During my final lecture at Miami University, I shared a series of moments in my life when I had a chance to interact with famous people in the fields of politics, entertainment and sports. Each story began with the phrase, “I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to…” The point was to encourage my students to look for and act on these opportunities as they are moments in time which make life interesting. Most are happy memories. Talking with James Earl Jones about how he approached a particular scene in “Field of Dreams.” Facilitating a meeting between President Bill Clinton and Anatole Tshelov, chairman of the Association of Russian Governors. An audience with Lee Kwan Yew, founder and first prime minister of Singapore. Interviewing Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters for my high school newspaper.
And no matter how distant in time, these events rush to the forefront of my mind when one of the principals leaves us. You may remember my writing about my 1976 encounter with Muhammad Ali upon his passing in 2016. Forty-three years could never erase my excitement as a free-lance photographer to literally be in the ring with Ali and Howard Cossell during the weigh-in before his championship fight with Jimmy Young.
Yesterday, sadly was one more occasion which brought back a rush of memories, the news that Cokie Roberts had died at age 75 of breast cancer. So what is my connection in this case? It begins on the evening of October 16, 1972 at Rockville (Maryland) Country Club, the venue for a rally and fundraiser for congressional candidate Joseph Anastasi. As a member of the campaign staff, I had helped organize the event which included an appearance by former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey.
I was standing in the clubhouse entry awaiting Humphrey’s arrival when I was approached by an employee of the country club who asked me if Tommy Boggs was present as he had a phone call. I found Tommy and showed him where he could take the call. When Tommy finished the call, he told me he had to leave and asked me to apologize to everyone for his absence.
It was not until the next morning, we all learned the emergency which precipitated Tommy’s departure was the disappearance of a plane in Alaska carrying his father, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and Alaska Representative Nick Begich. The plane was never found and Boggs’ death was officially declared in December of that year. Hale Boggs’ wife Lindy won a special election in March 1973 to replace her husband as U.S. representative from New Orleans, serving until January of 1991.
So what does this have to do with Cokie Roberts? Cokie and Tommy were sister and brother, two of Hale and Lindy Boggs’ four children. And as chance would have it, several years later I was scheduled to fly back to Washington, D.C. from Denver when the flight was delayed due to weather. And in a synchronistic moment, Cokie Roberts. also on the flight, sat down across from me. At first, I just wanted to tell her I was a fan and appreciated her reporting. But she asked about my trip and we struck up a conversation. It was then that I mentioned the circumstances in which I had a small part in the events surrounding her father’s disappearance. She then informed me she had been the one to call Tommy that night.
We never crossed paths again, but each time she appeared on ABC News or I heard her reports on NPR, there was this sense of affinity, this moment in time, when two people were unexpectedly connected. As Carl Jung reminds us, these unanticipated, random intersections occur all the time and are part of life’s narrative if only we are vigilant observers. And they DO make life interesting. So it is with a special sense of sadness I say farewell to Ms. Roberts but am thankful that I had the opportunity for a brief encounter with her.
For what it’s worth.