Richard Hyatt: The thrill of meeting the president

September 6, 2012 

For the first time in my life, I was in the presence of the president of the United States, but my eyes were on Candice Bergen.

She wasn't portraying Murphy Brown. She was a White House photographer in Atlanta to take pictures of President Gerald Ford.

Ford was selling WIN buttons, his administration's valiant effort to Whip Inflation Now. He had a news conference and 38 years later I can't remember a word he said. My mind is blurred by Bergen's graceful beauty.

My memory is clearer about Ford's visit to Fort Benning to celebrate the U.S. Army's 200th birthday in 1975. He laughed about a clumsy exit he had made from a plane in Austria and told Commanding Gen. Tom Tarpley he was living up to one of the post's mottos: "Airborne all the way."

Bill Clinton's welcome at the Democratic National Convention this week made me remember my brushes with our leaders, beginning with the 38th president.

Although Ford's message is forgotten, I remember the rush when an officious voice announced his entrance.

I've had moments with every president since Ford, and the thrill isn't gone. Such occasions are reminders of our heritage and our history.

I met Jimmy Carter when he was governor of Georgia. He came to the Georgia Tech press box to be interviewed at halftime of a football game. Years later, I was in Plains when he came home as president, and as a former president.

I met Ronald Reagan at what used to be the Martinique Motel. I buzzed ahead of the California governor's motorcade and waited at the motel's rear steps.

Thinking I was a lawman, a security agent gave me a small lapel button and told me to direct the media upstairs.

I met George H. W. Bush when he came to town to visit friends and later met him and his wife at the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.

I met Clinton at Warm Springs and couldn't believe how tall he was. His arrival was more than presidential. It was like Elvis had entered the building.

I met George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, when he joined some Brookstone students at the Columbus Airport.

Instead of politics, he discussed an appropriate curfew for his twin daughters.

I didn't meet Barack Obama. We talked on the phone in advance of a speech he made here in town, so I can't speak to his ability to work a room, just his glib manner.

In an era where civility is missing and where social media sizzles with nasty comments about Obama and Mitt Romney, I hope we're not seeing an end to the thrill a person feels when they come in contact with a President.

Those are moments to remember -- especially if Candice Bergen is in the room.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at

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