CONCORD - A religious earthquake that rocked the worldwide Anglican church and a tremor that killed New Hampshire’s beloved Old Man were the state’s top stories of 2003.
The Rev. V. Gene Robinson’s consecration as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, and the international shockwaves it created because Robinson is openly gay, was the top story.
Robinson narrowly beat the collapse of the Old Man of the Mountain granite profile in a survey of editors and reporters at New Hampshire newspapers, and television and radio stations served by The Associated Press.
Robinson attracted worldwide attention with his election in June, his confirmation by the national church in August and his consecration in November. Supporters say his elevation shows the church’s support for human rights and will attract many who have felt disenfranchised.
But the consecration divided congregations and put conservative parishes, priests and bishops at odds with liberals throughout the national Episcopal Church.
Internationally, Anglican church leaders representing tens of millions in Africa, South America, Europe and the Far East are preparing to cut ties with the Episcopal Church.
“It’s going to be messy for a while,” Robinson acknowledged in October.
A rumble in Franconia Notch in May changed the face of New Hampshire. No one saw it, though a couple of campers apparently heard the Old Man tumble from his perch 1,200 feet above Profile Lake.
Now a pile of shattered rock, the profile was on everything from license plates to police uniforms, stationery to street signs, and even the New Hampshire quarter.
“The oldest person in my family just died,” said David Nielsen, whose late father was the profile’s official caretaker for decades before passing the job to his son a few years ago. He and many others who considered the profile a friend and relative had tears in their eyes as they looked at the jagged cliff that had held him for perhaps 10,000 years.
The state’s memorial will be to build paths and expand a museum exhibit at the base of Cannon Mountain and install special viewfinders to recreate the Old Man’s image from roadside parking areas.
The No. 3 story was the disappearance, alleged murder and multistate search for Sarah and Philip Gehring, the two children who were last seen at the Fourth of July fireworks display in Concord. Their father, Manuel Gehring, of Concord, is awaiting trial.
He is accused of killing the children in New Hampshire, burying them near an interstate highway in the Midwest and driving to California, where he was arrested and his blood-spattered van impounded.
At year’s end, prosecutors were seeking a judge’s permission to question a Union Leader reporter who interviewed Gehring in jail.
When asked if he knows where his children are, Gehring said, “I prefer not to answer that.”
No. 4 was the campaign for the presidential primary next month. Democrats who want to replace President Bush crisscrossed the state throughout the year and flooded the airwaves with advertisements.
Residents were wooed, greeted, called and pursued by four U.S. senators, two congressmen, a former governor, a civil rights activist, a retired Army general, a former ambassador and several dozen other candidates on the ballot.
By year’s end, one of the senators, Bob Graham, had dropped out and the rest of the field was trying to catch former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who held big leads in the polls.
“The race is now on to see who can be the ‘Comeback Kid’ of 2004,’ ” said Michael Feldman, a Democratic strategist from Washington. Bill Clinton coined the slogan after rebounding to finish second in the 1992 primary.
No. 5 was the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, which broke in 2002, but continued in 2003 with the release in March of thousands of pages of documents.
Prosecutors said the documents showed a “conscious course of deliberate ignorance” with respect to protecting children.
The report amplified persistent calls for Bishop John McCormack and his top aide to resign.
“We will continue to seek their resignations for as long as it takes and whatever it takes,” critic Robert Morton said.
Just days before the end of the year, the diocese released an audit showing it paid $19 million to settle sexual abuse complaints in two and a half years.
Filling out the Top 10 were:
n Prison revamped security after ignoring escape tip and having three inmates break out in June. A former inmate who helped, committed suicide when police closed in to question him.
n The state Legislature passed law that requires abortion providers to notify a parent at least 48 hours before performing an abortion on a minor. At year’s end, the law was being challenged in federal court.
n Three alcohol-fueled disturbances near the University of New Hampshire led to dozens of arrests and calls for a crackdown on rowdy students.
n The state budget crisis that saw Republican Gov. Craig Benson veto a budget crafted by the Republican majority in the Legislature, only to approve a budget two months later that was more expensive than the first. One Republican legislator called Benson a dictator.
n Former Tyco International Ltd. bosses Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz go on trial in New York, charged with looting the New Hampshire- and Bermuda-based conglomerate of more than $600 million. Testimony continued at year’s end.
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This article appears in the Archive 2003 issue of New Hampshire Business Review