The Honorable President Gerald Ford served as the honorary chairman of a charity golf tournament my organization held each year since we started it in the early 1980s. He attended and played in the tournament for 13 years, missing only once because of his bad knee. That year in his place, his office sent a well-known television actor who was apparently another golfing buddy.
Everyone knew the actor as an affable character who had starred on a popular sitcom. While he was not exactly presidential caliber, we were pleased that he was available to stand in for President Ford. The morning started out well with some small talk, as the golfers were getting ready to tee off. Later, there was lunch and more small talk. The actor more or less held court, entertaining the other golfers.
Another guest that year was Mickey Mouse. Mickey arrived around four p.m. with a handler since Mickey does not speak. Ever. The handler asked where the restroom was, and I pointed to the men’s room.
“Oh,” she said, “We need men’s and ladies’ rooms.” When I hesitated, processing what that must mean, she held a finger to her lips and said, “No one must ever know.”
I found some of my staff to find two small restrooms at the rear of the club and put a “closed for cleaning” sign in front of each. Mickey (or Minnie?) never said a word, and I’ll never know.
At the cocktail party, the famous television actor sat next to me in the President’s usual seat. There was more small talk and not much needed from me. Then he looked around the room and said, “Who are all those people?” motioning towards several of my staff who were working the room, handling prizes and awards, etc.
“They are members of our staff,” I said.
“You mean volunteers?”
“No, they’re employees of the agency.”
“You don’t pay them, do you?” he asked.
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact, we do,” I answered.
“Why? This is a charity. They should be working for free.”
Before I could respond, he launched into a rant about what a waste of money it was to pay anyone who worked for a charity. He told us how in the charity he founded no one got paid. Then turning to me he said, “You don’t get paid, do you?”
“Well, yes, I do.”
I stood up and said, “Excuse me but I need to see if Mickey Mouse needs anything,” and walked away. And yes, I was fuming—and starting a rant in my head that would have been less than productive if shared with him or anyone at that moment.
Fortunately, President Ford’s knee was much improved the following year. When I greeted the limo that delivered him to the front door of the country club, I probably hugged him a lot harder than other years.
“Boy am I ever glad to see you,” I said.
“Did everything go okay last year?” he asked.
I considered sharing the specifics of Mr. Jerk and the androgynous nature of Mickey Mouse but opted instead for generalities. “Almost everything,” I said, moving aside.
As he walked over to his golf cart, he looked back and said, “I’m glad you missed me.”
Did we ever!