Encounters with U.S. Presidents, a Supreme Court Chief Justice & Governor Moonbeam

Journalists and public relations pros often interact with a variety of famous and notorious types. Actors, U.S. presidents, Congressmen, state and local legislators, murderers, robbers, white collar criminals, and…

You see them on stage and off. Frequently makes one cynical, yet sometimes it fills you with optimism. Trust me, I know firsthand.

*Jimmy, Dutch, Moonbeam. Spent time with all of them. In chronological order:

Gerald FordFord_Banner

Actually, met Ford in 1972 when he was House Minority Leader, serving his 13th term in Congress. At the time, I was a college intern for KFMB-TV8’s late-night broadcast. Ford was keynote speaker at the function and was in the middle of eating dinner when I interrupted him with a couple of questions. (Deadlines make journalists behave rudely.) Ford was beyond accommodating. A true gentleman.

Two years later, he was sworn in as president in August 974, the day after “Tricky Dick “I am not a crook” Nixon resigned.

Jerry Brown

Encountered Brown on a couple of occasions in the Seventies during his first go-round has California’s governor. That’s when he was affectionately nicknamed “Governor Moonbeam” and dated singer Linda Ronstadt and was seen socializing with other showbiz types throughout his early years in office.

Jerry, Ronstadt campaign button
A wishful thinking campaign button.


I first met Brown in 1975, when he came to Imperial Valley in support of the United Farm Workers during its contentious, and occasionally violent, battle with the Teamsters Union to represent California’s farm workers. The violence did not escape Imperial Valley. Tragically, one lettuce picker was shot and killed.

Brown came to the Valley and marched through the streets of Calexico, about ten miles south of El Centro and along the Mexican border.

In 1975, Brown signed into law the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, empowering the UFW and Teamsters.

Jerry, Natalie Wood
Gov. Brown with actress Natalie Wood


Our next meeting came when he campaigned to become the Democratic Party’s nominee in the 1976 presidential election. Carter defeated him in the primary. It was his first of three failed attempts to become the Democrats presidential candidate, losing again to Carter (1980) and later to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Generally speaking, Brown came across as a bit arrogant. Definitely not a warm personality. At least not with news media.

Ronald Reagan

The Hollywood star-turned-politician came to the Imperial Valley desert while President. As a 24-year-old reporter for the Imperial Valley Press, I was charged with covering his brief visit.

Reagan held an outdoor press conference scheduled at the small airport in the town of Imperial, immediately north of El Centro. I was the first reporter to show up, positioning myself right in front of the mike stand where the president was to speak. A primo spot, or so I thought.File Photo - Ronald Reagan

Covering a United States president was a first for me. My first surprise: the national and statewide news media arrived in their own plane just minutes in advance of the aircraft carrying Reagan. Once the president arrived, microphones were quickly thrust under my arms and over my shoulders, making my front row seat a moot point. Tough to take notes.

Thankfully, President Reagan quickly sized me up as a local reporter and allowed me to ask the first question. I asked him if he would support a nationwide Agricultural Labor Relations Act. He smiled broadly and said he would.

I was thrilled but managed to keep my emotions in check.

Later, Reagan had a poolside lunch in the backyard of a wealthy grower. I was able to approach him and ask a question while he was eating lunch. Secret Service quickly shooed me away before the smiling Reagan could respond. Heavy sigh.

* Jimmy Carter

For my day in 1974 shadowing Carter, please see my earlier post: My Day with Jimmy Who, 1974’s Unknown Presidential Candidatehttps://storiesbehindthestories.blog/

Warren Burger

Met Burger in 1987 at the University of San Diego, about a year after he retired from the U.S. Supreme Court as its chief justice. He came to USD as chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. At the time, I was the university’s news bureau director. Among the commission’s 23 members were Senator Ted Kennedy and Phyllis Schlafly, a Constitutional lawyer and conservative activist.

Justice Warren BurgerI staged a press conference for Burger on campus. By far the biggest press conference I’d facilitated. National, state, and local media turned out in force. The New York Times described Burger “at his smoothest and most affable.”

So true. The former chief justice exuded warmth and effortlessly commanded the attention of a gaggle of state, national, and local reporters. At the same time, he treated me with respect and allowed me to do my job as his handler.




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