Jeff Flock's risky Irma surprise: visiting his mother

Jeff Flock, ace disaster reporter, on Tuesday confronted both Irma and Vicki.

Vicki? No, that's not the next tropical storm post-Jose in the boy-girl-boy-girl government tradition of nomenclature (those of a certain generation can recall when they were all female).

In fact, it's his mother, Vicki Flock, 91, who just happens to live in a very modest house in Englewood, Fla., which just happened to be on Flock's way down I-75 to Fort Meyers to survey damage as the former longtime CNN stalwart now labors with similar distinction for Fox Business Network.

"Hopefully, she's not in her underwear," he told anchor Stuart Varney as Flock drove up to her (unmowed) yard.

As fate would have it, Flock had been on air last week covering Hurricane Harvey for Varney when, while in a boat with rescuers in Houston, he saw his daughter Liz, a journalist with PBS. She was covering the same story. It was a total surprise and great television

So when Flock told Varney he was going to check in on his mother in Englewood, Varney cracked that Flock should put his whole family on, given the chance encounter in Houston. Flock quipped that he was running out of family and might have to start putting on his ex-wives (yes, plural).

So as he slowed down the car in front of the white one-story house, Varney wondered aloud whether he'd arrived at "mom's house or the ex-wife's house?"

No, it was his mom, who fortunately was not in her underwear, as Flock feared, and not chagrined by a son surfacing unannounced with a microphone and cameraman.

"Let's just be clear. I did not tell her I was coming. So I don't know how this is going to go. Knowing my mother, all bets are off."

He spied her out on the porch and opened a screen door. "Mom, are you dressed?"

"Oh, my goodness, you're full of surprises!" said his mom instantly to "sweetie." She quickly confirmed she was not in her underwear.

Flock asked her to show her the bathroom's bathtub, where she'd apparently been planted during the storm. She'd cleaned it up. She still didn't have power. (Along the way there was the fleeting sight of a framed copy of an AARP profile of Jeff).

Varney sent his best wishes as Flock was wrapping up. Jeff passed those on to his mother and then asked if Varney was one of the Fox personalities she liked. This was obviously fraught with peril. It was live television at its potentially most spontaneous.

Oh, yes, she said, she likes him. Then came a caveat from an apparently loyal Fox viewer.

"I don't like Lou Dobbs."

A son rolled his eyes, as children will do, and declared, "I knew we stayed too long!"

Having not sought permission in the first place, Flock could then quickly wrap up, knowing that he'd dodged the specter of abject forgiveness.

It was then back into the car toward Fort Myers as one of the most proficient reporters of disasters returned to work. 


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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former chief media writer, The Poynter Institute.


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