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From commando to calligrapher

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. No one would be in a better position to know whether that's true than Maurice Logue, president of the Southern Oregon Calligraphy Guild.

Just call him the Commando Calligrapher.

Guild members first heard hints of Maurice's past in one of our classes. Probing an offhand comment, we were able to get him to expound a bit, and the result is a tale worth telling.

Maurice's story begins in 1954 when, at the age of 14, having survived a 24-hour journey from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he arrived at the gates of the Royal Marines School of Music on the south coast of Kent, the world-renowned musical arm of the British Royal Marines. He stood 4 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 90 pounds when he arrived clutching a paper sack with his pajamas and toothbrush.

Like other boys his age, he was fueled by exploits of the British Commandos during World War II, and he was determined to join them.

Although he had no ambition to be a musician, he realized that applying as a drummer was the only way to enlist in the marines at that tender age. Thus, Maurice began life with 300 boys who underwent a Spartan regime of physical training, musical instruction and marching drills.

He persevered, with some enjoyment provided by band gigs in London to perform for the Queen, and two years later, he harassed his musical bosses so much that they pulled some strings that enabled him to join the adult, basic infantry of the marines proper — at the age of 16 years and 9 months (technically illegal).

Basic training lasted 14 months, at that time the world's longest infantry training, culminating in Commando training and awarding of the green beret.

Maurice was drafted to a naval-gunnery course and assigned to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to patrol the Mediterranean. He was the youngest and smallest marine in a detachment of 100. In 1957, the ship assigned to escort a replica of the Mayflower across the Atlantic. The crew was astonished by American hospitality and the lifestyle across the pond. Compared with the austerity of postwar England, everything seemed so easy and available in the United States, including beer, food and cigarettes. It was an experience he would never forget.

After completing a two-year tour, Maurice was nominated for noncommissioned-officer school, which he describes as "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life." It consisted of 16 weeks in winter of "no-failure" leadership under constant scrutiny, and only 12 out of the 120 men made the cut. In the snow and freezing rain of January, they spent days in trenches with no protection and little food. Maurice developed trench foot and frostbite in one of his hands and was told: "too bad."

Next came the requirement to specialize in a particular branch. Maurice chose the physical-training branch, which involved training recruits, as well as coaching, organizing and officiating all recreational and competitive sports within the armed forces, including boxing, swimming, fencing, track and field and all major and minor sports.

This began a career rotation of two years in his chosen branch and two years in one of three units specializing in jungle, desert or snow warfare.

Over the next 20 years, Maurice experienced jungle combat in Malaysia and Borneo; captured a civil airport when Iraq threatened Kuwait; won the heart of a "child-bearing sailor" and married her; trained in the British pre-Olympics gymnastics squad; advised the sultan of Oman's forces in the Persian Gulf; kept peace in Northern Ireland and fathered two sons.

In all, he served in 38 countries over 26 years, ending his career as chief warrant officer in 1979 when he reached 40, the compulsory retirement age for British marines.

"Not too shabby for an undernourished, Irish kid with a thick accent," he deadpans.

When he retired, Maurice had two naturalized American sisters, so he decided to immigrate. A U.S. Marines friend invited Maurice to work for him in Ashland.

He says he made the decision to stay here because he found that people in the valley have always been warm, welcoming and supportive, and he can often be heard extolling its beauties.

Maurice also lived in Talent and Medford before settling in Phoenix with his family.

Over the years in Southern Oregon, Maurice has worked in a variety of jobs, including managing a bed-and-breakfast and supervising the construction and management of softball fields in White City. Because he had always admired calligraphy, he vowed to learn it but chose the hard way: self-instruction. He bought pen and ink and Jacqueline Svaren's book and resolved to learn everything he could. It was two years before he had an epiphany about how some letters were created — the pen point was manipulated, meaning it is not always held in the same position, but sometimes turned or twisted to create a different shape.

Eventually, Maurice discovered classes taught by Hope Tilton, and she became a mentor to him. Commissions for wedding invitations, cards and poetry followed, and Maurice designed and calligraphed the first menus for Arbor House Restaurant in Talent. He has since participated in many calligraphy workshops, studying all the hands and aspects of the art, including gilding and illuminating. He has created his own philosophy, based on calligraphy as a form of controlled drawing, as opposed to handwriting.

Maurice teaches now because he wants to "pay it forward," he says, and help others find the support, encouragement and expertise that he eventually found.

Joy reader Rita Orlandini lives in Ashland.

Maurice Logue practices calligraphy in his Phoenix home. - Mail Tribune / Julia Moore