Musings at Eighty

| August 2, 2015 | 0 Comments

The larger the island of knowledge, the greater the shoreline of wonder.
Dr. Ralph Washington Sockman
Christ Church, Methodist, New York City (1916-61)

As I approached my eighty birthday (July 29), friends said, “This is the big one, the Big Eight O.”

But I didn’t see it that way.

My family often complains; I am too dismissive of my birthday, but I disagree.

Birthdays are great things to have and the longer you live the greater they become, but everyone has birthdays and I have never thought mine more special than others; attaching greater significance, as it were, to Dan McAllister’s, Judy Berry’s, or Kevin McGarry’s, with whom I share this day (but only Judy and I share the year, 1935).

That said, if I have a “philosophy” about birthdays, it was best said by the immortal Leroy Robert Satchel Paige, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

He also said, “Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

I love what Satchel said, in both instances, because it fits me – moods, mind, and my sense of mystical union of soul and spirit.

I am still doing what I’ve done for 40-years, The City Club of San Diego; The Denver Forum; The Great Fenway Park and Washington, DC Writers Series; playing 45 and older baseball – little white ball, weighs six and a half ounces, has 108 red stitches, and if it hits you it will hurt you – writing; speaking; preaching; and, yes, mowing my lawn; trimming hedges and pulling weeds.

Am I blessed to continue what I’ve done these many years? Of course, and every night before bed I express prayerful gratitude – deep from within my soul’s inner self.

But, it’s not as if I haven’t had health issues. I have had prostate cancer (if I sang in our church choir at First United Methodist, I would be in the soprano section), more Mohs surgeries than I care to count (there’s nothing pleasant about Mohs), and a torn Achilles. Not one of which, save for the torn Achilles, slowed me one wit. And even with the Achilles, I still got on a United flight with crutches and a knee to ankle cast and flew to Denver to preside on a snowy day at a Forum luncheon with the founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the great Buck O’Neil.

I have also been asked, what are you doing for your 80th?

There was a “public” event a year ago (described below), but just family this time, as we wait for Tim and Lisa, Jessica and Juliette, to arrive from Virginia in early August.

The public celebration was last year at Qualcomm, when Jeff Marston, Sara Katz, Jan Percival, Maggie Brown, Jay Jeffcoat, Dan McAllister, and Mark Mitrovich, among others, put together a surprise party – and it was a total surprise.

Marston had led me to believe I was going to the Q to serve as master of ceremonies for Kevin McGarry, assistant football coach at SDSU and a Marston Mets teammate, on his same day birthday. As ruses go, this was quite perfect.

A lot of people came, people I care about, family and friends, including Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who presented me with a framed proclamation saying it was “George Mitrovich Day” in San Diego.

It was a lovely time, but I was slightly uncomfortable, as normally I am the one planning events to honor others, which is by far my greater preference.

But part of the committee’s planning, I was told, was to do it then, thinking I might resist something special on my 80th.

I have a number of friends, either in their 80s or about to be, Gloria Steinem, Rev. Mark Trotter, Dick Enberg, Irwin Jacobs, Mike Dukakis, Dick Lamm, Gary Hart, Ira Lechner, Dick Flavin and Malin Burnham. Every one of whom is just as active, just as civically engaged now as they were 10-years ago – or 50.

There is no quit in them – and there is no quit in me.

A BIOGRAPHY OF SIR THOMAS BROWNE WAS THE SUBJECT recently in The New York Times Book Review.

Sir Thomas, unknown to you. Probably.

Unknown to me. Yes.

Jim Holt wrote the review of Hugh Adlersey-Williams’ biography, but I thought the most fascinating part was Holt’s division between practitioners of plain and grand or “mandarin” styles of writing.

The division is deep, but when you read the list of “plain” stylists, Dryden, Swift, Shelley, Hazlitt, Matthew Arnold, E.B. White, Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Michael Lewis, you wonder who would go up against such titans of literature?

However, you are immediately confronted by Holt with the grand or “mandarin” stylists, Samuel Johnson, Gibbon, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Melville, Emily Dickinson, Borges, Sebald, and Virginia Woolf (and I would add, Winston Churchill).

Oh, my.

Shall I be plain or grand, Elements of Style Rule 13 plain or mandarin lofty?

Holt has made his choice. It’s not mandarin.

Not only is it not mandarin, he is wholly dismissive of those who practice grand versus plain.

This is very cheeky of Holt, to dismiss out of hand, Samuel Johnson, Gibbon, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Melville, Emily Dickinson, Borges, Sebald, and Virginia Woolf, but cheeky as it is, extremely, it also made for a fun review.

Here’s one paragraph from Holt’s writings:

“But the all-time standard-bearer for the mandarin style has to be Sir Thomas Browne. This 17th-century English physician and philosopher, living in provincial isolation from literary London, managed to cultivate the most sonorous organ-voice in the history of English prose. At a time when the prevailing plain style was growing dull and insipid (John Locke is an example), it was Browne who showed the way to new possibilities of Ciceronian splendor. In doing so, he became a prolific contributor of novel words to the English language. Among his 784 credited neologisms are ‘electricity,’ ‘hallucination,’ ‘medical,’ ‘ferocious,’ ‘deductive’ and ‘swaggy.’ (Other coinages failed to take: like ‘retromingent,’ for urinating backward.)”

So, while Sir Thomas was unknown to me, I am pleased, and no less intrigued, he became Hugh Adlersey-Williams’ subject.

AS TO THE QUOTE FROM DR. SOCKMAN, that began this column, I would add, it is one of my two favorites, ever. The other is from Machiavelli, but Dr. Sockman’s quote fits best here.


George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at,

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