of adult leader of the Lutheran youth group. They took trips and had picnics together.
He played the guitar for group singing.
The kids in the youth group loved him and he loved them, and
from what he's told me their friendship had an impact on many of their lives. After all, he was the guy who had chosen, as
his symbol, a lighthouse.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Maybe you're wondering how your Uncle Steve and Uncle Dave turned
out to be such responsible, hard-working men. I already told you how Steve made terrible grades and his room was a disaster
and he never had any goals in life. And I told you that Dave got into about every kind of trouble you can get into.
One thing that made a real difference was having Mark for a brother.
Mark worked a magic in their lives.
All through High School Steve was considered the school artist and
kids would stop him in the hall to ask to see his latest drawings. But that's all he wanted out of life. His art teacher,
Frank Daniel, said that Steve was remarkably talented but he almost flunked art because he couldn't carry out any kind of
But knowing Mark made a difference. When Steve went away to art
school he changed his attitude and decided that this was it. He decided that from now on his whole life depended on how he
did in school. He did very well, and when he went to work for the Chicago Tribune, years later, he was building a national
reputation as a talented young newspaper artist. And I think Mark's magic had something to do with that.
Mark tried very hard to get Dave to turn his life around. Dave will
tell you that Mark's magic made a real difference. But it wasn't until he married your Aunt Brenda that Dave's life really
started to change.
Actually, both Mark and Steve tried to talk him out of it. They
liked Brenda fine, but thought Dave didn't really know what he was doing and didn't need one more thing going wrong in his
life. Later they both told me ''Brenda was just what Dave needed. He really married the right girl.''
And when Dave got a full time job, and he and Brenda bought a house
and started the hard work of remodelling it, and when Dave completed a photography course and began shopping for a job as
a photographer, Mark told the world "I'm so proud of Dave, I can't tell you how proud I am of my brother.''
Your Uncle Jarret, your Mother's brother, was ready for high school
and everyone knew he was smart as a whip but his grades were terrible. So was his attitude. Your Grandmama and Grandpapa were
worried. But Mark talked to Jarret as a brother, and Jarret looked up to Mark, and his life took new direction. He chose to
go to a military school because he knew he needed the discipline. He began to get excellent grades and showed that he had
real leadership ability. And Mark told me how proud he was of his brother-in-law.
People he worked with during his illness told me what an inspiration
he was to them. And I've thought about the kids in the church youth group when he was their counselor, and wondered about
how he had inspired them.
And after Mark's Celebration your Grandpapa told me ''We'll never know
how many lives have been influenced for the better, by Mark.''
And always, on Mark's wall at home, hung the picture of the Cape
Hatteres lighthouse. Mark told me he'd look at it and think how it was there to guide travelors and to bring them, safely,
through stormy seas.
After the Army, Mark started to Graduate School at the
University of Michigan. and the thing that impressed him most, he told me, was that graduate school is tough. Always before
he had kept way out in front of most of his fellow students and it didn't take much effort but now he was surrounded
by other outstanding students. Mark still made good grades, but had to work hard to do it.
He was working toward a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering. And
his main field of interest was control and guidance systems, such as are used in guided missiles.
He worked as an assistant instructor to help pay the cost of his schooling.
That meant things like grading papers, but it also meant tutoring students who needed extra help. He told me about tutoring
in one course in a subject he had never studied himself; I think it had something to do with microchip design. He had to study
the textbook and stay one chapter ahead of the students. He told me they never guessed the material was almost as new to him
as to them.
In his final quarter he could have taken an additional course but decided
instead to write a thesis.
Let me tell you about that thesis. What he was really doing was inventing
Sometime, just fooling around, you might try balancing a broom on the palm
of your hand, with the handle down and the broomstraws up. If the top starts falling toward you, you bring your hand back
toward you, far enough to stop it from falling, and that usually means far enough that it starts falling the other way and
you have to move your hand away from you to stop it again,
Mark's Master thesis was to design and build a small car that would
do the same thing. It had a battery-powered motor and the ''broomstick'' was an arm with a pivot at the bottom end and a
weight at the top end.
He had to design sensing devices to tell the guidance system which way
the arm was falling, and how fast, and then design the computerized guidance system to tell the motor which way to move the
car, and how fast and how far, either frontward or backward, and then design a switching mechanism to operate the motor.
It proved to be enormously complicated, and although it taught him a
lot about guidance systems, the school quarter came to an end with the car never working the way it should. But he had designed
a guidance system that nobody had ever designed before, and his professor considered it to be a successful Master's Thesis.
Mark told me they'd put his car and his computations on a shelf in the
Electrical Engineering Building until another graduate student would come along and want to finish it. It's probably sitting
Mark was awarded a Master's Degree in winter of 1989.
But he learned something else from graduate school: from Ann Arbor,
Michigan to Huntsville, Alabama is a long way to go for a date.
Mark had told me he would write to Becky Ann, but as it turned out he
managed to see her every few months in spite of the distance. And before he received his Master's degree they announced they
would be married.
a book on my shelf, ''A Horseman Riding By'' by R.F. Delderfield. Inside is a note by Kris Dunlap, Brian's wife, saying
Mark had read it and enjoyed it so much he wanted them to get a copy as a gift to me. She had to order it from London.
She adds ''As is his want, he likes to share books he enjoyed.'' I hope
you will be able to share some of the books your Daddy loved. Here are a few examples.
Imagine little creatures, only three feet high, living in the forests. They look
kind of like people, and wear clothing, but their feet are bare because their feet are hard and bony and covered with long
hair. And they live in holes in the ground and some of those holes are quite stylish and contain comfortable chairs and tables.
They form friendships with some races and do battle with others, gnomes and elves and trolls and dragons and giant spiders
and even a few men.
They are the hobbits, and when Mark was about eleven he read ''The Hobbit''
and loved the book. I had never heard of hobbits until then. Then he read the other books by Tolkien, the author of ''The
Mark enjoyed science fiction books such as ''The Tatooed Man'' by Ray
He liked Charles Dickens. Dickens' writing is terribly old fashioned
but Mark loved the complicated, interwoven plots. Early in the book the reader can meet a character who shows up again near
Mark liked a story I told him about when I was a lieutenant in Korea.
I got a copy of Dickens' ''David Copperfield'' from the post's small library; I'll warn you, it's a long novel and you shouldn't
plan to read it in a weekend. I was sitting in the officers' quarters reading about Copperfield holding his young wife Dora
in his arms as she lies dying, and her little dog Jip crawls to his feet and dies at the same time.
I know that's unbelievingly corny; Dickens can be like that. But it's
still hard to read with dry eyes. The Company First Sergeant came to the door and saw me reading with tears streaming down
my face. I've always wondered what he thought.
In my bookshelves is a hardbound copy of ''David Copperfield ,'' signed
''Christmas 1991, To my father. Love Mark.'' And there's a note ''This book has meant a lot to both of us, at times in our
lives. May you enjoy the reading, and possibly the sharing with Parker, of the beauty of these words."
That was before he knew about his daughter. I hope, some day, to share the
book with you.
Mark liked the bouncy, rollicking rhythm of Dr. Seus books. His favorite
was ''Fox in Socks,'' and I've heard him reading it to you.
I mentioned that ever since grade school days Mark liked poetry. He
memorized most of ''The Raven" by Edgar allen Poe.
And he memorized a nonsense poem, ''Jabberwocky'' by Lewis Carroll who
wrote ''Alice in Wonderland.'' Mark and his cousin Kathleen Blekking used to stand in front of their families and recite,
with exagerated expression,
''Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimbel in the wabe -''
And in winter of 1991 he asked that I bring some poetry along to read to him,
when I went out to St. Louis to visit him after his brain surgery.
I got a volume of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay from the library
and read aloud ''Renascence,'' and he liked it so much he asked for a copy. It's about a terrifying dream in which she dies
and takes to her grave all the sins of the world; of course she's describing Christian theology.
Mark liked to have things copied in a person's own handwriting, but
the poem was so long I had to Xerox it. He probably put it in his folder which contained many favorite quotations, poems,
While at the hostpital I talked to Mark's Becky Mom (that's
what he called your Grandmama) and she told me that people of her church, and people of many other churches, some we
didn't even know about, were praying for a miracle. She said ''There are different kinds of miracles. We hope that the miracle
will be that Mark will be healed. But the miracle could be that Mark and Becky Ann night have a peaceful and loving life right
up to the end. And the miracle might be that many people, through their prayers for Mark, will be brought
closer to Jesus.''
The miracle of healing was not to be. But you and your parents had the
loving family your Grandmama prayed for, and Mark was just what he prayed to be, a lightkeeper for others.
Mark liked the poetry of Robert Frost, and his favorite poem of all
was Frost's ''The Road Less Traveled.'' Maybe you can look it up sometime in your school library. It ends
''Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.''
Armed with his Master's
degree, Mark took a job as an electrical engineer with McDonnel Douglas in St. Louis. It's a company famous for building airplanes,
and today they're just as famous for building guided missiles and space vehicles.
But he took another trip to Huntsville. On April 21, 1990, Donita and
I went down to attend his wedding to your Mother.
It was at Whitesburg Baptist Church, and Brother Dick Thomassian, an
old family friend of the Clanton's and one of the ministers of their church, performed a very beautiful wedding service.
Your Mother will be able to tell you a lot more than I about their lives
together. But the next spring after the wedding your Daddy called to tell us they were going to have a baby.
Since the dawn of time parents have had to wait until the moment of
birth to learn whether they had a son or daughter. Today it's different; doctors can find out the baby's sex beforehand. But
some parents would rather wait till birth before finding out, just the way it's always been done. Your parents decided to
wait till you were born before learning if you were a boy or girl.
To Mark, symbols were important. Traditions were meaningful. Mark had
joined the Lutheran church because he loved the ritual, the ceremony, of the church. He told me the rituals had been a part
of many Christian lives for centuries and he liked the feeling that he was a part of those lives.
I know he could have been just as good a Christian without any ritual
at all. I know he could have been just as bright a light to others without a picture of a lighthouse on his wall. But still,
those symbols added something to his life.
Mark loved tradition. Your Grandpapa has told me that Mark came to him
to ask permission to marry his daughter. You can't get much more traditional than that!
Your Mother was raised in the Southern Baptist Church. There's a lot
of difference between the rituals of the Lutherans and the Southern Baptists. Your parents decided to split the difference
and join the Bellfountain United Methodist Church, for Methodists are about half-way in between.
It's not surprising that your Daddy wanted to wait till you were born
before knowing whether you were a boy or a girl, for that's the way it's been done by countless other parents before him.
Mark told me he was having headaches, terribly painful headaches. One
day that summer he called to say the doctors found out the headaches were caused by an intense pressure building up in the
fluid of his brain. They did surgery and put a small tube under his skin, all the way down from the top of his skull to his
abdomen, to relieve the pressure.
That stopped the headaches he told me. But then they were able to do
some more tests and found out he had a brain tumor. He told me he'd be having brain surgery, but there was something he didn't
tell me in that phone call: he had no chance of recovery. The surgery was not to cure him but only to buy him some more time
on this earth.
Now your Mother and Daddy changed their plans. They found out they had
a little girl, and they named you Ashley Rebecca Little. They knew that Mark might not be alive when you were born and they
wanted him to have a chance to know you, by name.
I went out for a visit. Mark and I went to the library because he wanted
to look up everything he could learn about his tumor. He was like that, always wanting to learn new things. The thought of
doctors opening the top of his skull and cutting through his brain terrified him but it fascinated him, too.
Mark told me about Dave and Brenda's recent
visit. Dave said that maybe Mark could always be a guardian Angel to Ashley. ''I love the thought of that,'' Mark told
me. ''I know that Guardian Angels don't fit in with any Protestant belief I ever heard of, but how do
we know what we'll be doing in the next world?''
He often mentioned, after that, what your Uncle Dave had said. I only
know that if anyone can ever be a guardian Angel to you, he can.
In November he went into the hospital for surgery. Your Grandmama
was there to help, and she called us several times to tell us how things were going. Finally she called to say the operation
was over and the surgeon had removed about 60 percent of the tumor.
I went for a visit while he was in the hospital. Because of all the
cutting in his brain he had to learn to use his arms and legs all over again. Many nurses, orderlies, and thrapists came into
his room and he'd start conversations with every one, asking about what kind of training they had taken, and whether they
enjoyed ther work, and asking all about his own illness and about the therapy they were giving him.
It was easy to see how much they all liked him.
Enter Ashley Rebecca Little
Mark learned to walk again, with a cane. He attended chilbirth classes
with your Mother and it began to look as if he would not only live long enough to see you, but he might even be strong enough
to stay with your Mother in the delivery room to help with your birth,
And on December 23, 1991, Mark called to say he had received a wonderful
Christmans present. He had been in the delivery room to see you being born.
Of course you were the most exciting thing in his life. He began to
write things down for you to read when you're old enough but he had a great deal of trouble with writing and I don't know
how far he got with that.
On leap year day, February 29, your Uncle Steve married your Aunt Chris
at Medina, Ohio. Mark wanted very much to go but the trip by car was too long for him. Instead, he flew, and had the time
of his life. He showed your picture to everyone, and was still strong enough, then, to be an usher and to dance at the reception.
Your family lived in a pleasant two-bedroom apartment in the St. Louis
suburb of Florissant. On the living room wall hung the picture of the lighthouse. On the wall of your nursery hung a painting
your Uncle Steve had done, just for you. Most artists would have painted rose buds, or maybe a butterfly. But Steve has a
mind of his own, and painted a dancing lizard.
Your parents had first lived there in a second floor apartment, but
at the time of Mark's surgery they knew he would have trouble climbing the stairs and friends helped your Mother move down
to the first floor.
Mark didn't want his friends to grieve for him. He told me about talking
to Steve and Dave, and he worried about how they were dealing with it. And that's part of Mark's magic. Instead of feeling
sorry for himself he was concerned about the people he loved.
His old friends Brian, in Columbus, and Tammy, in Boston, wrote to friends
and relatives and took up a collection to buy a video camera as a gift to your family. In the old days Mark would have been
fascinated by that device and would have learned everything about it, but now, he never really learned to use it.
It was clear to see that Mark's brilliant mind was slowing down.
Mark began to make plans - serious plans - for a trip around the country
to visit old friends one last time. Since he couldn't drive he would take a Greyhound bus.
It was hard for him to accept the fact that he wasn't nearly strong
enough for a trip like that. But it just proved that the tumor, while destroying his body, wasn't even phasing his spirit.
But your Daddy put his whole heart into writing a paper he called his
Testament, telling how his Christian faith had kept him going throughout his illness. He told of knowing that many people,
in many places, were praying for him, and how much strength he received from that. He wanted his Testament to be passed out
to all his friends, that it might be a light to them.
His Testament told of the beauty of seeing you born, of seeing a new
life entering a world that he would soon be leaving. And from his Testament I learned how much inspiration he had received
from the lighthouse.
On Valentines Day Mark flew out to Mansfield for a visit and was in
a wheel chair when I met him at the airport. He managed to do some of the things he had wanted to do.
He went to Dave and Brenda's for dinner and they proudly showed him
how they were remodelling their house. And Mark and Dave played a last game of chess.
We visitted the home of his favorite high school teacher, Mrs. Iona
Shawver. She had taught him physics and knew many of his friends very well since her own son had been in Mark's graduating
Another evening Leslie Hendricks, a good friend from high school, and
her husband Paul Nielson invited Mark to dinner. That was important because he gave her his Testament, and she later told
me their fifteenth class reunion was coming up in July and she'd run Xerox's and pass them out to Mark's old friends.
People I talk to at the County Courthouse took up a collection to buy
him a fruit basket. It turned out to be a bushel basket filled with fruit, cheeses, and fancy crackers.
Finally, Brian and Kriss picked him up to see their house in Columbus
before flying back to St. Louis.
Mark lost the use of his left leg and arm, and finally was no longer
able to walk. He developed a viral infection called ''shingles'' in his right arm and shoulder. As he explained it to me,
the infection destroyed the nerve endings producing a sense of touch and left only the endings producing pain,
Easter came in April. Your Daddy sat in his wheel chair by the living
room window and watched your Mother hide Easter eggs on the lawn, and then watched you find them.
The brightest part of his life was to have you crawl up on his bed and
to be able to put his right arm around you.
I've been writing letters to your daughter and I don't think she'd mind if I include one to you.
When I visitted you in April you mentioned that your plans for your
life never included ''Buy a house.'' you said you couldn't understand why it never even occurred to you to include this important
I told you it was lucky (''fortuitous" is probably the word you would
have used; you've always enjoyed words like that) that you never owned a house. I said Becky Ann certainly wouldn't have needed
the hassle of selling a house.
But I've been thinking since then of how your life's plans have worked
out pretty well. It was fortuitous (or maybe Divine Providence) that you decided to get a job after your Master' degree instead
of staying in school for a Doctorate. You've told me McDonell Douglas was fair to you during your illness, and allowed you
to keep working at a reduced capacity. If you had still been in school you would have had a tougher time managing.
You mentioned the song you used to sing in Boy's Choir about the Eddystone
Light, and said you had never read a word anywhere about a lighthouse by that name and asked if I had. I hadn't.
Since then - guess what. I found it!
In the public library there's a book, ''America's Lighthouses" published
by Dover Books. There's a picture of the lighthouse at Eddystone Rocks in England. It seems to be as famous in that country
as the Hatteras Light is in our own.
You'd love this book. It says the Eddystone light is one of the few
-perhaps the only - lighthouse to have a popular song written about it., and it prints the first verse of the song you sang
in Boy's Choir. (The words are slightly different at one point and not as suitable to a boy's choir as your version.)
The book describes the hard, lonely life of a lightkeeper, whose duties
included the task of keeping his lighthouse painted. (Since heights don't bother you you might not mind that so much but I
would.) And not a few of them lost their lives when their lighthouses collapsed during ocean storms.
The last time you were in Mansfield you asked whatever happened to the trees
you planted as your Eagle Scout project. I tried to find out, but nobody at the Gorman Nature Center could tell me because
I was thinking they were evergreens. Since then I remembered they were hardwoods, and they're still growing vigorously. I
wish I had driven you by there to see them from the parking lot.
That's all for now.
In April Mark told me ''When I knew my mind would be going downhill I started to worry because
I knew I wouldn't always be able to continue my job. Then I saw the trash men come by, picking up the trash, and I thought
''Hey! I could do that! I wouldn't mind picking up the trash if I could support Ashley and Becky Ann that way.''
Think about that. A brilliant engineer, with an education he had worked
so hard to get, a Magna Cum Laude graduate, but he wouldn't have minded being a trash man if that's what it would take to
support you and your Mother. And I'll tell you something else.
At Mark's funeral Bill Sanders, his supervisor at McDonnel Douglas,
came all the way from St. Louis to Huntsville and said he was representing all the people at the plant. ''Mark is an inspiration
to us all,'' Bill told me. ''The scientists and engineers are worrying abouf their jobs because the government is cutting
back on military weapons, and they're wondering ' What will I do? Where will I find a job? This is the only kind of work I
know how to do. It's the only thing I'm trained for'.
''Then they see Mark come to work. They know how smart he is, and they
know how well organized he is, and they see him doing work that's way below his normal level, and at less pay, and yet he
accepts it. Even people who have never worked with him really love him.''
And that's part of the magic of Mark Little.
But let me tell you about your Daddy's last day on this earth. It was
July 25, 1993, and you might think it would be very sad, but in a way it was very joyful, too.
You see, Mark had called his death and funeral his Celebration. He didn't
want people to be sad, but to rejoice in our belief that life does not end with the grave. And he told your Mother, months
before, that he wanted her to wear a bright red dress to his funeral.
On the Fourth of July weekend your parents had moved away from St. Louis.
Your Grandpapa borrowed a van so that Mark could ride in it, lying down, and brought him to the Clanton's home in Huntsville.
And on July 23 he called to tell us that Mark could not last much longer.
I arrived in Huntsville, with Donita and Parker, on the 25th, and saw
something wonderful: friends and family were gathered around Mark's bedside and they were laughing. Mark was in a coma and
could not respond to anything being said, but they told us that while he was still able to say an occasional word or squeeze
their hand he let them know he could hear everything that was being said. They were joking with him about things that had
happened during his life. They knew that was what Mark wanted.
The first thing I said when I entered the room was to remind him of
the bear that had torn open his backpack. People laughed; you could tell they had heard the story before.
Brother Dick Thomassian, who had married your parents, said ''Mark,
Buddy, how about getting my mansion cleaned up for me before I arrive?''
Your Grandpapa told about Mark coming to him, when he was dating your
Mother, and saying ''I want you to know that Becky Ann and I will never marry. We'll always be good friends.'' People laughed.
Your Grandmama said it was their family joke that, when Becky Ann was
next alone with Mark, she had said ''You told him WHAT ?'' people laughed louder.
On the wall opposite Mark's bed hung the picture, the Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse. Today lighthouses are run by electricity, but in the old days there had to be a lightkeeper to fill the lamp with
oil and clean the smoke from the lenses and polish the reflector and to wind the weight to the top each day so that it would
descend throughout the night and keep the light turning.
Mark had told me that he liked to think about the lightkeeper,
who had the job of keeping the light burning as a beacon to others.
At 9:20 P.M. your Daddy took his last breath. He was a wonderful lightkeeper,
and a wonderful son to me, and a wonderful Daddy to you.
And his light still shines in the world.
Separation of Church & State = Freedom of Speech Except for Churches