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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Craven: Remembering Don Mullally

At the close of each year, we pause to remember people who have recently passed away. This is especially true in the arts where, for 2016, we remember, among others, actors Gene Wilder and Alan Rickman, musicians David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Sharon Jones, and Prince. The theater world lost playwright Edward Albee and Liz Suedos. Film will miss Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Closer to home, we lost poets David Budbill and Leland Kinsey. And the radio voice of St. Johnsbury, Don Mullally. Few people did more to help advance the local arts scene than Don. Because if it was happening locally, Don wanted you to know about it. And he was the community’s most trusted voice.

Mind you, Don was a creature of AM radio - and as AM declined, so did Don’s influence. But that didn’t stop him. He was on the air at 6am, from 1952 until two weeks before he died.

Don’s silky and soothing baritone was familiar to everyone. So when I needed a radio voice for a drive-by shot in my first dramatic film, 'High Water,' I went to Don. He also snagged me a tune from a local 50’s swing band, to ensure Northeast Kingdom authenticity. Don knew swing so, in the 80’s, I recruited him and his St. J. Big Band to open for the Count Basie Orchestra. Don sang the solos. He was all-smiles.

Don Mullally was upbeat, kind, and a friend to all, with fifty years of perfect attendance at Kiwanis Club meetings. His grandson spoke at his memorial service about times he’d go, as a boy, to visit his granddad, who would lead him all around St. J. But everywhere they went people stopped to talk to Don, often at length. Even motorists pulled over to chat.

“Do you know everyone in this town?” his slightly frustrated grandson asked.

“No,” Don answered. “But I wish I did.”

What do we make of a man who found such comfort in the same job for 64 years - that gave him the platform to applaud local initiatives, broadcast high school sports - and show his undying love for his community? Some say that Don’s passing marks the end of an era. I hope it serves as an inspiration – to keep our towns vital and connected, celebrating our strengths, aspiration, imagination, and commitment to the day-to-day.

Jay Craven is a filmmaker who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and directs Kingdom County Productions
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