Ode to the ‘Great Bird’

“… My heroes are Jonathan Swift, and Albert Schweitzer. Many of them are unknown people I’ve met which I consider remarkably brave, patient and understanding. But I have less of that collection of heroes than an overwhelming affection for humanity. I think the human race is just a fascinating creature.

I know that humans, even today, capture and torture people and commit war and all of that. But that’s because they are still children and children are violent. But I refuse to think any other way about the human race but that they are beautiful children. They will, in the end, persevere.”

- Gene Roddenberry

I’ll never forget the time had the privilege to meet Mr. Gene Roddenberry. One fateful day back in 1978, my father clipped an article from our local newspaper that the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, was coming to speak at our town’s high school. I had been addicted to Star Trek ever since I first started watching television and my parents knew I’d be excited to hear Roddenberry speak about how he created the show, as well as his other projects. To say I was excited was an understatement.

I marked the date on my calendar and counted down for weeks until the night arrived when we went to see him speak. I was only nine years old at the time and somehow expected that everyone in our town would attend the event. After all, this was the great Gene Roddenberry and he was to talk about the best thing to ever hit television, Star Trek. I felt crestfallen when only about 1/3 of the auditorium filled that evening to hear him. If this seems strange, you have to remember that up until the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, Trek was considered a second rate kids show seen only in syndication at all hours of the night. The series was still establishing its status as cult hit, which is probably one reason why Gene was appearing in small towns like Laconia, NH where I grew up, giving lectures to barely filled halls.

None of this mattered. I sat raptured and listened to him speak for a little over an hour about his early career in the military and how he later sold the idea of Star Trek to NBC by couching it as a western in space. He told funny stories about on-set antics and the classic tale of how Nichelle Nichols almost left Star Trek after the first season, but decided to stay at the behest of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Prior to that night I had always imagined Gene to be someone of tall stature and forceful voice. It surprised me to learn he was a humble man, who spoke quietly about his creations and who often dotted his remembrances with humor and gentle wit. He thoroughly enjoyed his career as a writer and producer, but hated having to cow tow to network TV executives. He fully believed in the power of the human spirit, but acknowledged that man’s history had been littered with cruelty and destruction. He closed his speech and then treated us to blooper reels from all three seasons of the original Star Trek series.

When the applause had finished and the lights came up, my father asked if I wanted to try and meet him. At first I was afraid and thought it was best to simply leave. My dad reminded me that I may never have this chance again and so I agreed. We walked to where Roddenberry stood talking to fans and after a few moments, my dad introduced me and I got to shake Gene’s hand. I didn’t realize then how lucky I had been to actually meet the creator of Star Trek in person, but I know now. Roddenberry’s talk inspired me to do well in school, dream about what the future of the human race held, and solidified me as a Trekkie for life. For all of this and more, I am deeply grateful.

From one wide-eyed kid to another, thank you Gene, you are missed.

3 Responses to “Ode to the ‘Great Bird’”

  1. Good article, Thanks. my name Philip.

  2. Gaylyn:

    How lucky you were to meet a man who has had such a multifaceted impact on our way of life. And how lucky we all are to have had him as a philosophical role model for “”how life SHOULD be” on this planet. Your tribute was much appreciated by this closet trekkie!

  3. [...] understand why. Back in 1967 audiences had never seen anything like it. The show as dreamt up by Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future where man had learned to put aside his differences and work together in [...]

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