Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jack Valenti

I've only met a few people famous enough to be noted in the media when they pass, but one of those was Jack Valenti. In fact, I nearly made the biggest faux pas of my career with Mr. Valenti.

When I was directing Public Library Association, we held one of our bi-annual conferences in Portland, Oregon, and Mr. Valenti was our keynote speaker. I had some time, so I decided to ride out to the airport in the limo to pick him up.

We chatted amiably for a few minutes while we loaded up the car, and I couldn't help but notice that he had a thick red thread hanging on the lapel of his otherwise gorgeous dark blue suit. I kept asking myself, "Should I tell him?" After nearly a full ride back to the convention center spent trying not to stare at the offending fluff, I decided not to say anything.

As he delivered his talk that afternoon, he spoke about his life. He pointed to the small red thread on his chest, proudly mentioning that this was the ribbon of the French Legion d'Honneur. He'd received it in 1985 from Jack Lang, then the French Culture Minister, and he almost lost it in 1996 from the then director of the Public Library Association.

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