It’s bad enough the coronavirus has dealt death, but it’s also put on hold the opportunity to gather and honor the lives of many.
That includes former Eagle financial officer Rod Armstrong who lost his battle with cancer last month. Rod’s family and friends won’t have his life celebration until things are safe, but the pandemic hasn’t stopped us from remembering his impact.
Rod was The Eagle’s rock. During his four-decade stay, The Eagle changed ownership five times. Nine publishers and fellow directors came and went, but Rod remained because he was good at what he did. He knew how to crunch numbers, but Rod also was an advocate for employees. Whether it was their first or last day, Rod had their back. And Rod’s shoulders were broad enough to be fair to both employer and employee.
Also adding to the respect everyone afforded Rod was his dedication. Rod’s pickup daily was the first vehicle in the parking lot. Rod loved his work and you always knew where you stood with him because everything was black and white. Rules and regulations were meant to be enforced, not bent. Back before computers, our time cards were done manually. Those who forget — along with possibly their immediate supervisor — got the dreaded 7 a.m. Saturday one-word phone calls from Rod: “Timesheet.” You got it in ASAP if you wanted to get paid on time.
Rod had the body of an NFL lineman and a stare that could make your knees wobble, but he was a gentle giant. He had a loud, jolly laugh that was infectious. He would at times laugh so hard his face would redden and wrinkle. He’d even tear up and have to double over, having a tough time stopping.
Rod’s passion for life wasn’t confined to the office. He loved softball and golf. Rod was at The Eagle less than a week when he approached me about joining the company’s softball team since I was the coach.
“I heard you guys have a pretty good team,” Rod said. “Is there any chance I could join?”
We were good and while Rod’s muscles had muscles, I’d seen way too many body-builder types who couldn’t hit the ball back to the pitcher or catch the easiest throw. However, he was a boss. And besides, maybe he could at least play catcher or right field. I told him we were having practice that weekend, but I couldn’t promise him anything.
I think in 10 pitches Rod hit seven home runs, a couple of them landing in the pool beyond Lions Field at Sue Haswell Park. Needless to say he made the team.
“Where do you want to play?” I somewhat jokingly asked him after he exited the batter’s box.
That fabled tryout was often fondly recalled, even a few times on the golf course where Rod really felt at home. He looked forward to the local charity golf tournament circuit so much that it probably was a big reason he didn’t retire sooner, since he would have just gone to the golf course, anyway. So why not play in tournaments for free and win some swag? For whatever reason he kept working, we were the big winners.
Rod was an excellent golfer. His short game was solid and if you needed to sink a putt, you wanted the money man. Golf suited Rod, because it’s a gentleman’s sport, and Rod was a man of honor.
“Hey, I recently met a guy who works with you,” people would often say to me. “Rod Armstrong? Nice guy, class act.”
That was Rod.
I’m not a very good golfer, but he played several rounds with me, enduring my bad technique, though I did occasionally get one of those what-the-heck-are-you-doing stares. He gave me a ton of those stares on the softball field for cutting in front of him to make catches or carelessly running into outs on the base paths. The best stare he gave me in the office was as I tried to explain accidentally using the company’s credit card to buy a Christmas gift.
The best story, though, happened about three decades ago when new owners of The Eagle sent someone to examine the books. He happened to be a golfer, so we played Briarcrest Country Club. What a round. My partner, Jim Burford, aced the fifth hole. It didn’t matter that he didn’t break a 100, it made the round. Suddenly, we were having some kind of fun, but it got better. Late on the back nine, my partner drove our cart full speed into a low-hanging branch, basically clipping off roof. It had to be a first, reporting a hole-in-one at the turn and nine holes later turning in a convertible cart. Briarcrest Country Club pro Mike Higgins at first thought we were kidding, until he saw the cart.
I can still hear Rod laughing.
- Robert Cessna’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.