This past week someone sent me an old article about my dad, Bob Harrington.  Many may still remember my father who worked for WBTN for over 40 years delivering the news every morning, providing commentary on local events and making commercials throughout the day.  The article’s headline read, “WBTN’s Bob Harrington: ‘The Voice of Bennington.’

This piece that was sent to me was a really fun read especially in my position as director of the Chamber.  I have boxes of Dad’s commentaries, but admittedly, I haven’t read a whole lot about his day-to-day routine as the local “Voice of Bennington” or commentary on him. I often wonder what it would be like to grab coffee with Dad as the article says, “at Geannellis’ Restaurant…[where] Harrington can be found almost any morning of the week after he broadcasts,” and discuss with him the local politics, last night’s select board meeting, or the future of Bennington.

The article was from 1973, which many would say was the golden era of both our local media outlets: WBTN radio and the Bennington Banner newspaper.  Dad and Mom (who also worked at the radio station at the time) would have long talks about the tension and competitiveness between the Banner and the Station, usually telling stories of the  ‘ambulance chasing’ that always happened between both organizations as each was looking to get ‘the scoop’ on the next headline before the other.

I was moved by one particular paragraph that quoted my father, “The town is polarized in every sense, from left to right, from liberal to conservative, rich and poor, town and gown.  Everywhere you look, there is the clashing of basic philosophies.  Bennington is big enough to maintain these contradictions.  And yet it is small enough so that people are crossing in every facet of life.”

Let me remind you that this was written in 1973!  Wait, there was polarization back then too!

It was a good reminder that although we tend to think of the “good ol’ days” as being a more peaceful, better-than-today image in our minds that in reality it wasn’t the case.  They were dealing with poverty, education issues, political upheaval, economic woes and more.  We are all living in the moment that we’re in.  At that moment in 1973, my father remarked on the divisiveness of the town.  Don’t take too much offense Bennington; I bet if we went to any small town in America in 1973 they were all experiencing the same thing.  I bet if we were to visit other towns today, they would be dealing with the same challenges and concerns we have.  Having visited some of these towns, I can honestly say, Bennington doesn’t always look that bad comparatively.

As humans we can tend to be somewhat “revisionist historians” basing our memory of history on a revision that meets our own belief system.  It feels better to say that the current trials and tribulations are new, different, more challenging, yet history teaches us there’s “nothing new under the sun.”  As people we also participate in what’s called “shared sense making” where we make sense out of our current challenges by making a shared belief about another time, or group or entity.  We feel better when we can say collectively this is the “worst it’s ever been.” Although, I’m not sure how accurate that truly is. 

There’s one member on my board who continually reminds me of this.  He regularly reassures me that this isn’t the worst we’ve ever seen although we can act like Chicken Little thinking the sky is falling in the moment.  Just like in the past, we will survive he assures me.  I always enjoy his encouragement.

Later in the article the reporter made this assessment of my father, “Harrington sees his mission to be helping to bring these opposing views together, ‘to educate and inform and urge calmness and maturity…’”

Urging calmness and maturity.  That’s something I can get behind.

I can only hope that in my role and with the many people, agencies and businesses I have the true privilege to work with daily, I too can encourage this mantra, just like Dad did.

Always Onward,
Matt Harrington