As the story goes, I was not supposed to be working on Nov. 2, 1980, but filled in for another reporter.
Politics always has been a favorite subject, so I likely welcomed the assignment to cover an event sponsored by the John Anderson presidential campaign at the Olympic Flame restaurant in Silvis, Ill. Anderson, a Republican congressman from northwest Illinois, was running as an independent.
That Sunday was two days before Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 4. The candidate’s wife, Keke, would be the guest speaker. I was told in advance that I would get five minutes with her.
In those days, I dressed like a cliche of a newspaper reporter, wearing suits usually in need of pressing (with a reporter’s notebook stuffed into an inside breast pocket), wing tips with worn soles and heels, and a trench coat. (Give me a break. I was two years into my first full-time job and looked the part. No, I did not wear a snap brim fedora, like “Gus,” the paper’s long-time, old-school police beat reporter.)
Arriving early at the restaurant, I looked over the room, found a place to park myself, and in a glance, noticed one of the campaign’s local organizers, a young woman who was scurrying about making final preparations.
More on her later.
Once Keke arrived, I was ushered to her table and reminded again that I would have five minutes. We had a delightful 45-minute conversation, discussing her husband’s positions on the issues of the day and her experiences on the campaign trail.
What I remember most was Keke’s lament that all of her events seemed to be at Greek restaurants. Keke Anderson, nee Machakos, was a proud “daughter of the Hellenes,” as her husband called her, and the campaign apparently thought it appropriate that every stop on her schedule be at an Olympic Flame or its ilk.
A waiter brought her a plate of saganaki, the flaming Greek cheese dish. Keke laughed and said, since we were in San Francisco and I was hoping for some good Chinese food, but no, Greek again.
After Keke delivered her remarks to the crowd assembled in the dining room, I slipped out and drove back to the newsroom, which was on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River.
I wrote up the event, beginning with a trite lede sentence that has not improved with time: “In her heart of hearts, Keke Anderson truly believes her husband will be elected the 40th president of the United States.”
Keke’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, I was under no illusions that this was even a remote possibility.
My article was published on the front page of Monday’s morning paper. At some point that day, that young woman from the Anderson event called, offering compliments on the article. She might have said something to the effect that I could call her if I had any other questions about the campaign. I don’t remember what reply I no doubt stammered out.
But I did walk back to the “morgue,” where the newspaper kept envelopes full of clippings and photographs, crowded into file cabinets alphabetically, by name or subject, and found the folder on her father, who had been a city councilman and interim mayor of a city on the Illinois side of the river. In that folder, I found an article that included a family photograph with his eldest daughter; just to refresh my memory, you understand.
On Election Day, the Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan, was elected president. The former film star and former two-term governor of California received 50.7 percent of the popular vote, carrying 44 states, winning 489 electoral votes. Incumbent President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, received 41 percent of the vote, claiming just six states and the District of Columbia, good for 49 electoral votes. Anderson received 6.6 percent of the vote, won no states and no electoral votes.
Some three weeks after the election (and a couple of more looks into that clip file in the morgue), I worked up the nerve to ask out that young woman.
Skipping ahead from 1980 to 2020, that is why, every year on or about Nov. 2, Audrey and I make it a point to go out for Greek food and offer a toast to Keke Anderson.