When you are in the news business, you’re bound to cross paths with extraordinary people. Some of them witnessed great events such as the landings on Iwo Jima during World War II or the Allied invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944. Sometimes you meet celebrities that you’ve only glimpsed on television or read about online or in magazines.
I still remember one instance years ago when Dr. Phillip C. McGraw, better known on television as Dr. Phil, visited the Bluefield area for a Christmas event.
I was busy working on another story when my phone rang. I answered and heard, “Hey Greg, this is Dr. Phil.” I contained my surprise and got to work. I wasn’t really expecting his call.
Back in 2015, we learned that the experiences of a former Bluefield police officer named Steve Murphy was forming the basis of an upcoming show called “Narcos.”
It was based on the search for drug terrorist Pablo Escobar, head of the violent Medellin Drug Cartel in Colombia. We made some inquires with the show’s producer, Netflix, about talking to him.
Well, eventually we managed to make contact and started making the arrangements. The Netflix folks in California were taking their time about approving and setting up the interview, and time was wasting.
Now, I’ll confess that I can’t remember whether Steve Murphy called me or I called him, but we made contact. We talked a couple of minutes and decided to go ahead with the interview. Those folks in California were taking too long!
Murphy went on to tell me the amazing story about how he went from patrolling the streets of Bluefield to working with Colombian police to bring down Escobar and shut down the cartel. Escobar was brutal and amazingly dangerous, and he was ready to kill anybody despite presenting a Robin Hood image to his nation’s poor. DEA agent Murphy and his Colombian partner, Javier Pena, and hundreds of other agents and police officers fought a long, dangerous struggle against Escobar.
Eventually, Escobar was convicted and put into a prison – he had his own prison built – but he escaped. He was closely pursued, sometimes so closely that his coffee was still hot when police arrived at his last location.
Escobar’s reign finally ended when he spent a few minutes too long on a cellphone call with his son. Police were able to reach his hiding place in time, and he was shot and killed while trying to escape.
Murphy and Pena are coming Sept. 19 to Princeton for a presentation at the Chuck Mathena Center. I plan to attend if at all possible. I spoke to Murphy, and he told me about their new book, “Manhunters: How We Took Down Pablo Escobar,” and his other projects such as a possible television show called, “The Lost Clipper.”
One particular interview has always been a favorite of mine. I was doing something that I had never imagined doing as a child, talking to somebody I had seen on TV. I grew up watching “Gilligan’s Island,” and I had a chance to talk to the world’s most famous castaway if you don’t count Robinson Crusoe.
The late actor Bob Denver and his wife, Dreama, were participating at a charity auction for the Bluefield Union Mission. We talked about what made “Gilligan’s Island” items so collectible.
The show aired during the days when the networks didn’t do so much merchandising, so not many things were available today.
To the best of Denver’s knowledge, only a board game was marketed while the show was on the air.
Years later, this interview thrust into a small spotlight of my own. I was trying a teaching career, so my student teaching took me to a Monroe County school.
I was telling some grade school kids about my reporting experiences. One students asked me if I had ever met anybody famous, so I brought up the fact that I had interviewed Gilligan a couple to times.
Those kids lit up and gazed at me with disbelief and adoration. They had all seen “Gilligan’s Island” and one girl said she could sing the theme song.
The teacher leaned over to me and whispered, “You’re their hero now.”
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at email@example.com