Keeping Track Of Uncle Mack

10502429_944538671533_2387090454819837848_nFacebook obviously has its faults, but it’s got one huge virtue — it makes it so much easier to keep track of what your friends and family members are doing.  Take Uncle Mack, for example.  What’s the lawyer/saxophonist/actor/occasional Webner House contributor in the family up to?  It turns out he’s been working on a film called The Orangeburg Massacre.  Calhoun ‘da Creator’ Cornwell is the motivating force behind the movie, and his Facebook page has lots of information about it, including the photo above in which Uncle Mack is prominently featured.  A trailer for the film is due in the near future, and I’ll post it when I see it.

The Orangeburg Massacre is the name given to the incident in which South Carolina Highway Patrolmen opened fire on students at South Carolina State College, who had been protesting in an effort to achieve desegregation of a bowling alley.  Three African-American students were killed and and 27 people were wounded in the shooting, which occurred on February 8, 1968 — more than three years before the much more well known Kent State shootings.  Does anyone doubt that the relative notoriety of the two incidents has at least some relationship to the race of the students who were victims?  It is wonderful that a film is being made about the Orangeburg Massacre, 45 years later.

Some people retire and do nothing except work on their tans and frequent Early Bird specials at local restaurants; others use their newfound free time to explore new interests and expand their horizons.  Uncle Mack is squarely in the latter camp, and I think what he is doing is pretty cool. I don’t know anything about the movie or his role, but I am proud of his willingness to tackle it and, we can hope, contribute to greater awareness of a shameful, racist chapter in American history.

Bebe Webner

Bebe Webner died last night at the age of 86.  Our hearts and thoughts go out to my cousin Tony and his family, Uncle Mack and his family, and the other members of the Webner clan whose lives were touched by this good person.

Aunt Bebe has been a fixture in our lives for as long as I can remember.  She and Uncle Tony were frequent visitors to our house when we were kids, first when we lived in Akron and then when we moved to Columbus.  She was a sun worshipper who always had beautiful tan, a deft bridge player, and a huge sports fan whose biggest passion was Ohio State football.  Our family gatherings were frequently punctuated by her laughter and her memorable voice, with just a touch of gravel at its lower registers.

Aunt Bebe was one of those people who taught you a lot just by how they lived their lives.  She worked for years for an Akron doctor, babysat his children, and became a beloved part of his family.  She was widowed for 27 years and lived frugally, yet remained relentlessly positive about her life and the world at large.  Her birthday and anniversary cards always had words of support and were signed with her trademark closing, “hugs, Aunt Bebe.”  She was an everyday example of self-sufficiency who mowed her own lawn and kept her house in spotless condition until she moved to a smaller, more manageable apartment only a few years ago.

Even Aunt Bebe’s celebrity status as “Buckeye Bebe,” a huge fan and pen pal with former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, had an important lesson to impart if you were paying attention.  Aunt Bebe didn’t write to Coach Tressel to try to get an autograph or some item of memorabilia that she could sell on eBay.  Instead, she wrote because she cared and wanted to provide words of encouragement to a person she admired.  She figured that Coach Tressel could use some uplifting words every now and then — just like the rest of us.

Aunt Bebe’s final days had their own valuable lesson, too.  She knew the end was near and was fully prepared and at peace with her life.  She welcomed the chance to move beyond.

God bless you, Aunt Bebe!

 

Uncle Mack Acts Up

We’ve all missed the postings from Uncle Mack on the family blog lately, but now I’ve learned there’s a reason:  he’s been acting in films written, directed, and edited by Carl Kotheimer, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The first piece is called Grief, and appears above.  The second piece, called Desert Places, appears below.  A trilogy is planned, so I’m looking forward to seeing the third and concluding part of the story.  And for those of you looking for a little inside knowledge, I can tell you that the wedding photo that is featured in Grief was, in fact, taken on Aunt Corinne and Uncle Mack’s wedding day.

I’m biased, but I think my Uncle is pretty darned good in these two short films.  Of course, the fact that he is playing a grumpy old man probably helped.

Well done, Uncle Mack!  Well done, indeed!

ETA:  Uncle Mack requested that I take the links to the films down because the director has entered the film in a contest and the films can’t be published anywhere else in order to be eligible for the contest.  So, if you haven’t seen the films, you’ll have to take my word for it on Uncle Mack’s acting talents and wait until the contest is over.  If we get clearance to do so, we’ll post them again.

Diamond Dinner

A quick trip up to Akron today.  Aunt Corinne and Uncle Mack were in town, so Mom, Kish, and I went up to visit with them and Aunt Bebe.  It was great to see everyone and to check out “The Buckeye Room” at “Buckeye Bebe”‘s pad.

The quick jaunt was properly capped off by dinner at the Diamond Grille, which — as any regular reader of this blog knows — is a fabulous steakhouse and the source of many fond memories for Uncle Mack.  A few oysters, a glass of wine, some great conversation, and a perfectly cooked medium rare Porterhouse steak as big as a stop sign later, we were back in the car and rolling down I-71 to Columbus, letting the digestive juices do their work.

A Webner’s Webner

Soon Uncle Mack will mark his 70th birthday.  They’re celebrating the occasion tonight in Savannah, Georgia with an early surprise party.  I wish Kish and I could be there, but we can’t, so I’ll express my birthday wishes with this post.

First, I want to congratulate Uncle Mack on making it to 70.  In our long-lived age, 70 doesn’t seem like a big deal, unless you are part of a family where every male within memory has keeled over on the shy side of that milestone.  Uncle Mack, the younger Webner men — Tony, UJ, Bill, Richard, Russell, and me — thank you for breaking through that grim genetic glass ceiling!  Now we have a glimmer of hope that we might actually be able to enjoy our golden years.

When I was kid, Webner family gatherings usually included a heartfelt, if somewhat alcohol-fueled, speech about how ours was “the greatest family in the world.”  I think Uncle Mack truly believed that.  He’s always loved his parents, his brothers, his wife and soulmate Aunt Corinne, his kids, and his extended family.  He is the Webner’s Webner.

And, like any good torch-bearer, he carries qualities that characterize Webners.  What are they?  A sharp sense of humor and a hearty laugh.  A mostly stoic endurance of life’s slings and arrows.  An appreciation of a cold beer at a raucous family gathering.  Quiet support that often doesn’t get reflected in a hug or an emotional display.  A willingness to let people try different things — with the understanding that judgment eventually may be pronounced, in pointed terms, about the results.  (I think Laura, Betsy, and Billy will know what I mean.)

To these qualities, Uncle Mack has added a youthful exuberance and spirit.  Whether it be writing a novel about crime in the Washington diplomatic community, or becoming involved in a cultural organization, or playing an instrument in a band, he has always been willing to dream about doing something else that might just capture his fancy.

I know this because, when Kish and I lived in D.C. in the ’80s, I occasionally played Sancho Panza to Uncle Mack’s Don Quixote.  On one fine Saturday, he dragooned me into driving miles into the Maryland countryside to pick up lathes, band saws, and aged woodworking equipment, as well as a supply of wood, from an older friend who was giving it all away. Why?  Because Uncle Mack planned on becoming a craftsman, proficient at making his own furniture and other household items.  We spent hours on this exercise, drove back with a fully loaded Econoline van, and lugged the heavy metal devices into Uncle Mack’s inner basement, getting the van stuck in his back yard in the process.  To my knowledge, that equipment didn’t result in Uncle Mack becoming a master woodworker — but that’s really beside the point.  It was the dream that mattered.

Uncle Mack’s willingness to dream has served him well, in his career and in his life.  It propelled him to law school, encouraged him to move to the Chicago area, the New York City area, and then Washington, D.C., where he reached the pinnacle of the trademark bar.  He’s always been willing to try, often successfully, to push the envelope and move the law forward to allow greater protection of famous personas and other forms of intellectual property, and I think his imagination has contributed immensely to the fine career he achieved.

No one is perfect, and I’m sure Uncle Mack would readily agree that he isn’t the exception to that rule.  You try to be a good son, a good brother, a good husband, and a good father, all the while pursuing your career and providing for your family as best you can.  When you fall short, as humans inevitably will, you pick yourself up and work at it some more.   And when the retirement years finally come, you hope to have, as Uncle Mack clearly does, that spark and zest that allows you to retire to something, rather than merely retiring from something.  We can’t all have the verbal motivational gifts of a Knute Rockne — but a life quietly well-lived can be more deeply inspiring than the most fiery halftime speech.

I wish Uncle Mack a happy 70th birthday and hope that he has many, many more.

Aunt Corinne At 70

Today Aunt Corinne reaches the age of 70.  I want to wish her happy birthday and thank her for the special, and vital, role she has played in our family.

The five Webner children have been blessed with a trio of amazing aunts, each special in her own unique way.  Aunt Corinne has always been the intellectual aunt, the one who was not afraid to break free of the cultural constraints placed on women during the ’50s and ’60s, the one who encouraged reading, and thinking, and proper grammar and word usage.  (And let me tell you, there is no greater spur to developing a decent vocabulary and passable conversational skills than having a brainy and witty aunt who patiently corrects misstatements.)

Corinne Palmer Webner graduated from law school when few women even dreamed of a legal career.  She has always loved to cook and worked patiently on a needlepoint creation that hung for years over a special rack at their home.  She reads voraciously and was the first person I knew who extolled the value of a Kindle.  In short, Aunt Corinne has always marched to the beat of a different drummer — except in her case she is probably moving to the complex rhythms of a Bach cantata.

When Kish and I lived in the Washington, D.C. area in the early 1980s, Aunt Corinne and Uncle Mack were the nearest members of the family.  We spent a lot of time with them and their children Laura, Betsy, and Billy at their home in Reston, Virginia.  You could not ask for more gracious hosts.  Aunt Corinne always gave great advice (and, I think, gentle guidance) as we dealt with the beginnings of our professional careers, the early days of law school, and the first few weeks of parenthood.

At that time, Grandma Webner lived nearby, too, and Aunt Corinne and Uncle Mack bore the brunt of the many administrative and social responsibilities that come with caring for an aging relative.  Until you have done it, I don’t think you can fully appreciate what it means to field that ill-timed call for help, or to carefully explain the change in routine to a puzzled senior, or to progressively assume greater decision-making responsibilities for someone who is slowly failing.  Aunt Corinne did all this, and did it cheerfully and well.  We can never repay her, or thank her enough, for that.

Now she and Uncle Mack are retired, to their lovely home in the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia, where Aunt Corinne is re-doing the kitchen to her exacting specifications, giving that Kindle a workout, and doing what grandmothers do to make their grandchildren feel safe, warm, and loved.  Happy birthday, Aunt Corinne!  May you have many, many more!

Uncle Mack Hangs Up His Spurs

Yesterday I got an e-mail from William Mack Webner — known to me as Uncle Mack — announcing that he is officially retired from the practice of law.  His decision to retire marks the end of more than 40 years of practicing as one of the premier intellectual property lawyers in the country.

Mack Webner (right) at a 2008 conference

It has been a distinguished career, indeed.  Through his representation of the Elvis Presley estate, entertainers, and a wide variety of different commercial entities, Uncle Mack has played a significant role in the development of the law on licensing and marketing of personalities and protecting and enforcing trademarks and other forms of intellectual property.  As the American economy has grown to focus more and more on the value of concepts, brands, and ideas, intellectual property law has grown and adapted to respond to those developments.  Uncle Mack has been one of the agents of change.  He also has been very involved with his alma mater, the University of Akron, with various professional organizations, and with various community groups.  You might say that, through these different activities, people have seen him “in triple focus.”

Because of these other interests, Uncle Mack is not one of those people who have let their work define them, so that when they retire they feel lost and uncomfortable without a job to tether them.  I know he wants to work on his golf game (what retiree doesn’t?) and he and Aunt Corinne still have a lot of exploring to do in Savannah, Georgia and its environs.  He’ll keep reading, and thinking.  I expect that I will get book recommendations from him, as I always have; he was an enthusiastic proponent of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Watership Down, among many others.  Uncle Mack no doubt also will continue to be as open to trying new things as he always has been — whether it is experimenting with woodworking or finally writing that novel that he and I used to talk about when Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s.  You would expect nothing less from a man who made his career dealing in the world of ideas.