presidents

I have always enjoyed reading about the very small clique of (so far) men, 44 as of this writing, who have been president of the United States. I have personally seen five of them.

The first president I saw was Ronald Reagan, when he made an overnight stop in Little Rock in November of 1984, only four days before his 49-state trouncing of Walter Mondale. Reagan's most memorable line came when a balloon popped somewhere in the room. "Missed me!", said Ronnie. The crowd cheered wildly. I saw Reagan and heard the "missed me" line again two years later in Springfield, Missouri during the 1986 campaign, where Reagan stumped for Missouri Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond.

On April 15, 1986, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya and narrowly missed killing Muammar Gaddafi. That evening, former president Jimmy Carter was speaking at a college in Conway, Arkansas and his post-speech interview with the Little Rock TV stations was his first comment on the raid. Predictably, Carter was critical. Our news director had instructed me to offer Carter a helicopter ride back to Little Rock to be on our 10pm program; I never had the chance to extend the invitation, nor did I ever seriously believe someone they once called "boss" on Air Force One would climb into our less-than-opulent egg beater. I don't have a photo of Jimmy, because I didn't have my camera with me. One of my broadcast colleagues did get Carter to sign his recent book "Keeping Faith" for me.

Months later, sitting vice-president George H.W. Bush came to Little Rock to campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Asa Hutchinson, who would lose to incumbent Dale Bumpers. Hutchinson was elected 45th Governor of Arkansas in 2014.

Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas during most of my years in Little Rock. I had spent my share of time around him; I was not surprised when he was elected president, nor was I surprised about his zipper problems or his other legal travails.

One of my assignments in 1984 was a day trip with Clinton -- on a LearJet -- to Washington, D.C., where he spoke at a rural education conference at the Mayflower Hotel. Hitching a ride home with us was former congressman Wilbur Mills, once a powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee for eighteen years who was forced to step down after a famous dalliance with an Argentine stripper, Fanne Fox.

After my reporter years, I managed to see George W. Bush at a 2004 campaign rally in Kansas City, Missouri. This time, I was in the audience, elbow-to-elbow in standing-room-only space outside Lee's Summit High School. No camera. All I have from the day is the ticket.

Five-and-a-half: In 2009, I met Eric Trump after he accepted an plaque from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) for the Trump Tower, the tallest building to be constructed in Chicago since the Sears/Willis Tower.  Just after the presentation, Eric was standing alone at one end of the room. I walked over, introduced myself and told Eric to thank his Dad for the neat new skyscraper. Soon, a cadre' of my fellow tall building fanatic knuckleheads gathered around. I asked Eric if he wanted to slide out for some Chicago pizza at nearby Pizzeria Due'. He replied he would have loved to, but the architects of the building were taking him out after the event.  Bummer.  I had about a thousand questions I wanted to ask him about how one is groomed to run the family business when your father is Donald Trump, and what kind of wisdom The Donald imparts to his children.

Why the one-half for Eric Trump? It is awarded for his being one of the most affable, personable and genuine public figures I've ever met.