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Drinkwater with Laughter in a Dry Heat

January 4, 1998

Herb Drinkwater
I found an old bumper sticker from when Mom and I arrived in June of 1966 to the “Valley of the Sun.” Amid red and white bumper stickers stating, “DRINKWATER” – she figured it a slogan for the “dry heat.” Course, this from the lady who read the brown trucks as “Ups” for handling air-mail, and convenience store signs as a brand for “the O-K Mart” rather than Circle K.

A City-built block wall stopped short along our property creating several on-going problems. Getting no cooperation, she called the City Council and asked for “this Drinkwater guy” because she “liked his energy.” All this from a photo too. The next day, a balding gent was unloading concrete blocks. A lot more than a fence was built that afternoon in 1970. Thanks Mr. Drinkwater.

Honored with being elected Coronado High School President for 1971, a kid too young to vote received “Congratulations” from one councilman. “Follow the decisions of your head with the feelings of your heart” and “Call on me if I can be of service.” Thanks Councilman Drinkwater.

Many have seen the windows I painted for Christmas and Harkins Theatres. Herb began that in the early-70’s, asking me to paint his Drinkwater Liquor & Cheese windows. I told him I had never done that and was told, “I have never run for Mayor.” That Christmas began with Santa nursing a tequila, reindeers gulping Moosehead Beer. We later snuck stealthily to paint the windows on his tan Suburban with a Cowboy Claus, and a Santa-Herb on City Hall. Surprises continued for 15 years. Thanks Herb.

Once while his son Mark was shorter than me and dusting shelves in their store, I sat on a milk crate as Herb struggled to keep his broken chair upright. I had no strong male images – and we discussed dating. In the tiny cubbyhole office loft from where he commanded his business he coached me with, “Every girl you meet – is my daughter Jamie, is my wife Jackie, is my mother, is your mother.” I found he prepared me for conducting such responsible discussions with the kids of a few other single mothers down the road. Thanks Herb.

In 1977, working at the Chandler McDonald’s, I learned my mother had been attacked. Jumping in my sports car, I cut through the Indian Reservation to make it to Scottsdale Memorial on Osborn in record time. Our bald-headed angel was there to meet me – and pacify the Tribal police, the Chandler cops, and the Scottsdale officers. After seeing Mom, I took my fury out in the men’s room to emerge and find Herb with that mischievous gleam. We discussed responsibilities, of sons and of citizens – and returned the next day when I learned to patch walls. Thanks Herb.

During the campaign that began his career as Mayor in 1980, Mom arrived late after stopping to help with a stalled vehicle. In reply, Herb assembled two emergency kits and scheduled us to attend a first-aid/emergency seminar. Thanks Mayor Herb.

Neither Mom nor Herb was keen on retirements. While keeping books for Paulo Soleri in 1984, the employees threw a surprise birthday bash for her 69th. The Mayor arrived, proclaiming it “Esther O’Rourke Appreciation Day.” Thanks Herb.

In December of 1987, Herb was the first one I called after my mother died soon after “a routine surgery.” I was hurting and suspicious. He stepped aside from being the City’s in-house cheerleader. “Do what your inside says. Whatever you decide. If you pursue it, do it 100%, leave no leaf unturned.” The leaves revealed a lot. Thanks Herb.

Herb and Mark were two of Mom’s pallbearers. Gary Puckett cancelled a concert to sing at her service. He told the Mayor he had heard a lot about him. Herb beamed, “And I don’t even have a hit record,” before pitching the legendary singer to move to Scottsdale. As Mom’s casket was shut, I turned to Herb – but it was the first time he was not there for me. His face was down in his strong hands weeping – so Mark’s stout shoulders received my tears. In the service, Herb spoke over her. I never heard him so eloquent, before stumbling at the end. Mark said, “He was having trouble because he knew he was telling his Esther goodbye.” Thanks Herb.

Nine months later, my father was heavily on my mind. Though we spoke at times, I had not seen him in 22 years. Herb reminded, “always play your hunch.” That night I wrote a healing letter that the busy Mayor proofed for me. Two weeks later I received a call from Kansas that my father had been hospitalized. He died in my arms, the worn letter found in his belongings. Thanks Herb.

I interviewed Herb a few times as to his success as a businessman, a leader, and a family man. When he read an article I wrote in 1991 following Michael Landon’s death, it provoked a revealing conversation of winning. Herb felt, “Mike won against the cancer as he never gave up.” He observed, “He did not give the disease the power.” Herb felt, “Nothing could take Mike’s soul or the memories he created.” Herb saw Mike won in the greater scheme of things. Thanks Herb.

It was late 1995 when I nervously made Herb aware of my decision to pursue my dream to write full-time. He asked, “Which scares you more? To try at what you love and fail or, to skip trying and do something else?” Then, “Make a decision you can wake up to, until you quit waking up.” Thanks Herb.

Like many others, when Herb said he’d return to full health I had no doubt he would. In early 1997 I wrote him a letter, thanking him for all he had given me. I’d told him before that I loved him, but I just wanted to follow my hunch to tell him in writing. Glad I followed those hunches.

The end of December closing 1997, I wished I was about 6 inches taller as Mark and me talked of his father’s death. I wanted my shoulder to be up there for him to cry on. Course, even Jamie is taller than me. Jackie gave me a pair of Herb’s boots. I know I can never fill them, but I’d like to think I’m following in his footsteps. I give thanks to the fine examples he set for me in love and honesty. In being a partner, a husband and a father and a friend, a citizen of Scottsdale as well as a citizen on this blue-green marble spinning in space.

I may only need a small piece of tissue so that the boots do not slip when I sign my first book contract, but I am not thinking anyone could fill his boots. While I am not nearly all he saw I could be, any success I achieve has been molded in part due to the direction Herb Drinkwater offered my life. Thanks Herb. I miss you.

Pierre O’Rourke is a writer and producer, and long-time friend of Herb Drinkwater & Family.

Reprinted with permission of East Valley Tribune

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