Seeing Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Notre Dame football Coach Lou Holtz at Wednesday's Lou Holtz/Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame Induction ceremony put me in mind of other "brushes with greatness" I've had over the years as a newspaper reporter.
My first one of note was a chance meeting with Dolly Parton. I was working for the Huntington, Ind., Herald-Press at the time and learned that Parton was going to be in concert that night in Fort Wayne. Someone called the newspaper and said that Parton and her tour manager, whose parents lived in Huntington, were going to be in town for the afternoon. My editor stuck his head out of his office and asked if anyone wanted to interview Dolly Parton.
People, I'm not going to lie. I hesitated a moment-but then I felt ... my ... hand ... go ... up. And soon I was on my way to my first celebrity interview. Mind you, this was in the days before Google. I don't remember how I prepared, but I did the best I could. Parton could not have been more gracious and sweet. She was every bit the "larger than life" character you would expect her to be.
Parton has since been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame, whatever that is.
Around the same time, I interviewed then-Vice President Dan Quayle in his West Wing office in the White House. Suffice it to say that this interview was not spontaneous, and I had plenty of time to prepare. Access was not a problem, since Quayle's father, James, was publisher of the Huntington paper.
I was sent to interview Quayle about a year after he had taken office, presumably to give him time to settle into the job. You may recall that Quayle got raked over the coals during the 1988 presidential campaign-at one point enduring a nationally-televised media grilling from the steps of the Huntington County Courthouse. Although Quayle didn't quite strike me as the lightweight the press made him out to be, the interview itself was not memorable.
Seven years later, while the religion writer at the Cincinnati Post, I interviewed Deion Sanders for a series of stories on the religious faith of notable Cincinnatians. At the time, Sanders was an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds and a cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys. I began the story: "Cincinnati Reds outfielder Deion Sanders' life revolves around baseball, football and faith, but not necessarily in that order. Since a dramatic spiritual turnaround in June, the flamboyant professional athlete says Christianity has taken center stage in his life."
Then I quoted him saying, "I'm in love. I'm having an affair with a man. His name is Jesus Christ."
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year in Canton, Sanders currently works as an NFL Network analyst.
Sanders' coach at the time was Reds manager Jack McKeon, whom I had a chance to interview about his Roman Catholic faith. I began that story: "Jack McKeon knows churches about as well as he knows ball parks." McKeon talked to me about swearing, smoking cigars, going to Mass and his relationship with "the man upstairs."
Five years later, McKeon won the World Series as manager of the Florida Marlins.
My last Cincinnati brush with greatness was with Carl Lindner Jr., whose controlling ownership of Chiquita Brands International made him one of the world's richest men. A man, mind you, who reportedly did not drink, smoke or swear. I was pulling early morning desk duty one day at the Post when I had to "localize" a story about Chiquita. I can't remember what I wrote, but whatever it was angered Lindner. He called me up and cussed me out, later apologizing upon learning that I was just a lowly religion reporter.
Lindner died in 2011.
I've had several brushes with greatness over the phone. Among those I remember are Chubby Checker, Richie Havens, Jerry Springer and Larry Norman. Admittedly not a household name, Norman counts as great to me because of his 1970s recordings blending evangelical Christian themes with rock 'n' roll.
Norman was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and died in 2008.
Although I interviewed Springer twice while I was at the Post, my history with him goes all the way back to my days at Austintown Fitch High School. It was my senior year, and my American Government class required all of us to work for a political campaign that year. Springer was running for governor, so I chose his campaign.
My time on the phones and at campaign rallies was utterly forgettable, but one thing I do remember is Springer's campaign literature. It misspelled the word governor "govenor." I guess some people are greater than others.
(Stephen Huba is a reporter at The Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)