Who’s the most famous person you ever met?
I mean directly or indirectly. And I don’t mean being in an audience with hundreds or thousands of others at a concert or rally.
President Gerald Ford tops my list. I met him on July 4, 1976, as he took part in the Bicentennial Wagon Train that made its way to Valley Forge State Park. I was serving as a newspaper reporter for the Pottstown Mercury newspaper some 25 miles away.
I don’t remember anything he said but recall him looking out at the crowd after being introduced by the then governor of Pennsylvania, Milton J Shapp, one of the other famous people I had met three years earlier after being awarded a fellowship to study state government and dine with him and other winners.
(I also wrote a speech for the governor while working at the public relations officer of PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in Harrisburg.)
Other famous people that I met include both Pennsylvania senators Arlen Spector and John Heinz. I interviewed Sen. Spector at the Sunnybrook Ballroom near Pottstown and covered a speaking event Sen. Heinz attended at a high school several months before his fatal plane crash in Lower Merion Township.
More recently, I shook hands with and joked with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf who took part in a protest against assault weapons at the courthouse steps of Montgomery County in Norristown. He was joined by two county commissioners, all of whom wore orange shirts – myself included – as part of the protest.
My wife had taken a leave of absence from her newspaper job at the Philadelphia Inquirer and worked as a volunteer for Geraldine Ferrero, the vice presidential candidate for whom she served as a cavalcade driver. Among those she greeted was Mary Travers of Peter Paul and Mary who requested Wendy take her to a famous landmark to get a cheesesteak. They ate at Pat’s Steaks in South Philadelphia!
My wife, who passed away more than a year ago, played with the youth orchestra in Lexington KY and visited the White House where they played on the White House Lawn for President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy told the group he had work to do in the Oval Office but that he would keep the door open so that he could hear them play.
I attended a meditation retreat at a monastery for Buddhist monks and nuns in upstate New York and came within five feet of Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Peace Prize for his opposition to the Vietnam War. While at the treatment I join a group of veterans and family members of vets who sang protest songs and shared memories of the war.
One family member asked for forgiveness for what her father may have caused us grunts who served in the war. Her father was a colonel in the Vietnamese army.
Another woman asked us for compassion for what her father may have done during what was then the United States longest war. Her father was a military leader of the US Army by the name of Gen. William Westmorland, who commanded the military operations at the peak of the Vietnam War.
I believe we taste a little bit of history whenever we meet such famous people and their family members. It’s also fun to name drop while showing our own historic roots.