I had the honor this weekend of meeting my wife's uncle, Donald Murray, for the second time since we've been together. That will be 22 years on the 23rd of August, that we've been married, 25 years that my wife and I have known one another. The first time I met him we never really got a chance to talk since he had a house full of relatives and he was busy entertaining. This time there were only a few of us, my wife, her brother, his wife, and their oldest son. On their last few trips to visit Don I was unable to go along due to work or previous commitments.
At 84 he's slowing down a bit, a littler hard of hearing, and his eyesight isn't what it used to be. But he's on my friends list on facebook, and obviously follows my posts. He met us at the door when we arrived. I went in last and he stopped me, his handshake still firm as he maintained his grip on my hand.
"I don't understand your last post," he said, "are you an author?"
I nodded yes and explained that I had several works published and available. He was duly impressed and expressed an interest in talking to me further about my work.
After we had sat around and chatted for a bit he asked if I'd like to see his office. He was a career navy man, and from 1962, until his retirement in 1976. he had been assigned to the White House. I had heard about his office from my brother-in-law, but it was nothing like what I expected.
On the wall next to his desk hang five large photographs in over sized frames that include personally signed letters from four presidents. John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, thanking him for his service. But the one that really got my attention was a photo of Jackie Kennedy. In the frame with her photo was a handwritten, signed, note from Jackie thanking Don for his service to her husband. It had obviously been written after her husband's assassination. Don confirmed my suspicions and proceeded to show me three ring notebooks filled with official white house photographs of the four presidents he had served under.
As he did he shared anecdotes of his time in the white house. Of crossing paths with every President almost daily as he arrived at his office. It took Kennedy only three meetings to start calling him by name as they passed. Kennedy also awarded him a commendation for his unfailing service during a hectic one month period where they managed to go around the world three times in thirty days.
He spoke of the night President Johnson's dog was hit and killed by one of the white house drivers, and of said driver's subsequent reassignment. Had it been up to Johnson he would have been assigned to the north pole. The person responsible for reassignments, aware of Johnson's temper, gave the man a decent posting in the south.
On Air Force One he and the other staff would gather in a back room to play cards and Nixon would stop by to watch, leaning over their shoulder to comment on the hands they held and their odds of winning.
By the time I left I was in awe at the history this man had seen. He might have been impressed by my writing, but that is nothing when compared to what he has seen, and done. He asked for a copy of my book and I signed one today to send out to him. In my autograph I expressed my feeling that nothing I accomplish will ever compare to the life he has lived.
I look forward to meeting him again.