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‘Minister of Culture’ sermonizes at Rocky River Senior Center

Plain Dealer reporter Michael Heaton greets fans while signing his latest book at the Rocky River Senior Center. (West Life phot by Sue Botos)

Rocky River

By Sue Botos

It could be said that printer’s ink is in Michael Heaton’s blood.

Speaking to a group at the Rocky River Senior Center, the Plain Dealer reporter and columnist recalled a childhood memory of his father, Chuck Heaton, a PD sports writer for 51 years. “Dad was at the kitchen table in his boxer shorts listening to an Indians game and banging on a typewriter with a beer close by, and I thought, ‘That looks like a good job.’”

Heaton kept that in mind, and since 1987 has been a writer and the “Minister of Culture” columnist for the Cleveland daily. “I love journalism so much. You don’t know what to expect when you take on a story,” Heaton, also the author of several books, told the audience.

He illustrated his point by recalling a story he wrote in August 2005 for the now defunct Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine, which he thought was going to be a simple 40th-anniversary piece about Clevelander Robert Manry’s solo crossing of the Atlantic in the 13-foot sailboat Tinkerbelle. What he got was much different than what he expected.

Heaton contacted Manry’s son Doug, and met him in the Willowick park named for Robert Manry, a former copy editor for The Plain Dealer. After overhearing a young girl refer to “Manry Park,” the son confessed that he “couldn’t get used to” hearing the park’s name.

Gradually the tragic story of the family’s life after Manry’s 1965 sail from Falmouth, Mass., to Falmouth, England – which was titled “Tinkerbelle: The Cost of a Dream” – unfolded.

After the whirlwind of parties and international publicity faded, Doug Manry recalled he and his older sister Robin being bullied and targeted for gossip by schoolmates for allegedly “thinking they were better than everyone else.”

A second sailing trip, this time in a larger boat along the East Coast with the whole family, was a disaster. Then in May 1969, their mother, Virginia, was killed in a freak one-car accident on the Ohio Turnpike. Robert Manry, too distraught to write the expected book about the second trip, remarried, but died of a heart attack two months later while at dinner with his wife and two friends.

Doug Manry took his share of his father’s estate and drifted between his home and England, where he hoped to recapture some happy memories. At one point, he told Heaton that he found himself homeless and sleeping in Manry Park.

Today, the younger Manry is a cook and an artist. Heaton said some of his work can be seen at The Brothers Lounge in Lakewood. Robin Manry, Heaton thought, is a waitress at John Q’s Steakhouse.

“As I was writing this story I realized it was different than I thought it would be. They (Doug and Robin) were like Hansel and Gretel; they ended up having only each other. I love journalism, every day is different. It’s an exciting thing to do for a living. I thought this was going to be a standard story, but it didn’t turn out that way. In some ways, I thought this made it a better story.”

Heaton fielded questions from the audience about his sister, actor Patricia Heaton, as well as inquiries about the future of The Plain Dealer, which will soon deliver to homes three days a week. He said he heard that some enterprising people planned to buy copies and start their own home delivery. “The tension is thick in the newsroom. But we’re plunging ahead. The future will be different,” he stated.

As for Heaton’s plans, he is working on a movie about legendary Cleveland rock writer Jane Scott. He revealed, “It’s kind of ‘Forrest Gump’ meets ‘Almost Famous.’ They say ‘the blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll.’ She was the midwife.”

 

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