Cutting back on my columns, but not story tips from loyal readers

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

I’ll be turning 80 in a few months. Seems like a good time to let my laptop sleep a little longer during the day while I go take a walk.

I’ve been sitting behind a typewriter or computer for 52 years writing newspaper stories and more than 6,500 columns. I need to stretch my legs a little.

So, I’ll be cutting back to one column a month from now on, with an occasional two, depending on the story.

It was either that or retiring, which I failed at miserably when I turned 67. I wanted to learn to play the piano and get a part-time job at one of those hotel lounges down by the airport, tinkling the ivories while people had a great time singing off-key.

After six months of lessons I asked my instructor how was I doing? She assured me if I stuck with it I could probably get a job in five years playing for children’s birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese.

So, I came crawling back because there weren’t enough waves crashing on the beach at Malibu, crossword puzzles to solve, or books to be read that filled my life like writing one good column about a combat veteran or a person with disabilities overcoming the odds.

That’s where you, the reader, came in. You knew the kinds of stories I was looking for and you found them for me. Your tips kept me going.

I was doing five columns a week back in the 1980s. There was no room for having a bad day. The paper was holding a space open just for me, and I better fill it with something good, or somebody else would.

That’s when I started taping that dime to the back of my business cards and handing them out to cops, doormen, courtroom bailiffs, bartenders, waitresses, and anyone else who had eyes and ears on the street.

Here’s the dime, give me the call if you see something. And you called.

You tipped me off to Tommy Noonan, a special needs young man who was being honored as Employee of the Month at Valley Presbyterian Hospital. Tommy’s job was emptying the trash cans in patients’ rooms, and leaving behind a smile.

You knew I’d be hooked listening to his parents tell me about the mental health specialist back in New York who examined Tommy when he was a 4-year-old and had not yet spoken a word. His advice was to put their son in a home for the mentally retarded and walk away, start a new family.

They didn’t walk away. They gave Tommy all the love he could handle, and now 20 years later, he was standing up there on stage — a young man/child waving excitedly to his parents in the audience, fighting back tears as the hospital’s doctors, nurses and administrators applauded their Employee of the Month.

That story made me want to find more Tommy Noonans, and taught me to never, ever, write someone off — especially people with physical and mental disabilities. There have been plenty of success stories out there.

Your tip introduced me to Nick Heukrodt and Ashley Mee. They had grown up together on the same street. Nick had Down syndrome and went to Miller High, a special-education high school in Reseda.

Ashley grew up to become the beauty every boy wanted to take to the senior prom at Calabasas High. She was also the only girl Nick wanted to take to his special-education’s high school prom with a class of 10.

No parent wants to see their child heartbroken, so it was with a lot of anxiety that Nick’s parents watched their son walk down their street with a bouquet of flowers in his hand to ring Ashley Mee’s doorbell.

She opened the door, smiled at Nick, and gave him a big hug. “Of course, I will be your prom date,” Ashley said.

From their front window, Nick’s dad and mom watched their son as he walked home to tell them the great news. They swear his feet never touched the ground.

You tipped me off to so many great stories about local veterans from D-Day and Pearl Harbor right up to their lives as old men sitting in the Sepulveda VA waiting room for their names to be called to see a doctor.

They were all in love with the woman with the clipboard, Pam Murphy, making the rounds and taking veterans who had been waiting well past their appointment time right in to see the doctor. No one dared stop her.

She was the widow of Audie Murphy, World War II’s most decorated soldier, and these were “her boys,” as she called them. They had served with her husband and fought for their country, and now they were old and in need of medical care.

You will treat them with respect, Pam Murphy ordered. The doctor will see them now!

When she died, the chapel at Sepulveda VA was packed with her boys.

It’s tough to leave when you know there’s another Pam Murphy or Tommy Noonan to write about out there. Another Nick Heukrodt and Ashley Mee to lift our spirits.

Another great tip coming from you.

Dennis McCarthy can be reached at dmccarthynews@gmail.com.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.