Many people, including a great number of New Yorkers, hate pigeons. They are called "rats with wings," "diseased," and "dirty." Perhaps I am in the minority when I say I love these little birds: they have a silly way of walking and are shaped kind of like footballs, which amuses me; they are completely fearless; and they seem to have a real sense of purpose. One person who agreed with me was Richard Topus, who died last week at the age of 84. His obituary in the New York Times inspired this blog.
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Richard was born in Brooklyn in 1924.Growing up, he fell in love with the local sport of choice--pigeon racing. Though his parents would not allow him to keep pigeons of his own, Topus learned how to handle the birds from some neighborhood men, two of whom had been pigeoneers in World War I. With technological advances such as the telephone and telegraphs, many thought the day of the carrier pigeon relating important messages over enemy lines was over: not so (I'll bet those naysayers were in the "We hate pigeons" camp, too.) While technology has its benefits, it has its drawbacks as well: phonelines can be taped, radio signals can be intercepted or even triangulated to determine the sender's location. Flying up to a mile a minute, pigeons were able to go places human messengers could not, and quickly.
Because of his training on Brooklyn rooftops, Richard was able to serve his country by teaching others how to use pigeons to relay messages in Europe and in the Pacific theater. After the war, Richard got his Masters in Marketing and worked for Friendship Food Products. Their mascot? You guessed it.