Chaffin column: Heston’s passing brings memories of turning point

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I was still at work around midnight last Saturday when Night Editor Scott Jenkins announced that Charlton Heston had died.
While Weekend Editor Paris Goodnight revised the already-completed Sunday paper to get the news in, my mind returned to my 1991 trip to California. It was a reward of sorts for surviving my first battle with cancer ó a fibrosarcoma in my left shoulder.
I had endured two difficult surgeries the year before with radiation treatments in between and physical therapy afterward to try to regain as much of the use of my left arm as possible.
My friend, Lynn, who had lost her two daughters in a horrible tragedy a few weeks after my second surgery, moved to Los Angeles during my physical therapy. When she invited me to come visit her and Dean, our friend from high school who she would marry the following year, I decided to go.
The cancer had been a turning point in my life, and I needed some time away to sort through everything that had happened.
My six weeks in L.A. turned out to be one of the grandest adventures of my life.
Lynn and I were at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu when we separated from the tour group to explore the exhibit rooms at our own pace. I was in one of the rooms alone, taking in the exquisite works of art when I heard some people enter to my left.
I didn’t bother to turn around until I heard “the voice” ó the deep, authoritative voice that I recognized immediately as Moses from “The Ten Commandments” and the Jewish chariot racer from one of my all-time favorite films, “Ben-Hur.”
Instinctively, I turned to look into the chiseled face of Charlton Heston, who was standing with his wife and talking with a museum employee.
Slightly embarrassed by what was surely a starstruck expression on my face, I smiled at the man who had been one of my childhood heroes along with John Wayne, Tom Landry and my daddy, of course, and turned back to the exhibit.
We would encounter other celebrities during my stay.
Olivia Newton-John sat in front of us at the theater when we went to see “The Godfather: Part III,” screaming loudly during one scene.
We went to hear science fiction author Ray Bradbury speak at the Woodland Hills Library and were among about seven people at a performance of a local theater company featuring several television actors, including Joe Conley, the man who played Ike Godsey on “The Waltons.”
But it was my chance encounter with Heston, an actor who helped bring the Bible to life for many, that made the biggest impression.
It was a wonderful trip and marked a new start to my life without cancer. But after six weeks in California, I was ready to come home.
The image of my daddy, his girlfriend, Mary, and my then-21-month-old niece, Amanda, waiting for me at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport still brings tears to my eyes.
Sometimes when I’m lonely or scared and miss my daddy, I’ll close my eyes and try to call up the comfort of his welcome-home hug in my memory.
For that shining moment, they made me feel like the most loved person on this earth. It was the kind of welcome I believe Charlton Heston received last Saturday when he crossed from this life into the next.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or