A SERIES OF SHORT BIOGRAPHIES
By: Russ Felt
Somewhere in the past came an awareness of relatives and others who have been involved in unique events and experiences. This project is intended to bring attention to some of those people. They may be appropriately called UNSUNG heroes. They should not be forgotten. This is an attempt to preserve something of their stories. These biographies include Felt/Paesani relatives and friends. There are lessons to be learned from each of these people. The biographies are brief and there is much more that could be told about each life.
Sister Mary Kenny
Rae Marie Campbell
Wilfred Norman Maxfield
Note: Random House Publishing (9/2/2008) gave approval (in binders for family and friends) for using Chapter Seven in the McCain book in the biography of Francis Herron
Note: Sterling Lloyd Literistic Inc. (10/6/2008) gave approval to use Chapter Seven in the McCain book in the biography on Feltonline.com website
Approvals on file with Russ Felt- This is for the Herron biography
Francis ‘Josh’ Herron (Felt line)
Charles and Nina Felt Herron married and lived in
Francis enlisted in the United States Navy as a Seaman
Apprentice on 15 Aug 1934 in
Current Congressman and Presidential Candidate John McCain wrote a book about his father, John Sidney McCain, ‘Faith of My Fathers’. He wrote of World War II and his father’s role in the submarine service. Francis Herron served under John Sidney McCain
aboard the USS Gunnel from May of 1942 to June of 1944. Chapter Seven of the book offers insights of what Francis Herron experienced.
“The USS Gunnel served as a reconnaissance and beacon ship
for Operation Torch, the American invasion of
John McCain was loved by his men who referred to him as ‘Captain Jack’. “It is said that he made a point of knowing all about the personal lives of the men under his command.” The Gunnel had eight officers and 72 enlisted men on board and John McCain knew each one by first name. It was said that ‘Captain Jack’ knew who was married and how many children each had and who was single. He knew whose wife was expecting a child and which gender they hoped to have. It is reasonable that he knew all about Francis Herron and his life. He would even have known about Francis’ life back home.
After a night partying in
It is said that John Sidney McCain never lost the respect of the men who sailed under his command. He taught them their duty, as they taught him his, and he made them proud to carry out their duties. He looked after his crew. Francis Herron was one of those men.
On return from a patrol to
The Gunnel patrolled between Midway and Nagaski. On 18 Jun, near
The Gunnel submerged to 300 ft and remained on the bottom for some 18 hours. On 20 Jun this was the experience of the crew with everything being done to reduce the need for failing oxygen levels. Some men wept and some become delirious and one had to be strapped down. The crew grew toward ‘frantic desperation.’ “Now they were sweating out endless hours, fathoms down, exhausted, slowly suffocating while their sub faced the imminent prospect of lying dead in the water.” The temperature reached 120 degrees and the humidity was 100 %.
The decision was made to slowly surface and fight it out with whomever and try to run as the batteries were re-charged. The other option was to surface, destroy classified materials, scuttle the Gunnel and put the men overboard to be captured.
Upon surfacing, the Gunnel spotted a Destroyer but was not detected and the Gunnel ran for safety.
The Gunnel reached Midway some ten days later and the commander said, ”I suspect the men…were never so happy to see that dull uninteresting island.”
Francis Herron was there for that experience.
Norine Fox and friends vacationed in
USS Cobbler (courtesy Art Stapleton)
Captain William Holman’s Inspection Photograph
Francis is front left
(Follow-up email from Art received 3 May 2008 explaining the photograph above)
“Russ, the dress inspection was dockside at
I was not there at the time of the dress inspection, but I know the Captain and several others in the picture, including Lt. Clarke, the Electronics Officer as the first person directly across from Josh. It was taken just before I arrived on board about July 1946.
You are doing a very nice thing to save remembrances of people worthy of such attention. Josh was calm under stress when things would go wrong. He stood up for crewmen who probably needed harsh treatment. A man's man, he did not tattle to the officers when we had infractions to deal with.”
(Courtesy of Art Stapleton)
Francis married Marjorie Mooney. Marjorie served in the military for five years. She has referred to Francis.” as a wonderful man” and that he was “the dearest of men.” Marjorie also said that Francis held the now Senator John McCain (Presidential Candidate in 2008) and then a child, on his lap at a ship party.
Francis kept in contact with his widowed mother, Nina Felt
Herron. He sent her a photo of the first
Pan American Clipper airliner to return to continental
Francis was a gifted artist.
As a boy he would paint on the walls of his bedroom, upstairs in the
Francis Herron did heroic things by virtue of his enlistment in the Navy as a Torpedoman. He did not receive the accolades given to others in public, but never-the-less he was a hero and an example to others.
Marjorie J. Mooney was Chief Yeoman, USNR. She served five years, four months, 18 days. Marjorie and Francis were very happy.
Francis Herron designed and drew these three logos. Current internet sites of the USS Cobbler and the USS Toro use his Logo designs. He had artist ability.
USS Cobbler Plank Owner Crew
(Crew that first sailed the Cobbler)
(Josh is in the 5th row from the bottom, 4th person from the left)
Down The Ways
Francis Herron was on the Cobbler this day
(From Art Stapleton, Cobbler crew 1946 - 1948:))
“Josh was the Chief of the
Boat when I first arrived at
He certainly was an extremely confidant man, an excellent teacher, and he would wag his finger under our noses when we came back from liberty ashore with a bit too much on our breath.
My most memorable item for Josh was his artistic talent for sculpting. One item I recall was a sculpture of female form, like a small manniquin made of "Plastic Wood". In those days Plastic Wood, other than clay, was used to form all kinds of things because as it hardened, it resembled wood, but hard as a rock. It came in cans which had to be kept closed or it would harden.
Plastic Wood consisted of sawsust and and varnish-like liquid which hardened after being exposed to air. Josh was proud of his sculpture which seems now to have been about 12 inches tall. Off duty, he would knead a bit of the plastic into position, let it harden, then carve and sand it to his requirements.
Josh asked me to photograph himself and the sculpture, which I did, and gave him the print. I thought I had a copy, too, but could not find it among my memorabilia.
In both ship's party pictures (attached), Josh is at top left, with glass raised in response to a toast, and getting a big smooch from unknown, and the first at left in Captain William Holman's Inspection photo.
We were all sorry to see Josh leave us sometime in late 1947, I recall.
Great guy, but he never talked with me about himself or family.”
Received this email 3 May 2008 from Art Stapleton
Marjorie Troy also provided a large bound book, Submarine Operations in World War II that belonged to Francis. In the book is a photograph of the Crew of the USS Cobbler (Francis designed the Logo). Mark Maynard, a crew member and in the photograph, said that it was taken in June or July of 1946 and he provided many names of those in the photograph
Front Row, kneeling, left to right:
Mark ‘Jack’ Maynard, J.E. Storm, Bill Sether, J. Kurht, Geroge Bodrog, ?, Guy Matthews, Frank Minick
Second Row, left to right:
Henry Trembly, Robert Kutzlub, Roy Platz, ?, ?, Leo Feeny
Third Row, kneeling, left to right:
A.N. Glennon, ?, ?, ?
Fourth Row, Standing, left to right:
Fifth Row, (on the cigarette deck ladder):
C.K. Moore, Herman, Coleman, Glendening (standing on cigarette deck ladder with his torso behind the rail)
1st row on cigarette deck:
Schumaker, ?, Mike Garret, ? (sitting), Jesse Mason, Bill Medinger, Ray Downen, Harry Todnem
2nd row on cigarette deck:
?, ?, Bill Rieneke, ?, Hugh Doran
Note: the question marks represent shipmates that I know, but I can’t remember their names.
Mark states: “I reported aboard in December 1945 in Staten
Note: this identification of the crew and the note following courtesy Mark Maynard in email 4 Nov 1968.
SISTER MARY KENNY OF THE ORDER OF RELIGIOUS OF JESUS AND MARY AND A FRIEND
(She lives in semi-retirement in Highland Mills,
The video interview in possession of Russ Felt was converted into a tape recording for transcription and is written as a dialogue between Sister Mary Kenny, Sister Norene Costa, Rita Felt and Russ Felt at lunch in Highland Mills in August 2007. Sister Mary is extremely well read and well educated and has influenced many, many lives. She is an extraordinary person.
M = Sister Mary Kenny
N = Sister Norene Costa
Ri = Rita Felt
R = Russ Felt
R: I am trying to write some short biographies of people I admire and you are one of them. I want to bind the biographies for my family to read and for positive influence upon them..
M: My first
inclination is to say I haven’t done anything.
It reminds me of Sister Rosemary who just left here and went back to
R: For this, please state your full name and where you were raised and when you were born..
M: My name is Mary
Margaret Kenny and I was born in
R: How did you get into a religious order and what were you accepted into?
M: I was in that
school for two years and then I got a regular position in
R: What training did you do?
M: I had a B.A. and a B.S.A and I got them in four years. The next year the requirement was five years for those two degrees. In my senior year I did five weeks of practice teaching.
R: Where did you learn Latin that you taught?
M: I had four years in high school. My Latin was very elementary and I taught first year Latin. I taught in the public school here in a program in junior high school where students were exposed to Latin, French and Spanish with six weeks in each and I taught Latin. That was interesting. At the same time I taught Montessori just down the road. There was no opening the next year and I realized how that one period of Latin tied me down. There was an opening the following year and I didn’t want it but that I would do Latin for the one period.
R: Then you taught English most of your career
M: I taught English and History. I had almost a double major. I majored in History and had more than a minor in English. There was an English requirement to write a short story and I am not good at writing short stories. I can do some kinds of writing but not creative. I had wonderful literature courses and enjoy teaching.
R: You named some of the places where you served, where else have you been?
M: I taught in
M: It was all
spirituality. We had a thirty day
retreat. We had classes in scripture,
theology, and one day per week we did excursions in
N: Tell them about the Divine Family
M: I had three
N: Who were the Divines?
M: They were a family who were good friends. Chris Divine was a poor young man and he was parking cars at the Newark Athletic Club and some man left very valuable papers in his car and Chris took those papers to him. The man hired Chris to be a runner on Wall Street. He became a wonderful Bond trader. He made millions of dollars.
M: The Divines had a
large family. Mrs. Divine attributed
their success to taking in a sister’s children when their mother died and that
blessings came to them as a result. They
had a beautiful home in
R: What is your favorite piece of literature and a favorite author?
M: I don’t read much fiction so I like to read essays, memoirs, and biographies. A favorite author is Percy. Sister Rosemary should be here. She has a million favorite authors.
Ri: Russell’s favorite author is Joseph Conrad
M: I like
biographies. I recently read of Sidney
Poitier who acted in Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner.
Ri: Sister Mary, you were a principal?
M: Yes, at
R: You had to have administrative endorsements to be principal?
M: I took some
courses at the
N: What about your grandparents?
M: I don’t have many relatives named Kenny. I am the oldest of four children and the only one left.
R: What do you know of the origins of your family?
M: My mother’s maiden
name was Delaney and that is Irish. My
father was Irish. I never got into my
Irish roots. I did write to my father’s
M: My father ran an insurance agency and died young. My mother took over the business and I went to the Boarding school. My father died in his 39th year. He died of a mastoid that developed into a brain abscess that would not be a problem today. I was the oldest.
R: If you had it all to do over, would you do anything differently?
M: One thing I regret is not learning another language. I really, really regret that.
R: You have a fluency in Latin….?
M: I have an
understanding of Latin and I can read French.
R: What language would you pick?
M: French. I read the other day that French is coming
back into the schools of
M: Arabic was another
language that was wanted but there was objection and that was too bad. We need it.
People are so short sighted.
R: Is there a favorite country or place you have visited?
M: I enjoyed
R: Where were you in
M: We stayed in
M: One child said to me, don’t you speak any English at all? I said I tried. If you cleared your throat they knew you were American.
R: You have been in retirement then?
M: I retired in 1993 but still work in the Montessori school.
N: Sister Mary teaches Poetry still, every day
R: Do you have a favorite piece of poetry?
M: I have many
favorites. I read with them poems I
learned in high school. Sea Fever,
Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods’, House with Nobody in It by Joyce Kilmer, Road to
Suffern along the
Note: See next page for the poem
Will there really be a morning
Is there such a thing as day
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they
Has it feet like water lilies
Has it feathers like a bird
Is it come from famous countries
Of which I have never heard
Or some scholar, or some sailor
Or some wise man from the sky
For these to tell a little pilgrim
Where the place called morning lies
M: It is beautiful and the children love it too
M: I am after Norene to do more with music in the school. One little one loved ‘Danny Boy; and of course I can’t sing but Sister Pauline taught the child the song and she said, ‘Danny Boy, I love you so’.
Ri: My favorite Frost poem is ‘The Road Not Taken’ and it is wonderful to sing.
R: If you offered some advice about life, what would you say?
M: I was thinking about college education and its expense and only the wealthy can afford it and those children are lucky. The heart has to be trained and many are missing that. We need to expand the heart as well as the mind. There are so many educational requirements and how to do it all. I was thinking of Newman’s essay where he said theology must be integrated into our technology. Theology is the thing that pulls all education together. Cardinal Newman wrote the essay.
N: One of Mary’s brothers died from an athletic injury and the other, Jim, was Vice President of Fordham University.
R: Do you remember your parents reading a lot?
M: Yes, I found a book my mother gave my father their first Easter. Its title is, ‘Why God Loves the Irish’. There were lots of magazines and newspapers to read.
Note: Sister Mary Kenny is a remarkable person. She is very well educated. She loves literature and poetry. She has dedicated her life to others and to their education. She is an Unsung hero because of what she has humbly done with her life. One wonders how many individuals have been positively affected by the influence and work of this person. Sister Norene Costa is the same kind of person. She is an Aunt of Rita Felt and operates a very fine Montessori school.
RAE MARIE CAMPBELL AND A RELATIVE IN THE FELT LINE
Rae Marie Campbell in
R: Tell me about you, where you were raised and how you got started in all this
RM: I was raised in the country around Muskoka and that is north of here through Barry and on up.
RM: My Grandfather
was a story teller. I used to think he
was part Indian because he worked in the lumber camps and his face was weather
beaten and he lived to be 86 yrs. I then
got interested in the stories and we lived around cousins and we lived around
the lakes. We all owned land around the
lakes because it was cheap. At a young
age we moved away. My maiden name was
RM: In my first year
of high school the teacher had us write about our favorite ancestor. I wrote a story about John Hamilton Rogers
and his wife Emily. They lived in
R: The first
RM: As far as I know
the Fergusons we deal with came over here as soldiers to
RM: I think the
Fergusons came from
R: Richard Ferguson
is an interesting man, not only in War but with regards to the English
RM: Richard the son
was in uniform but not Richard the father.
Richard was a mercenary with
R: Daniel and John
Ferguson were in
RM: Yes, they built
many buildings including the
R: Fergusons came
RM: I don’t know that, I am not back that far. ‘Ferguson Family Roots’ begins with John Ferguson in 1638.
R: Richard was
captured, escaped. He was taken to be held at Diamond Point (
RM: Diamond Point was a prison camp. I don’t know if the place is there to see today.
R: You are in a Loyalist Organization?
RM: Yes. I have certificates of membership. They do newsletters chapter by chapter and
now they are associated with DAR in the
RM: Fergusons got
land grants later in
R: Your connection to Richard Ferguson is what?
R: Connect that order to Rachel Matilda Ferguson my Great Grandmother
RM: Daniel Ferguson
was the son of Rozel Ferguson and Rozel was my
R: You used the Archives for your research
RM: Once you get back so far, the information I got by word of mouth was in error and the Archives had the correct information. I wanted to make sure of accuracy. Word of mouth has surnames correct but not Christian names. It was sad about their inaccuracy. There was a lot of intermarriage, not morally bad, but for example, a wife died young and left several children and the husband married her sister, to care for the kids.
R: He was shown the cabinets of her work and it is very large.
RM: My children have given their word to preserve all this in the future.
R: I am getting to know Richard Ferguson based upon what you have written
RM: That is wonderful
because it is sad the way our children don’t know their history. Canadian kids know more about
R: It is the same in
R: I wanted to come and meet you and spend a few minutes with you.
RM: I have spent my life researching my heritage. Our children don’t know their families. We slept six in a bed crosswise. We knew each other.
Note: Rae Marie
Campbell is a remarkable person who has spent her life researching her heritage
and has volumes of information. She
Daniel Ferguson Home
Gino Luigi Paesani (Paesani line)
Gino was born in
Giuseppi Paesani had a vineyard and olive grove and grew hazel nuts. He produced wine and had a cave on his property for the curing in vats of his wine.
Giuseppi and Angelina had two boys (Gino, Curzio, Pietro) and
several girls. When Gino was a couple of
years old, the family immigrated to
The United States Navy sent Gino to the RCA Institute in
Gino was too young to recall the immigration trip across but
knows that they landed at
Angelina had a sister, Zia Maria Costa, who had immigrated
Life changed for Gino’s family with the death of his father. Angeline had to care for three boys. She had been given a pension that was either $45 or $75 per month. The boys Gino, Curzio (Cooch), and Pietro (Peter) collected coal from the sides of the railroad tracks and cut wood to heat their home. A garden sustained them with vegetables and Angeline canned food for their use. Life was not easy but they made it work.
Gino enjoyed radios and photography as hobbies. He was nicknamed ‘Marconi’ and his mechanical abilities began then. The boys tangled with each other and on one occasion Gino hit ‘Cooch’ in the head with a hammer. But, there were fierce loyalties too and Gino was much like a father with his brothers.
Joseph Paesani had made ‘moonshine’ and even after his death, people came to buy his product. Gino, as a boy, drove the Model A Ford to town to sell the stockpiled ‘booze’.
Even though the family was poor, they would not accept public relief. Gino wore overalls with patches to school and lived through that ridicule from fellow students. He was told by his Mother to tell others that his clothes were ‘clean, neat, and paid for.’
Gino graduated from Nokomis HS in 1938 and then went to
Gino learned the violin because he wanted too. Music had been part of growing up and he played in the high school orchestra where he was second violin.
In 1942 Gino joined the United States Navy as World War II
began. He was 20 yrs old. After Boot Camp at the Great Lakes Naval Air
He went to
Gino and Adele were married 11 July 1943 in
Pietro Costa, Adele Paesani, Gino Paesani
Norma Costa, Libera Margerita, Norene Costa
Gino returned to
Gino sailed on the Battleship New York, BB34, bound for
Kingfisher aircraft also directed battleship cannon fire using radio coordinates. There was an occasion when the identification equipment aboard Gino’s Kingfisher failed and friendly fire was directed at them fortunately not hitting the airplane.
Kingfisher aircrews were assigned together and Gino’s first
pilot crew member was T.J.
Following that assignment near home, Gino and the others
landing along side
Kingfisher on catapult launch
Gino and an unkown friend on an island near the Phillipines
Missions were dangerous. The Kingfisher aircraft flew at 100-500 feet picking targets. Small arms fire and anti-aircraft fire were aimed at them. They were told that some armament was just fake, Gino radioed back, “Dumbies, my ass, they are firing real guns at us.” It was during this time that T.J. Walker was transferred and another pilot assigned. His name is not remembered. P-38 aircraft were sometimes assigned to fly cover for the Kingfisher aircraft. There was an occasion when they were directed to fire on a ‘troop’ movement. Gino observed that they were civilians but his observation was discounted and the civilians were attacked.
On another occasion, over
Of his pilot crewmembers, one was being flown with a physician back for treatment and they were forced to land on an island. The Doctor was instantly killed and the pilot finished the war as a prisoner. Some of his pilot friends were named, Keller, Nintz and Jones.
It was during this time that Gino was sent back to
It is worth mentioning that Gino said very little of those medals. It was a family tradition to marinate cherries in Brandy for use during the Christmas Holidays. On one occasion, Gino had some of this concoction to excess and he was speaking more freely than usual and he mentioned the medals. His children had played with them, not knowing what they represented. A son in law quizzed him about the medals and a daughter went to another room and found them. They are now framed and on the wall of his living room. He had been awarded some of highest decorations given by our military and his family had never been told the story of them.
Some other observations about the war are as follows:
Landing the Kingfisher meant that the Destroyer would turn 90 degrees producing a smooth slick for landings. The airplane then taxied on to a slip and was hoisted back on to the catapult. Some airplanes ran into the ships. On one occasion a Kingfisher was catapulted into the air with the Destroyer sliding down a wave. The Kingfisher scrapped the water level but made it into the air. The idea was to catapult as the Destroyer moved up the wave.
Gino’s Log Book
(note: ‘under fire’- that notation was made on several pages)
Gino was on leave to
They stayed in
Gino made enough to pay for higher education and weddings of
his children. He sold
Gino, at age 87 years, still works selling musical
Gino would advise his children and grandchildren to never quit but to keep trying and to keep working. He gave Adele credit for raising the children and for managing their home. When asked what he would do over in his life, he said he would want to be more
prosperous for his family but that he had no regrets. Gino’s family does love one another even from
their early days on long trips to
Education was important to Gino’s Mother. As a result, Gino helped his brothers with their higher educations.
The loss of their Father early in their lives caused the three boys to band together and to help one another. There was a step father, Charles Vendor, and they had a good relationship with him. Charles is buried next to Angeline and Giuseppi. Charles and Angeline were married more than 15 years.
With that wry smile, Gino said of this writing, “He hoped all his viewers will enjoy it.”
One must add some of the qualities of Gino Paesani. He is completely honest. He knows how to work hard and has done that his entire life. He loves his wife and children and his extended family. He is a loyal citizen who was prepared to give his life for his country and was in harms way in World War II. He has a sense of humor and enjoys life. He is an excellent salesman.
David Poller (Gene and Jerry Poller)
David Poller was born 26 Jul 1919 at
Dave went to public schools in Brooklyn graduating from
In 1935 or 1936 Dave worked at Floyd Bennett Field in
In 1940 Dave worked for Reynolds-Martin in
Dave returned to
Pan American flew several routes to
David was able to become a Flight Engineer and flew all the
routes. On one flight to
David next served on a DC-4 aircraft (military version was a
C-54). The typical route was
David then served on the Lockheed Constellation (O-69) that
flew the same routes already described.
The aircraft was pressurized allowing it to fly up to 21,000 ft. He said that the aircraft had a notorious bad
right engine. David was called ‘Feather
Merchant’ because he feathered that right engine 13 times on flights. Feathering included shutting down the engine
and rotating the propeller so it would not create drag on the aircraft. The O-69 was a regular Lockheed
Constellation. The ‘Super Constellation’
aircraft were the O-69 and O-749 modified aircraft that could fly non-stop from
Pan American Airway purchased DC-6 aircraft that were pressurized and flew up to 21,000 ft. All Pan American aircraft were called ‘Clippers’. The DC series were land planes. Pan American added DC-7, 7B, 7C modified aircraft. David served as Flight Engineer on these aircraft.
David flew the Africa routes that included
In 1956 the Boeing 707 was purchased by Pan American. Pam American had a round the world route that
Pan American then added DC-8 aircraft that David flew. On one occasion in the
In 1961 David had a heart problem and was grounded from
flying. Prior to the health issues he
was part of a crew flying President Sukarno of
David was allowed to resume flying but only on cargo aircraft. He joked with crews that Pan American would allow him to kill Cargo crews but not passengers. His last flight was in 1964 or 1965 when the flight physical grounded him for good. He accumulated more than 20,000 hours of flying time. He did not keep all his log books but 20,000 hours is equivalent to about three years of flying 24 hrs per day, as Flight Engineer.
When asked about a memorable experience David recalled being
on a DC-6 flying from Scandanavia to
After flying, David spent 17 yrs as an Assistant Administrative Chief for New York Pan American aircraft. He retired at 65 yrs of age.
David and Loretta Chernin Poller had twin sons, Jerry and
Larry. Loretta passed away several years
before this writing. Dave currently
David Poller has lived an interesting and productive life. He is another unsung hero due to his flying experiences.
Dave and Loretta Poller
A former Active Duty Air Force Officer and friend of the
writer exchanges photos of military aircraft and sent these photos of Clipper
aircraft. The photos may all be all from
David Poller and son
(Courtesy Jerry Poller, May 2008)
(Jerry states that his Father had not seen a Clipper aircraft in many years; Dave flew as flight engineer)
NOTE: Dave Poller’s son was visiting his Dad in
Pan American Memorandum dated 22 September 1950 signed by J.L. Blaylock
“It is with sincere appreciation that we transmit to you a report received from Captain Avary of LAD, Needless to say, it is gratifying to see reports of this kind, as it is this alertness, devotion to duty, and maintenance responsibility that will tip the scale in securing Flight Engineering as a profession.
Boeing Stratocruiser Clipper N 10335, trip 202, landed at
At this time a fire of considerable proportions had developed in the left main gear through conflagaration of tires. Switches were cut at this point, and in a miraculously short time, with flames enshrouding the left underside of the aircraft, Flight Engineers, J. Cross and D. Poller had opened the forward lower cargo hatch and, armed with ship’s CO2 Extinguishers, were fighting the blaze. Passengers were immediately evacuated through the starboard rear cargo hatch. Acting in relays, Engineers Cross and Poller fought the sizeable flames and rushed inside the aircraft to get new, undischarged hand extinguishers. By the time ground airport fire-fighting equipment arrived on the scene, Engineers Cross and Poller had not only controlled the aircraft fire, but had reduced it to the point where ground extinguishing equipment easily eliminated the residue of the landing-gear fire.
I firmly believe that Flight Engineers, J. Cross and D. Poller, through their prompt, efficient, and intelligent actions, saved a major part of the aircraft if not its entirety. Moreover, their devotion to duty and their interest in protection of company equipment, as well as the safeguarding of passengers’ lives, was without concern for their personal safety, in the presence of a fire and fire hazard of no mean proportions. It is with great pleasure and professional pride that I respectfully submit this commendation of Flight Engineers Cross and Poller, whose actions in time of emergency lived up to the highest standards of Pan American Airway’s safe airline operations.
It is only appropriate, as a footnote to this report, that the referenced engineer stayed, after 24 hours on duty, with the aircraft, and with the assistance of the Galeao maintenance staff, determined the cause of the locked brake eondition on landing – namely, brake metering valve failure.”
NOTE: Dave Poller’s sons had no awareness of this event prior to finding the memorandum.
Jerry Poller further found a document of interest involving his Father. It is dated 29 November 1950
“A Pan American World Airways flight crew reported today in
The crew captain said that the strange sight fitted exactly the descriptions contained in several report of similar incidents gathered by the United States Air Force during their ‘Project Saucer’ investigation last year.
The three crew members said that the ‘gadget’ had lighted up their moonlight flooded cockpit to the vivid intensity of stage spotlights.
To give further significance to the report, one of the crew,
Flight Engineer David Poller, of
The double decked luxury plane, with 50 passengers aboard, was roaring over the northeastern coast of South America on a hop from Port of Spain, Trinidad, to Rio, at an altitude of 13,500 feet when the incident occurred at about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro time.
Captain Edwin D. Avery of
And Avary wound uip his report with the remark, ‘What next’
The veteran PAA pilot who has been flying South American routes from Rio de Janeiro base for more than ten years said that the ‘scrowy thing lasted about three to five seconds and then suddenly disappeared from our level.’
The pilot said he would normally be inclined to write the strange phenomenon off a meteor, ‘except that I never heard or read of a meteor that looked like this.’
‘Several of the reports check exactly with what we saw’, he said.
Flight Engineer Poller said that he had seen a ‘white flare’ exactly like the one spotted yesterday while in the same area, just west of Georgetown, while he was on a northbound flight the night of November 19.
None of the plane passengers reported seeing the strange object. The Clipper crew said that the object was out of the line of sight of the passengers, even had any of them been awake at the early morning hour.”
NOTE: The above report was issued by PAA Public Relations, Latin American Division. It was entitled “Mystery, Flaming Ball misses Rio-bound Clipper in Guianas”
Wilfred Norman Maxfied’s experience as compiled by a daughter, Cheryl Stone in Australia, from Wilfred’s handwritten notes, and further condensed for this short Biography-He was known as Norman)
At the age of 14 yrs
After the painting firm went out of business
Wilfred Norman Maxfield
(Courtesy Cheryl Stone)
On 20 Dec 1935
In 1936 trouble broke out between the Jews and the Arabs and
the English got involved.
While at Sarafand his first great journey was escorting Aero
Engines on a Crossy flat top to Armein in Trans Jordan. Their journey was interrupted at Es Swale,
the last of the old Urassion race mentioned in the Bible. The area was notorious as being infested with
‘brigands’ and night was falling. The 14
Squadron knew their estimated time of arrival and sent a three ton
While at Beyroath,
In March of 1938,
He was sent to the Mobilization Center 9 and arrived in
During that time
Also during that time, the Germans invaded
After several more moves,
During that time Ptc Wolfe, a dedicated communist, started
talking about a new bomb the Germans were developing. It was as the same time that ‘Heavy Water’
A second experience there was
The plan was good enough that the Germans made no invasion
After disembarking they were put on a Keya and Uganda
Railway bound for
In order to get a local leave or to be promoted, one had to
have some command of the language, ‘KiSwahili’ and
Life at Mbagarthi was a never ending grind. Once he was given a train load of locals who
had returned from
He went on one occasion to
An Askavi was missing, a search found an Army boot, with a
foot in a sock in the boot. A hungry Lion
had found the missing soldier.
While there, an outbreak of Bubonic Plague occurred. The Plague was rat borne and acres and acres were burned with two rings of fire to trap all the rats. Everyone was inoculated and confined until the plague was over.
They moved to Bardara crossing the river
After completing the O.C.T.U. course successfully
V.E. Day had come and gone and V.J. Day was nearing and all
anticipated the end of the war. Training
of Africans continued as reinforcement for the 14th Army in
Norman and Marjorie, both having been returned to
They purchased eight acres at Cranbourne where they lived
Wilfred Norman Maxfield and Marjorie Maxfield lived unique lives. He was an Unsung Hero and she was too.
MAXFIELD FAMILY IN FIRST PHOTO
SUSAN, WILFRED, MARJORIE, JENNIFER
(left to right)
THE LARGER MAXFIELD TEXT IS CONTAINED IN WEBSITE WWW.FELTONLINE.COM UNDER W.N. MAXFIELD IN THE FOX LINE HEADING
Photograph courtesy Cheryl Stone 8 May 2008
Maxfield family on
board the ship as they immigrated to
(SUSAN, WILFRED, MARJORIE, JENNIFER)
Immigration of the
Maxfield family to
(Photograph courtesy of Cheryl Stone)
Note: Wilfred Norman
Maxfield is a relative through the Fox line out of
The discussion with Clayton Brainerd occurred 19 March 2008
C: Clayton Brainerd
R: Say your full name?
C: Clayton Lee Brainerd
R: Where were you born and raised?
C: I was born in
R: How many in your family?
C: I have two older brothers and one sister. Our sister was adopted when I was six years old.
R: And you have contact with them now?
Ri: Your mom lives with your oldest brother?
C: Yes with Randy
who is 57 yrs old now and Brian who is 51 now lives in
Ri: And your sister?
C: Honestly, I don’t know exactly where she lives. I see her occasionally when she visits my Mother.
R: Where did you go to school?
C: I went to Sellwood grade school which was just across the street. That is where the ball field was there too. My brother Brian was a straight A student in all levels of school. I would come up behind him the next year, since I am one year younger and the teachers would often say, why you can’t be like your brother, and there it would be, the gauntlet was thrown down and I would make them pay. My mom intervened one year, when she heard that, and challenged those kinds of comments with ‘How could you do that, Brian is quiet, hard working, and Clayton isn’t at all like that.’ I was rowdy, always causing trouble and all that. That behavior led me into the wrong group in the 7th Grade. The Beatles were big and Marijuana was known to us. I was looking for my identity and latched on to those negative friends because they were interesting in those times. Doing the wrong thing was exciting.
R: What was the high school?
C: I went to
R: What caused you to start in music?
C: My oldest brother played the violin and set an expectation. I also think it was the norm at that time as a kid as it was accepted and available. I can’t say beyond that. I don’t remember what role my parents played in encouraging music because they didn’t have a strong background in music. My brother and I sang in the children’s choir at our Methodist church, but I didn’t take that so seriously.
R: Was your involvement in music due to friends then?
C: I didn’t care for the teacher in Grade School so I can’t remember how long I was involved in that music program.
Ri: Did the whole class play then?
C: It seems like that. But what I do recall is how bad the quality of music was at the concerts we played at and I couldn’t take it wondering why I was doing it when it was so bad. I think I had a sensitive ear even then. When I got to High School, I met someone from a well to do family, early on, and we struck up a friendship. I met him at a restaurant where I worked. His family was very much into music and he introduced me to Barbershop Quartets and I loved that music. His father was a great jazz fan and they had a wonderful collection of music and finally he introduced me to classical music. We would skip school and play snooker in his basement. It was in part due to this friend that I decided to sing in the choir in High School. That is where I met the choral teacher who had the most beautiful tenor voice. When he would demonstrate sounds, I was amazed at his ability. To hear beautiful singing live is a totally different experience than any other music experience.
Ri: Do you remember his name?
C: Bruce Johnson. I maintained friendship with him until his death several years ago. I did join the main choir and also a smaller group, ‘The Clevelandaires’. They were a swing pop group in polyester suits. I was doing drugs at the time and I would come to class stoned out of my mind, stumbling around. I don’t know how he put up with it.
R: At some point you stopped those behaviors and the drugs, what caused you to stop?
C: I kept indulging in drugs in high school and beyond. I got a job in a lumber mill after high school and injured my knee on the job. While I was recovering my friend gave me the complete Beethoven Nine Symphonies for Christmas. As soon as I put the needle in the groove for that first symphony, it felt like the hand of God came down and said to me, “You Will Do This”. At that moment I thought it was an LSD flash back because LSD gives you this sense of other worldly and unusual things can happen, and if you take a lot of it, it can simply re-immerge and so I thought it was one of those moments, but I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t. Of course I was smoking a ‘joint’ at the time so I put the joint out and that was simply the end of doing drugs. As soon as I got back on my feet several months later, I took steps and applied to Portland State University, just in time to enroll in summer courses, because as you can imagine, I was woefully unprepared for academic life. I could barely read and write.
Ri: How old were you at the time?
R: And how did you pay for college?
C: Yes, I was 21 yrs old and I had jobs. I worked all through college waiting tables.
R: Your music experience in college, describe that?
C: I had another great mentor, Bruce Browne, who was charismatic, very smart, very progressive and we did a lot of contemporary music which I loved and hated. In that first summer session of college, I took typing, reading, and fundamental math and discovered that I was pretty smart when I applied myself and I had very good teachers that summer. It gave me a leg up when I started that fall. In the fall, I took on a major load of 20 or so hours. I didn’t know what I was doing exactly and it was extremely tough and I realized I was very industrious and I was able to get it done.
Ri: Did you know where you were going academically, or were you feeling your way through the curriculum?
C: I was as ignorant as a stone didn’t know how I was going to apply my studies to making money; all I know was that I had to study voice. I knew because of that teacher in high school who said, ‘My God, you have such an instrument, you need to study and get away from drugs.’ At that time I could hear the message but was not able to act on it, in part because it was coming from an authority figure, even though it was someone whom I respected and I realized he was serious.
R: Is that the circumstance that caused you drop those other behaviors?
C: The moment of the Beethoven Nine Symphonies is what really made the turn. It was in that instance.
Ri: You knew it was Music but did you think of conducting or something other than voice?
C: No, I knew it was singing that I needed to pursue.
R: And you immediately dropped those other behaviors?
C: I stopped immediately. I was burned out. Doing drugs is really hard on you. You are lethargic and sluggish and I am sure that had something to do with the injury at work in part because of sleep deprivation.
R: Not only did you drop the drugs, but the friends too?
C: Absolutely, instantly. I remember actually, I shattered my knee cap so as part of the settlement they gave me a $9,000. That was a Godsend because it took the money pressure off and gave me some money for school. It meant that I didn’t have to work the first year of college.
R: Was your university major Voice?
C: Yes, the first
year there are basic music courses to take.
One instance I do remember vividly was there were listening tapes that
we were required to study for our music history class and some of that music
was of Wagner and I thought at the time, that this was hideous, how could
anyone find this beautiful? That I ended
up singing Wagner is really ironic when I think back to this moment. I was totally ignorant where the major led,
could I make money? I knew I had to do
this even though I didn’t know where it led.
I could only see that this is what I had to do right now. Much later in my junior and senior year with
vocal juries that are more serious and you have to do more and more and I
realized much better what I could do with a life as a singer. Although when I came in contact with Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau and other big stars and I wondered how I am ever possibly going
to get there. I remember thinking about
that at the Conservatory in
R: Beyond the university experience, you did many other kinds of training then?
C: I had a fantastic
German teacher at
I was at “Die Hochschule für Musik and Darstellende Kunst”
(The Conservatory for Music and Representational Art) in
R: What went through your mind?
C: I was incredibly mad and discouraged
Ri: Did you realize you were not in the right place?
C: It was always hard for me to learn how to sing but I thought I just had to work through it. Learning to sing opera is incredibly difficult and there is no room for error. I didn’t think the problem I was encountering was anything out of the ordinary.
R: Is there a way to describe that demand in learning to sing Opera?
C: Over the years, you develop very slowly and methodically, the tools necessary to create a singing technique that allows you to make any sound on any pitch and on any vowel within your prescribed range. Once the technique is reliable enough, then are able to apply that technique to music. You see the note on the page and acknowledge what is required to create that tone and then you open your mouth and produce the expected results. But what do you do when you are not able to do what is expected? What if the particular demand of a phrase is beyond your physical ability somehow? The coordination is not quite right and the adjustments you have to make are so small. On top of that, there is practically no feeling in the voice itself; you can’t really feel anything – except some soreness or fatigue. That is why visualizations are used such as imagining: such as your head is empty or that your mouth is where your eyes are or imagine that a column is coming out of the top of your head down to your pelvic area where your support is. This kind of imagery is used because you can’t say, move this muscle here, half a centimeter or tighten a little here or push back. The entire process is through these visualizations and not through anatomy – except for breath support. That is the one thing that we have 100% control of. Most of the teachers in the world who have tried to use anatomy have not had much success as far as I am concerned. When you know you have all the tools in your heart, but you can’t produce the sound because something is out of alignment, it is a very frustrating feeling. Some people have an easier time getting it in line. Lyric voices for example, tend to get their voices in line easier and they come into the right music earlier. Lyric voices tend to do that. They are required to get techniques sooner because their careers tend to be much shorter. I have a dramatic voice and the muscles are less willing to change. Plus, a main problem was that I was determined to change the muscles with blood and guts and you can’t do that. The muscles need to be coerced and progress needs to go slow; you have to be patience and you have to commit to loving the exercises even though you do them a billion times. La, La, La, a billion times in every circumstance and color and without music. Music adds another dimension that make the process of creating sound more complicated because you add emotion to the mix.
R: Describe that getting to where you needed to be?
C: Before I crashed,
I met through a friend a teacher in
R: How does one get that drive and focus?
C: You are born with it and I am not sure you can learn it. I don’t think you can learn musicianship, I don’t think you can learn true industry. You can be taught to some extent but you are either born with it or not. There is a number assigned to your intelligence, you can push it and expand it, but I think you come with a gift. I say this because you spend your life in music with giants like Bach. If you are not a genius yourself it is very difficult to imagine what all the levels are in the music, the numerology, the skill of writing and the depth of genius. You then look at yourself and there is a difference between your intelligence and theirs. There are many things you are born with and it is your job to put those gifts and skills together to benefit the world the best you can.
R: At some point, you had your first professional job?
C: (Long thoughtful
pause) – I waited tables at a restaurant called the Rhinelander in
R: You have what I would describe as a humble air of self-confidence; can you describe what you feel about you?
C: One of the reasons I crashed is because I did not have control of my arrogance. I didn’t know I was arrogant but I thought it was necessary to overcome my background and lack of support in music. I was always overcoming my perceived shortcomings which translated into arrogance as a protective measure perhaps to keep me going.
Only after I crashed and burned, tail between my legs, never going to sing again, and the pain that that caused did I come in contact with this demon – being arrogant. From the start, my wife (Toni) was absolutely instrumental in pointing that out that there was this “air of arrogance” about me and helped me to overcome it. The first time she saw me sing, I came out on stage with this little attitude, ‘you are so privileged to see me perform’. She asked what I doing and I wanted to know what she was talking about. She said you looked really arrogant when you came out on stage. What are you thinking when you do that? I was not even aware of it, but with her help, I was able to come in contact with this part of me and release it. That has allowed me to become who I am today. I cannot stress this enough that this is one of the important parts of a relationship between a man and a woman that you care enough about the other, that when something important is said, that you listen, and you believe and you rely on you partner. Physical pain has humbled me too. When you struggle with pain, it humbles you in a different way.
Ri: Toni is a marvelous woman and how did you meet her?
C: Studying with the teacher in Pe Ell, I was also working in a shingle mill. When I tore my jeans at work one day I asked another student of my voice teacher if I could borrow her sewing machine and when I went to pick it up she said her sister Toni had it and was bringing it back. When she came in with the sewing machine I saw her and my jaw dropped to the floor and I couldn’t say anything but just stared at her. She became very uncomfortable, dropped the machine off, and got out of there. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I heard this experience told from her side of the story that I realized what had happened in that moment. I took several weeks to get up the courage to ask her out. She did agree but only after some strong persuasion. The really interesting part of this story is that Toni had moved away 20 yrs ago and had just moved back, maybe six months before to help her parents with their new restaurant in Pe Ell. Talk about synchronicity!
R: How did you propose to her?
C: I am not happy about that. We had a circle of three other couples that we hung out with together and one day they all decided to renew their vows. They looked at Toni and I and in that moment and I asked if Toni would marry me. I would have liked it to have been special moment and maybe it was. For the ceremony, all eight of us were together with the minister outside in a yard with beautiful flowers and roses blooming and it was just the nine of us (the four couples and the minister). It was the most spiritual experience I have ever had. The minister read the vows that Toni and I wrote and all I had to do was nod – which was good because I was a complete emotional wreck and would not have been able to say the vows myself in that moment – believe me! I was shocked and surprised how moved by the experience I was. After the ceremony we had a reception with friends and family.
R: What are your goals now?
C: (long pause) -- To lose weight! The weight has been a source of pain for many years! Not being able to control this has made me feel like a failure! If I had simply controlled the food intake through the years, I would not be in this predicament now. I am not prepared for that question relative to music and singing.
R: What advice would you give to young people?
C: I would say that I am in the middle of my mid life crisis and these questions are hard for me. Six months ago I was with the Met and they continually offered me jobs. I was climbing the ladder to success. But the physical cost in terms of pain during my stint at the Met working on ‘Die Meistersinger’ was difficult. Those were long days with long hours. I realized that just couldn’t take the pain anymore. I love singing concerts but you have to sing Opera to become famous. I hope I can continue with highest level concerts with great ensembles because I love that literature. I want to continue to be happy at home and in love with Toni and Zeke the Cat.
Young people need to learn to focus and find their gifts and
passions early and to pursue them with all their passion and be prepared to
make sacrifices. I waited tables at the
Holiday Inn in
Note: There are many valuable lessons regarding life to be learned from Clayton Brainerd, from Toni, and their experience. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Zeke, the cat too.
Note: We had a stimulating conversation about the word Destiny as it applies to these gifts and talents we are given. He is a deep thinker.
Clayton as Walküre
There were two newspaper interviews with Clayton that were done years earlier. They are included here and confirm what he said in this interview and they do add more information about this unique man.
From the Scotsman in 2003
The full force of destiny
You can’t help but look up to Clayton Brainerd. The six-foot-five opera singer has a way of making everything around him look small. Chairs and tables become Lilliputian, coffee cups tinkle in his big hands. He has a handshake like a grizzly bear and a voice which, even in normal conversation, is at the far end of "deep".
Brainerd is appearing in Scottish Opera’s Aïda, described by one critic as "a big bruiser of an Amonasro", singing opposite Latvian soprano Inessa Galante and Matthew Best, whom he understudied in the last three Ring operas. He performed just once, as Wotan in Die Walküre in the 2001 Edinburgh Festival, but his performance won him an award.
He talks about what he does with a persistent sense of
disbelief. At 44, the Seattle-based singer is in demand all over the world. His
formidable bass-baritone can be heard on a live recording of Tristan and Isolde
made in Carnegie Hall, and he has sung Wotan in Ring cycles from
Yet he is, in his own words, "the most unlikely
candidate to do what I do". As a teenage drug-dealer in
Brainerd was "about 15" when he smoked his first joint. It gave him a taste for rebellion. Within a year he was dealing drugs. "I remember selling a pound at a time for a while, and a pound of marijuana is a big pile. It was very lucrative. I went down that road with all the zeal I now have for classical music and did all the drugs that came along."
He was "a disgrace" to his parents, hard-working
church people. His father was an appraiser for
Always tall for his age, and with more than a hint of the imposing presence he now commands on stage, he quickly became a respected figure among his peers. "I was into fighting. People would challenge me, because of my size, to prove myself. And I was good at it. What it means to win a fight when there’s a group of people around and you’re the winner, it’s a big drug in itself.
"I was a ned (hood). I had hair down to my shoulder blades and wore black leather, had a fast car and did a whole list of drugs. It’s amazing I didn’t end up in jail. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve driven home completely drunk, out of my mind. That I didn’t end up dead or in jail is a miracle."
However, even in high school, teachers noted his special singing voice. "There was an extremely talented choir director who had a fantastic tenor voice. He told me that I had an instrument and tried to encourage me to pursue that, and I believed him because he obviously had one himself. He stuck his neck out to try to persuade me, even though I was a disruption in his class, coming in stoned with my eyes all glazy. Who wants to teach someone like that?"
Brainerd believes that his choir master’s encouragement planted a seed in him, even if he was more interested at the time in Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than Rossini and Wagner. Music had never been part of his world, save for his family’s devotion to the American bandleader Lawrence Welk, who played "sort of elevator music, done with big smiles" on his television show every Sunday afternoon. He grimaces. "Gee, it was hard for me to watch that stuff."
The choir master’s seed of inspiration was to come to life unexpectedly some years later. Working in a lumber mill, Brainerd was laid up with a knee injury and listened, for the first time, to the records an old school friend had given him: a set of Beethoven’s symphonies.
"When I put the needle in the groove of that first symphony, it was like the hand of God came down and said: ‘You will do this.’ And I knew this meant ‘Sing’. At first I thought it was an LSD flashback; my body tingled. It was the most extraordinary thing. It wasn’t as if I had always wanted to be a singer, or had experiences that would point to that direction, but I had no doubts." That day he stubbed out his last joint and decided to become a singer.
‘When I put the needle in the groove of that first symphony, it was like the hand of God came down and said: ‘You will do this.’ And I knew it meant: Sing’
Brainerd talks about miracles a lot. He has worked out the odds of someone from his background becoming one of the tiny handful of people who make their living from classical music on an international platform. If he had known how long those odds were when he started out, he says, he might never have tried to become a singer. Ignorance was a blessing. "I went into the whole education end of it absolutely ignorant about what that decision meant, the sacrifices you have to make, the number of opportunities there are in the end. I just went at it like a horse with blinkers on, just took one step after another."
Again and again, he found himself on the receiving end of fortunate coincidences, serendipitous opportunities. "It was like there was a series of exceptions along the way. Endless examples of doors that should not have opened to me swung open and I walked through effortlessly. It was like it was predestined. I hesitate to use phrases like that but it felt like that."
He signed up almost immediately for summer school, then
After graduating in 1986 he was given the opportunity to
audition for the Conservatoire in
Soon he was being noticed and was picking up concert work.
Singing in Conservatoire productions, the
Then disaster struck. "One day, I woke up and found
that my voice had taken a nose-dive. I could hardly phonate. From one day to
the next, almost, I stopped being able to make the sounds that were required. I
couldn’t sing anymore. Can you imagine what that was like, after all that work?
I had to come home to the
But providence wasn’t finished with Brainerd. He met Tacoma-based Bill Eddy, a legendary voice teacher, who believed he could nurse the big voice back to health. "He’s now 96 years old and looks and sounds exactly like Santa Claus. I have messages from him on my answer phone from ten years back; they’re so fabulous you can’t erase them.
"It took five painstaking years to get my voice back in shape. For the first two years I had two lessons a week doing nothing but vocal exercises. Progress was really slow. But I discovered I have an incredible capacity for stick-to-it-ness." He also discovered his true forte: Wagner. He pays tribute to Eddy and to his wife for standing by him, and helping him make his breakthrough performance, as Wotan in Das Rheingold at Arizona Opera in 1996.
More serendipity was to follow. One day he got a call
offering him the role of Wotan in Die Walküre in
Due to the instability of the country’s currency at that time, they paid him $16,000 in cash. "I remember I went back to my hotel room and threw it up in the air and just wallowed in it for a long time. It took me a very long time to get it all back together; I had to count it about 20 times. I’ll never forget that."
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the man who is making a career out of playing the chief of the Norse gods believes in divine intervention. Nor does he object to it. "Divine intervention is fine by me." He booms a big, deep laugh. "Bring it on."
Aida is at the Theatre Royal tonight, and on 13, 16, 21 and 24 January; and at Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 28 and 30 January.
Interview with James Bash
Clayton Brainerd – a voice for all seasons
- by James Bash
At 6 feet 5 inches and with a double-wide chest, Brainerd is a big guy with a big voice, a voice perfectly suited for music played by large orchestras with a lot of French horns, trombones, trumpets, and tubas that would strip the gears off the larynxes of many of the best singers in the world. Fortunately, Brainerd was born for this loud, complex music, and has built a career in which his declamatory and heroic bass-baritone embodies the characters he plays – especially Wotan, the chief of the Nordic gods, in Richard Wagner’s Ring operas.
In fact, Brainerd’s voice has been heard in these and other
roles around the world on stages in
“I feel blessed to live this truly fabulous life,” says Brainerd. “I love to work with these great conductors, musicians, stage directors, and all of the people involved to create world-class art.”
Brainerd has about 25 operatic roles under his belt. He has performed three quarters of them on stage and the others he has thoroughly prepared so that he will be ready when the opportunity to perform them arises.
“Each role that I take on involves a massive amount of work,” explains Brainerd. “I take the text out of the opera and translate it word for word. I recite the text over and over. I learn the music, the rhythms, the pitches, and put it all back together, interpreting the music.”
For Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Brainerd took four months to learn the gigantic, complicated role of Golaud. He has learned many roles for each of the four Ring operas and it took him a couple of years to master each one. He intends to take ten years to study the music for Hans Sachs, the central character in Wagner’s Meistersinger, considered the one of the most demanding roles in opera literature.
Yet Brainerd didn’t grow up in a home steeped in Bach and Brahms. In fact, his parents watched Lawrence Welk every week, causing Brainerd to think that the tunes on that show were classical music. He later turned into a rebellious youth who was more interested in drugs than in learning.
“I was one of the high school drug dealers,” explains Brainerd. “I drank a lot, smoked marijuana, did LSD, and wasted school from 7th grade through high school. I think that I graduated with a 1.9 grade point average. I had a fast car. I was into fighting – just being a hoodlum. The teachers graduated me probably just to get me out of there.”
After high school Brainerd worked at a lumber mill on
“Up until that time I mostly listened to rock music like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath,” recalls Brainerd, ”but when I put the needle in the groove for the Beethoven, it was like the hand of God came down, and a voice said ‘You will do this’. I thought that I was experiencing an LSD flashback, because I was stoned at the time, but I put out the joint and from that moment on I’ve never touched drugs again. I decided to become a singer of classical music, and I was like a horse with blinders on, because that was the only thing that I wanted to do.”
Whether Brainerd is flying into
“The rehearsals can be grueling,” says Brainerd. “You can’t sing full blast every day. Singers typically mark their voices. That is, they hold back the volume but not the intensity. You have to watch your health, take your vitamins.”
Brainerd performed in Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust under the
baton of Seiji Ozawa in
“It was a fantastic production,” recalls Brainerd, “that
involved some complex scaffolding with five runways, each of which were eight
feet wide. The opera contains a great deal of ballet music, so members of
Cirque du Soliel portrayed evil spirits by flying all over the place. They had
worked for months on the choreography in
When Brainerd performed in the same production several
months later in
Brainerd especially enjoys when his wife, Toni Lea, can take a break from her work as a graphic artist to accompany him, and he hopes that in the future they will be able to travel together most of the time.
“Thank God she isn’t a musician,” says Brainerd with a chuckle. “My ego is too fragile.”
As a young PSU student, Brainerd promptly connected with music professors Ruth Dobson and Bruce Browne who quickly recognized his talent.
“When I first met Clayton he was very much a black leather jacket guy,” recalls Dobson. “But his voice has a lot of personality, and he always had musical integrity – all of the nuts and bolts were there right away – the stuff of star quality.”
During his fifth year at PSU, Brainerd participated in an
exchange program that sent him to
But in his final year, Brainerd was hired to sing with the Stuttgart Opera Chorus, and he began to overextend his voice.
“I was strong as an ox and could do it, but it ended up wrecking my voice,” says Brainerd. “I crashed and burned in the biggest way. What tipped it over was that I was singing the wrong opera literature. Verdi’s music is written for a higher vocal range. My voice became so muscle bound that I couldn’t even finish my senior recital, and I came back to the States with my tail between my legs.”
After investing another year in retraining his voice, Brainerd stopped singing. Instead he did some logging in the Cascades, worked at a furniture factory, sold cars, and quickly began to lose hope for a career in opera.
“But I’d turn on the radio and hear a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera and start drooling all over again,” recalls Brainerd.
Through a friend, Brainerd went to
sang the role of Wotan in a production of Das Rheingold. Since then, Brainerd has been kept busy, singing operas and appearing in concert with symphony orchestras worldwide.
His performances have also included last minute heroics, such as when he flew to Buenos Aires on one day’s notice to replace an ailing James Morris, opera’s reigning king of Wotans’, in a production of Die Walküre.
“After I got to
Brainerd’s performances were a complete success. Then,
Besides his stage appearances, Brainerd has recorded excerpts from Modest Mussorgsky’s Dream of Peasant Grishko with the New Jersey Symphony called “Heaven & Hell” and made a live recording from Carnegie Hall of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
“I’m not singing because I’m in love with the sound of my own voice,” says Brainerd. “I sing because I get to spend my life with these musical geniuses and their masterpieces. Creating art of this caliber releases me from my ego. I can be the vehicle for this great music, and I can’t envision doing anything else.”
Toni and Clayton Brainerd