Walter M. Windsor
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Forks in the Road: Chapter 13
ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET
Walt Disney World had become an important part of our lives in Orlando. Not only was it responsible for the tremendous growth of the market, and the consequent economical benefit to us, but it was a source of much enjoyment. Starting with the pre-opening preview, we were invited to virtually every function and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Mary and the kids loved every square inch of the Magic Kingdom, and she was an expert guide when we had out-of-town visitors, to its many delights. She dearly loved living in Orlando. And she loved music, so the victrola/phonograph/stereo was kept busy at our house. She had one particular song that she liked so much that it always made her cry - the song from the musical I Do! I Do! entitled My Cup Runneth Over.
In the meantime, Mary and I were to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary on November 29, 1972. We had made no specific plans. So when I received a call from an executive at Disney World inviting us to a special event at its Top of the World, we accepted and felt this would be a very nice way to celebrate our occasion. When we arrived, we were escorted to the best table in the house, and who should be awaiting us there but Billy, Barbara, Tony, Wendy, Marty, Mary’s mother, and my dad. They had pulled off a complete surprise. There were lovely silver gifts, and Tony had spliced together some of our home movies taken over the years to show the 25-year history of the Windsor marriage. Mary preserved some of the leaves and petals from the bouquet with which I presented her - 25 red roses, one for each year; 4 pink roses, one for each child; and one white rose for our new and first grandchild, Brittany.
In the summer of 1974, we treated ourselves to a trip to London. We flew over and stayed at the Charing Cross Hotel. Although we saw most of the sights, including a visit to the real Windsor Castle, we were hampered by almost constant rain. We made the return trip on the Queen Elizabeth II, a delightful experience marred only by the radio broadcast of Richard Nixon’s resignation as President of the United States. There was something eerie about hearing this aboard ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Everything came together like magic in late 1974 and on into the following year. Our programs, the support from ABC, the area’s growth due to Disney World, and the great coverage from the new tower all combined to enable us to move into a position of leadership in the market. But, while we had periodically shown improvement in the acceptance of our news product, each time we made progress something would happen to knock us back down again in this important phase. A good news director left when the initial decision of the FCC favoring Mid-Florida was announced; he was certain that Brechner would let him go and bring back the former news head. A strong anchorman was acquired by the name of John Tesh, and, just about the time he was beginning to make an impact, he was hired away by a larger market and eventually went on to CBS, Entertainment Tonight and national celebrity.
While in the process of replacing a news director in 1977, the family and I were spending a weekend in Panama City with the Burgesses when I saw a newscaster on a Mobile, Alabama station who impressed me. Unfortunately I had just committed the job to another man, so I was unable to follow up on Bob Lee. When the new man failed to work out, we utilized the assistance of a New York consulting firm to help us strengthen our news. Howard Glassroth, who was our consultant, screened a number of applicants for our vacancy. He came to Orlando with videotapes of the leading prospects. One of the first he showed us was a Bob Jordan. Sure enough, it was the same guy as Bob Lee from Mobile. His real name was Jordan, but, when he went to Mobile, there was another Jordan on the air in the market, so he had adopted the air name of Lee. We brought him in for a visit, and promptly hired him to head Channel 9 Eyewitness News.
The last piece of the puzzle fit perfectly. Jordan was a dynamo. Although a little like a bull in a china shop at times, he did the things that brought results. Personnel were replaced and improved. Writing was stressed. New weather (Danny Treanor) and sports (Mike James, later Mike Storms) anchors were found who made immediate impacts. Two newswomen (Carole Nelson and Carol Stanton) joined the team and began sharing anchor duties, a new and somewhat revolutionary thing in the industry. Bob convinced me to acquire the top consulting services of the Frank Magid organization; then he and Magid persuaded me and our Board to invest in new electronic newsgathering equipment that led the way in the market. We acquired our own news helicopter, which I named Skywitness. In one of the few cases where we disagreed, Jordan disapproved of the name. But it was picked up by the public and is still in use. Bob anchored at 6 and 11 p.m., conveying a sense of mature authority as the “captain of the team.” We assumed a leadership position in news that, even twenty years later and long after Jordan and I have both departed, still exists.
The generous financial terms of my contract made possible a very enjoyable status of life for the Windsors in Orlando. We loved our home in Spring Valley.
Billy had graduated from Texas Tech, had taken a job in Chicago for a short time, but had come to Florida to establish his own retail business, The Wear-House. He had married his college sweetheart, Barbara Gray, in Dallas on June 19, 1971.
We welcomed our first grandchild, Brittany Ann, born in Winter Park on November 20, 1972.
Tony attended the College of Orlando, dropped out of school for a while and worked as a reporter and weekend news anchor and sportscaster at WFTV. He finally resumed his education at the University of Central Florida (then called Florida Tech) and worked his own way through to a degree in communications.
Wendy completed high school at Winter Park High and went off to Gainesville and the University of Florida, but, while she apparently had a good time there, ended up returning to Orlando and UCF.
Marty went from middle school to Lake Brantley High, becoming the only one of our kids to spend the four high school years in the same school.
This is as good a place in this narrative as any to pay tribute to the magic that was being performed in the kitchen by my wonderful bride. Mary had a marvelous knack for cooking a wide variety of tasty dishes and for basking in the pleasure that these treats gave to others. People were always begging for her recipes, whether for spaghetti, pancakes, beef stroganoff, swiss steak, mountain pie, or any of her many other delicacies. One of my favorite stories involved the many requests for her recipe for German Chocolate Cake. Actually, she used the recipe that came on the chocolate package! Somehow there was a magical ingredient that went into every dish and made it special. The kids and I decided that this special ingredient was love.
Mary and I had a wonderful relationship, with no more than the usual arguments, usually about money or raising the children. Throughout our years together, folks remarked that we still behaved like newlyweds. We called each other “honey” most of the time. When Mary was serious, she called me “Walt.” And when she addressed me as “Walter,” I knew she was mad!
We became interested in the activities of American Field Service, which arranged for foreign exchange students to spend a year in the U.S. with American families. We talked it over with the family, and everyone seemed enthusiastic. Accordingly, we arranged to receive a young lady from Sydney, Australia, Meg Feenan, who was Marty’s age. They would attend their senior year together at Lake Brantley High School in 1975-76. This had mixed results. Mary and I became very fond of Meg, and we were also able, through mail and sending tapes back and forth, to get to know her family. However, while the other kids handled it pretty well, Marty became negative to the project as Meg was glorified with a big welcoming ceremony, much media coverage, and immediate prominence at school. This was a source of conflict in the family and nearly caused Meg to leave, but all of us stuck it out, and the two girls graduated in June 1976. Meg left on the Fourth of July, the 200th birthday of the U.S.A., to return “down under.”
That year, Ronald Reagan was running for the Republican presidential nomination. He made a visit to Orlando, and a live TV news conference was set up to take place in Channel 9’s studio. The candidate needed an office from which to operate during a few hours before the event, so mine was turned over to him and his people, including several of the Secret Service, who guarded the premises very closely. Just before they moved to the studio for the telecast, I prevailed on them to admit me and one of my cameramen, and a picture was taken with Mr. and Mrs. Reagan and yours truly. After the program, he thanked me for the use of the office. A few years later, when he was President of the United States, a mutual friend took him a copy of that picture and secured his autograph thereon. Having been told that I had been a sportscaster in my early years, as he had, he signed it “from a fellow sportscaster.” I was fortunate to have met some of our other Presidents over the years; FDR as previously related, handshakes with Harry Truman and Richard Nixon, several encounters with Lyndon Johnson in Texas and Washington, breakfast with Gerald Ford, and a reception for the NAB Board at the White House with Jimmy Carter.
My father‘s pet business, which had undergone a name change from Aquarius Gardens to Pic-a-Pet, had finally closed up, and he had relocated in Florida. Mary felt he needed care and attention, so she invited him to live with us.
My father helped us finance the installation of a beautiful swimming pool, which afforded us many wonderful times.
Billy and Barbara welcomed their son, Ryan Michael, in 1976, but not long after that they moved to Dallas. In his operation of The Wear-House in Winter Park, he became a successful retailer of clothing which bore lettering and/or art work. This attracted attention from the many others who were just getting into this new field, and Billy was often asked for advice. He began putting out a newsletter, called The Shirt Tale. Soon this escalated into a magazine called Impressions and became the first trade journal of what Billy named the Imprinted Sportswear Industry. When the magazine had taken over the majority of his time and efforts, and he found the printing and other key services available in Orlando to be less than adequate for his purposes, they made the decision to relocate in Barbara’s home town. This was a great disappointment to Mary and me, but it was toughest on Grandma, who truly doted on both Ryan and Brittany. She was just as great a grandmother as she was a mother.
I was being recognized in the industry for what I had accomplished in Orlando. I was elected to the board of the ABC-TV Affiliates Association, serving as its research chairman and news chairman over a four-year span. I became active in the Florida Association of Broadcasters, eventually serving as its president. I received a number of civic awards. I joined an organization called PESO, the purpose of which was to raise money to support the arts, and soon became its president. Its charity auction became an annual TV event, and I was the marathon chief auctioneer for fifteen years.
I served on the board of the Civic Theatre of Central Florida and was involved in its fund drive to build new and excellent facilities, later becoming its president. I played the role of Brady (based on William Jennings Bryan) in the production of Inherit the Wind. This was the first time my father had seen me on the stage since The Melting Pot in 1935.
My cup runneth over when we went to court against INA. Using a share-of-market concept that I devised, our excellent attorneys devastated the insurance company. I was the principal witness, and I felt confident with an Orange County jury of people who had themselves experienced Channel 9’s loss of signal. The jury returned a verdict in our favor for over two million dollars. Since that replaced lost revenue, most of which fell in the profit column, it resulted in a windfall for me, that year raising my income to more than $250,000. INA was so impressed with our victory that they employed our attorneys, and so did WDBO, to go against the tower company and the riggers. Without ever deciding which of the two had been at fault, the case was settled “on the courthouse steps,” and the amount compensated all the affected parties handsomely. INA received more than it had paid us, resulting in still more proceeds to WFTV!
On the occasion of one of Lawrence’s periodic visits to Orlando, I had just become acquainted with the Semonski family. Joe and his wife, Rusty, had six attractive daughters who sang together. Joe was an excellent accordionist and Rusty was a singer. They had operated a music shop in New Jersey but followed the lure of Disney to Orlando in search of fame and fortune. The girls had caused quite a stir when they made an impromptu guest appearance during a show at Top of the World, and when I learned about them, I decided they should meet Lawrence. After all, he had brought the Lennon Sisters to national prominence, and they were now out on their own. After both Lawrence and the girls appeared on our morning show, he listened to them intently, spoke to the girls and the parents at length, and gave them considerable encouragement.
It was only a few days before he contacted them from California and arranged for them to come west and join his show. They appeared on the program for a year or so. Joe and Rusty were also included now and then, and Lawrence always stopped the show when he danced the polka with the youngest sister, Michelle. He always joked about my “padding his payroll” by bringing him six more singers, which he pointed out in one of his best-selling books. The act eventually broke up when the oldest sister, Diane, wanted to go in a different musical direction. The last time I heard from them, they had moved back to New Jersey; Joe had died, the girls were all grown and married and out of show business. I am sorry to have lost track of them, as they were a delightful family full of musical talent and fun. I treasure a recording made in which the girls and I sang The Christmas Song.
While on the subject of Welk, I must recall that Mary’s mother was one of his greatest fans. On one of our trips to California, we took her along and visited Lawrence at his development in Escondido, just outside of San Diego. Lawrence rolled out the red carpet and made Rosalie feel like “queen for a day,” and she treasured for the rest of her life the autographed picture of them together with which he presented her.
It was about this time that, on a return flight from a broadcasting convention in Las Vegas, I found myself sitting next to Walter Hussman. Apparently he had mellowed considerably with age, as he went to great lengths to state his appreciation of what I had accomplished for his company and his admiration for what he called my “wholesome family life.” KTAL was doing well in Shreveport, but he had evidently at last given up on being number one in news. He acquired the Arkansas Democrat, the leading newspaper in Little Rock, and Walter Hussman, Jr. (known to us as “Boo” during his youth) became its publisher and the head of the family enterprises when his father passed away a few years later.
After graduation from UCF, Tony was ready to seek his independent fortunes in broadcasting. We agreed that it was time for nepotism to cease. Through the kind assistance of my good friend Harry Smart at Blair TV, he was given the opportunity to audition and interview for a news anchor position in the city of his birth, Columbus, Georgia. He got the job, only to realize that the president of his new employer was Joe Windsor. So most everyone thought he was still benefiting from nepotism! Joe was not related, but was an old friend from the days when I worked in Columbus and he was with the Chamber of Commerce there. We remain in touch, and we call one another “Cuz.”
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| The Funeral | Death of Our Father - What We Learned | Ancestors |
Walter M. Windsor
www.walterwindsor.com | Email: email@example.com | 678-320-0057
© Copyright 1997-2007, Walter M. Windsor -- Copyright 2008, Bill Windsor