Judith Whipple, a friend and former colleague at the paper, emailed to tell me a “wonderful old Fitz drawing of Rose Mofford, done many years ago” had ended up on the closet door of her 97-year-old Green Valley pal, Kay Henderson, and now that she’s “kinda blank on it” she’d like me to have it back.
It always surprises me to hear my caricatures, quickly scrawled on an easel pad, are treasured keepsakes. Some fans even bother framing the giant things and hanging them in a dining room or over a fireplace. Placing one in a fireplace would be my practical choice.
Judith and I met for lunch and she delivered the oversize cartoon in a tube. When I got home I unrolled the old parchment and remembered how much I revered the portrait subject. With a towering snow white beehive hairdo, Rose was a treat to caricature and a treat to know. As I sketched, I would wonder aloud to audiences where she got her hair done, and then top off her distinctive coif with a curlicue at its peak while answering, “Dairy Queen.”
The fun part was adding the planets and stars circling the Eighth Wonder of Arizona at its upper reaches, a band of mountain climbers scaling the summit and a space shuttle spiraling its way home from Mount Mofford.
I thought about all the drawings of Rose I’ve done over the years. What become of them? And most importantly, what became of Rose, the All-American softball champ from Globe, Arizona?
I learned Rose is 92 years old, “glad to be alive” and kicking. Since the clock is ticking, I thought I should come clean and tell her one of the biggest thrills of my dusty life was sharing a stage with her at “An Evening of Humor in Honor of Mo Udall” at Centennial Hall in 1993. Barry Goldwater and the headliner, Mark Russell, were great. But Arizona’s First Lady was funny, sassy and genuine winning the audience with her folksy self-deprecating humor and hilarious stories that offered strong moral lessons and profound political points.
She told the crowd she took my cartoons to her favorite hairdresser with instructions to “follow these schematics.”
Rose ascended to the governor’s throne after the scandalous Evan Mecham was kicked to the curb. Short-statured Mecham was too easy to satirize, with his chimp-like grin and his ragged toupee. After Mecham ran Arizona into the ditch, decent Rose knocked out the dings, buffed Arizona’s fenders, gassed her up and got us out back on the road and running just fine, thank you.
With the regal bearing of a rodeo queen, the politically savvy of Machiavelli and the charm of a truck stop cafe waitress, Rose favored arching Joan Crawford eyebrows and Barbie-thick eyelashes, fluttering weaponry she unleashed to display disapproval, feign shock or stare down any good old boy in the Arizona Legislature. She governed by eyebrow.
I saw her get choked up standing next to a White Mountain Apache singing the Star Spangled Banner at a Rotary event in Show Low. A salt of the earth patriot, her eyelashes turned into patio misters.
I saw her elbow and wink at a laughing Sen. Barry Goldwater after telling him a bawdy joke that was just for the two of them. An “A” list comedienne, she could have headlined a Governors of Comedy Tour, telling jokes in every diner in Arizona from Pinetop to Yuma.
I heard she once pinched a full-grown adult prosecutor on the cheek after he had won a tough conviction against a child-killer. Wagging his jowl twixt her fingers, she said, “Attaboy, doll.”
During an interview with the governor in her office, she caught me drawing her likeness in the margin of my notebook. Like a seventh grader in the back of the class I had been caught with the evidence of insult in my callow guilty hands. I handed her my low-brow drawing of a woman resembling a cross between Marge Simpson and Tammy Faye Bakker. She glared at the seditious doodle. She batted her furious eyelashes. The governor was clearly savoring my embarrassment.
And then, when all you could hear was my chicken heart pounding, she broke the silence with a warm hearty laugh, the laughter of democracy, confident in the face of petty, loyal, poorly drawn dissent. “In this life, doll, you got to laugh at yourself or you won’t make it.”
There’s the lesson: Take yourself seriously and you’ll snap. Nurture a sense of humor and you’ll endure. That’s true for nations as well as for your uncle Fred.
Judith, thanks for returning the drawing for your friend, Kay. May you both keep laughing at the good soul in the mirror.
And Rose, I’m crazy about you, doll.