A long weekend with Henry

Marcy O’Brien

I’d only heard of the young, super-hot Henry last year so I was delighted to be asked to spend last weekend with him.

No, I wasn’t robbing the cradle. Henry is, in fact, the newest, nicest hotel in Buffalo where I just attended a writers’ conference.

The Hotel Henry is billed as an Urban Resort Conference Center, “making innovative new use of one of New York’s most iconic architectural landmarks.” That National Historic Landmark status was due to the genius architect of his era, H.H. Richardson, who originally designed this, his largest project, like an insane asylum.

Yes, that’s right, a great big psychiatric hospital. Not your everyday choice for an overnight, but then again, I stayed three nights. The conference was the National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual gathering for education, networking, and growth. Some of us kidded that maybe Richardson had columnists in mind when he designed the space. I personally have learned that being a little crazy helps with this pursuit.

A brief word about old H.H.Richardson: He was such an influential architect that his style and prolific output of important buildings were dubbed, “Richardsonian Romanesque,” by his peers – a category all his own. He designed buildings in Albany, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and more. Along with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, Richardson is one of “the recognized trinity of American architecture”.

Coincidently, my daughter was married in Trinity Church at Copley Square, Boston, often cited as one of Richardson’s most important works. This man knew how to build an awe-inspiring cathedral-type space – it was a magical ceremony.

H.H. worked in the middle 1800s and tragically died at age 47. Oh, about being known by his initials? The H.H. stands for Henry Hobson. He could not have guessed that his largest work would be renamed personally for him 133 years after his death. Only a third of the enormous sanitarium has been converted to date with extensive plans on the horizon to complete the urban resort. Time Magazine named the Hotel Henry one of its top 100 destinations in 2018.

I liked my modern room with its 14′ ceilings. I read that it took three patient rooms to construct one guest room while adding a luxurious bath. I fell into my super-comfy bed after each long day of classes – days that began with breakfast across campus at 7:30 and wrapped up late at night.

The hotel abuts the Buffalo State Campus where our classes were held in a large theater-type classroom. Experts within our membership and from the Pulitzer Prize crowd stretched our hometown sensibilities – a half-dozen classes on Friday followed by 8 on Saturday.

Since life-long learning has always been important in my journey, I was uber grateful for these opportunities to learn from the top of the heap. The keynote speaker and recipient of the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award was Kathleen Parker, a Washington Post syndicated columnist who often appears in these pages.

I tried to absorb every word from national experts on how to write about sensitive subjects, trauma, and complicated information; how to use video columns, blogs and expand into e-books; how to self-care as well as expand personal roles of leadership. There was even a class on how to give a Ted Talk – from a super Ted Talker. And more. This old dog was trying to cram as many new tricks as possible into her muzzle.

By the end of the class days, my head was swimming with facts yet my enthusiasm was soaring. I wish I could say that my back and hip were as enthusiastic but they are speaking for themselves these days.

I have been a member of the columnists’ society for a half-dozen years, all the while learning from its newsletters, referrals, and articles. I hadn’t bit the bullet to attend their annual convention because they meet in a new city every year and the hotel, airfare and conference fees do add up. The Buffalo conference allowed me to skip the airfare.

But here’s the new conundrum: I got so much out of this and met so many grand people – even some new friends – that I have to go back. The 2020 conference is in Tulsa, which has an interesting connection.

Each year the National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award given in honor of the Oklahoma columnist who gave us philosophy, humor, and high standards of obligation to public life. The award was won this year by a retired military chaplain who is also a syndicated columnist.

One of Will Rogers’ oft-quoted adages is “All I know is what I read in the papers.” He’d be horn-swaggled today trying to keep up with all the media venues but I bet, like me, he’d still be preferring newsprint.

Next year when the Will Rogers award is announced it will be in the old Okie’s stomping grounds. Rogers was born a hop, skip and a holler away from Tulsa.

I’m planning to go even if I have to omit the hop and skip part.

Marcy O’Brien is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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