A great man died yesterday. His name was Hugh Morton. You may have heard of him. He photographed North Carolina, not just the team but the state. He also owned a mountain. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.
One report today declared that, if North Carolina had a Mount Rushmore, Morton would be on it (Along with, if I was holding the chisel, Charles Kuralt, Dean Smith and Ric Flair). Even that honor may be selling his legacy short. Blue Ridge Blog has a nice tribute here.
Forgive me for a “me” moment, but I personally credit Morton with teaching me a valuble jounalistic lesson. It wasn’t learned by his words or actions, but by my lack of both.
It occured during one of my first assignments as a rookie reporter with the Watauga Democrat. I don’t remember the details, but a reception was involved and word was Morton would be there. My editor insisted that, if given the chance, I had to meet him. This stranger was IMPORTANT, and I needed to say hello. Instruction inputed. Off I went.
While milling through the crowd, I spied Morton. He was a tall man, with plenty of snow up top. At the moment he was engaged in casual conversation. Being the pre-programmed robot I was at the time, I marched up to him and said:
“Hello Mr. Morton. My name is Rob Robertson. I’m a reporter with the Watauga Democrat. I was told you were a man I had to meet.”
Morton turned in my direction, kindly looked down at me and offered his hand. “Hello,” he said, or words to that effect.
As our hands went up and down my mind went back and forth. Now what, I thought. I’ve met the guy. I got his attention. Now what do I say?
“So I hear you own a mountain.” — Dumb Rob, real dumb.
“Do you really know Dean Smith.” — Cue Family Feud sound effect – “X”.
“Come here often.” — Sad. Too sad for words.
After three silent strikes, I think I finally mumbled something along the lines of “nice to meet you.” Regardless, Morton smiled, nodded and returned to his conversation. I walked off about three feet shorter with a mild case of red face. Smooth move, X-lax. Real smooth.
I interacted briefly with Morton on a couple of occasions afterwards, but during my years in the media that first encounter always stuck in my mind. It taught me two lessons which proved valuable – never enter a conversation unless it has a point, and never insist on meeting someone just to later be able to say you met that someone. Thank them for their work, tell them you admire them, compliment their shoes – ANYTHING – but don’t have as the objective simply getting one degree closer to Kevin Bacon. There really is no point.