Big Valley, Small World

Peter Breck died.

This name may not mean anything to anyone below the age of 40, unless you’re a person under the age of 40 who is addicted to ME TV or TV Land. He played Nick Barkley on the western The Big Valley and he passed away the other day at the age of 82.

I don’t usually go in-depth about the passing of celebrities on this site (though maybe I will more now that PBJ is kaput), but I bring it up for an interesting reason : his stepmom was the secretary in my high school’s guidance office.

Now, you may think this isn’t very interesting or surprising. After all, everyone has to live somewhere. But when you live in a city in the farthest corner of Massachusetts and the secretary in your high school’s guidance office is the stepmom of one of the stars of a rather well-known TV show, it’s interesting.

I’m not even sure if I knew who she was at the time. That memory has been lost in the three decades since I last saw her. If I were to bet I would bet that I either didn’t know it at the time or someone told me at the time and it just didn’t register. Even the other day when I found out that Peter Breck had died and I was reminded that she worked at my school it was one of those “Oh yeah, I forgot about that!” things.

For some reason I do have a vivid memory of the name plate she kept on her desk: MARY BRECK.

It’s not like she lived here for a summer or just passed through that one time – oh, did you hear that the mother of that guy from the TV show ate at Destino’s?! – she actually lived and worked here for most of her life. Before working at the high school for 20 years she worked at Sterling Drug downtown for 35.

She’s buried here. She passed away at the age of 95 in 2008.

The point? Well, there is none, I guess. Just that the death of someone from a 1960s TV show can get you thinking about people you haven’t thought about since your high school days in the early 80s.


Whitney Houston. In all of the obits and remembrances of her, no one has mentioned this song, but it remains my favorite of hers. The vocals are incredible and the song is not only funky and soulful, it swings.

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