Big question answered: Did I ever tell you about the time I met . . . ?

  • Jerry Walls of Concord stands with former Boston Celtics star Bill Walton in California. Courtesy

Published: 6/13/2019 12:20:29 AM

(Last week, we asked readers this question: “What is your favorite story to tell about the time you met a famous person unexpectedly?” Here are the responses we received.)

Big Bill on a bicycle

While traveling around the country this spring, one of our destinations was California Route 1, Big Sur. Our visit happened to coincide with the largest bicycle race in America, the Tour of California.

We positioned ourselves to see a sweeping downhill and climb on the coast. After the thrill of the peloton was in the distance, we waited awhile and proceeded south. Over the next several miles we soon realized we kept passing an older cyclist, (not the fastest). At our next stop I noticed a van with a couple of cyclists and a woman preparing nutritional supplements from the back of her car. Shortly the cyclist we had passed pulled up, a rather tall gentleman, hobbled around and spoke.

It was an unmistakable voice. I ventured to ask, “Are you Bill Walton?” His response was, “At your service.” He was riding the entire tour route, 700 miles (seven days). That day’s leg was 138 miles of roller-coaster, edge-of-the-cliff torture. At 66 years and with two fused ankles, Bill just loves to ride. In the middle of a long grueling day while focused on getting “refueled,” he did not have to acknowledge me. But after saying I was from the Boston area and a Celtics fan, he was very gracious. His passing comment was “the Celtics gave me my life.”

This encounter is an inspiration for me to keep riding my bike, or more in the character of Bill, “Keep on Truckin’.”



A short redhead walked into the office ...

In 1973, I was working for the Internal Revenue Service’s Office of International Operations at the American Embassy in Paris. Appointments for tax assistance were rarely required. One morning, a short redhead walked into the office. She apologized for trailing “eau de onion,” explaining that she had cooked for friends the previous night and pulled on the same sweater she had been wearing without thinking. I had a copy of David Niven’s autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon on my desk. She tapped the book with her finger and said, “Oh, dear, dear David.” My visitor was Olivia de Havilland.



A Simpson sighting

I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. My sister Kathleen and I went to the Eastern Hills Mall, and when we walked in, O.J. Simpson was walking out. He asked us, “What you up to, girls?” I wonder what he was up to.



One way to make an impression

Over the course of my life, I’ve taken a certain amount of pride in the fact that I have little use for the rich and famous if all they are doing is being rich or famous. I’ve not been one to track down movie stars as they exit a gala in their honor or to drive through Beverly Hills hoping one of my larger-than-life heroes is out mowing his lawn, or to try to get noticed on the Jumbotron by one of my revered athletic superstars.

But, I admit I’m like most humans, and I rise in my own estimation as I rub elbows with important people. While the usual widescreen or internet celebrities do little for me, give me a famous academician or a person I consider to be both intelligent and wise, and you’d better get out of the way. I’m first in line to take a selfie with them. I’ll admit it, I’m not immune to famous people. It’s just that my personal heroes are geekier than they are glamorous – maybe like me.

When I was In my freshman year in college I was enrolled in an enormous lecture course in a hall two stories high taught by a Nobel laureate named George Wald. I was charmed to think how much that said about what an amazing person I was, just for being there, despite the fact that this eminent scientist had no clue I was in his class. Well, I did want him to notice me, but how I actually made a name for myself still prompts a laugh from my classmates, and a shudder of embarrassment from me.

I was running late one November day and it was pouring rain. The lecture hall was packed, as usual – like I said, this professor was renowned. I entered through the rear, but the only available seats were in the very middle of the row near the very top of the hall, two stories up. I excused myself repeatedly as I clambered, soaking wet in a fashionably short skirt, over my classmates. Suddenly, just short of my destination, I lost my balance and fell backward into the row below me, fortunately into the only other empty seat in range, but unfortunately with my soaking wet fashionably short skirt hitched up to my waist and my legs flailing above me.

Apparently, my classmates were too embarrassed to look my way or offer a hand to dislodge me. It wasn’t until my august professor stopped his lecture to figure out what the commotion in the upper rows was about that I got help. He shamed my fellow students into prying me out of the seat, and he shamed me into never being late for class again. And I’m still not sure he ever learned my name.



Could you repeat that?

The late seventies was the beginning of my career as a horticulturist inside commercial buildings. I was working on the plants in the atrium of the beautiful new Sheraton Inn in West Lebanon. Often, famous folks stayed at this hotel due to its proximity to Dartmouth College and the West Lebanon airport. I had heard that the Allman Brothers Band were staying at the hotel. As I worked in a planter near the corridor to the rooms, along comes Greg Allman with a stack of neatly folded jeans from the hotel laundry room. He smiled and said something to me. Not sure if it was my hearing or his Southern accent, but I had no idea what he said. I asked him to repeat, and he did, but I still had no idea what he said so I just smiled and nodded. It would have been fun to have a conversation, but I was a bit starstruck.



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