Growing up · meeting the famous

Chicago’s richest man visits McDonalds

richard-nixon-and-clement-stone-photograph

On a chilly Sunday morning in the fall of 1969, while hanging out at McDonalds after Mass, a long, gold-painted limousine, license plate “WC3”, pulled into the parking lot. Out of the backseat, which was full of well-dressed people, stepped a small man with a pencil-thin mustache, wearing a suit and smoking a very smelly cigar.

Because I had read that morning’s Chicago Tribune profile on a local billionaire insurance tycoon, I recognized W. Clement Stone III.

I took a moment to bask in the fact I was just a few feet away from Chicago’s richest man, then began trying to figure out what the hell W. Clement Stone was doing in the Clark St. McDonalds in Rogers Park.

Stone was not only famous for being a fabulously wealthy (self made) man who lived by a philosophy based on “positive thinking,”  he was also well known at the time (and remembered today) as Richard Nixon’s biggest financial backer. His donations impacted campaign finance laws.

Mr. Stone’s contributions of more than $2 million to President Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972 — on top of even greater donations to Mr. Nixon in 1968 — were cited in Congressional debates after Watergate as a reason for instituting campaign spending limits.

I surmised that Stone and his entourage were en route to the Bears game at Wrigley Field. Traveling into the city from his Winnetka mansion, Stone had stopped at McDonalds to pick up provisions for the trip.

Based on what happened next, I realized this it was likely Stone’s first McDonalds visit.  When Stone placed his order, the teenager waiting on him looked puzzled, then bent closer to the billionaire. He asked Stone to repeat his request.

A moment later, it was Stone’s turn to be puzzled. He clearly did not expect to receive six hot chocolates.

Apparently, Stone had ordered “six hot dogs.”

Did I mention this was probably his first “Mickey D” experience?

There followed a quick explanation, that “McDonald’s doesn’t do that. ” Stone’s hot drinks were replaced with semi-warm hamburgers. He picked up his bag and headed for the door.

As he was about to depart for the game, a friend with me yelled, “Hey Clem!”
Standing the doorway, Stone turned, smiled and gave us a little wave worthy of a king. At that moment, that’s exactly what he was.
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McBarronBlog Bonus:

On the occasion of his 85th birthday, the Chicago Tribune published this wonderful profile, which gives you an idea of what it must have been like to be in Stone’s company.

W. Clement Stone’s positive thinking allowed him to live to be 100. Here’s his 2002 New York Times obituary

 

meeting the famous · Radio

Meeting Mrs. Bush

As her husband, George H. W. Bush, campaigned in 1988 to replace President Ronald Reagan, “Second Lady,” Barbara Bush, came to Springfield.

Mrs. Bush’s passion was promoting literacy. She visited public schools often, unlike the current White House occupant and his Secretary of Education.

As the wife of the vice president, and later as First Lady, Mrs. Bush was very well-respected. She also was feared. As a 1992 Vanity Fair profile stated,

People who have worked with the Bushes use words and phrases like “difficult” … “tough as nails” … “demanding” … “autocratic.” A 1988-campaign staffer recalls that “when she frowned it had the capacity to send shudders through a lot of people.”

In the presence of school children though, her soft side came through.

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My memory is a little fuzzy 30 years later, but I assume her plan when she visited Springfield in mid-1988 was to promote literacy, visit some schools, get some nice pictures in the paper.

Somehow, that plan went slightly awry. I was the news director for a local radio station. As a matter of course, whenever newsmakers came to town, as they often did in election years, I would request a one-on-one interview. Being a lowly radio guy, I didn’t often get the big ones.

As I recall, Mrs. Bush’s visit was being coordinated by the governor’s office. Again, the details are blurred, but someone made a mistake.

My request was approved.

My belief that it was a mistake is based on Mrs. Bush’s deportment when I met her, and her attendant, in a small office at the Statehouse.

She appeared to be pissed at someone, though, thankfully, not at me.

She sat for the interview and answered all my questions. She was not unpleasant. She was direct, not chatty. There were no laughs.

Three decades later, I have no recollection of the details of what we discussed. It’s safe to assume no big news was made. In fact, I might not have remembered the conversation at all if it was not for one odd thing about it.

It’s common for prominent people making public appearances to have attendants, people who make sure meetings with the media go well and don’t get weird. It wasn’t unusual that the person who accompanied Mrs. Bush sat in a chair just to my right as I interviewed her. What was unusual was who that person was.

An arm’s-length from me, for the duration of the conversation, was Gov. James Thompson.

The governor, mid-way though the last of his four terms, said nothing during the interview which, I imagine, lasted 20 or 30 minutes.

He just sat there.

Afterward I tried to figure out why.  Theory: It was his punishment for having someone in his office approve my interview request.

I know this: There was only on person in that room happy about my interview and it wasn’t either of them.

Anyway, the interview concluded without incident. We went our separate ways.

I guess the only other thing worth mentioning is that, in November of 1988, George H. W. Bush won Illinois’ electoral votes with 50.7 percent of the vote, topping Michael Dukakis by 1.8 percentage points. Barbara Bush’s time in Illinois could only have contributed to that success.

Barbara Bush was always an asset to her husband’s political career. She didn’t suffer fools.

I’m grateful that, one day at the Illinois Statehouse, she made an exception.

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