(HISTORY) STRANGERS WHO BECOME FRIENDS

By Jug Varner

February is Black History Month in America and I would like to share a brief incident that gave me the pleasure of meeting an conversing with an interesting gentleman who impressed me greatly.

We were standing in a long line at the local supermarket when I noticed a Department of Defense insignia on his cap. I asked him about it and he said he had spent 35 years as a Civil Service employee in the office of the Secretary of Defense before his recent retirement. He and his wife had moved from the Washington D.C. area to Sarasota.

He said his name was Smith, but because he spoke almost in a whisper I couldn’t understand if he had included his first name. I thought perhaps he had a cold until he told me he was recovering from throat cancer. I expressed hope that the prognosis for remission was favorable and he said that his doctor thought he had an excellent chance for full recovery. “You may not know this,” Smith added, “but Sarasota has some of the finest doctors in the world.”

The line was moving slowly as we continued our piece-meal chat. He smiled knowingly when I said I was retired from the Navy and that I had temporary assignments at the Pentagon many times during my 26+ year naval career, but no permanent duty there.

Smith asked several military trivia questions, such as how many Defense Secretaries and 5-star admirals and generals could I name? He had them all on the tip of his tongue while I had to think seriously for the answers. His was practical knowledge learned on the job. Mine was part job related, part history.

We continued in line while he told me of several black engineers, inventors and others not well known publicly, whose contributions were special - including one who was the inventor of the street intersection traffic signal light.

Before we could further the conversation, we were at the front of the line and each checked out at the register. He had to rush to another appointment and I regret that I have neither the first name or telephone number of this intelligent, experienced gentleman.

Hopefully we will meet again at this store or some other venue. I believe we could become good friends.