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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Sayonara, old girl: A farewell tribute from one scribe to another
By Pat White (formerly Pat White Gorrie)

[Tribute from a feature writer, Norway, Maine Advertiser-Democrat
February 23, 1983]

 

Bee Baxter, former columnist for the Advertiser-Democrat, took her own life recently while staying "for the winter" in El Paso, Texas. Following is a eulogy from a fellow writer who came to know the tiny, dynamic, controversial woman -- probably as well as anyone in this area did -- from a number of brief encounters over the past five years.

She probably anticipated the crowd; there at the memorial service in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Norway, and hoped whoever gave the eulogy would be honest but kind. She might have even guessed it would be George Allen and Jan Knightly, friends she had grown to love and trust in the span of one short year; and that Reverend "Bill" would pick the right hymn and read the right selections. It was all very beautiful -- and very sad -- and very honest. There can be no controversy over this one point: Bee would have loved the attention! She loved the spotlight.

I will go a step further and say, she also craved affection.

The attention was easy for her to get. If you projected disinterest, she would sweep over you like The Great Wave, impale you with the twin stilettos of her curiosity and brilliant mind, and leave you spinning as if in the wake of a tornado. You could hardly pretend she wasn't around. She was the Titanic compacted into a dinghy.

She emanated highly condensed energy and if you were without eyes, surely you would have felt her presence.

Being her target was really a compliment; it meant she found you worthy as a focus for her energies. If she found you irresistable, there was no escape. You would be forcefed the strong, scalding chicken soup of her will and personality whether you needed it or not.

The affection Bee needed was harder for her to come by. She tried every trick in the trade to win it but not enough came her way. If she was denied a warm response when she was being effusive or generous, she wasn't above reverting to sarcasm or earthy language in her bid to be at least "one of the boys."

Her compulsion to shock was like a live grenade -- and you never knew when Bee would pull the pin.

She could be sugar, spice, all things nice -- but hidden away in her pockets were a few snakes, snails and puppydog tails, too.

"I know I come on like gangbusters!" she said once. "I scare a helluva a lot of people off!"

That she did.

But she was human and vulnerable, sociable and hardworking, too, with great streaks of kindness running through her veins. Some only saw her as "insufferable." She was the opposite of "laid back" and said of herself, in that Tallulah Bankhead voice, "I'm always 'on camera'."

I remember her as a person who would poke fun at herself, a lot. She could be hilariously funny, warm, friendly, stimulating, compassionate and caring. She enjoyed zeroing in on the best in people.

She formed quick, sometimes inaccurate judgments, at the moment of meeting someone new, and usually felt she knew best how to size up someone's life and tell him how to live it more effectively, or dynamically.

She was sincere in this, I think. She really wanted to be a help and a support. It must have been deflating to her to have so many people reject her advice and express a preference to live their own lives in their own ways.

Bee thought of herself as a catalyst, and she was. She loved bringing people together and seeing good sparks fly between them. If you went to one of her gatherings you enjoyed the folks you met there.

Her drive and chutzpah surfaced very early on, when she was just a kid who stormed into a radio station and talked them into hiring her to play the piano. The playing eventually went, but the talk gained momentum, propelling her into the big world of national broadcasting. Being named McCall's "Woman of the Year", was only one of a string of honors that came her way. She rode high for a lot of years, lunched with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt; raised millions for migrant farm workers, mentally ill underdogs of every persuasion.

Her chutzpah drove her to college at the age of 60; enabled her to hang in there until she earned multiple degrees.

Bee came from a world harder and tougher, meaner and more competitive than quiet Norway, Maine can ever know the likes of. Maybe she was tough to begin with, and if so, she ended up tougher and harder -- honed to a fine, sharp edge -- and this is what made her a successful professional.

She probably erred in trying to settle here after Mel died; her energy vibrated the hills like a minor earthquake. She was a rebel looking for a cause, a mover and shaker who ran out of things, places and people to move and shake.


She was looking for a heart space. I heard her use the term last summer, on a day when she had me to lunch in her lovely little house and fed me homemade soup. Her mood was mild that day, sweet. She had never been so easy to be around. We sat out on her little patio and talked and later she played show tunes on the Piano and George Allen, who had joined us, sang along -- his rich beautiful voice filling up the living room and wending its way among the books and memorabilia and the patterns of sunshine on the carpet.

It was an enchanted afternoon and Bee, for the first time since I had met her, seemed 100% real, genuinely warm and natural, low key. There was no abrasiveness, no agressiveness, no monoploy on conversation or atmosphere.

I stood there by the piano, soaking up the music, observing her tiny, animated face and chuckling at her humorous banter -- thinking to myself, "If only everyone could know you, Bee; just this way, how loved you would be."

It was that same afternoon she touched on the subject of loneliness. She had plans and projects galore, her mind was as active and restless as ever, and she did not mind doing things alone.

But she spoke of LONE-ness, and that she could not seem to take. She spoke of her disenchantments; the "heart spaces" that did not materialize. I felt then, that she would leave the area, and I wondered if there was anywhere on this earth where Bee could find the "heart spaces" she craved.

Things don't always happen just because we need them to, or want them to. Sometimes we have to wait a long time, and sometimes they never happen at all.

For awhile Bee had it all. She had roared through Life like a fire engine. I think -- when she finally realized she had made all the important stops along the way -- she just decided to do one last, flamboyant thing; throw on the brakes and let the sparks fly, from El Paso, Texas to Norway, Maine, to Kingdom Come.

And fly they will -- like the tail of a comet -- forever, and ever, and ever.
 

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