Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Barbara Lou Allison Page, 1942 -- 2015

WINFIELD, Ill. – If the adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln is true, then Barbara Page’s years spilled over with more life than anyone could imagine for a girl growing up in a rural, Iowa farm town.

She was about seven months out of Charles City High School, when, in January 1961, at 18, in Des Moines, she met a small-town man, Bob Page, from Springfield, Ill., who happened to be a 25-year-old United Press International reporter, on the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives, where she worked part-time for E. Wayne Shaw (R-Charles City) while attending secretarial school.

It was love at first sight, many in the press corps observed, so much so that the “handsomely compensated” Unipresser went crazy, spending his “high” earnings that day on the biggest lunch he could afford for her – half a cheeseburger at a nearby restaurant.

A child bride, she was married six months later, at 19, and gave birth almost a year to the day after the wedding, when she was 20. 

Or, as she liked to tell her son, Doug, with a wink, “You were born on July 24, and we were married on the 30th.”

Hours after the wedding, they drove to Detroit, so Bob could take up his duties as the UPI bureau’s night editor. 

Their adventure was one only UPI could provide, moving them nine times during 13 years, with stops, in addition to Detroit, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, Boston, London and Hong Kong before returning to New York in 1974. 

She died Monday, Mar. 30th, at around 8 p.m. CDT, at Central DuPage Hospital, after battling Alzheimer’s Disease for more than 10 years.  She was 72.

In her prime, she could host and prepare a dinner party for anyone – from UPI reporters in Hong Kong, returning from covering the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, to the company’s senior executives and clients – without ever breaking a sweat. 

She was an extraordinary diplomat, gifted with an uncanny ability to engage in conversation with anyone, regardless of their corporate or social position.

Some of her best friends at UPI included Rod and Evelyn Beaton, Jim and Helen Darr, Bob and Angie Schnitzlein, Richard Growald, Al Webb, Vicky Wakefield, Frank and Mary Beatty, Leon and Carobel Daniel, Theresa and Joe Galloway, Sylvana Foa, Annette Holst, Tracy Wood, Arnold and Lee Dibble, Al and Diana Kaff, Marcia and Ted Marks, Luce and Claude Hippeau and Julius and Gabriella Humi.

She could also be very brave.  In the summer of 1969, while vacationing with her sons and Luce Hippeau, and her younger son, 9-year-old Roman, on an Italian beach, Barbara noticed Roman was missing, soon spotting him, as she told the story, about 100 yards offshore on a raft.  She swam out and brought him back.

“You saved my life,” Roman said to her years later.

Her survivors include her sons Doug and Steve, their wives, Liz and Theresa, and four grandsons, Jeff, Chris, Ethan and Nicholas.  Her sister Judy, her husband, Bob, and their children, Leslie and Bobby, also survive her as does her former husband, Robert Page, a retired newspaper publisher and a former UPI general manager, and his wife, Rebeca.

Barbara Lou Allison Page was born June 1, 1942, in Charles City, Iowa, to Phyllis and Raymond Allison.  She worked at the Darien High School library in Connecticut from 1984 to 2004 and moved to Illinois, to be near Doug and his family in September 2004, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years earlier.

She lived in an assisted living home, Belmont Village, in Carol Stream, where her health and mental faculty declined in safe, secure and warm setting while receiving excellent care.

She came down with a hernia three years ago and the best medical advice then, and again last week, was not to repair it because, as an Alzheimer’s patient, she wouldn’t understand the recovery. 

Her health declined so precipitously last week, due to an infection in her intestines, a result of the hernia, that surgeons thought she’d survive an operation but likely wind up on a respirator, which was contrary to her Do Not Resuscitate order.

She received hospice care at Central DuPage Hospital, in calm, peaceful setting, for about four days before dying Monday night.  She died pain free and her sons spent the weekend at her bedside, telling her they loved her and that she was the best mom in the world.

~ This report prepared with generous assistance from my dad, Bob Page.  The picture below, from Barbara's high school graduation, was generously provided by Leslie North Kebschull, her niece. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Recollections of Al Webb

Note:  This is a letter to a fellow writer, who asked for my recollections of our late, mutual friend Al Webb.

Walking into Al’s apartment was like entering the life of man who put his on hold.  The white walls were barren.  The furniture was old and any woman would replace it.  There was nothing in the refrigerator.  Maybe some beer and cheese.  Cat food, too.  Two or three were roaming or sleeping on the couch.

His most prized possession – the Bronze Star and its citation read by the Marine Commandant three years earlier, in 1980, for his actions in Vietnam – was on a wall just outside of his bedroom.  The “Mar-neez” he called them.  “Good folks,” he described them.

It was Christmas 1983, either December 23 or 24, when I arrived.  I was 21 and a DePauw University senior, spending my first semester in Strasbourg, France, attending classes at l’Université des Science Humaines de Strasbourg while living with a family in a nearby suburb.

Al was one of those fixtures of my childhood along with the likes UPI’s Roderick Beaton, Jimmy Darr, Tom and Frank Beatty plus Annette Holst, Ted Marks, Bob Schnitzlein, Bob Kaylor, Leon Daniel and Joe Galloway.  And there were others, including Danny Gilmore, Al Kaff, Julius Humi and Claude and Luce Hippeau.

Alvin B., however, was special.  Dad told many great stories about him and, as a result, I grew to admire him and wanted to follow in his footsteps.  To me, a wet-behind-the-ears college kid, being a war correspondent was the coolest.  So what better place to be, figuratively speaking, than at the knee of my hero, especially at Christmas?

The only other person I admired so much was Dick Growald.  Dick gave me a number of history books – many of which I still have – and it stoked my passion to learn the subject, becoming my collegiate major. 

I first met Al in 1973, when we were in Hong Kong with UPI.  Compared to many others, he was very down to earth, extremely confident, never put on any airs and didn’t treat me any differently because I was the boss’s kid. 

Al was a frequent guest at our apartment in Hong Kong.  The best story involved my younger brother, Steve, about 7 at the time.  One of Al’s cats went missing and turned up dead.  So dad gave Al a few days off to grieve and, that weekend, he was over for dinner. 

“So, Mr. Webb, I understand you have one dead cat,” Steve said.

Dad was so dismayed he felt obligated to give Al an extra two or three days off.


After settling in Europe in September of ‘83, I called Al two or three of times, and we always chatted at length.  He returned to London from Beirut that spring.  On my last call, in November or early December, I inquired about visiting him during the Christmas holidays.  No problem, he said.  Come on over.

I hadn’t seen him in four or five years, the last time likely being when mom invited him out for dinner to our house in Connecticut just before he returned to London.  He was always thin as a rail.  But when he opened the door to his Hammersmith flat, he was overweight and rumpled, with a full head of graying thick hair, along with his signature moustache, also graying, and glasses, wearing grey sweats.

Fun, talkative, curmudgeonly, with a soft side that every so often showed itself, although never too much – he was the same, old Al.

“I’m cute,” he said of himself. 

The game plan was to stay three or four days before departing on the 27th, maybe the 28th, for Paris to hangout with three or four co-eds, one of whom I was dating, sort of. 

As he showed me around his one-bedroom apartment, we picked up our conversation like we’d been speaking since last week.  The front door of his flat opened to a large hallway that included some shelves where he also placed the phone.  Reddish-brown wall-to-wall carpeting was everywhere but the kitchen.  It was big enough to sit in but we spent our time in the living room, where I slept on the couch.

Eventually, we headed to his neighborhood pub, where he introduced me to his friends and even pointed out a nice, young lady – slightly older than me, in her mid-20s and also a regular – with whom he said I should have sex. 

“At your place or hers?” I said.

“Hers, obviously,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll go ask her if she wants to fuck right now,” I said jokingly.

Needless to say, nothing happened.

At some point within the first 24 hours of my arrival, Al asked about my plans to return to France.  Classes started on January 3 or 4.  I was required to take a series of exams before returning to the States that month to finish my last semester.

“Why don’t you just stay until New Year’s?” he said. 

So I changed my reservations and added another day, but when he asked if I’d stick around again, I changed them once more, buying a one-way Air France ticket to Paris on the night of January 1.  (Obviously this was well before the days of terrorism.)  Maybe he was lonely.

Al arranged for us to have Christmas dinner at the pub.  He knew the owner/manager and his wife well.  They were great hosts and very welcoming. 

After returning from dinner – we were both inebriated – I said I needed to call my mother.  So we sat cross-legged in his hallway as I pulled out my AT&T credit card (remember those?) and phoned her.  After assuring her I was still very much alive and just fine and wishing her a Merry Christmas, I passed the phone to Al. 

“You know, Barb, he’s (me) a pretty good asshole,” Al said.  “That’s the best compliment I can say about anyone.”

They spent about 10 or 15 minutes, maybe longer, catching up, and I’m sure, especially given that she and my dad had separated five months earlier, she was relieved to know I was with someone she knew who would look after me well or at least as well as could be expected by Al.


I’d spent the previous three summers working for UPI in New York and Boston. In the summer of ’81, I was a copyboy in New York; in the summer of ’82, I was a summer relief reporter in Boston; in the summer of ’83, I was back in New York, working as a reporter on the Local desk.  Earlier in the year, in January, I snagged an internship at UPI’s London bureau for three or four weeks.

So we both knew many of the same names.  There was the general desk’s Lou Carr, Dan Chisar, Cathy Booth and Don Mullen.  Lou’s background plus his friendships with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg made him the most interesting.  One helluva an editor, too.  I was in love with Cathy and her shoulder-length red hair. 

I hated my job in the summer of ’83.  The editor I worked for was downright mean.  Her staff worked in total paranoia.  She was practically a recruiting poster for the guild.

Al knew her.

“She fucked (H.L.) Stevenson,” was all Al would say about her.  “Word is she’s as exciting as a warm milk bottle.”

Al’s harshest commentary was reserved for those who didn’t take the business seriously or were fakes and phonies or out for their own self-aggrandizement. 

He had little regard for The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, who he accused of plagiarism while working for him at UPI’s Beirut bureau, saying he lifted sentences and whole paragraphs from Middle Eastern journals. 

He snidely referred to one former Saigon hand, The Times’ R. W. Apple, as “Johnny Appleseed.”

Al always called his fellow reporters “hacks.” In 1986, when I was working for UPI in Philadelphia, dad phoned one morning, saying he was heading to New York for a reunion of all journalism types who’d ever been to Vietnam.  Could I come?  So I boarded Amtrak that afternoon and went.  It was a great time.

Al later told me he didn’t attend because he couldn’t see spending the money to hang out with his fellow “hacks” in what would have been “a trans-Atlantic piss up.”


Our routine was pretty much the same.  I was up first and in the shower and dressed before he was.  Compared to me, Al slept in, getting up around 9 or 10.  Usually I’d drink tea or coffee in the living room and read while he slept. 

Because Al never ate, I often woke up starving.  So after showering and dressing one morning, I tiptoed out for the nearest convenience store to buy bread and bacon and cook it back at this place.  He never seemed to mind.

One afternoon he surprised me by taking me to lunch at the original Hard Rock café.  I had many memories of going there in the late ‘60s.  He didn’t seem happy about being there but he was kind enough to entertain me, and I very much appreciated it.

One night, after we came back from the pub, having consumed one too many, he broke out all of his Vietnam memorabilia. 

When I first laid eyes on Al in the early ‘70s, he had long hair and glasses.  What I never guessed or suspected was how he looked when covering Vietnam, especially when he was out with the Marines. 

He was thin, in shape even, and his glasses looked huge.  He looked like a Marine. 

In fact, he showed me pictures of him at the Battle of Hue, just prior to being wounded.  There was one where he was holding rifle while leaning against a stone wall with about 20 other Marines.  They were firing at North Vietnamese troops. 

I caught up with Leon Daniel, who also covered Vietnam, shortly after joining UPI in Washington in July 1984 and he told me the same thing – if you wanted to go out with the Marines, you were required to carry a rifle.  How many former Vietnam War correspondents are, in disguise, combat veterans?  We may never know.

Joe Galloway, another former Unipresser and co-author of We Were Soldiers Once and Young, which later became a movie, made no bones about carrying a weapon in Vietnam. 

On the book tour, he told me, “Inevitably, some asshole would always ask if I killed anyone.  I always said, ‘I hope so.  They were shooting at me.’”

Al was also receiving letters from former Vietnam correspondents, which, if he had really tied one on, he would read aloud, shaking his head.  Some of them had the audacity to accuse him of practically being a Communist sympathizer.  As to who wrote these letters, I can’t recall.

Needless to say, it shows that the debate that raged in the United States about Vietnam extended to the press corps, which had a front row seat and lost a few of its own during the war.

Al’s politics, if he had any, seemed slightly left of center but, frankly, I’m not all that sure.  One thing’s definite – while he might have been intrigued by politics, he was no Washington reporter.

He was much more curious about the human condition, and I think that’s what made war so interesting to him.  He could see every possible human action – the good, the bad, the ugly – in a very short time frame. 

He downplayed the Bronze Star, saying it was as if some had been hit by a car and he was on the sidewalk watching.  What else was he going to do?  Helping was the right thing to do.   That said, he was incredibly proud of the award and always made sure to mention that he wasn’t the only reporter to win one.

During one of our drunken conversations, I asked him if war was romantic.  That’s probably a naïve question, but I wanted his perspective.

“Yes,” he said.  Then, looking at me directly, without smiling, he said, “If you survive.”

And I think that explains where Al was during our visit.  He was just shy of his 49th birthday and coming to terms with his life. 

He’d been roving the world since 1966, when he arrived in Vietnam.   The 30-something Al who showed up in Saigon wasn’t the same Young Turk when he left the Middle East in 1983. 

Plus he was unemployed, living off the money saved during his time in Lebanon, where he was on an expense account full time while working for U. S. News & World Report.  He quit the magazine that spring, shortly after the April ’83 bombing of the U. S. Embassy.  Had he not been waylaid at his hotel’s bar – I keep wondering if he had a premonition – he would have been killed because he was supposed to be in an office just above the explosion.

But, of course, he had to put on a certain bravado.  

"I made a lot of money just talking on the phone," he said, telling how the bartender passed him the phone as each and every English-language radio and television station on the planet called, looking for someone to provide an on-the-spot feed about the attack.

Another factor contributing to his outlook was the attack on the Marines in Beirut that October.  British television scrolled the names of the dead.  He was glued to his screen, he said, and knew some of them from his Vietnam days. 

I wonder how distraught he felt.  Was he alone in his living room, somewhat darkened because it didn’t receive a lot of daylight, holding a beer or a cup of tea, and if tears rolled down his cheeks, as he read the names?

Those two explosions got him thinking about his life, his own mortality and put him on the road to rebuilding it.

His application to become a U.K. citizen was making its way through the Home Office’s bureaucracy, and he was also visiting newspaper and news service editors, inquiring about working for them.

I also think Al was trying to teach a lesson.  He wasn’t going to lecture me but by allowing me to spend a week with him, seeing who he was and what he was going through, he was showing the ransom he paid for his war assignments.

There was no wife.  There was no love interest.  There was loneliness.  His only family was his daughter in Annapolis, Md., and they didn’t have much of a relationship.  There was probably some post-traumatic stress, kept in line with lager and ale.

Clearly, things had to change, especially if he was going to find peace with his past and continue for another day or for many more years. 


Al talked about being previously married and didn’t seem all that high on it, so I was surprised to learn he remarried. 

“Keep the faith,” he said, incredulous that anyone would seek him out for marital advice.  His own marital history – marrying the same woman twice and another woman once – told him this was not his area of expertise.

After graduating from college and joining UPI’s national desk in Washington in the summer of ‘84, I updated Al on my address and phone number.  He called in late August or early September, saying he was in Annapolis to see his daughter and asking if I could join him for brunch during the Labor Day weekend. 

I hopped a ride with a mutual friend and UPI colleague, David Mould, who was on the cables desk.  Like Al, David hailed from Knoxville.  We spent the afternoon eating, chatting and drinking.  It was fun.  It was also the last time I saw him.

Al’s daughter was just like Al.  She had his facial outline and all of his personality, which is probably what contributed to their spats. 

When I moved to Dallas, and later to Philadelphia with UPI, I’d call Al to update him about the company’s woes and what I was doing.  He was always very encouraging and supportive. 

I wish I’d stayed in touch with him after I left UPI in 1987.  But things like grad school, marriage, career and the births of our two sons got in the way.  Maybe they shouldn’t have. 

When I think about UPI, I always come to two very conflicting feelings.  I love UPI and I hate what it became.  It took me around the world as a kid and, as an adult, provided some intriguing professional experiences while allowing me to meet some of the most interesting people.  It’s also given me the ability to reach out to many who spent time with the organization, like you.

In 1985, when I was UPI’s Texas sales executive, we invited T. Boone Pickens to speak to an editor’s conference.  The company was in the depths of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.  I walked up to T. Boone to introduce myself and thank him for coming.  I then said, “You know, Mr. Pickens, given UPI’s financial condition, some of us think you should buy the company.” 

I meant it as a joke, figuring an oil baron like him would get it.

“Doug,” he said seriously, “We look at every deal.”

Holy shit, I thought, what have I done?

Fortunately, nothing.


Al drove me to Heathrow.  I was so hungover that shortly after checking in, I found myself against a wall being searched and questioned by a police officer.  After landing in Paris, I made my way back to that apartment, fell asleep and got up the next morning for an early train to Strasbourg. 

The next few weeks flew by and, sometime during the second half of January, I was in Connecticut seeing mom before returning to Greencastle, Ind., for my final semester. 

As the taxi left the Indianapolis airport for the dull, 45-minute drive to college, it occurred to me I learned more about life from Al than I did from any book.  I learned the price of success; the price of failure and the price of doing what you want to do just because you want to do it.  Nothing’s free.

In a letter with my sympathy card, I told Elizabeth that I’ll always treasure my memories of him.  He was a helluva guy, a great reporter and a fantastic writer.  May God bless Al Webb.


Best regards,


P.S.  UPI’s Hong Kong bureau in the early ‘70s was filled with characters.  There was Don Davis, the division’s assistant editor, who wore a Confederate military hat to these beach outings.  There was Ted Marks, a former Seal wounded by in a firefight with the Viet Cong before turning to journalism, joining UPI and returning to Southeast Asia.  He had a huge scar across his back where the bullet exited.  There was the division’s photo editor, Bob Schnitzlein, who’d regale us kids with stories about his commando raids with the Navy during the Korean War.  The typical attack involved sneaking up behind some North Korean soldier, deeply slicing their torso from their belly around to their back before saying, “Good luck, Charlie,” and leaving them to contend with their wound.

Danny Gilmore told me about his days as a radio gunner aboard a B-17 above Nazi-occupied Europe.  One day, the plane returned with three engines working; one day, it came with two; and one day it didn’t return.  The Luftwaffe put up every Focke-Wulf it could find to attack Danny’s plane, killing two crew members, wounding others and causing enough damage that the pilot gave the order to bailout.  Danny talked about his struggle to get out of the plane and that it was the Spanish Underground that got him back to England.

Mom and dad made sure I knew about Kate Webb, who spent 23 days as a Viet Cong prisoner.  I can still remember seeing her in the Hong Kong bureau one Saturday.  She was dressed in her trademark battle green fatigues and about my height.  I saw a hero.  I wish I said hello. 

Dad tells this wonderful story about the time he and my mother along with Bob and Angie Schnitzlein went over to Al’s apartment.  While dad and Bob talked with Al, mom and Angie snuck into Al’s kitchen to see what his in the cabinets and the refrigerator.  Nothing, they discovered – with the exception of cat food.

I believe there was also this time in Hong Kong, when Al and dad and maybe others made their way to the Repulse Bay Hotel, which had a veranda straight out of a Somerset Maugham story.  Anyway, it was in the morning’s wee hours and Al identified himself as something like the ambassador from Liechtenstein and demanded breakfast.  The night officer took their orders and then announced breakfast would be served at 8.  Only Al.