On a late-November day in 1984, Buffalo artist Billie Lawless got word that his controversial public sculpture, “Green Lightning,” was being demolished on the orders of Buffalo Mayor James D. Griffin.
So he did what any self-respecting artist would do: He drove down to where the sculpture had been unveiled just days before on a patch of grass between Elm and Oak streets and climbed atop the 30-foot structure in an attempt to prevent workers from cutting it down.
“When I was standing on top of the sculpture and the guy was starting to cut it and I thought I could die, I was a little nervous,” he said during a recent phone interview from his studio in Cleveland, where he has lived since the early 1990s. “The guy was cutting the leg of the sculpture. That would make anybody nervous.”
Lawless, whose work has been embraced in Chicago and Cleveland, has no reason to be nervous any more. And aside from that brief and terrifying moment he spent on top of his teetering sculpture, he said there was never a time when he bore any ill-will toward his native city.
He moved to Cleveland around 1990, after the “Green Lightning” fiasco and the first of the subsequent court battles played out. He is now working out of his large studio in the city, where “Green Lighting” currently sits in storage.
His 1995 sculpture, an enormous mechanical contraption called “The Politician a Toy” that rotates during the day and plays video at night, is a popular attraction on the campus of Cleveland State University. It’s widely read as a critique of elected officials and it is, quite possibly, a kind of cubist rendering of the late Griffin. (“People see what they want to see in it,” Lawless said.)
“Green Lightning” was on view for 10 years in Chicago, where hardly anyone batted an eye at the neon depictions of dancing male genitalia in top hats that prompted Griffin to label it “obscene” and order its removal.
Lawless’ work was included in a late-1980s exhibition on censorship at the Cleveland gallery Spaces. After the exhibition, he said, he decided to make a life for himself there.
Right now, Lawless said, he’s working on a large version of Noah’s Ark that includes a depiction of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. He cites the artists Alexander Calder and Christo as influences, saying that most of his work is designed to be moved from place to place rather than plopped down in one location forever.
“I always felt that I wanted to do a lot of different work, not just keep churning out Kenneth Snelson-type sculptures one after the next. So I’ve always been pretty diverse,” Lawless said. “The idea that my pieces move around and are temporal I thought was always part of the piece.”
So does that mean “Green Lighting” might some day make a return trip to Western New York?
“If they want to bring it back? Any time,” Lawless said. “And if they want to pay for it, that’s not a problem.”
- Colin Dabkowski
It was more than six years ago that former Buffalo Sabre analyst Jim Lorentz essentially said he was leaving the booth to go fishing.
And despite some skepticism at the time, that’s exactly what Lorentz did.
Tired of the travel required for the TV job, Lorentz left his seat alongside play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret to go fishing and write a book on Atlantic salmon fishing.
Lorentz, who lives on Grand Island, has just about finished the book “The Atlantic Salmon – Moody and Mysterious.”
“It took me about six years, but I think you have to remember I don’t write during the fishing season,” said Lorentz. “I write mostly in the winter months so it took me about two and a half years to do. I’m just finishing up the last chapter on the conservation aspects of it and it changes so quickly it is hard to keep up with it.”
Lorentz, who had written for some fishing magazines, concedes that writing a book is a lot harder than playing professional hockey. He played for the Sabres from 1971-78, most memorably earning the nickname Batman after killing a bat in Memorial Auditorium during the 1975 Stanley Cup finals with Philadelphia Flyers.
“In hockey, it came natural in a sense,” said Lorentz. “There is a lot of hard work connected to conditioning. Writing was a whole different experience. One of the most difficult areas was trying to get everything arranged in the right spot. It was a real experience. It was really eye-opening.”
He doesn’t expect to get rich on book proceeds.
“The audience for Atlantic salmon fishing isn’t that large as compared to trout fishing,” said Lorentz. “I don’t expect to make a lot of money or anything like that.”
Lorentz, who is about to turn 67, misses very few TV games. What does he think of the team?
“Not very much,” said Lorentz. “What was surprising to me I wasn’t sure what Darcy (former general manager Darcy Regier) was trying to do. I thought it was really, really unfair what they did to the fans here in the approach they took to try and redevelop the team. And they put them in a really bad position – the fans and the organization.”
Lorentz was shocked by the quick departure of Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations.
“I think it is a public relations disaster,” said Lorentz. “I’m a big supporter of Pat. He brought a lot of class and credibility to the organization. I don’t know what happened but I think it is really bad for the organization.”
He is a fan of Coach Ted Nolan.
“Even when he was coaching the New York Islanders, I remember the (2007) playoff series and Buffalo was damn lucky to win that series. I thought the Islanders outworked them,” said Lorentz. “Buffalo just won by its talent. I’ve always impressed by what he’s been able to get from his players. He is one of the best I’ve seen from getting the most out of them.”
“He spends more time on trying to motivate players. … Today’s game gets too structured and it takes away from the players’ imagination and creativity. Ted wants the work ethic and he knows if you get the work ethic the talent is going to come to the forefront and that overcomes a lot of things.”
Lorentz still watches games like an analyst and wishes he could explain some things going on.
And what is his view of Sabres analyst Rob Ray?
“I think Rob has a lot of potential, but I don’t think he has learned how to do the job yet,” said Lorentz. “I think he has good insight, but I don’t think he has learned how to deliver it yet. I think he needs to do more preparation with coaches.”
Lorentz also agrees with my criticism of Ray.
“Somebody should give him a grammar book,” said Lorentz. “I don’t mean to be rough on him. All I’m saying is he needs to clean up the grammar.”
He doesn’t regret leaving the booth and isn’t envious of Jeanneret, who also has tired of traveling but has been able to work a reduced schedule.
“If I could have done home games, I would have been fine with that,” said Lorentz. “Different time, different ownership, different philosophy. When I retired, I think they wanted more continuity. I understand that.”
He believes it might take a while before the Sabres can turn it around and become more watchable.
“I would have to say three to four years,” said Lorentz. “It depends, too, on what they can pick up on the free agent market. With free agents, you can turn it around pretty quickly. But they have all these young players and draft choices and you just never know how they are going to turn out. You can have all the No. 1 picks that you want but it doesn’t mean they are going to play in the league.”
- Alan Pergament
Karen Swallow Prior
In many ways, Karen Swallow Prior reflected the local pro-life activist movement that so dominated the Buffalo area from the late 1980s through the 1990s, when Western New York served as a key battleground in the national abortion debate.
She was on the front lines from the start, dating to the bicycle-lock protests in 1988. She later became a major spokeswoman for the local rescue movement. Always thoughtfully questioning her role in that movement, she began seeking common ground – not middle ground – on the issue. And a few months before leaving Buffalo in 1999, as the noisy street confrontations began to lose steam, Prior refused to participate in Operation Save America, portrayed as trying to confront “the enemies of our Lord.”
Prior left Buffalo in July 1999 for a teaching job at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. She’s still there, almost 15 years later, primarily teaching British literature and having spent 4½ years chairing the university’s Department of English and Modern Languages.
“I have really thrived at Liberty University,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I love it here, and I feel I have been well received.”
At Liberty, she’s received numerous awards, including the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence last year.
Prior has always been her own woman, never afraid to stand up for what she believed. In Buffalo, she was an academic in the pro-life leadership so dominated by the clergy. No pro-life activist earned more respect from the pro-choice side. And she was a feminist in the male-dominated ranks of the pro-life leadership.
So how has all that played at Liberty University, founded by the late, controversial Rev. Jerry Falwell?
“In some ways, I don’t always fit the stereotype of a conservative, evangelical Christian,” she said. “But students have responded positively to those differences.”
A few examples: She’s served as the faculty adviser to Students for Stewardship, Liberty’s first environmental club. She followed her old Common Ground activism with something called Level Ground, helping foster dialogue at a Los Angeles film festival between people of faith and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. And she still proudly displays on her office wall a plaque for winning a leadership award from the Buffalo Feminists for Life.
The 49-year-old Prior said her pro-life convictions have remained as strong as ever. But living now in a rural area, she’s devoted her passions and energy increasingly to other causes, including the Humane Society, agricultural and animal welfare and spaying/neutering.
Prior was asked how she now views her public role during the abortion debate in Buffalo.
“I believe all those street-level battles in Buffalo and across the country catapulted the abortion issue into the public conversation and conscience,” she said. “I think it made a short-term difference in the lives of many people who faced abortion-related decisions in those years. And it had long-term effects on younger evangelicals who tend to be more liberal on a range of social issues but stay strongly committed to a pro-life ethic.”
And her Buffalo days helped form the person she has become, shaping her convictions and her faith.
“I took a lot of risks during those years and had to put myself completely in God’s hands,” she said. “As a result, I have a greater trust in God now.”
- Gene Warner
John David “Dave” Munday
John David “Dave” Munday, the rural Canadian diesel mechanic who made a splash – literally – by going over the falls in barrels in 1985 and 1993, left the area in 2000 to start a new life in a small fishing village in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Munday, who was even liked by the Niagara Parks Police officers who tried to keep him away from the falls, quickly developed a close network of friends and neighbors there – most of whom have never seen the falls and therefore cannot quite grasp their daredevil friend’s accomplishment.
One neighbor did get a chance to travel to Niagara Falls and visit the cataracts Munday has gone over twice. “He couldn’t believe it, eh?” Munday said, laughing.
“It’s hard to imagine,” said Gerard Martel, whose family is now among Munday’s closest friends in Cape Breton. “After seeing the falls, I can’t imagine being brave enough to go over once, much less twice.”
Munday was born in Hamilton, where he lived until he was 8, when his father moved the family to a farmhouse in Caistor Centre. Munday worked as a diesel mechanic, but in his spare time flew both small airplanes and helicopters and made thousands of recreational parachute jumps, eventually becoming a skydiving instructor. In his mid-40s, his thoughts turned to the Horseshoe Falls, which was on his mind ever since an encounter he had as a child at the Canadian National Exposition with Major Hill, a rapids barrel-rider and member of the famous Hill family of rivermen.
In 1985, Munday, 48, made his first attempt to go over the falls in a barrel he and his brother-in-law, Ross Whitaker, designed and built in Munday’s shop. His crew launched the barrel from well above the brink and the barrel became trapped by the Ontario Hydro water control dam, which sticks out 2,000 feet from the shore 8,500 feet from the brink. Munday was mortified when Wesley Hill, Major Hill’s brother, threw a rope on the barrel and knocked on the hatch, and he had to open the hatch and climb out. “I always wanted to meet you, but I thought it would be down below,” Munday told Hill.
After paying his fine and picking up the barrel, Munday succeeded in going over the falls on Oct. 5, 1985. He built a different barrel and rode it through the Whirlpool Rapids on Oct. 11, 1987.
But stung by press descriptions of his self-designed Falls barrel as “high-tech,” Munday designed a stripped-down version, just a long steel pipe covered with sprayed-on foam insulation, to take the plunge again. This barrel was launched early in the morning of July 16, 1990, but ground to a halt in the low water on the rocks at the brink of the Horseshoe. The barrel remained perched for two hours in the precarious spot, until Munday’s crew chief, Dan Perri of Thorold, brought a large crane to the brink to pluck the barrel from the water.
Munday succeeded in going over the Horseshoe again on Sept. 26, 1993, in a converted steel diving bell.
In the summer of 2000, retired from his job and with his daredevil days mostly behind him. Munday pulled up stakes and moved into a modest home in Cape Breton. He turned 77 this month.
In Cape Breton, Munday settled in immediately, savoring the slower-paced life. “The people are so different here,” he said. “I was looking for people that worked hard and were honest, and I found them here.”
Munday never expected to celebrate his 77th birthday, but not because of the many risks he’s taken throughout his life. “My dad said all our lives that a lifespan was 75 and then that was it,” he said. He never thought he’d die at the falls. “No, no, no, no, I figured I had lots of time left after that. I never thought I’d die in the barrel. I had a lot of confidence in the people that helped me, eh?”
- Anne Neville
Unlike Brazil, or Sweden, Buffalo isn’t known as a birthplace of internationally known supermodels.
But the Queen City can claim the legendary Beverly Johnson, and at least one other woman who knows her way around a catwalk or a photo studio.
Jessica White, the East Side native who started modeling when she was a teenager at Kensington High School, made it to the top of the industry by her 20s.
She had eight appearances in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue – once, in a blow to her hometown, with a Miami Dolphins jersey painted on her body – contracts with major beauty and fashion companies and appearances in the gossip pages linking her to a string of celebrity boyfriends.
When we last wrote about White at length, in 2008, she was taking a break from the fast-paced modeling life, moving back to her hometown of Buffalo, reconnecting with her church and launching a foundation to help abused children.
She even registered to vote – as a Democrat – during her return to Buffalo, and said she was building a seven-bedroom dream house in Orchard Park.
What has White, who turns 30 in June and is still as lovely as ever, been doing since then? Through her agency, she declined an interview request. So we had to turn to the public record to answer that question.
White hasn’t graced the pages of SI since 2011, but she still gets regular work with companies such as H&M, for whom she modeled lingerie, and with makeup giant Maybelline. And in late January she went on BET’s “106 & Park” to talk about her new lingerie line.
“I want to inspire all women no matter what shape and size they are,” White said, though she didn’t offer details on when and where the intimate apparel would be available.
White is active on Twitter, where she has 25,100 followers, and she frequently posts glamorous pictures to Instagram.
Her self-description from her Twitter profile is cryptic, ellipses and all: “I am … of the wind. Whose sound is heard yet none can tell from whence it comes or where it goes.”
She’s a regular on the red carpet and socializes with fellow supermodels, actresses and other boldfaced names. She’s also gained attention for her dating life, with reported relationships with ex-Bill Terrell Owens and bad-boy actor Sean Penn.
White was charged in 2010 with assault and harassment after allegedly slapping a woman in a fight over a cab in New York City, but the counts were dismissed in 2011 and White was ordered to perform community service, New York magazine reported. She also said she was taking meditation classes given to her as a birthday gift by rap mogul Russell Simmons.
There’s no indication she ever bought or moved into the house in Orchard Park, nor do we know whether she followed through on her plan to take classes toward earning a GED.
As for her Angel Wings charity, White held a fundraising golf tournament in 2009 in Orchard Park, and she has held fundraising parties on Long Island every May since 2010. The events are considered a highlight of the Hamptons social calendar.
White said in the BET interview that she is filming a TV show – perhaps the reality show for the Style Network widely reported last year – and said she wanted to do more acting in 2014.
“This year, I’m gonna be really insane. But I’m ready. I’ve been waiting my whole life to kind of step out and get people to know who I am and just see who Jessica is in anything I have to offer in entertainment,” she said.
- Stephen T. Watson
Terry Anderson and Peggy Say
In his absence, Terry Anderson became a presence.
Most of us never knew him personally. But from 1985 until 1991, the name of the former Batavia resident and longtime hostage was on almost every Western New Yorker’s lips. He had his sister, Peggy Say, to thank for that.
Anderson was taken captive while working as a reporter for the Associated Press in Lebanon in 1985. He had not lived in Batavia for years, but he still had a lot of family there, including several of his classmates from his graduating class at Batavia High School.
But his older sister made sure people did not forget him. She was a fixture in newspaper articles and on television as she used every means she could imagine to keep his cause alive and fight for his freedom. Eventually, she wrote a book about her efforts called, appropriately, “Forgotten.”
When Anderson didn’t come home for nearly seven years, people fasted and prayed and held vigils. They wore silver bracelets inscribed with his name. A sculpture bust of him was made and displayed in the Genesee Country Mall in Batavia.
“I love you, I miss you very much,” Anderson said to his family and supporters, in a taped statement in 1988.
Finally, in December 1991, Anderson was freed. His return visit to Genesee County a few months after his release – when he went to the mall and broke the chains on that bust – drew thousands of people.
During his captivity, Anderson – who became a household name in part through the tireless efforts of his sister to win his freedom – turned into something of a cultural touchstone.
“I want to appeal for an end to the suffering of all people in the Middle East,” Say said, at one point during her brother’s captivity, “including these innocent hostages.”
Anderson didn’t move back to Batavia after his release and Say had moved away while he was in captivity.
Anderson was living in Kentucky, as of his last visit to the Buffalo region in 2011, and teaching journalism at a college there.
Say relocated out of state with her husband, David Say. He died in 2012 in their hometown of Cookeville, Tenn.
Anderson, when contacted by The Buffalo News for this story, said that he didn’t want to talk about his life and what he is doing now.
- Charity Vogel
It’s easy to figure out where Semyon Bychkov is now. Just hit Google. At the moment he is at Covent Garden, the world-famous opera house in London where Prince Charles, once upon a time, used to drag a reluctant Princess Diana.
He is conducting Richard Strauss’ “Die Frau Ohne Schatten,” which means “The Woman Without a Shadow.” The Independent in Britain gave it thumbs up: “With an ideal cast, and with the great Semyon Bychkov in the pit, we get a breath-taking performance.”
You could almost call Bychkov the maestro without a shadow. He never stands still.
Born in 1952 in St. Petersburg – then Leningrad – he led the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 until 1989. He left Buffalo to lead the Orchestre de Paris, where he remained until 1998. From 1997 to 2010 he was the music director of the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra of Cologne, a gigantic German orchestra he brought to Kleinhans Music Hall in 2002. (Big orchestras suit Bychkov. BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta, who studied with him at the Mannes School of Music, once called him “a larger-than-life personality.”)
Now, Bychkov freelances, conducting at high-profile places including Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, and La Scala in Milan. About once a year, he tours America leading various orchestras. On the phone from London, he said he loves his freedom.
“One of the privileges I have is that I only do projects that are really, really important to me, that I can become obsessed about,” he said. “It is the only way that I can function.”
“I am conducting ‘Die Frau Ohne Schatten’ for the first time in my life,” he adds. “For many years, I have had great identification with the music of Strauss.” He is looking forward to his next overwhelming project, which is conducting Moussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina” at the Vienna State Opera. Bychkov fell in love with Moussorgsky’s “Boris Godonuv” when he conducted it a decade ago at the Met, and can’t wait to dive back into the moody Russian’s work.
A few things in Bychkov’s constantly shifting life, fortunately, are constant. One of them is his wife, Marielle LaBeque, one half of the flashy two-piano sister duo the LaBeque sisters. Bychkov met her in 1987, during his time in Buffalo, and they married in 1999.
They have lived for years in Paris. Bychkov, though, still treasures his American citizenship. His two children, now grown up, live in the United States, one in Washington, D.C., and the other in New York City.
“I am an American citizen, for life, with no parole,” he jokes, and giggles. “I wouldn’t like it any other way. I have not taken any other citizenship, which I can, because I am married to a French citizen, and live so many years in France. And there are other countries I could contemplate. But I have no wish to do that. America remains the land that I came to when I was penniless and that really supported me. Individuals in America really supported me.”
He said he treasures his memories of Buffalo. And he proves it: Though his publicist doubted he had time for any interviews, he made time for this call.
“How can one forget?” he said. “It was nearly a decade of my connection to the city, to its people. And the friends remain friends. That hasn’t disappeared.”
- Mary Kunz Goldman