Nowadays, you can’t get very close to a president without the big guys in suits, mostly bald with scary, grim looks on the face, and with buds in their ears keeping you at bay. It wasn’t always like that.
At one point in our lifetimes (and I am 79), there were a lot of chances to get really near the POTUS. Of course, assassinations and assassination attempts (Kennedy and Reagan), plus 9/11, have changed everything. If you happen to watch Keifer Sutherland in the Wednesday series called “Designated Survivor”, you can really worry what some terrorists might have in mind for us in the future.
Anyway, it might be interesting to hear from Partisan readers about times when they might have met, or gotten very close to presidents either during or after their terms.
To get it started, here are a few instances where I or members of my family had close encounters.
The first for me was in 1958. I was a civil engineering student at Purdue and accepted a summer job working for the FAA (then the CAA) at its training site for air traffic controllers at the airport for Atlantic City, located out in the pine barrens about 15 miles west of the city. I worked with construction workers, surveyors and engineers who were building improvements to the airport, including a new control tower and extended runways. I had a jeep at my disposal and drove all over the construction areas every day. (By the way, Boeing that summer used the airport to test fly the new four- engine 707s that were not yet in commercial airlines use. It was quite a sight to watch these huge jet planes come in for landings and takeoffs.
I heard one afternoon that President Eisenhower was flying into Atlantic City to give a speech that evening. We even heard what time Air Force 1 was to land. So I drove my jeep out onto the tarmac and parked at a spot that ended up being about 10 yards from where the plane came to rest. The ramp was lowered and out he came, into a limo.
No one approached me, no one seemed to be concerned that I was there.
Then, in 1962, I was a Naval officer stationed at Newport, Rhode Island. President Kennedy’s wife had a large home there and he came up to see the yacht races there. I went out on a small Navy ship with others to see the races as well, and his private yacht went by very closely. But, better than that, that weekend I attended mass at the small Catholic church in Newport. I didn’t know it beforehand, but Kennedy and his family attended the same mass. There were some Secret Service guys but they were very hard to spot. The pew directly behind me was roped off for his family and he sat directly behind me.
I dared not look around and, at the time, we didn’t offer the “handshake of peace” to those around us, as is commonly done now in the middle of the mass. (My wife actually met Kennedy when she was a college student in 1960 when he was running for president and visited her university in Indiana).
I met Ronald Reagan when he was governor, as I worked in Sacramento and even wrote a speech for him on water issues in the Delta, which I am sure he never gave. The home that he and Nancy rented was in East Sacramento where we also lived. One day, I drove by his house on my way home with my 3-year-old daughter in the back seat. Reagan was out in front throwing a football to Skipper and my daughter yelled out through the open window, “It’s the government!” He smiled and waved at us.
Finally, when our daughter was a student in Carmel, she met President Ford when he came to the Peninsula and established a summer “home” of sorts. And later, my wife and our 9-year-old son were visiting Disney World and met Richard Nixon, who took a liking to them and spent over a half hour talking privately to them. Believe it or not, both my wife and son came away liking him and feeling sorry for him. He actually cried when my son asked him how his wife was (she was in the hospital at the time). He was not the person we all came to know through TV and Watergate.
All of these just happened, and we can’t take credit for any of it. But they did happen. So what about you? If not presidents, any encounters with the current candidates?
Bill Hood is a retired lawyer and engineer who divides his time between Carmel and Ohio.