Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Fan Club, Part 1

When I was a little guy, I did what most little guys did: wrote fan letters to my favorite athletes, actors, etc etc.

Before the age of 11, I amassed things like:

[] a signed photo (it was a stamped autograph) of Rich Little, the impressionist;

[] a signed (I’m not sure whether the autograph was stamped or hand-signed) photo of Bobby Orr, only the greatest Boston Bruin who ever lived;

[] a team photo of the 1970 Minnesota Vikings (don’t ask – I must have liked the uniforms – come on, I was four!); and

[] a series of signed (really) photos of on-air personalities from Boston radio stations like WBZ-AM (Dave Maynard, Carl DeSuze, Bob Raleigh, Larry Glick), WHDH-AM (Jess Cain) and WEEI-AM (the legendary David Brudnoy, before he became a ‘BZ icon).

I admired plenty of famous persons, from TV and movies and sports and such. But the autographs and form letters only occasionally had something that might maybe have personalized them (“To Rob, Keep listening! -Bob”). I’ve not really ever been on the other end of that relationship – never been a Famous Person writing thank-you notes to his fans! – but I can imagine that the more Famous a Person you are, the harder it is to really genuinely connect with anyone out there.

I found my first example of someone who really DID genuinely connect, in 2008, and she became my first genuine Brush With Fame.

As a teacher on summer vacation, I was therefore awake at a ridiculously wee hour watching live coverage of the Beijing Olympics: crew and men’s field hockey and water polo and handball (now THERE’S a sport for another post) and all those non-prime-time, non-gymnastics, non-track-and-field sports that get no press whatever. And I saw something that the world missed almost completely.

Her name was Mary Whipple; she was the coxswain of the US women’s-eight crew team; she was about five foot nothing but OH, was she in charge! And the women’s-eight race was shown live on network TV at that ridiculous hour. And the US team won it. Start to finish, in the lead.

When I was a little guy, I would have had to somehow find the mailing address of US Rowing, or something. From the public library? Good luck. But thanks to the Internet and all, it was easy, at 2:30 am Eastern time, to write and send a Fan Letter by eMail. Here’s what I sent:

“Ms. Whipple,

“To be clear: I DID know what crew was before it got on TV this weekend. I see it going on, on the lake at the edge of Worcester, MA, where I live; and a childhood friend of mine was a coxswain at Connecticut College. But seeing the women’s eight do their thing in China yesterday… and then get to hear the Banner played… well, forgive the doggerel:

“We saw tiny gymnast people / And that brawny swimmer guy

But the memory that I’ll keep’ll / Be none of those, d’you know why?

Wire-to-wire upon the water, / Winners!, that U.S. octet

D’you believe it? Well you oughter: / Other boats ain’t finished yet

Rich guys in Beijing play roundball / Phelps will get endorsement deals

Track stars sometimes to the ground fall / But rower women, they got wheels!

All the sports the guys on TV / Thought that we’d appreciate

Can’t compare to Whipple, Mary, / And those awesome rowin’ eight

“Sincerely, and I mean that, …” signed, me.

I hit “send” not expecting, certainly not requiring, a reply. Just thought the team deserved at least one fan letter – they looked like Good People. But a day or so later, I got one. Somehow, even though she had just won an Olympic gold medal; even though she was still in China; even though she probably should have been out celebrating the victory … Mary Whipple still took time to write a short eMail reply. No pre-stamped photo; no boilerplate “keep watchin’ crew!” – but a real reply from a real person. “Thanks Rob, I’ve never had someone write a poem about my team and I. I really appreciate it and enjoyed reading it. It was amazing to hear that we made USA proud of us. Thanks again, -mary”.

And that’s how you start a fan club.


September 13, 2010 - Posted by | celebrity, entertainment, Facebook, Famous Persons, media, radio, social media, sports, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Nice one, Rob! I love getting REAL responses, though they are rare these days. Great story 🙂 Keep writing!

    Comment by jables | September 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] may find admirable. During the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China, for me it was US crew coxswain Mary Whipple. In Sochi last week, it was unquestionably the US’ youngest gold-medal-winning skier, Mikaela […]

    Pingback by What Have We Learned?: Sochi Edition « Editorial License | February 25, 2014 | Reply

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