Monday, May 23, 2011

Jim Lovell and Apollo 13

My work, over the years, has allowed me to meet with numerous famous people. Some of them are or were genuine celebrities, others politicians and high level government or military officials, still others names that have made history. I’m pleased that God has allowed me to become acquainted with these people; I even count some of them among my friends. Such is this story.

It was July 28, 1992. I was serving as Director of Development for the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and conducting a $13.5 million capital campaign. I had planned a fund-raising trip for me and Rear Admiral Skip Furlong to Chicago to meet with several high net worth prospects on behalf of the capital campaign. Doing my usual networking, I called Dick Joutras, one of the Foundation’s Board members and asked him about meeting while we were in town. He graciously agreed, and we set dinner for the night of the 28th. During our conversation, he asked if we minded that he bring a friend with him. Of course, we agreed.

On that evening Skip and I arrived at the Drake Hotel just a few minutes before the appointed time. We were directed to the fancy private restaurant and quickly spotted Dick Joutras at a table for four. After being seated, he apologized that his guest had not arrived but would be there shortly. Menus stowed on the table, we waited and chatted about nothing in particular. After about five minutes, a gentleman whom I recognized immediately as Jim Lovell strode to our table. He shook hands with Dick and thanked him for the invitation. Dick then introduced him to Skip and me, telling him a little about each of us.

Needless to say, I was in awe. My mouth was open with surprise, eyes wide, enthralled that I simply had the chance to meet this man.

How gracious he was as we talked about the Museum, why we were in Chicago and a little about what he had been up to since leaving the astronaut corps. After our meal, none of us was in any hurry to leave; after all it was to be an evening of pleasantness and relaxation.

Awestruck that I was in the company of this incredible man, yet exhibiting my Type A personality, I said to him, “I know you’ve been asked this question a million times, but I feel like I have to make the request. Tell me the story of Apollo 13.” Pretty bold, huh? But I felt this would be my one and only chance.

During and after desert and coffee, for the next two hours, Jim Lovell told us the true story of Apollo 13. As riveting as it had been portrayed to be, I found a faith in this man that I had not observed in some of the other astronauts with whom I had become acquainted. He described their feelings at the time of the explosion, noted the fear that they all seemed to feel not knowing exactly how serious the matter was or how to remedy it if it, indeed, was serious. His telling of the story kept me on the edge of my seat. I’ve never had two hours pass so quickly.

Since that time, I have been with Jim on numerous occasions. Only a couple of years after the release of the motion picture, Apollo 13, I met Jim again at a function for the Museum. During the course of that meeting, I asked him how closely the movie portrayed the actual event. He was quick to say that it was pretty accurate; in fact, he had been a consultant on the movie, and I’m confident that he was going to assure that the movie was accurate.

I don’t see him as often now as I did when I worked for the Foundation, but I still consider him to be a friend. I have called for his assistance on several occasions, and he has graciously helped when he could.

I consider Jim Lovell a genuine hero, but not just a hero, also a pioneer, a selfless, courageous aviator who was willing to sacrifice his life for the exploration of space. He is a devoted husband, having been married to his wife, Marilyn, since 1952. I count it a privilege to know Jim Lovell.