Wednesday, June 08, 2005


(Originally run 11/12/03 on our old site)

THE ELUSIVE FRANK THOMPSON HAS BEEN FOUND. Turns out the reason he couldn’t be found in Little Rock was because he and his wife, Sandy recently moved back to, of all places, Searcy. Had a long talk with Frank’s wife, and he’s been around. SIDE NOTE: Sandy, who was originally from Virginia – lived in Alexandria at the same time as I, in fact – was the Featured Twirler with the Ole Miss Band back around 1960. (2005 footnote: he seems to have disappeared again. Anyone have a clue?).

Frank was found because of the invaluable assistance of Anita Corinne Hart Fuller. Anita was a bell player, drummer and, of great importance (at least to me), string bass player. The reason it was important to me was that it meant she stood next to me during the concert season. In time, although we did not otherwise socialize, she became the Big Sister I never had.

Every adolescent boy needs one.

Anyway, Anita had quite a bit to say about the motels we stayed in when we made our annual trek to Hot Springs for the State Band Festival. I commented that I couldn’t remember those motels’ names, and her response was Typical Anita: “I can't believe you can't remember staying at The Fountain and/or The Green Elf in Hot Springs!” Oh, my dear, I remember staying in them – I just couldn’t remember their names. She not only remembers names, she has pictures. They will eventually show up here.

Anita also contributed her outstanding band memory:

When I played the bells, I and Rosemary Dacus (the other bell player) wore white pants with a red jacket, like the majorettes, but their jacket had tails, ours were short. Anyway, I had to wear white shoes. Next year, when I no longer played bells, but drums, and therefore wore the black and red uniform, I had to wear black shoes. I got black shoe polish and "dyed" them myself. They looked fine until we marched at half-time on the grass football field, grass wet with dew. When I marched off the field that night, I was wearing WHITE shoes!!! Now, I would think that just funny but, in those days, I was mortified and sooo embarrassed.

Anita Hart, the Bell Player Posted by Hello

On the subject, from Ernie Simpson:

While you're remembering Hot Springs: I remember Bill Laas using the white Sam Browne belt from our uniforms on Larry Maness, Frank Thompson, and Thomas Rongey in Hot Springs when we were making noise after curfew, (perhaps this was the Waverly Hotel, where we destroyed the elevator). I feigned sleep and got out of the a-- whipping. Larry the Rat says, ' Do you want me to wake Ernest?” Mr. Laas said, “Nah, let him sleep” .... as I cowered under the covers. That's another story.

Corporal Punishment? Yep, but it wasn’t mandatory. You could take a couple of whacks across your behind OR take a week’s suspension from school. Nowadays, if a teacher tried that, they’d be sued, after they were fired.

I don’t recall anyone ever opting for the suspension … and I think we all profited by the experience, even if it was usually from a large paddle Bill and Al kept in their office. Besides, the beating we got beat the one we WOULD have gotten had our parents were told our transgressions against the public good.

Ernie also contributes these memories:

There must be something magical .. about trombone players. Bobby Scott Fuller achieved in spite of all adversity. I think he would have been a good football player, and started out that way, except for a little setback. Went on to earn music degrees from the most prestigious schools in the country, and was a living legend at Jonesboro High School and the state with his choral groups. He could tell his kids, “Remember the pitch of this song we did two days ago? Well, hum that pitch, with no help.” And they did, and it was right! Spooky!

It was my privilege to be a summer guest conductor/clinician a couple of summers with him in the 70's at SIU (Southern Illinois University) in Carbondale. He did the choir, and I had the band, right? He told me once that one of the worst musical experiences he ever had was once, while working his way through school by conducting a mandolin band in an old folks home, two of the violinists started whacking each other with their fiddle bows. One must have hit a real clunker. I can't imagine anything musically worse than a mandolin band in an old folks home. It's a wonder Bobby Scott didn't turn out stone deaf.

Anita kept the balance though, she always impressed me as a no-nonsense lady with a great faith, and superb talent as a Registered Nurse. I'm glad the bass fiddle was for fun and the RN business was for real … with all respect, of course.

Their son, Chris, was a trombone player and last I heard he was a band director in north central Arkansas somewhere.

Bobby Scott Fuller, a real musician and teacher.

While we’re on the subject of Bobby Scott, let me contribute a few thoughts.

In 1952, the venerated Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine against polio – poliomyelitis – that worked. He knew it worked because the first people he vaccinated were himself, his wife, and their kids. The discovery was made just in time. The infection rate was climbing all the time; in 1952, it was almost 58,000 people, mostly children.

Nationwide testing was done in 1953 and, by 1954, we were all taking our sugar cube with a couple of drops of vaccine on it.

Polio was a wicked disease. Rarely did it kill anyone, but its other name, “Infantile Paralysis,” says a lot about the malady. It paralyzed, very selectively. In some, it struck the chest and required living in what was called an Iron Lung, like a big water boiler that your head stuck out of. The machine was required to run up air pressure, and then reduce it, so your lungs could suck in and then expel air.

In other people, it struck the limbs. This is what happened to the, until then, horribly active Franklin Roosevelt and put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

1954 was too late for Bobby Scott Fuller to gain any good from the Salk Vaccine. Sometime between 1950 and 1952, Bobby was a junior high schooler showing more than average promise as a football player. And then polio struck.

By the time I entered SHS as a freshman in 1952, Bobby was a sophomore. Now, in strictest terms, that traditional name for a tenth grader is made up of two Greek words, “sophos,” meaning smart, and “more,” meaning fool. In other words, sophomores are smart fools.


The encounter with polio seemed to have knocked the more out of Bobby Fuller. When I became aware of Bob, he was one of the most cheerful, most universally well-liked students in the whole damn school.

When Ernie referred to the end of Bob’s football career, he laid it to “… a little setback.” In saying that, Ernie was not being dismissive or making light of the subject. Instead, his term of reference is a direct reflection of the way Bobby treated it: an annoyance, but not the end of the world.

Bob wore heavy iron braces on each leg, and got around with the aid of two lightweight aluminum crutches, the kind where there’s a band to guide the arm, with most of the weight being carried by the hands and arms.

Now, you’ve got to understand that the term “handicap accessible” was a null concept in the 50s. Searcy High School was two stories tall, and the only way between one and the other (for that matter, to get up to the outer doors from the outside) was a narrow staircase at each end of the building, barely wide enough for two streams of kids, one up and one down, to pass each other.

Bob’s solution was to perch himself near the bottom of one and wait for the traffic to clear. While he waited, he’d ask someone to carry one of his crutches upstairs – if, indeed, someone didn’t volunteer first. When the between-classes traffic died down, Bobby would turn himself around and, one hand on the banister, the other on the crutch, heist himself up the stairs backwards (why backwards? Better sitting down hard on a concrete stair than doing a skull-first backwards dive to the first landing).

When Bob got to the top, he’d find that whoever had carried his crutch up had set it neatly between the banister and rail, handy for Bob to slip his arm into and hie himself off to class.

Now, I’m sure Bob had some down days, and some days where a little self-pity was bound to creep into his life – BUT I NEVER SAW ANY EVIDENCE OF IT, not in two years. He couldn’t march with the band, but he By God could sit in the stands and play with us there. After all, he was our first chair trombone.

He could go off on band trips, he could participate in music festivals, and he did. The few times when he needed a little assistance, those of us who could lend it felt privileged to do so.

Last time I saw Bob, he bore a disarming resemblance to the late British actor, Jeremy Brett, and sounded a lot like him, too, if you can imagine Sherlock Holmes (whom Brett portrayed a lot) with a vague southern accent. He still carries a cane, but it seems more as an affectation than a necessity.

I have not “vetted” this piece with either Bob or his wife, Anita, with whom he’s had a relationship for at least 53 years. The reason I haven’t is he/they would squall, “What’s the fuss? I did what I had to do. That’s all. Anyone else would’ve done the same thing.”

I don’t think so, Bob, not to have gained such universal respect .. including mine. I’m proud to have been one of your musical colleagues … and admirers.


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