Inside the Capitol

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Following Fred



      SANTA FE -- Exactly 20 years ago, Fred McCaffrey, the writer of this column during the 10 years prior to me, took a trip to Central America and the Caribbean to find his dream retirement spot.

        Fred and his new wife, Jan Lynch, decided to settle on the beautiful isle of Montserrat, a volcanic island located in the West Indies, a chain of islands forming the eastern edge the Caribbean.

        Fred had gone through the many years of training necessary to become a Jesuit but left before taking his final vows. He told his buddies he couldn't give up women. That may noAt have been the story he told everyone.

        Because of his Jesuit training, Fred landed a job with the bishop of the Caribbean heading a school on Montserrat. It sounded like a good idea but the locals weren't sure they wanted an American curmudgeon, which is how Fred described himself, telling them what to do. Maybe it's because we columnists tend to think we know just about everything.

        So Fred moved on. Soon he was writing political commentary for one of the two newspapers on the island.  As in many small nations, one newspaper strongly supports the government while the other is the mouthpiece for the loyal opposition.

        Unfortunately, Fred was working for the minority party's paper. The night before his 90-day visa was to be renewed, four big guys showed up at Fred's door to inform him that he was to be off the island before the sun set again.

        Now, that's immigration enforcement. We should try that here. Nothing more was heard from Fred. I was sending him $350 a month for six years in payment for his column. I figured he needed the money but I wasn't going to send it to an address that no longer appeared to be good.

        A call to Joan Murphy in Sen. Pete Domenici's Santa Fe office got the State Department on Fred's trail. Several days later they called to say Fred had been located on the island of St. Kitts, not far north.

        Fred got along fine there, managing to stay out of trouble. But just as his friends in Santa Fe had figured, Fred didn't last long in paradise. Soon, he was back home enjoying the action of New Mexico politics and a little more freedom of the press.

        Perhaps Fred had a guardian angel. Less than a year after his quick departure from Montserrat, the island was devastated by Hurricane Hugo. Ninety percent of the property on the island was damaged and there were many deaths.

        Then in 1995, the volcano at the north end of the island erupted, sending residents to the less-populated south end. That was fortunate, because two years later, a pyroplastic blast buried the capital city of Plymouth in 40 feet of mud. The only deaths were those who refused an evacuation order. Fred was the type to do that, had he developed a liking to the place.

        The island is slowly being rebuilt, although the mountain continues to spew an inch of ash a day and its lava dome has grown bigger than ever, signaling at least one more major eruption.

        Last month, we took a cruise following in Fred's 20-year-old footsteps through the Lesser Antilles. Montserrat is no longer on tour itineraries but we took a helicopter ride from neighboring Antigua to see the status of Fred's former paradise. I've been to Pompeii and Mount St. Helens and this was another scene of total devastation. It has created a lot of new land too.

       We then visited St. Kitts. I have a feeling Fred wouldn't like it much anymore either. A few years ago, its government decided that sugar cane could no longer support the island's economy so it would go the route of neighboring Nevis and so many other Caribbean islands.

       St. Kitts now has a very long dock, leading to what must be the biggest shopping center in the world. I've never been to the Mall of the Americas but we walked for blocks and were told we were still a ways from the middle of the shopping center.

       I've been thinking a lot about the dear departed Fred recently. I've been writing this column much longer than any of its previous authors. Fred bought it from Bob Huber, who wrote it only a couple of years, toward the end with Carroll Cagle. Huber bought it from Fred Buckles, who wrote it for a good 10 years.

        Buckles bought it from the widow of its creator Will Harrison, who started it as the editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican. After being fired, Harrison syndicated the column in many New Mexico papers, beginning with the Albuquerque Tribune. Before Ms. Harrison sold the column, she hired another noted journalist, Charlie Cullin, to write the column.

        That's not many hands for a column to pass through in more than 50 years of existence. Much has happened in my life recently. Dreams of paradise may be getting closer.

        One final note: I appreciated the additional suggestions I received for last month's column "You Must Be a New Mexican If" We'll have to do another one sometime.


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