I was saddened to read Senator George McGovern's obituary today. I'd like to think he had such a full life, he was just done at age 90 and needed a rest.
I met Sen. McGovern back in the early '80s, just after he bought the Stratford Inn, on the hill across the street from Sikorsky on the Shelton-Stratford line. That's the same hotel the Jets used to stay in before the annual Jets-Giants pre-season game at Yale Bowl. I know this because I used to make my dad circle the parking lot the night before in case Joe Namath was wandering around waiting for me, his biggest fan, to show up and say "hi." Unfortunately, Joe never came outside. So the only place I got close to him was at the tunnel when the team ran out on the field. Joe didn't run on those knees, so I was able to get a nice clear picture of him coming onto the field. One time I caught the eye of Coach Weeb Ewbanks. I was wearing my number 12 jersey, my hair in pigtails and green ribbons. He came over to ask me just why Namath was my favorite. I was probably eleven years old. I can't remember what I said, but I'm sure it had nothing to do with his ability to call audibles or his quick release pass.
I had better luck getting close to McGovern at the hotel in 1988. I was there for a breakfast meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists and I was intimidated enough by all the writers in the group, never mind a real Presidential candidate. Heck, I was only on local t.v. I was happy the writers let me have a cup of coffee with them. Anyway, McGovern was the guest speaker, but he was not going to arrive until the regular monthly business meeting was over. I didn't care about that, so I thought I'd sneak out and use my Namath-stalking technique inside the hotel.
It was too easy. McGovern was just walking up and down the hallways around the lobby, checking out the decor and making sure the pictures were straight. That was the decor, pictures of his family and a lifetime of accomplishments on his travels from South Dakota to Washington, D.C.
Up until this time, I had only known about the senator from my history books and whatever big story hit the newspapers. I was not a McGovern scholar. But I did understand how lucky I was to be standing alone with a man who ran for President and I wanted to take the opportunity to drink in whatever he had to offer. So I introduced myself and said something about how wonderful it must be to have served so many people as a representative in our government. He was gracious and fatherly in his tone and read my genuine interest correctly. Then I got a tour of each and every one of those pictures. He ended with the one taken on election night when he lost to Richard Nixon. The picture was of him and his wife and other family members sitting on a couch, watching the results on t.v. He let out a sigh as he said, "And that was when we knew on election night." The next moments were silent and he was probably thinking of what might have been.
I thanked him for the tour, wished him much success with the hotel and reminded him of the meeting in the conference room.
The McGoverns thought it would be fun to own an inn. That's why they bought the Stratford Motel. However, it wasn't profitable and they turned it over very quicky and never bought another. I guess some things only look like fun.
Although I never ran into McGovern again, I did buy and read the book, "Terry," which he wrote about his alcoholic daughter, after I married a man with an alcoholic daughter. It gave me some great insight into fathers who try to fix things. No matter how powerful they are, someone else's alcoholism cannot be fixed. McGovern's daughter died in 1994 on a cold winter street, alone and homeless by choice. He wrote the book just two years later. It was a best seller and I always meant to write him a note to tell him how much I appreciated the story he shared. Now I wish I had.