Page Morton Black
Frank E. Campbell Chapel
New York City
September 12, 2013
I won’t intrude for very long on your September afternoon.
Thank you, Robin Elliott, for gathering so many influential friends of an extraordinary woman.
Many of you knew her as a great philanthropist of national renown for her leadership of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation which was founded by her beloved husband William Black. Others remember Page as a gifted artist who could play and sing achingly romantic songs like an angel.
She lived for decades in a grand house in what the Times referred to as an “enclave” off the coast of New Rochelle. It was aptly named Premium Point.
It was from this redoubt that she conducted her own personal philanthropy and raised millions for national charitable causes.
Also among her enthusiasms, I’m proud to recall, was our community radio station. She would dispatch missives, suggestions (actually “directives”) to me and mine, often about the great issues of the day. She backed the more enlightened politicians (when such existed) and she put her money where her heart was.
Like, for instance, during the broadcast celebrating the 50th anniversary of the natal day of WVOX. It was a very big day for us. And as I went in the studio, settled in behind the mike, and strapped on my earphones, I inquired of the engineer who the “sponsors” were. There were, of course, the local banks and car dealers, a few restaurants. And one more: Page Morton Black.
When I later asked why she was so nice to our little 500 watt flamethrower of a radio station, Page said, “Many years ago the Herald Tribune gave me a flattering review. That was long before I met William Black. And you married the boss’s daughter. Didn’t you marry Jock Whitney’s daughter?”
I replied: “Not exactly, Mrs. Black. I married a wonderful girl named Ann Thayer, whose father, Walter Nelson Thayer, was president of the Trib …”
And she said: “Well, it was a great review anyway!”
Truth to tell, I’m not sure that speaks well of the station. But it does confirm those qualities of loyalty, generosity and friendship – as well as an unfailing memory – which others have long attributed to Page.
Her iconic red dress has also been mentioned. The first time I saw it was many years ago when a big limo pulled up to the station and a lady in red, the Lady in Red, got out and handed an envelope to our receptionist. “Here … Mr. O’Shaughnessy will know what to do with this.” It was a political contribution for a young, aspiring Italian fellow – actually a failed baseball player with too many vowels in his name – Mario Cuomo.
I hope I don’t do damage to her reputation by telling this story in front of all you Manhattan Republicans. I’m a “Rockefeller-Catsimatidis Republican” myself. And it’s nice to see John and Margo here, none the worse for wear. As well as Len Berman. And the legendary Sy Presten … great New Yorkers, as Page was. And these proceedings are enhanced by the presence of Patty and Joe Forgione from our home heath.
And so we are here today to remember a Lady who touched so many during her long life of 97 years. I will now mercifully yield with just one more small story about Page.
Several of her friends here assembled and all the obits carrying the sad news of her passing mentioned the “Chock full o’ Nuts” song. And every year on her birthday, we would play that damn jingle. And one year, after we had played it three times … she called up and asked if we had played it yet. The engineer on duty said “Yes, Ma’am, Mrs. Black … three times.” She said, “Well, I missed it this year … do you think you could indulge an old dame and play it just one more time?”
You can be sure we did.
So I’m afraid people will remember Page and that damn jingle for years to come.
And you’ll remember her great philanthropy and relentless generosity.
Have it as you will … I’ll remember her as a neighbor.
Please don’t hold it against her then … that she had a soft spot for failed baseball players … or Irish broadcasters.
She was a hell of a dame.
And her lovely music as a generous, engaged and thoughtful neighbor lingers.
In every key. In every chord. In every tempo.
And, like I said, in the neighborhood … where we will miss her.
But never forget her.
Play something nice for Bill, Page.
And have a sweet song ready for us …
# # #
William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington. He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America. He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.
He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011. He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this tribute to Page Morton Black.