My Distinguished Dozen
I decided to create a list of the top ten celebrities that I have met. Trying to remember everyone I've met over the past half century is not easy (and I may remember somebody later that will require this list to be altered). I decided this list had to be people with whom I had actually talked with, and not just someone I had seen (thus the fact that I saw Pope John Paul II with Jimmy Carter at the White House in 1979 does not count, nor does attending a Billy Graham crusade, seeing Senator Gary Hart and actress Debra Winger—a two-for-one—at a '84 campaign speech, or any music concerts, etc.).
Narrowing it down to ten proved difficult. I decided to eliminate all West Virginia politicians, because they were too easy—and since I am a constituent, they had a vested reason to talk to me. Another decision was to increase the size from ten to twelve—instead of the “Top Ten” it became the “Distinguished Dozen” celebrities whom I have had the good fortune to meet. Some of you might not even be familiar with a few of these names, but they meant a lot to me. In no particular order, here is my list:
1.Congressman and 1980 Presidential Candidate JOHN ANDERSON. I graduated with a political science degree in 1980, and immediately took a job on Anderson's campaign staff, traveling around the country in an effort to elect an independent candidate (he began as a Republican, but “went mavericky” when Reagan secured the nomination). I got to know his wife and oldest daughter first, but by the end of the campaign, JBA asked me to work the last two months in his Congressional office in the Longworth House Office Building. It was quite an experience for me!
2.An advantage of working the 1980 presidential race was that I got to meet several other interesting people. One was STUDS TERKEL, the Chicago writer and historian, who I met at the Illinois state arts event that Keke Anderson attended in Danville, which was part of my downstate area. R.I.P. Studs.
3.Another person I met during the 1980 campaign was singer/songwriter JAMES TAYLOR. He even sent me out to buy him a spare guitar string when his broke before the concert he was doing for Anderson.
4.In 1985, I began work as a Presidential Management Intern at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. During my work in the Office of Space Station, I got to meet a number of interesting people. The most well-known of these would be SALLY RIDE, who was working at headquarters at a time. I got to attend a meeting in her office, and she was very gracious.
5.Although I didn't have as extensive of a conversation with him, I did meet astronaut BUZZ ALDRIN as well, and since he was the second person on the moon, I must include him on this list.
6.Actress BETTY WHITE is a friend of my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Charleston. I was able to attend an alumni event at UC that involved a trip aboard the P.A. Denny sternwheeler. Betty was quite friendly and talked with anyone and everyone during that riverboat ride. I had been a member of the UC College Bowl team that had made it to the national finals. Since her late husband, Alan Ludden, had been the original host of the College Bowl trivia show (before former Jeopardy host Art Fleming took it over during my era--and Art was a near miss for making this list himself), she was very interested in hearing about UC's history with College Bowl. I'm glad she is still going strong!
7.As a youngster, I was fortunate to meet Olympic champion JESSE OWENS, who spoke at the Tri-County Manager's meeting (a Parkersburg organization that my dad belonged to as part of his job at BorgWarner chemicals). As I recall, this organization held one meeting a year that was open to youngsters (and always involved a meet and greet, plus autographs), and other speakers I remember was baseball pitcher Bob Feller and Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster. Jesse told the story of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where Hitler had expected the German team to prove they were the superior race. Losing to an American, especially a Black American, was not what Hitler planned.
8.During my junior high football career, I was fortunate to attend two of BOBBY BOWDEN's football camps. Bobby was very friendly to me, in part because his youngest son Jeff and I struck up a bit of a friendship. I attended the Gator Bowl game between WVU and Florida State, and it was nice to see him again (although I wish the Mountaineers had won).
9.A big sports star from my youth was RICHARD PETTY. He was my favorite driver and I first got to meet him forty years ago at Martinsville.
10.Another race car driver that has a bigger name at the moment is DANICA PATRICK. I hit her up for an autograph at the Nashville Superspeedway her rookie year. She is quite petite, and she reminds me of Anna (her hairline around her forehead is similar to Anna's).
11.During my tenure as president of the West Virginia School Boards Association, I had the honor of meeting former Clinton press secretary and ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS. He was the dinner speaker at our annual conference in 2000, and I got to eat with him and introduce him. I couldn't help but think about our similarities, except that he picked the winning candidate in 1992, while I latched onto an also-ran, resulting in drastically different lives.
12.Finally, even though I'm not a big fan, I got to meet former first lady and current Secretary of State HILLARY CLINTON when she flew into Parkersburg in 1996 for a campaign stop in Ohio. I got to tell her about my service on the local school board during our brief discussion.
Well, that is my distinguished dozen, with apologies to lots of other good folks (e.g., Homer Hickam, Granny D, Dean Rusk, David Pearson, Chris Economaki, Haynes Johnson, Howard Fineman, etc.) who didn't quite make the cut-off. My life is richer because of these experiences. Tell me about yours!