Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film


April 23, 2014

Requiem for Mark Spear

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Sometimes even the hardest, the meanest of us get shocks of sad news that force us to react in ways we don’t want to react.

Thirty-two days ago, Betty and I were having brunch with BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes and his wife, Sharon, in Fallbrook, California, after an exceedingly successful set of screenings the prior day in Fallbrook and Vista.

During our meal, I received a Facebook message from Dan Votroubek, the step-father of our principal videographer for BRAVO!, Mark Spear, that told me that Mark had suffered a massive heart attack and died the day before. Mark was only 45 years old and has a ten-year-old son. While we were in the California Southland whooping it up with our successful screenings, Mark was passing on.

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID © Betty Rodgers 2013

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hartley, University of Idaho 2013

I sat there for a long time, not saying anything, not wanting to tell Betty. Betty admired, revered and loved Mark. I knew how she would react and we were in public and…well…I have to tell you this. My father was a two-fisted knuckle-buster who would give you something to cry about if you shed tears, so I learned not to cry. You just don’t know how much it distresses me to cry…all that old-time thinking of tears as a sign of weakness. I’m a Marine, for Christ’s sake; I’ve seen men die in front of me and never shed a tear or even thought about how I might really feel about their demises.

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot. © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot.
© Betty Rodgers 2010

So I didn’t say anything for a while and we had our brunch and we chatted and reveled in success and then I just blurted it out. And then Betty began to shed tears and despite my reluctance to let this happen, a tear or two slipped out of the corners of my eyes and slipped down my cheeks before I could get them erased.

Mark Spear interviewed and/or videoed ten of the men in our film and he also interviewed and filmed Betty and me when we made our extras about the making of BRAVO!. He helped create some of our trailers and gave us advice and info on cameras, interviewing, lighting. He traveled with us to San Antonio, Texas, and met and bonded with the men of BRAVO!. After we were done with the film, he came to screenings of the film and we often met for bar-b-que where we laughed and visited.

Yes, we laughed a lot around Mark. He was a funny man. He was also sensitive and talented, he was an artist who understood film and photography and life. He was sensitive. I repeat that because for me, it is the salient characteristic I will recall about Mark. Sensitive people can feel the world on their skins. Everybody’s triumphs and disasters are understood on a visceral level by sensitive people. And like so many sensitive people, those triumphs and disasters, those victories and defeats, seeped through Mark’s skin and became, almost vicariously, his own.

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot
© Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark had health problems that no doubt contributed to his passing, but I can’t help but think that his sensitivity contributed to his leaving us prematurely, too. He carried a lot of weight, and a bunch of it wasn’t his.

And now he is gone and I am kicking myself in the butt because I didn’t spend more time with him, taking in all he had to teach me about life. One of the other things about sensitive people is they learn a lot from all that weight they carry for other folks. The weight gets in the pores and sneaks into the blood stream and gathers around the mind and the heart and becomes knowledge of another kind. Not out of a book, or a seminar, but from the weight of life.

I know something about grief. I should have dealt with all that grief that I accumulated from my time at the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t and I still may not; I’m a Marine and I’m two-fisted knuckle-busting Dale Rodgers’ son. But I swear I’m going to deal with the grief I feel from the loss of my friend, Mark Spear.

  1. Ken & Betty,

    I am so sorry to hear about Mark. I could tell in your blog and the times we talked how much you cared for him.

    Comment by Kelly Barker — April 23, 2014 @ 11:09 am
  2. I only got to work with Mark once and it was great to work with him. I’d already passed his name on to others to try to get him other work. So sorry to hear the news. This is a beautiful tribute. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

    Comment by Sharon Larson — April 23, 2014 @ 1:06 pm
  3. I’m stunned. I met Mark just once, but that’s all it took to realize what you say, Ken, is so true. His quiet demeanor was the perfect foil to his delightfully dry humor and sensitive work with us as he filmed the three of us–you, Betty, me– describing our two friends who had passed, both tragically and much too early. He left us on light feet, heading out to get his son and trailing behind him all the stories he’s captured on film.

    Comment by Betty Plevney — April 24, 2014 @ 6:01 am
  4. I met Mark when he took some head shots of me, the best I’d ever had. He charmed the right smiles from me with his gentle wit and quiet professionalism. I really enjoyed my time with him. I am shocked and so sad at his loss.
    We need more artists. Ken, your tribute was incredible and insightful into Mark’s character. I am sorry for your loss … which is a stock phrase that says little but carries my emotions behind it.

    Comment by Kathy McIntosh — April 24, 2014 @ 10:12 am
  5. Ken and Betty–so sorry to learn of Mark’s passing. He leaves a beautiful legacy, in his family and the work he did on your important film about the men of Bravo 1/26 at Khe Sanh.

    Comment by Gregg Jones — April 24, 2014 @ 11:09 am
  6. “Some lessons are best learned through pain. Sometimes, our visions clear only after our eyes are washed with tears. Sometimes, we have to be broken so we can be whole again. Remember: If God made the day to be perfect, He wouldnt have invented tomorrow.” – I can’t claim this quote, but there is something wholly cleansing and healing about tears, don’t fight them Ken, let them out. I will be shedding my own tomorrow as my son and I will be attending a funeral of his friend’s father’s unexpected passing. Tears will be shed, but only because the pain of loss and love is so great, out hearts swell and spill with them!

    Comment by Kristen Lynch — April 24, 2014 @ 11:25 am
  7. What a great tribute to Mark. He is indeed a great person with great sense of humor. Blessed to have him as a brother. Thanks for your tribute of him. Praying for your journey down the path to healing.

    Comment by Melissa Cook — April 24, 2014 @ 7:07 pm
  8. Mark was very proud to be a part in The Bravo Project.He always looked up to my Father Richard S. Gordon,1st.Batalion 3rd Marine.USMC.and wanted to show my dad the finished version.My Father pasted away Nov.22 2013.5 months to the day,before Mark past.I love and miss them both.

    Comment by scott gordon — April 24, 2014 @ 7:15 pm
  9. Thank you Ken and Betty for all the kind things you have shared about Mark. Ken, I was brought up like you taught not to cry. I have since learned it is OK to cry, part of the healing process. So, “Brother,” if I may say, let it out, it will help a lot. Thanks again, love you folks and all that you stand for.

    Dan & Marge Votroubek

    Comment by Dan Votroubek — April 24, 2014 @ 8:43 pm
  10. Ken, your words seeped through my skin. They brought tears to my eyes. I’m sure your sensitivity is what allows you to go so deep in your writing. I hope your writing is as healing for you as it is for me and I’m sure it is for others. You and Betty carry the spotlight that carries us through our dark tunnels and toward the exits. I’m so sorry for you loss. Clara~

    Comment by clara — April 28, 2014 @ 7:30 pm
  11. What a sincere and lovely tribute for my friend, Mark. I knew him for many years, and he made me smile so many times. The world will not be the same without him. I am so proud that he got to help make this wonderful project!

    Comment by Jodie Tarbell — June 17, 2014 @ 12:41 am

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