In Memory

Gregory A. Righter

Gregory A. Righter



 
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08/15/14 11:44 AM #1    

Richard E. Spellman

Greg Righter

 

            Greg Righter and I were Cheverly kids, growing up eight houses away from each other.  Early childhood days were filled with play; cops & robbers, cowboys & Indians, and war.  It was soon enough after WWII that our war games were filled with, what were then, socially acceptable epithets.  I doubt that there were leash laws for dogs and the neighborhood dogs played along with us.  Most kids got along.  Most dogs got along.

            We walked to the elementary school.  The path took us through some woods and across a creek.  When it rained, we wore boots and it was an excuse to walk through the creek rather than on the boards that bridged the creek.

            We were in the same Cub Scout den; Den 7 of Pack 257.  We would take turns meeting at each others’ houses and undertaking projects.  At Greg’s house, we once made ironing “sprinklers” for our mothers from cone-topped “Super Coola” soda cans, gluing cutout pictures on their sides and fitting a cork with a perforated metal sprinkler in the top.

 


Photo courtesy of Donald Hughes

 

            Greg and his dad enjoyed target shooting. Every Saturday, Greg and his dad would go to a range to shoot; one of Greg’s greatest joys.  The training he received at an early age served him well.  We were on BHS’s rifle team together and he later qualified as marksman in the military.   

            One summer day in 1957, Greg’s dad rode his bicycle to the swimming pool, went for a swim, and rode the bike back home.  He went inside and promptly died of a heart attack.  Greg was only eleven.  I could only imagine the grief and the fear that Greg must have felt.  I avoided him for a while; I did not want to see him cry and I was unable to express the sympathy that I felt.  Our parents were the pillars of our lives and the loss was unimaginable.  Greg’s mother, Thelma, entered the workforce and never remarried.  She was the secretary for the Cheverly-Tuxedo Elementary School for two years before becoming the secretary at BHS until her retirement.  Greg, too, was a worker from an early age.  He was among the first of us youngsters to be employed; paper routes, lawn mowing, etc.

            As we grew from “boys” into “youths”, we tested the world with our presences; we took up smoking in the woods.  We took up smoking and drinking alcohol in the woods.  Shooting guns in the woods.  Later, we got our driver’s licenses and were able to engage the world over a wider geography and with the recklessness of assured invulnerability.  I remember Greg getting his mother’s ’58 Chevy stuck in mud up to the floorboards down at Drum Point, where Joe McMichael’s parents had a beach cabin.  It took a tractor to get the car out and we hosed away the mud before he brought the car back home.

            Greg’s first car was a 51 Dodge that sported a manual-automatic hybrid transmission.  Weekends included cruising the Mighty Mo at Capitol Plaza, seeing and being seen.  One eighteen year old and four underage friends drinking at Fred’s Inn on identical photocopied IDs.

            Upon graduation from high school, Greg surprised us by joining the Marine Corps.  Parris Island and Camp Pendleton were but preludes to Viet Nam.  We wrote each other and I still have his letters.  In one, dated May 23, 1966, he wrote:

“Won’t tell you any war stories ‘cause I’ve worn out my imagination thinking them up.  Honest, just damn hard work 16 to 18 hours a day plus a few gooks snooping around at night and sniper rounds at night and during the day on the roads.” 

           

     By October 18th, imagination had been superseded by reality:

 “Three nights in a row now we’ve been hit.  This place is getting too f**king hot for me.  I sleep down at the motor pool by myself and so far we’ve had four trucks damaged by mortars.  One of my best friends over here is on his way to the states with shrapnel in his brain.  He can’t see straight.  God, I hope that they can keep him from being a babbling idiot.  These things make you kill and not feel the least thing.  I’m scared, Rick.  Tired and scared of this country.  Lay awake at night and wait for it to start.  Knowing somebody will get hit.  I had to hold the plasma for Chuck while the doctor tried to get most of the shrapnel from his head.  Christ, one minute you’re fine, the next you’re a torn body.  Guess I’m just feeling sorry for myself.  It’s a horrible feeling to be scared.  Hits you in the ole bread basket and knees.”  

 

 After Viet Nam, Greg finished up his enlistment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

            Returning to the States, Greg found employment with Greenhorn and O’Mara, a local surveying company.  Later, drawing on his Marine Corps truck driving training and experience, he drove a fuel truck for BP Petroleum.  He and his second wife, Cindy, purchased a tractor truck (‘72 Peterbuilt) and, as owner-operators, drove cross-country for Tri State Trucking.  I got a “Class A License” (easy in Virginia) and drove with Greg on some cross-country runs.  (I always let Greg drive in the cities.)

            As a “busman’s holiday” in ’77, we took an excursion through the Southwest.  Greg had purchased a used Oldsmobile Cutlass, one of the most ubiquitous models on the road and thus inconspicuous.  In El Paso, we parked the car and ventured into Juarez on foot.  Somehow, we emerged with no tattoos.  Further west, we followed old Route 66 and found inexpensive accommodations in the one-in-four motels that were still in operation.

            I ventured to Montana in 1972, having purchased some land as a member of a small group who had pooled our resources for the endeavor.  There was a need for someone to manage the place and I stepped into the position.  I doubt that I had been there a month when Greg showed up.  His companionship and help were invaluable.  Though my job was only seasonal, Greg would return also until he settled in Montana permanently.  In ’78, we moved an old schoolhouse onto my land and it became an “indoor camping” hangout for many years thereafter.  Through all the years there, regardless of the weather, Greg always slept outside; a sleeping bag in a camper shell on his truck was his preferred level of comfort.

 




Greg guiding the schoolhouse onto our homemade bridge

 

 



Los Hombres Malos

 

            Greg earned a reputation as a diligent, competent, trustworthy worker and he was able to find employment on area ranches and with hunting “outfitters”.  We worked some of the hunting camps together.  In addition to setting them up (wood had to be cut by hand as the camps were in designated wilderness areas), and packing them up, Greg also served as a hunting guide.  Having honed his packing and riding skills, Greg worked some of the “dude” ranches and took guests on pack trips.  One ranch was located outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Greg competed in the Jackson Rodeo.  His packing team won first place.  Greg once confided to me that he had always wanted to be a cowboy.  For a kid from Cheverly, he sure achieved that goal!

 




Greg at the X-A

 

 

            Greg was not one to back down from a fight.  I remember standing behind him in line in the BHS cafeteria when he got into a “dispute” with the student in front of him.  He started swinging away one-handed while holding his glasses behind him for me to take!  He got into another “dispute” in Montana one night, his adversary, Larry Lahren had been written up as “the toughest guy in Park County”.  Their “disagreement” began, verbally, in the Longbranch Saloon.  (Honest!  I sure miss those days!)  They went out to the alley behind the saloon and Greg socked Larry as hard as he could.  Larry just stood there.  Then he let Greg go.

            Greg was not afraid of marriage either.  Cass (Joan Cassell), Cindy, Jane, and Andrea.  I was best man at his first wedding; those that followed were less formal.

            He was also known for his wry sense of humor.  Once, as I was driving us on a primitive Montana road in a tightly-sprung vehicle, I swerved through a series of ruts at a good clip, managing to hit quite a number of the holes.  He turned to me and said, “Good job.  I was afraid you were going to miss one!”

            Greg’s truck driving experience gained him employment with the Park Service in Yellowstone National Park.  There he met Andrea, his fourth wife.  Initially, they worked seasonally on road maintenance.  Later he became full-time, road maintenance in the warmer months and operating a snow groomer during the winter to accommodate snowmobile traffic.  They lived in Park housing and got around with the aid of a snowmobile.

            Greg developed diabetes and, following an incident of poorly regulated blood sugar, lost his operator’s license and his job with the Park Service.  Having previously suffered a broken femur when a horse threw him and stepped on him, his until-now robust physicality began to decline.  He walked with the aid of a cane.  Gainful employment became more problematic.

            Greg and Andrea (of Shoshone ancestry) moved to the reservation but Greg eventually became disillusioned with the reservation way of life and moved, alone, back to the Livingston, Montana area.

            At Easter time, 2000, Greg returned to the D.C. area to visit with family members.  His sister, Gail, told me that she thinks that Greg knew that he was not long for this world and sought one last visit.  Like his father, Greg succumbed to a heart attack; Greg’s on July 13, 2000.  His obituary in the Livingston Enterprise follows:

 




 

            Gail said that she felt that Greg and I were like brothers to each other and I embrace the characterization heartily.  I sure miss Greg; one of the most resourceful, self-sufficient people I’ve known.  Missed, loved, and not forgotten. 

                     Rick Spellman

 

 

 

 


08/15/14 04:25 PM #2    

Linda E. Kay (Herson)

Thanks so much, Rick, for your thoughtful school and post-school days remembrances of your good, lifelong friend, Greg Righter.  Greg came alive once more by your recollections told in that classic subtle Spellman humor.   Oh, what a life he led.....he left you with so much to remember him by.   Thanks for sharing these intimate souvenirs.

Unfortunately, the pictures you mention didn't come thru...could you post them on the photo gallery on the reunion website?  Would love to see them....

Linda (Kay) Herson


08/15/14 08:30 PM #3    

Linda E. Kay (Herson)

Thanks, again, Rick for getting the photos uploaded.  Gosh, you guys would have loved living in a Texas, except for the politics....you look like you've stepped right off from a Hollywood film setting.  Where did Don H. Get the early school age pic of Greg?  

So nice to see these photos and that you could share your memories of such a good friend.  Take good care,

L..


08/15/14 09:41 PM #4    

Bonita R. Howe (Rowan)

What a beautiful tribute, Rick.  You honor the wild free spirit in both of you.  Thank you!

Bonnie Howe Rowan 


08/17/14 09:46 AM #5    

Jay D. Neel

Great tribute, Rick.  One of my most vivid memories or Greg is playing mumblety peg with him in his front yard.  I knew he was going to stick the kinife in my foot but his aim was so good it never happened.  From suburban kid to cowpoke -- what a ride!


08/18/14 05:11 PM #6    

Anita L. Harold

I don't know if Rick is coming to the site and reading all the comments.  If he isn't I just want to say a warm and big thank you to all who have added a comment. I remember Greg as wall as most everyone who lived in Cheverly.  All were a great bunch of people.


08/18/14 11:48 PM #7    

Richard E. Spellman

Yes, Anita, Linda, Bonnie, and Jay - I'm here and I very much appreciate your comments and your memories of Greg.  Having completed the memorial, I wished that Greg's mother, Thelma, was still alive to read it.  She passed away on May 1st, 2013 at the age of 99.  She came out to Montana when Greg died and we took a trip up to the schoolhouse.  She was thrilled to be there after hearing so much about the place and it seemed as though Greg's presence was everywhere.

It's great hearing from and about everyone.  My thanks to those whose efforts in our behalf are making this possible.

     Rick

 


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