By Dan Miller
January 16, 2009
Every time a new president is inaugurated, I start thinking about the other men who've served in that office.
Years ago I heard John F. Kennedy on the radio commenting that, prior to being elected to the office himself, his life had spanned seven different presidents.
So I immediately counted to see how many presidents had served during my lifetime.
At that point there had been four, including JFK.
Now, in 2009 -- including Barack Obama -- my life has spanned 13 presidents, beginning with the end of Franklin Roosevelt's term.
Then I started thinking about how many of those 13 presidents I've actually seen in person.
The number is six.
The first president I ever encountered in real life was Dwight Eisenhower, and I saw him a lot.
It just happened that his favorite getaway during his administration was the Augusta National Golf Club in my hometown, where he visited a lot... and we'd often spot him coming or going.
Once, shortly after he left office, I had a particularly close encounter with President Eisenhower.
During my college years, Mr. Smith, a neighbor who ran an audio-visual business there in Augusta, had been hired to show movies of old Masters Tournaments to a group of men at the Augusta National.
Mr. Smith asked me to assist him.
To my surprise, Eisenhower was part of the group.
So we set up the projector and screen on a patio outside the clubhouse.
Then -- before and during the movie -- I stood there, not more than 10 feet from this famous war hero and president, listening as best I could to everything he said.
The next president I saw with my own eyes was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
He spoke at a political rally in front of the Municipal Building in Augusta.
I was working at a local radio station at the time, and -- as I recall -- a huge crowd of several thousand was on hand.
I remember being rather embarrassed for my fellow Augustans when they booed our Commander In Chief.
In March of 1974 I saw Richard Nixon on stage for the grand opening of the brand new Grand Ole Opry House.
It's hard for me to believe it's been 35 years since then, but I clearly recall Nixon taking a yo-yo out of his pocket, and telling Roy Acuff that he'd stay in Nashville and learn to yo-yo if Roy would go up to Washington and be president.
In the early 1980s I attended an event here in Nashville where George H. W. Bush was making a speech.
He was still vice-president at the time.
In 1991 I sat just two seats away from Ronald and Nancy Reagan at a celebrity tennis match in Los Angeles.
I never spoke to him, but I did sort of nod a hello, and he nodded back.... at least, I like to think the nodding was for me.
During the middle 1990s, Bill Clinton passed within a foot of me at WSMV as he was preparing to appear on the Phil Donahue Show, which was being taped in our studio.
I could easily have reached and touched him, but I wasn't in the mood that day to be wrestled to the ground by secret service agents.
And while I don't believe I've ever seen Jimmy Carter in person, I did have a brief encounter with his always spirited mother, Miss Lillian, more than 30 years ago.
We brushed elbows moving through a crowd.
Let me think... hmmmm... was it some political event, or perhaps some stuffy banquet where she made a speech?
No, I remember... she was in the ringside seats at the Ali-Spinks heavyweight championship fight at the Superdome in New Orleans, having quite a time.
I always liked Miss Lillian.
Who can forget how -- after her son Jimmy was inaugurated as president -- a reporter asked her, "Are you proud of your son?
She replied, "Which one?"