All this year at my Facebook page, I have been taking a daily trip back in time to the 1980’s. Each month I am highlighting a different year chronologically.
This month have been featuring the music, tv, movies, and important events of 1981. You can also follow this little mini-series of articles on each year of the “1980’s'” by clicking on to that ‘label’ below this article.
As we all know, a new decade does not actually technically begin in a year that ends in a zero, it begins with the year ending in (1) one. So while 1981 might be the 2nd year of the 1980’s, it’s the first year of a new decade and marked a beginning in a couple of different chapters of my own life.
In late September of 1980, my little young family had moved into an apartment in South Philly. 1981 would be the first and only full calendar year that we would live there. It was an interesting year at what became simply known as ‘the apartment’ in our little circle of friends. We had many a Friday night party at the place in the early months of the year, but as the summer drew on things got a bit more crowded.
In another development of those early months, the news came to us that a new addition was expected in the Veasey clan. Having given birth to Chrissy the previous February, we learned that Anne was pregnant again. Given that she was due at the end of July 1981, it appeared that this was a post-World Series baby conceived in the immediate aftermath of the Phils’ first-ever championship at the end of October.
So leaping forward, on July 30th, 1981, Kelly Anne Veasey came into the world. We had planned all along to actually name her ‘Kerry’ rather than ‘Kelly’. But another young couple who lived on Anne’s parents block in Prospect Park, PA, were due at the same time. They gave birth just before us, and named their new daughter ‘Kerry’. That killed it, we weren’t going to be seen as copy-cats. So ‘Kelly’ it was. A fine Irish name.
Kelly’s sister Christine had been almost too good to be true as a baby. She was quiet, happy, mostly healthy, slept through the night. A dream for a young couple who already had enough on their plates. Kelly – not so much. She was sickly for much of her first year, puking up everywhere and crying incessantly. We were paying the price for the good luck the first time around.
Kelly would grow out of that illness and crying period quickly the following summer, and would go on to be a wonderful, happy, care-free joy to be around for anyone who knew her. Well, maybe except for the whole pulling-out of her sister’s hair episode. She remains that lovable way to this day. But as for that first year? Well, for the sake of the love that I have for her today, I’ll pass on further commentary.
I began to get a little more responsibility in my job at First Pennsylvania Bank as well. In those days my work mostly consisted still of duties as a Messenger Clerk, and I was also getting involved in bond reconciliation and cremation procedures. It wasn’t much, but for a kid who was still a teenager it was good, steady work with a small but livable paycheck. Most importantly for my young family, the job came with a good health care plan.
In the spring of 1981 an old friend from my Two Street neighborhood who also was working for the bank, Bob Bergmann, got me started in a venture that would change my life. Bob remembered me as a good ballplayer as a kid, and so he recruited me for a men’s softball team for which he was playing in the bank’s large intra-mural program.
I joined up with the team called the Pirates managed by the head of the bank’s mailroom, Rich Quick. The team had a couple of strong hitting stars in a big lefty 1st baseman named John Dunn and a fast, strong, young outfielder named Fran Mehaffey. We were expected to contend, but fell short of those expectations. The personalities on the team never seemed to mesh, but the experience did get me back into athletics on an adult level and would expose me to my future as a ballplayer.
The fall after that season was finished, I was approached by a man from another area of our Trust Department by the name of Ed Markowski. Ed had been around the bank for a long time at that point, and was the head of a team known as ‘Pennamco’ which was usually a .500 team in the bank league and which had a large number of older players.
Their team was trying to get younger, and Ed recruited me, as well as a number of other younger guys, to play for them the following season. I hadn’t been real happy with the Pirates experience, but loved playing again, and so I joined Ed’s team. We would eventually go on to become the Brewers softball team, and the rest is a history that you will read in future months.
Out in the real world at large, 1981 saw the changeover from the national malaise of the Jimmy Carter years to the new hope of the Ronald Reagan presidency. As I have said before, I was a card-carrying fully indoctrinated liberal Democrat at the time who thought that Carter was a brilliant man and that Reagan was a dunce. I couldn’t understand how the country had voted him in to office. How time would prove me wrong.
Reagan was sworn-in to office on January 20th as the 40th President of the United States. Just minutes later, Iranian officials released the 52 American hostages which they had been holding captive in that country for more than a year since a militant Islamic regime had taken power, ending what had become known as the ‘Iran Hostage Crisis’.
A week later the entire Philadelphia region was abuzz as for the very first time our own Philadelphia Eagles had advanced to play in the Super Bowl. On January 11th, the Birds had sent the rival Dallas Cowboys packing with a thrilling 20-7 victory in the NFC Championship game. Under their brilliant young, driven head coach Dick Vermiel, the Eagles were led by quarterback Ron Jaworski, running back Wilbert Montgomery, veteran wide receiver Harold Carmichael, and a tenacious defense led by linebacker Bill Bergey.
The Eagles went into the Super Bowl as the favorites against the AFC’s Oakland Raiders. I remember the exciting buildup to the game both in the local media and among my own young circle of friends. We planned a big Super Bowl party that Sunday to match the bash we had enjoyed just months earlier when the Phillies won the World Series. A keg of beer was on ice in my kitchen, food was brought by all of the group, and the party was just getting ready to start.
It all came crashing down really, really fast, for both myself and the Eagles. A short time before the game was to begin, I got a phone call from my step-grandmother Kay. She was telling me that my grandfather Ray, the man who I grew up knowing simply as ‘Pop’ and who lived just a half block from my apartment, was having some physical problems.
I quickly left the apartment and the party and went to Pop’s house, and found him there mostly unresponsive. At Kay’s direction and with her help, we loaded him in to Pop’s car and I drove to the hospital. It was here in a hospital E/R where my grandfather was being diagnosed with and eventually treated for what turned out to be a stroke that I watched the Super Bowl.
By the time that we got Pop checked-in and I had a chance to check a TV for an Eagles update, the rout was on. The Raiders had scored two early touchdowns on passes from veteran quarterback Jim Plunkett who would go on to be named the MVP as the Raiders became the first NFL Wildcard team to win a Super Bowl in what ended up as a 27-10 Oakland romp.
Pop ended up recovering from that stroke and he lived for more than another decade. He was a great guy who was very close to my family while I was growing up, never living more than a block away from my mom. She was sick at the time, and he took on a lot of her care in the 1970’s and into those early 1980’s before I took over that role. It’s after him that I wanted to be called ‘Pop’ by my own grandkids when Elysia was born in 2002, and so I am.
Despite the Eagles upset in the Super Bowl, this was a time of unparalleled cumulative success for Philadelphia pro sports teams. Within the same calendar year of 1980-81, the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers all appeared in their respective title games or series. The Phillies would win that 1980 World Series, the Flyers won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. The Eagles won that 1981 NFL Championship game, and the Sixers would go on to win the 1983 NBA Finals. It was the only way that I really knew. I thought we were supposed to always win like that. I would learn differently soon enough.
On March 6th of 1981, iconic CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite signed off the air following his final news broadcast. In those pre-cable days, network news anchors were considered the kings of the news media, and none was bigger or more popular at that time than Cronkite. He had been guiding the country through difficult news times for decades, including the Kennedy assasination. He signed off just before nearly having to repeat that terrible broadcast.
On March 20th, President Ronald Reagan stepped out of the Washington Hilton Hotel where he had delivered a morning speech and moved towards the open door of his waiting limo. With a full phalanx of Secret Service officers around, a lone gunman suddenly rushed forward and shot Reagan at point-blank range. Though he was seriously injured, his lung collapsed, and he nearly died, Reagan recovered relatively quickly.
Press Secretary James Brady was not so lucky. Also shot during the hail of bullets, Brady had been struck in the head. He became permanently disabled, and the shooting would lead to the various measures and efforts to restrict handgun access and violence. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr, had been obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, and claimed that the shooting was in part inspired by her role in the film ‘Taxi Driver’ and to gain her attention.
On April 12th, the United States moved into a new era in space exploration with the launch of the first-ever Space Shuttle. The shuttle ‘Columbia’ lifted off on the 20th anniversary of the first human space flight, moving America back into space after almost a decade away.
On May 13th, the danger for world leaders reared it’s ugly head once again as a Muslim assassin shot the wildly popular Pope John Paul II at close range in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope would go on to recover from his injuries as Reagan had, and eventually would both meet with and forgive his would-be Turkish assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.
On June 5th in Los Angeles, five homosexual men were reported by the Centers for Disease and Control as having a rare pneumonia-like illness that had seriously compromised their immune systems. The men became the first officially recognized cases and victims of AIDS.
A week later, on June 12th, Major League Baseball players began a strike that would cancel almost 40% of the regular season schedule and eventually result in the first and only split-season format in MLB history. Nine days later, Wayne Williams was arrested in Atlanta. He would be eventually charged in the murder of 30 people in what was known as the ‘Atlanta child murders’.
The eventful year continued when on July 7th, President Reagan nominated the first-ever woman for service on the Supreme Court of the United States. Sandra Day O’Connor would eventually be confirmed and serve on the highest court in the land for a quarter century. On July 27th, a young boy, Adam Walsh, was kidnapped from a Sears store in Florida. His murder would spur his father to eventually form the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ program.
Two days after Walsh’s disappearance, most of the world was focused on the massive, ornate celebration of the wedding to end all weddings. On July 29th in England, Lady Diana Spencer married Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince Charles, in front of a worldwide television audience.
1981 has already given us enough of note? Not so fast. On August 1st, the now-legendary and iconic vision of the astronaut planting a flag on the moon appeared across cable services for the very first time to herald the launch of MTV, the Music Television Network. Two days later, the nation’s air traffic controllers would go on strike. Two days after that, President Reagan fired all 11,359 of them in the greatest labor-busting move in U.S. history.
The 2nd half of the year seemed to slow things down from the explosiveness of the first half, but it did serve to supply one major end-of-an-era moment. On December 11th, boxing legend Muhammad Ali stepped in to the ring and fought against Jamaican-Canadian heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick. Berbick had lost a hard-fought 15-round decision to champion Larry Holmes months earlier, and on this night he dispatched the great Ali in what would prove to be the final fight in the career of the man simply known as ‘The Greatest’.
1981 was a year of fighting on many fronts. Fighting through barriers, fighting through disaster, fighting through change on numerous fronts. The 1980’s were now fully underway with Reagan in the White House, Pope John Paul II in the Vatican, the Cold War coming to a head, radical Islam beginning it’s march, the Space Shuttle program launched, and both MTV and CNN changing how we view it all.
BORN 1981: Kelly Veasey, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Serena Williams, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce Knowles, Natalie Portman, Jessica Alba, Josh Groban, Eli Manning, Jennifer Hudson, Howie Day, Elijah Wood, Julia Stiles, Hayden Christensen, Justin Morneau, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Anna Kournikova, Jake Peavy, Adriana Lima, Roger Federer, Carl Crawford, Tila Tequila, Ivanka Trump, Barbara & Jenna Bush, Natasha Bedingfield, Amy Lee
DIED 1981: Bill Haley, Natalie Wood, Richard Boone, Joe Louis, Bobby Sands, Bob Marley, George Jessel, Harry Chapin, Adam Walsh, Paddy Chayefsky, Lowell Thomas, Anwar Sadat, Moshe Dayan, Edith Head, William Holden, Jack Albertson, Hoagy Carmichael