I’m not sure where I ran across it but the other day I happened upon a blog and the blogger was talking about celebrity types that they had encountered during their life through mainly happenstance. And whenever that topic surfaces as it always seems to do from time to time, I always remember such an occurrence in my life but with a measure of embarrassment and a big old grin.
In March of 1967 I was returning home from an 18-month tour in Southeast Asia. My flight, which had originated from San Francisco International, landed at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and I proceeded to the gate and waiting area for my connecting flight to Little Rock, Arkansas. At some point very loud talking broke out on the other side of the flight’s waiting area. It sounded like an argument but after a more serious visual examination from where I was sitting I deduced that it seemed to be a rather large man wearing a cowboy hat just exercising his booming voice while talking to some other individuals. As I continued to view the scene the man’s face seem to become more and more familiar. Then I finally realized, “Wait, this is someone important – some prominent individual.”
Now Winthrop Rockefeller had just taken office in January as Governor of Arkansas succeeding Governor Orval Faubus who had been governor of the state for six terms. And given the man’s size and the cowboy hat, which were common traits of Winthrop Rockefeller, I thought to myself, “That’s Winthrop Rockefeller, the Governor of Arkansas!” Of course my being from Arkansas and Rockefeller being a very prominent resident of the state and often the subject of news within the state, my conclusion seemed spot on. As to the cowboy hat, well he was a cattleman and had a huge ranch in the state and was rarely seen without the hat. And so it was that Sherlock Holmes didn’t have anything on me. The Governor of Arkansas would be on my returning flight to Little Rock.
As I approached my seat which was actually some three-quarters of the way toward the back of the plane I noticed the Governor was also sitting back there. There was an empty aisle seat right next to him but as I perused the seat numbers for my location there came a stark realization. “Oh my god,” I exclaimed to myself, “That empty seat next to Rockefeller is mine!”
We politely greeted each other as I took my seat. I noticed a few of the other passengers quite abuzz with regard to my seating companion. Then shortly thereafter a young man quickly made his way back to our location and asked my seating companion for his autograph and his response was a loud and clear, “Why shore you can partner!” The voice, the word ‘partner’, the accent, why are they so familiar I was thinking. Then one of the stewardesses stopped by and said, “Nice to have you on our flight Mr. Dean.”
After hearing that comment my poor little mind went into a catastrophic tail spin. I felt faint and incoherent. “You idiot,” I thought to myself, “he’s not Governor Rockefeller – he’s Dizzy Dean.” I could only give thanks I found out before I made some ridiculous political comment to him during the flight. The flight from Dallas to Little Rock is only about half an hour or so but that’s plenty of time for me to make a fool out of myself.
In the end it was quite the enjoyable flight. We talked most of the way and he was extremely friendly. I was in uniform and he had asked me where I was headed and I explained I was returning from South East Asia. He was heading to Arkansas to do some fishing. Said he loved Arkansas and often came back to do some fishing. He actually was born in Arkansas so that pretty much explained why he returned to Arkansas to fish. And if you’re wondering, we never once talked about baseball. But it was my only time I was really ‘”up close and personal” with a celebrity type. I had a few other celebrity type encounters over my lifetime but none like this one. I still chuckle when I think about how wrong I was as to who he was…. 🙂