“ARE YOU SURE?” I must have asked hubby that question at least a dozen times.
I had learnt earlier in the morning that he had been invited to a function where former White House press secretary Mike McCurry was to speak. I asked if I could tag along. He was pleasantly surprised; this request coming from his wife whom he strongly believed was a squirrel in her previous life, for I love to hibernate. It takes an earthquake or snowfall to tear me away from home, and groceries of course. Mike McCurry was another exception. This is a man who reputedly makes an appearance for a five-figure sum.
The thought of seeing the man himself in person was overwhelming. I watched him the day he walked off the White House podium for the final time on Thursday October 1, 1998. After 539 press briefings and being the middle man between the President and the media for over three years, he has become a familiar face on TV.
On that day, 13th April 1999, we arrived for the annual Edward Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting award presentation at Georgetown University, WashingtonDC, 15 minutes before the event scheduled at 6pm. As we stepped into the auditorium of the University’s Intercultural Center, two students handed out the program leaflets.
The 200-odd capacity auditorium was not packed. Three cameras were strategically placed at the back. Elderly, distinguished and academically-looking people made up the crowd; a quarter were students; and a sore thumb – me. I was dressed in red baju kurung. I was at a ladies’ meeting just before meeting up with hubby for this event.
I caught a glimpse of McCurry when he filed into the auditorium along with the other dignitaries of the night. Sitting just seven rows behind him to the left, I had a clear view of his balding head. He was only 44. Half his lifetime was spent dealing with the media in his various press secretary portfolios.
The evening proceeded with the presentation of the Edward Weintal Prize to CBS News’ Tom Fenton and Los Angeles Times’ Jim Mann, for their distinguished reporting on foreign policy and diplomacy. They joined the ranks of 83 previous recipients including NBC’s Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw, and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and Peter Arnett.
Then it was time for McCurry to take to the mike on the podium again. Having left the White House to spend more time with his family, McCurry kept himself abreast with foreign affairs, gave speeches and helped corporate clients understand Washington in the global information age.
That evening, he spoke on “Foreign Policy Story in the Global Information Age”. He noted that foreign policy stories were on the decline and that there was a need to encourage and acknowledge this kind of reporting to make it more distinguishable.
During the same occasion, the university honoured one of its past and illustrious graduate students with a Georgetown Chair, rightly presented to a man who had spent so many years standing on his job. On accepting the Chair, McCurry spontaneously told the audience that he was alighting from a cab one day when the driver recognised him and asked, “Hey, aren’t you Mike McCurry? Whatever happened to you? “Well, at least now I can say I’ve got a chair at Georgetown University,” he said to the applause and laughter from the audience.
During refreshments, there was a queue to meet McCurry. He was friendly and spared a few moments with each person. That encouraged me to drag hubby to join the queue. When it was our turn, hubby introduced us both and we had a brief chat.
So he’s not the President. But he was the President’s spokesman who refused to lie for his boss. After learning the truth behind the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, he did the honourable thing and bowed out gracefully, rather than feeling forced to feed the media with lies. Indeed, a man with a conscience and for that he won the respects of many critics, even amongst journalists. And even his former boss praised him, saying “few could match his intelligence and wit from the podium.”
Speaking of US Presidents, I once received a thank you card from President Ronald Reagan, specifically on the 6th September 1985. It was in reply to a card I sent (while I was a schoolgirl) wishing him a speedy recovery from his colon cancer surgery in July that year. I least expected a reply from the White House! (Who knew I would end up living in Washington DC and even visiting the White House 12 years later!)