People I Have Known
It seems a terrible coincidence that, having written about Strom Thurmond--who died just after his 100th birthday, now another centenarian whom I knew has died. I think more people will mourn Bob Hope's passing than Strom's. While on my first tour of duty in the Foreign Service in London in 1955-56, I was assigned to a variety of jobs within the Embassy to give me as much experience as possible in two years. One of these was a 3-month stint in the "Protection & Welfare" Section. We were the people who served Americans living or visiting abroad who needed some intervention by the U.S. government. Part of my job was serving as a Notary Public for Americans who needed to execute some official document.
One day who should appear in my office but Bob Hope. He was in England on a USO tour. He was a very friendly guy, not like all too many celebrities. He did not treat me like a nameless bureaucrat. He signed his papers (I don't remember what they were) in front of me and I affixed the Consular seal and signed them as Vice Consul. He was in no hurry, and we sat and talked for quite some time. He asked me which were my favorite pubs. I told him about the Running Footman, near Berkeley Square; The Bunch of Grapes, in Old Brompton Road; and my favorite of all--The Cheshire Cheese, Dr. Johnson's favorite pub, just off the Strand. He told me he was going up to the U.S. air bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath, near Cambridge, the next day to entertain the airmen. He also planned to stop by his birthplace at Eltham, just north of London.
I remarked on how much I enjoyed his movies, and he asked if I had any favorite. I said that I would put his "Road to. . ." movies at the top of the list but would have a hard time picking only one favorite. Finally, he said he had to do some preparation for the trip to the airbases the next day, and left. Three days later, he was back in again with more papers to notarize. Again, we sat and had a friendly chat. I wish I could remember what we talked about. I recall that he asked me about the procedure for getting into the Foreign Service. I believe he had some young relative who he thought might be interested. I never met him again, so I can't really say I "knew" him, just on the basis of two conversations, but he made me feel like I knew him. I was sad to see him go, but glad he lived to be 100.
There is a footnote to this story. A young woman who was a member of his troupe also came to my office to get some papers notarized. She, too, was very friendly, and we talked for quite a while. She told me she was the "Strong Girl." She didn't look like a circus "strong girl"-though she was quite muscular. I asked what she did to show her strength. She told me she would lift heavy weights to get started, but the crowd's favorite was when she would tear a thick telephone book in half with her bare hands. That really floored me. It was close to closing time, so I asked if she would like to have a drink at a nearby pub. To my surprise, she accepted and we walked over to the Running Footman. After a couple of drinks (dark beers, as I recall), I asked her how she was able to tear a thick telephone book. She told me her secret-she would bake it in an oven until it would become very brittle. I promised not to reveal her secret, but I think enough time has passed, so that I can reveal this classified information. I understand she was a big hit with the airmen. I never saw her again, either.
As I write this, just above my computer on the wall is my old Consular Exequatur from London, which authorized me to perform those consular services. It's an impressive document with Her Majesty's signature (in her own hand) in the upper right corner ("Elizabeth R"). Brings back memories.
[Reprinted with the author's permission. Ed is a member of Mensa of Eastern North Carolina.]