Bard E. Lindeman, a journalist who predicted the current health care crisis 35 years ago and lost his job because of it, and who went on to become the country's longest-running columnist on the subject of aging, his column appearing for many years in this newspaper, died Dec. 2 at his home in Stone Mountain. He was 81, suffering from lymphoma, and he was my dad.
Bard was a strong-willed man who wasn't bashful about sharing his opinions. He loved people, was unfailingly generous with his talent and had a very big heart.
He was best known nationally as the dean of American writers on aging. He began writing his column, "In Your Prime," later called, "Gray Matters," in the early 1980s. He wrote more than 2,000 columns, some appering in the Gwinnett Daily Post, and continued until a few weeks before his death.
But locally, he was known as a sometimes-crazy guy from New York who moved to Gwinnett County, a place he knew little about and for which nothing in life had prepared him, because he loved a woman.
As a writer, my dad's favorite stories were about the underdog. In 1974, while the editor of Today's Health, a general interest magazine published by the American Medical Association, he freelanced a series of newspaper articles on "the coming health care crisis." The series focused on ordinary Americans who were being forced into bankruptcy due to high medical bills.
The morning the series broke in hundreds of papers across the country, his AMA bosses, very much at odds with the idea there was anything wrong with the state of American health care, gave him an ultimatum: retract the series or be fired. He refused and was ushered from the building minutes later.
In the early 1980s, he became the editor of New Choices, one of the first magazines to focus on aging and he became convinced aging was one of the greatest stories of our time, and he began writing his column.
In 1998 he published "Be An Outrageous Older Man," which presented his observations and advice on aging in the context of his take-no-prisoners approach to life. "Outrageous is nothing more than a code word for the independent, free-thinking, strong-willed mature adult," he wrote.
He had the first three qualities in spades, but maturity was never a strong suit. His greatest challenge in becoming a Georgian was adjusting to life among people of a different political mind-set. He often got into verbal scrapes with motorists whose bumper stickers inflamed him. Following one such incident a year ago, shortly after he turned 80, he drove his car off the road so he could run over a row of McCain/Palin signs.
In 1971, when my dad was 42, my mother died suddenly following complications from a botched surgery. Writing about his experiences as a young widower raising three children, my dad talked about running in a park near our home. "I imagined if I could run fast enough and hard enough I would be able to bring her back, if only for a brief time," he wrote.
What he lacked in domestic ability he made up for with determination. Insisting we gather for dinner nightly, he held our little family together when we could have come flying apart like a cheap toy. Today, my brother is a doctor in Miami and my sister is a lawyer in Chicago.
In 1982, he married Jan Still-Lindeman, a Dacula High School and University of Georgia graduate, and they made their home in New York. He promised that if she someday wanted to return here where she has deep roots, they would. After a decade in Manhattan, she took him up on his promise and my dad, who once went 10 years without a driver's license, bought a car and learned to grow azaleas.
Bard came of age among a group of newspaper guys who treated writing as a blood sport. He trained me as such, and one time got me out of bed at 7:30 on a Sunday morning for a blistering, word-by-word critique of one of my pieces he didn't think measured up.
In his 70s, he began teaching memoir writing at Emory University, and fortunately by this time he had mellowed, somewhat. He had dozens of students, many of whom took his class again and again and became friends. He called them his "repeat offenders."
A onetime amateur boxer and football captain at Middlebury College, from which he graduated in 1950, he had a lifelong passion for sneaking into swimming pools. His most prized conquest was the spectacular pool at Stanford University, in which he swam half a mile before dawn one morning, completely alone.
Since his burial in a cemetery alongside Ebenezer Baptist Church on Harbins Road, I've been amazed at how many people from Gwinnett County and elsewhere, have contacted me to say he touched their lives. Never underestimate the reach of one passionate person willing to leave the safety of the paved road to make his voice heard.
Leslie Lindeman is a writer and father in Pasadena, Calif.