Story mirrors similar tragedy of potential unfulfilled

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Stinger Vice President of Montana Operations Steve Patrick explains the bridge-building operation during a tour in February.

“Our job is only to hold up the mirror — to tell and show the public what has happened.”


— Walter Cronkite 


*   *   *

Last week was one of those weeks when a journalist will look back on and say, remember when?

Yes, we remember, but there are those instances we’d just as soon forget.

Somehow, all the years and millions of typewriter and keyboard keys depressed cannot erase the memories.

Sometimes, a tragedy like the one that took the lives of Stinger Welding CEO Carl J. Douglas and employee John Smith harkens back three-plus decades to a similar snowy evening when a heavy-wet snowstorm brought down a single-engine Cessna.

I was just weeks out of college, and not really prepared for what an Illinois State Trooper and I found in a corn-stubble field. The images are vivid still.

On that April night 33 years ago, inclement weather played a part in bringing down a small aircraft that took the lives of three people, one of whom was just a boy of 10 years.

And, while the investigation of the Douglas accident is yet to be completed, the result is the same: A small aircraft was lost in the blinding nighttime snowfall, coming down in a disaster. 

I knew nothing of the boy in the Pittsburgh Steelers jacket who perished with his parents in that crash so many years ago. All I know is he and his parents died as they tried to reach family for an Easter weekend.

Douglas and Smith died the same way, trying to get to their Stinger family. And while I didn’t know the lad and his parents, I did come to know Carl Douglas as someone who fiercely defended his company as he worked to keep a corporation afloat in tough economic times without the aid of a federal highway bill that could have provided multi-million dollar contracts.

No, Carl Douglas didn’t like to hear from me when I made inquiries that ultimately affected his business and his workers.

Similarly, I got no pleasure from hearing him struggle to answer. Ultimately, Douglas stopped trying to answer.

Just as it was his job to defend the company he had built, it is my job to ask the questions. 

Actually, I always thought one day, I’d get the opportunity to sit down with Carl and clear the air, explain to him it is my job to make the inquiries.

It wasn’t until his death that I learned Carl and I were just about the same age — he was a 1977 high school grad, and I was two years earlier.

Instead, I came to know him from others as our staff here at The Western News put the proverbial “Cronkite mirror” up to reflect on Carl Douglas and his final days and minutes.

In the end, Carl Douglas’ story was a biography and not an autobiography. ... Told to all of us by Libby Patrolman Darren Short, Swede Mountain resident Shannon Myslicki, Ron Denowh, the family members interviewed by our Publisher Matt Bunk and reporter Ryan Murray and even an executive at the Libby Stinger Welding operation who previously introduced himself to me only as “I’m Mr. No Comment.” 

All of these people are hurting for a man who built a company and died too soon.

I have no doubt under Douglas’ leadership Stinger Welding would  have succeeded, and we hope it does in his absence.

To hear his family members describe him, Carl Douglas was a loving husband and a great father, and I’m sure that’s the way he was reflected in the “Cronkite mirror” of his employees.

And like that lad in the Steelers’ jacket, it’s my guess Douglas hadn’t reached his potential either.

 I just wish I had gotten the chance to know them better.


(Alan Lewis Gerstenecker is editor of The Western News. His column appears weekly.)

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