Monday, May 19, 2014

Meeting Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali September 1984

One day I met Muhammad Ali.  t was 11 September 1984 on one of my many trips over to Ireland.  I was flying out of Newark, New Jersey, to Shannon, in County Clare, Ireland.  I had an hour or so to kill so was just sitting in the waiting area of my loading gate.  I notice a large black man come into the area and take a seat.  Now I recognized him immediately, it was Muhammad Ali.  And do not ask how I knew, in my age group, one knows Muhammad Ali.  I had seen him on television many times dating back to the mid 1960s, he was iconic to say the least.  I was a fan of his, had always pulled for him in his bouts.  I liked his style in the ring and also his rebel spirit. I was intrigued that he was by himself.  I got up from where I was sitting, walked over and sat down beside him and say, "hello Muhammad, what brings you here."

I am six foot two inches and fairly well built, so I was not overly impressed with his size, but I did notice the easy way he moved, the way athletes move, fluid and with power there. There were introductions and we talked.  I told Muhammad I was a native born Mississippian, to which he smiled broadly.  This grew into a conversation about ethnicity, the War Between the States, race relations in the North, in the South, things in Ireland, etc.   Muhammad was friendly, talkative, and liked my up front casual nature with my Southernness.  He told me he had great respect from the white Southern male as he found dealing with them straight forward and honest.  He was interested in my travel to Ireland as I told him I was hunting for ancestors.  We also had fun talking about the pilot, who was female.  In fact, the airline people told me at the time this was the first woman trans-Atlantic pilot when I went to check in.  For some reason they wanted me to know.  Muhammad made some good natured humorous remarks about our upcoming flight and female pilot. We had about twenty minutes to talk and were having a very good time.  Then the local airport security realized they had a major celebrity in their midst. A guard appeared, then two, then several of Muhammad's entourage came up, I suppose they had been checking luggage or something.  Within five minutes around twenty people were gathered around him, within thirty minutes there were near a hundred as word got out that he was there.  It was no longer possible to talk to him at this point, and I wished him well and got up to leave.  Then, for some reason, I decided to ask him for an autograph, just to prove to others the conversation had taken place, as a rule, I do not ask autographs from famous folk I meet, but I did this time.
11 September 1984

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