Friday, November 7, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. President


Photograph by David Hume Kennerly, official White House Photographer during the presidency of Gerald R. Ford. Mr. Kennerly is a Pulitizer Prize winner for his photos of Vietnam, achieving the honor at the age of 25.

It was the summer of 1980 when the wall phone (remember those?) rang in the kitchen of our Dallas home. "This is Mike Deaver calling for Ron Walker."

Wow, I knew who Mike Deaver was, Governor Ronald Reagan's right hand man. He told Ron that it looked like the Governor was going to get his party's nomination for President of the United States, and they needed help. Could Ron come to the convention in Detroit and help?

I, of course, wanted to go too. I'd never been to Detroit. The first morning we were there, a bunch of us were standing in the lobby of the Detroit Plaza Hotel. Ron was waiting to go to a meeting. Chuck Tyson, the Governor's scheduling chief, asked me what I was going to do that day. I told him I was available for any assignment that needed a volunteer. Well, as a matter of fact, they needed someone to do a special favor for the Governor.

It seems that today was former President Ford's sixty-seventh birthday. The two men had experienced both private and public differences over the years, and Governor Reagan wanted to make a gesture of friendship. In the summer of 1980, there was lots of talk about a Reagan-Ford ticket, and the Governor had gone to Ford's desert home right after the California primary to discuss the idea. Ford declined the offer of the second spot on the ticket, but said he would support him. You probably remember, too, that rumors were flying that a co-presidency was being talked about. My assignment was to find a peace-pipe. Have a plaque engraved and have it framed, in time for the Governor to present it to President Ford, at their meeting scheduled for 3:45 THAT AFTERNOON. (Gulp)

Now, I've already told you I had never been to Detroit, so how in the world was I going to pull this off inside of a few hours? Chuck assured me that they would provide me with a car and volunteer driver. That was a help.

A short time later, a very nice young woman introduced herself to me. (I deeply regret I don't remember her name) We were sworn to secrecy as we jumped in her car and began our mission. She knew Detroit. She saved the day. I was soon going to learn that Detroit had a huge Polish population. She was Polish. She saved much more than just the day. Our first goal was to find a peace pipe. She took me to a section of Detroit that was full of little store fronts, filled with antiques and treasures of various vintage and design. We would pop in, find a sales person, and ask if they had any peace pipes. We gots lots of surprised looks, smart aleck answers, and my favorite retort, "What do you think this is, the Navajo Nation?" Just about the time we were getting really discouraged, and even talking about finding a place to eat lunch, an amazing thing happened. "Yea, do you want one with a tobacco pouch, or without it?"

Well, I figured, if you give a guy a peace pipe, shouldn't you provide something to smoke in it, too? We bought the one with the tobacco pouch. Next stop: an engraver.

As we waited for the little brass plaque to be engraved, we paced the floor of the tiny shop. It seemed like the guy took forever to put a few words on a piece of metal. The minutes were flying by and we still had to get the thing mounted and framed. Next stop: find a framer.

My wheel lady, heroine and Detroit expert, knew right where to go. Now, it really wasn't a huge secret, because anybody could read the plague, and put two and two together.

Mission accomplished: We flew back to the hotel with a few minutes to spare and delivered the precious present to the security desk on the floor of the Governor's hotel room.

Then we hurried down to the lobby bar and I was proud and happy to buy my new friend a congratulatory glass of wine, or beer, or something. Honestly, I don't remember what we actually drank, I just remember how happy we were. It's pretty amazing to look at the photo and see a little snippet of history that we made happen. Hats off to you dear wheel lady and miracle worker. I hope you think as fondly of this day that we shared and take pride in it, as I often do.

No comments: