One Moment With The Queen
It was 35 years ago. For all the world has changed, it may as well have been 350 years ago or 3,500 years ago. But it was 35 years ago when computers were finally small enough to fit in a suburban ranch house, telephones were still tied to walls or desks but you could have a CB in your car, you got your news through newspapers or the three TV networks, and when you listened to music you still mostly used LPs but a few technophiles were raving about something called a compact disc.
The Michigan Capitol hadn’t yet undergone its renovation, so it was an ungainly mess of half-floors, overfloors, offices stuffed into every possible place and in the House chambers an ungodly looking monolith – which was actually a giant speaker – stationed on the balcony above the speaker’s chair.
Oh yeah, you could smoke in the Capitol then.
Some newspapers had ventured into CRT’s for writing stories (I’m sure you can Google the term), but most reporters still pounded out copy on manual typewriters, of which there were a bunch shoved into the pressroom area. That itself was a rabbit warren of rooms attached to the main press room watched over by Wes Thorp. The AP was stuffed into one room. UPI was stuffed into another. WJR was stuffed into a third room and other radio and newspaper people worked at whatever desks they could snag. This once sacrosanct land is now a caucus room.
Gongwer News Service had appropriated two desks and two typewriters and a large pile of yellow dog paper in the largest room off the main pressroom.
Bill Ryan, the most important legislator in Michigan history (no, he was, he was. The Legislature wouldn’t be what it is without his actions as speaker), was the House clerk at the time, and despite all the activity in his small suite of offices it still seemed like a place of relative calm.
It also had a coffeepot, which made it a remarkably popular place.
It was May 1983, and a beautiful day as almost every day in May seems to be. House session was starting soon and this reporter had been pounding away at stories from whatever the committees had acted on. To stretch, I had gone to the back of the House where the document room was located to pick up the day’s calendar. Walking back, I decided to grab a cup of coffee from the clerk’s office.
Mr. Ryan was on the phone in his office. The sergeants were chatting with the secretaries, passing notes back and forth about school tours and such.
And squeezed in between the coffee machine and the office wall, sitting on a hard-wooden chair was a well-dressed woman, early middle aged, black, holding a cigarette, with a very serene look on her face. No one was talking to her, no one really seemed to notice her, at least not during the two minutes I was there. I poured myself a cup of coffee. The woman looked over to me. I nodded pleasantly in greeting as one does, she nodded back. I may have said, “How are you,” I don’t honestly recall, and if I did she said she was well. I gathered my papers and coffee and went back to my desk to keep pounding at the typewriter.
I listened to session open over the pressroom speakers while I continued to pound away. There was the invocation, there was roll call (they only recited the pledge on the opening day of session back then) then the chamber was gaveled quiet for a special presentation.
It was Aretha Franklin Day, called by then-Governor James Blanchard to commemorate her 25 years in show business. The House was presenting her with a special resolution.
Oh boy, I thought, Aretha is in the chamber. I gotta see this. I walked into the chamber and entered the press section.
And looking at the speaker’s podium I saw now the woman who had been sitting by the coffeepot in the clerk’s office, who had nodded a greeting to me, getting photographed and applauded by everyone in the chamber, including the reporters.
Well, except for this reporter who stood slackjawed and wide-eyed and said something that started, “Holy…”
Rest well, your majesty.Back to top