Eddie Leavitt Jr.: Bye-Bye Mookie

December 16, 2011

Eddie Leavitt JrAll his children wept. Tuesday, September 3, 1996 when their father did not come down for breakfast, tears flowed from the pages of his books. `Simon Potter, Lazarus, Hafid, John Harding, Matt Lawrence, little Kathy and Timothy, Mark Christopher, Bart Manning, Patrick Donne and Joseph of Arimathea.’ The real ragpicker who breathed them alive was gone, after pitching parables from a typewriter producing 18 best-selling books published in 21 languages with Braille versions. The Greatest Salesman in the World, A Better Way to Live, The Christ Commission, The Choice, Return of the Ragpicker. Og Mandino, the Greatest Storyteller in the World, had died at 72 years young.

His literary characters live through over 35 million fans, their tears mixing with those of his earthly children – Dana, Matt and Lynn, and his friend and wife Bette. Enough tears to fill the Walden’s Pond he constructed seven years ago outside his summer home and office in Antrim, New Hampshire. A home of love where he died as he was held by the woman everyone knew he was “crazy about.”

That pond, originally a creation in the mind of Thoreau, is but a mere puddle to the outpouring of the love around this man named Og. This cascading river of love could replenish all the deserts (and even the sand traps) of Scottsdale, Arizona where the Mandinos made their home since 1976.

Replenish. Og replenished lives! His own was not at all an easy one – even lost a family on his rocky road. In his travel he went on to forge a life, living and legacy by offering support for others to enrich their lives through his writing of hope, tenacity and persistence. His `hand-of-God’ books created maps in the guise of parables for legions of business people, his peers, celebrities and all of God’s children – offering the opportunity to salvage their own lives. And this time he remembered the value of his family.

As word went out that the great wordsmith was gone, tributes began. The funeral was held Saturday the 7th at the small church where Og and Bette were married 38 years prior. The swing music of Benny Goodman greeted a tapestry of guests. All ages and walks, neighbors, Og’s golf cronies, members of Bette’s sewing circle, and the famous. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, Les Brown and Gladys Knight brought their love in person to the little town of Antrim. And I am sure Og giggled as the bewildered local florist received orders for arrangements from Johnny and June Cash, Michael Jackson (from Prague), Matthew McConaughey, Cindy Landon, Jerry Reed, Buddy Ebsen, Dr. Wayne Dyer and Taylor Dayne.

Production and concert schedules caused many to receive the news late and resort to phone calls and telegrams to the home and office. Heartfelt messages came in from Don Johnson who had autographed copies of

Og’s books see him through recent challenges. Others included Larry Gatlin, Gary Puckett, Sondra Bullock, Alex Cord, Lee Horsley, Denver Pyle, Willie Nelson, Burt Reynolds and fellow Air-Forcer Jimmy Stewart.

Augustine A. Mandino, a child of Boston, looked quite dapper and at peace. Bette had foregone the power suits and ties so many saw him wear and opted for tan sweater over a collarless black, tan and white woven shirt matched to comfy trousers with his favorite loafers. And the ever available handkerchief and comb were in his back pocket.

Folks were told to “sit loose” as Jim Adams began the eulogy. A student in seminary school, Og had kidded him to graduate so he would be ready to do his funeral. Jim correlated the story of Jesus inviting the fisherman to breakfast, with the author skipping breakfast on Tuesday to join the Lord for breakfast.

Fellow peers from the world of speakers followed. John Hammond shared the tale of his persuading Og to deliver his first speech only to have him get cold feet and attempt to cancel the day of the event. That was hundreds of speeches ago to capacity filled auditoriums. Dr. Jim Tunney spoke of the teachers in his own life leading up to meeting Og. Placing an empty chair before the light blue casket he recreated the scene where the world reknowned speaker received the Golden Gavel for the Masters of Influence from the National Speakers Association, relating how Gladys Knight had brought the childlike Og on stage and sang “You’re the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me.” As Og would say, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Karen Weidner compared her friend to Noah as another “seed in this world planted by God.” Thirteen year old granddaughter Danielle carried on the writing torch with her poem “Someday Again.”

Dr. Lou Tartaglia was the best for reminding us of Og’s humor, describing his manuscripts as “dirty dancing – with a slow, sensuous dance which got next to your soul.” He added that “if Mother Teresa is a pencil in God’s hands, then Og surely was an IBM Selectric Typewriter.”

Og’s sons were as eloquent as “the old man” in delivering their good-byes. Dana said his father taught

him it is okay for a father to kiss and hug a son no matter their age, “a pleasure I enjoyed from my dad right up until the last time I saw him.” Matt shared his favorite of his dad’s penned works. Rather than an excerpt from a book it was “A Letter to Two Sons” written Christmas Eve of 1968, read over thetwo boys as they slept. The tone was one of concern he and Bette were teaching them what was important. Count their blessings, help others, respect – love. Og and Bette succeeded with them, and millions of others.

Og knew his success was not a solo effort. His accredited love and respect for three female pillars sticks with me. His mother Margaret who took the Highway to Heaven before his first book was published – his “gal”

Bette whom I believe breathed more life into Og than she knows – and his “booking agent plus” Cheryl Miller of Speakers International. Salutes and thanks to these wonder women for being a part of and for giving us Og.

The day I was leaving I walked through Og’s colorful and lush gardens. I remembered the scene from “Phenomenon” where the dying man shares an apple with his young friend, explaining how one can live on through another. I ate a tomato, an apple, a plum and some blueberries. Oh, I know the essence of Og Mandino will never die, never go out of print so to speak. His spirit can now be with more folks at one time than that 6-foot-plus frame could ever muster. Already some are witnessing this, and again his humor. Though of late the angels on my shoulder are getting kind of crowded, I trust he knows he is welcome. Wanted.

I cried because we weren’t through playing together. At least I wasn’t. He had told me, “Sometimes our plans don’t match the Master plans. But give it a shot!” In prayer I told him all the things I regretted not getting done with him and for him. In prayer I thanked him for all we shared and what we did do. I wondered if we are ever totally ready for someone we love, to go? I figured Og would say, “The trick is to make sure the memories outweigh the regrets.” Finishing off the blueberries, I made two promises.

Everyone, including Og, has speculations as to Heaven. I reckon he is off to play with his heroes…Colderidge, Hans Christian, Faulkner, Milton, Carlyle and most certainly Thoreau. I also figure there’s a little heavenly sofa with an old basset hound whose eyes have been at half-mast faithfully waiting for Mister Og. Now Heaven echoes with the barking of Slippers, gleeful to have his old buddy back.

I already miss allowing him to call me “Babe,” a signature he bestowed upon many yet it always felt like it was yours alone. I thank you Og, for the flames you fan in me even in your passing. You are the greatest. Take care Kid.

Pierre O’Rourke was a friend of Og Mandino. He is a writer and producer in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Reprinted with permission of East Valley Tribune, Success Magazine, and the National Speakers Association