In October of 1986, I attended the Two-Year College Chemistry Conference (2YC3) in Greenville, South Carolina. Back then, I flew on Delta Airlines because I was able to use my Sky Miles account and upgrade to first class for the flight from Chicago to Greenville – Spartanburg through Atlanta and back. (Note – such upgrades are no longer possible.)
As my layover in Atlanta ended and I began to board the plane along with the other first class passengers, I could not help but notice something vaguely familiar about the manner in which the elderly gentleman in front of me walked. Since I could only see him from behind, I could not figure out why I thought I knew how this gentleman was.
As I settled into seat 1A, I noticed that the elderly gentleman whom I had followed onto the plane was seated across from me in 1D. And I as I had thought, I had seen that walk before as the gentleman was George Burns. Mr. Burns was on his way to Clemson, South Carolina, that weekend to serve as Grand Marshall for the Clemson University Homecoming celebration.
Seated where I was, I could watch the passengers as the boarded the plane and their reactions as they saw the quiet, unassuming elderly gentleman before them. It was interesting and sometimes amusing to watch as they would walk by on their way to their own seat shaking their heads, convinced that their eyes were deceiving them. Shortly after takeoff and that usual announcement that it was safe to move about the cabin, a young lady from the coach section came into first class seeking Mr. Burns autograph.
He graciously consented to her request and she literally floated back to her seat, exclaiming to one and all that she had gotten George Burns’ autograph.
The flight to the Greenville – Spartanburg airport was uneventful. Mr. Burns and his traveling companions chatted amongst themselves for the duration of the flight. I took the opportunity to reach across the aisle and also ask for his autograph, which he graciously gave.
When the plane landed, we debarked in the manner of early commercial flights, coming down the plane’s built-in stairs and walking across the tarmac to the terminal. Once I got to the bottom of the stairs, I took out my camera and asked Mr. Burns if I could take two quick pictures of him. As with the autograph, he graciously consented. As you can see from the first photograph, his trademark cigar quickly appeared as soon as we had left the plane. (I should note that I am not the best photographer in the world and I didn’t have much time so I did the best that I could.)
Mr. Burns and his party went on to Clemson for the homecoming celebrations (for the record Clemson beat Duke 35 – 3 but I had to look this up) and I went to Greenville for my meeting. But I still have the autograph and photos to remind of that moment in time and my travels that were shared with one of the great comedians of all time.