Yankee Classic: Christa Mcauliffe's Shadow
But when he finished the call, he could not relax, could not reflect on what had happened. He was surrounded by other reporters from newspapers all over the world, from television networks and radio stations. They wanted his reaction to the apparent death of the teacher from Concord. Her family and friends had been hustled away to seclusion, and of all those left in the confused aftermath of the disaster, Bob Hohler knew her best. He was no longer just another reporter on the Christa story. He had become part of the story.
He answered the questions as best he could. He turned down the requests to appear on TV, all except the CBS Morning News. He even lied to them, saying he was flying home that night, but they persisted. All right, he said, if he could write his follow-up story that night, and if he came to the space center the next morning to phone it in, maybe he could do five minutes on the air.
He stayed up all night writing his story, perhaps the 50th story he had written about Christa in the last seven months. There was so much to say in a short space.
Christa McAuliffe died yesterday with a few of her favorite things: her son’s stuffed frog, her daughter’s cross and chain, her grandmother’s watch, her Carly Simon tape. She died with little things. Ordinary things.
Put her by a swimming pool with her family, a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, and a cold beer, and she needed little more from life. Give her a compass, her childhood friends, and a forest, and she flourished. Call her a hero, and she shuddered.
In the 200 days I knew her, Christa went from a high school classroom to a spacecraft bound for an infinite frontier in the sky. She asked to be nothing more than an ordinary person on an extraordinary mission.
How silly, she said on the day that I met her in Houston, that people would swarm her for autographs. How absolutely crazy, she said three weeks ago, that the New England Patriots would line up after a game for her signature. What a joy it would be, she imagined, to return to signing hall passes at the high school.
When I met her, I was an ordinary reporter and she was a finalist in NASA’S teacher-in-space race. I shadowed her. She had a nervous giggle and the gee-whiz bounce of a camp counselor, but she made me want to follow her. She made me wish she taught every child …
Christa McAuliffe was in Houston because she wanted to be the first teacher in space. Hohler’s presence was the end result of a series of lucky accidents, in a way. He had not started out to be a chronicler of great national stories. When he graduated from college in 1979, after ten years of mixing classes with driving cabs in Boston, he wanted to be a sportswriter. That’s what he was doing at the Monitor until the year before Christa was selected. Then the paper’s regular columnist left, and the editors decided to give Hohler a shot at the job. When Christa made the final ten, the Monitor’s regular education writer, who might have covered the Christa story normally, was on sabbatical. Editor Mike Pride asked Hohler if he would scoot down to Houston to cover the training sessions.
It was a lucky choice for all involved. Hohler has a knack for noticing details about people and for establishing rapport with his subjects. He has a relaxed, engaging personality and a fine sense of the absurd that served him well in the great solemn foofaraw that surrounded the Teacher-in-Space Program.