In 1976 Ronald Reagan brought his Presidential campaign to Winston-
Salem, N.C. I had just started as a reporter at WXII-TV there and at
the last minute, the assignment director sent me to the hotel where
Reagan was to speak at a fundraising dinner. The assignment desk
didn’t know the only window reporters would have with Governor Reagan
was at a6 PM news conference, just before the dinner. Cameras would be
allowed to cover the speech in the hotel ballroom, but Reagan would
not be available for one on one interviews and he would not be
available after the news conference.
I arrived at the hotel just as the press conference was ending and
Reagan was moving down to the ballroom. The other reporters were
packing their gear as I walked in and realized what had happened. I
walked up to Reagan and remembered he was a member of my college
fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon (I was a TKE at East Carolina, Reagan
was a TKE at Eureka College). Almost without thinking I gave him the
secret handshake and explained my predicament…getting the assignment
too late to make the news conference.
Reagan smiled and said “We can work this out. Follow me into the
ballroom and have your crew set up near the platform. When you see me
put down my tableware after the main course, give me a sign and I’ll
I had my cameraman set up audience left, just off of the speaker’s
platform and waited. All the other news crews, having already shot the
news conference were at a table in the back chowing down on the free
After a deadly hour of introductions and speeches by local
politicians, the main course was done and dessert was still to be
served. All the time I was watching Reagan, wondering if he would
remember our deal. A couple of minutes later he put down his
silverware and looked my way. I pointed to our camera location and he
got up. Now, Reagan was already a 66-year-old man…but I’ll never
forget how he never even looked for steps from the stage, but walked
to the rail at the end and just vaulted over it.
I don’t remember the questions I asked that night, but I do remember
two things. First he gave me a great one on one interview that led our
news, and second, all the other reporters, when they saw Reagan come
over to me rushed to get their gear and come over. They arrived just
as Reagan climbed back over the rail for dessert.
The competition could only ask “What the hell was that?” “How’d you
get him to do that…what did he say?” I replied “No worry boys, it’ll
all be in the paper in the morning, and of course on WXII at eleven.”
I smiled all the way back to work and had a warm place for Ronald
Reagan ever since.