Many of North America’s corporate elite were invited to this affair, and included speakers such as (then) New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The Friday night opening would start with dinner in the mansion, then a talk by a notable speaker. I drove with ease to the event, as I had grown up in the area and knew every road like the back of my hand.
I got off the major highway and turned onto a winding, unlit narrow road lined with stone walls that led to the former estate. I drove around a bend and came upon a car crawling along (decades before cell phones, GPS), stopping, then slowly moving on, stopping again…. looking very confused. Or was the driver impaired? When it stopped again, I passed and pulled in front and stopped (I had a large, reflective press plate on the back) knowing his headlights would see me and my identity. I took a chance and just figured the driver was lost.
I could see it was the latest model of a very expensive car. As I approached the driver’s door, the power window came down slightly and I asked if he was lost. A very familiar voice answered back: “I am, Red, and I’m running a little late. Do you know where the conference centre is?” I replied “Yes. I’m going there to cover it. Follow me if you will. We’re almost there.”
We soon approached the break in the high walls, turned to pass the entry gates and climbed the winding drive; Mr. Luxury Car right behind. I drove right up to the portico, slowed, then moved on as I saw him pull under it and stopped. He had arrived.
After parking my car further away, I entered the incredible structure and was ushered to a seat at a round table, surrounded by corporate mucky-mucks, including next to me, the chairman of Pittsburgh Steel. They were not too interested in this baby-faced “kid” and a guy who just didn’t “fit”. As soon as dinner was finished, the keynote speaker was introduced and it was my “lost” man, Arthur Godfrey.
Arthur’s informal talk and kick-off for the environmentally-themed weekend mentioned his unscientific but growing concern over just what he saw as an amateur airplane pilot. He noted that his untrained eyes could spot increasing smog and that ever-present and growing brown “ring” on the horizon. He wanted to voice his alarm (now) more than 44 years ago.
Subdued hand-shaking and greeting exchanged, she turned back and asked me to escort them to their car (I had known they were used to body guards and chauffeurs). She took my arm and her husband followed. We walked out into the night and she directed me to their auto, a dark blue two-door standard Lincoln model of about 5 years old. He unlocked the car, then I held the door open as she climbed into the passenger side. Mrs. Rockefeller thanked me, then said “Please don’t tell anyone, but we had no choice but to park two wheels up on the grass. Hope to see you at the conference tomorrow. Good night.”
I returned to the portico as Mr. Godfrey just came out the front door. He saw me and asked: “Red, how does one get out of here?” I walked over and asked if he would be heading back to New York, upon which he affirmed. “West side or East Side?” “West” was his response. I said: “Then you don’t want the Major Deegan, you’ll take the Saw Mill Parkway. I know a short-cut. Follow me.” He had a slight limp and walked with a cane, the few steps to his car. As I pulled my car around the drive and pulled in front, he fell in behind me.
We wound our way down the drive to the gates, then turned in the opposite direction from where we had entered. I led him through twisting, dark roads, passed a few small houses clustered in one area, then at a fork took another dark, unlit road through some forests that suddenly opened as we came down to a stop sign at the Parkway. I stayed ahead until I put my signal on for an early exit to my parents’ home, and noticed as he went around me he flicked his interior dome light on and waved a thank you and goodbye. As I slowly made my turn off the exit, I watched the taillights of his big car zoom off into the night, heading home to his New York.