Portland, Maine — I had my first introduction to fame in 1977 during our Andrews University Band trip to Romania, where concert-goers — as I mentioned in my previous column — would ask for our autographs.
My next brush with fame was in 1979 when my employer, the Review & Herald Publishing Association, used my picture on the cover of a new book "Who Am I.” Alas, despite its dynamic cover, the was not a best seller. LOL.
In my mind, being famous is equated with knowing a really famous celebrity, not how many people know me.
There are a couple of famous people that I've idolized as superstars and I thought I would be famous if I felt connected with one of them.
The first was in my high school days at Adelphian Academy in Holly, Michigan. Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings was my childhood idol and a real celebrity in the Detroit area.
During my senior year, one of my classmates claimed to live near Gordie Howe and be friends with the family. I was promised an autographed puck and an introduction, but it never happened, which is one of my greatest disappointments in life. Coming that close though, I thought that I had been almost famous.
The second superstar I idolized and dreamed of meeting was Luciano Pavarotti, the famous tenor. After the Three Tenors concert at the World Cup in 1990, I became infatuated with Pavarotti; I bought every CD and video I could find, and I dreamed of attending one of his concerts and meeting him one day.
While the dream was developing in my mind of meeting virtuoso Pavarotti, I had a couple of elevator encounters with famous people.
Stepping into a hotel elevator in New York, I joined the famous football quarterback, Phil Sims. Not a word was said during that encounter.
Not so quiet though was my elevator interaction with someone else I recognized. I was traveling from the third floor down to the ground level at the Washington Hilton during an American College of Healthcare Executives seminar in Washington, DC.
Being the only passenger in the elevator when the cab departed the third floor down toward the second, I moved toward the back of the cab when the bell indicated a stop on floor two. As the door opened, there stood Alan Greenspan, longtime Federal Reserve chairman. As he was entering the cab, he asked the question, "Going down?" Without hesitation, I replied, "That's what I was going to ask you!" We both laughed all the way down to ground level.
With these chance encounters, I didn't think of asking for an autograph. No, only meeting the sensation Luciano would motivate me to request a John Henry.
In 1998, there was a chance. I learned there was going to be a Three Tenors concert on my birthday, July 10, at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. My wife and I had to go and our travel agent booked our travel that included a flight back from Paris on the Concorde on July 11, the day after the concert.
The concert was unbelievable. Our tickets had us about a third of the way back in the 150,000 or so concert-goers on the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. VIP tickets could be had for $2,500 but an investment in binoculars was as close as I would get to my idol on this day.
On July 11, we showed up at the special Air France check-in area at Charles de Gaulle Airport for the Paris to NY Concorde flight.
The very warm and professional representative noted from my passport that I had just had a birthday and she congratulated me. I told her that we had attended the Three Tenor's concert as part of my birthday celebration. Then she said, "I may have a birthday present for you. Pavarotti and his girlfriend are booked in 8 A&B, right across from you. He usually books two or three different flights though, and we never know which one he will show up for."
What? I might be sitting across from my idol? I began to daydream that this would be my claim to being famous!
The Air France Concorde lounge area was gorgeous and spacious with a large picture window that looked out onto this sleek and marvelous piece of engineering that took a man into the upper atmosphere at 60,000 feet where you could see the curvature of the earth while traveling at Mach 2.
As I snapped a picture of the Concorde with my Minolta XE 7, I noticed a man in blue jeans with a baseball hat and sunglasses approach the glass about 15-20 feet to my left. There was something about this guy that aroused my interest, but I couldn't figure out what it was at first.
After a couple of minutes, it hit me: this is Chevy Chase from “Saturday Night Live” and “Christmas Vacation.” I didn’t act any different and neither did he.
In my mind, all I could think about was the possibility of seeing and meeting the icon, Pavarotti.
When we boarded the plane, Chevy Chase and his wife were in front of us in 7 C&D.
Chevy Chase didn’t faze me as I was so excited about sitting across from Pavarotti, I could hardly stand it. I was eternally optimistic and I was sure he would come in at the very last minute. Sadly, the door is finally closed and 8 A & B were still empty.
Traveling at more than 1,200 mph, the flight was only three hours and the wonderful experience passed quickly.
Standing in the aisle before exiting the plane, Chevy turned around and asked if we were vacationing. I replied that we had attended the Three Tenors concert. He said that they watched the concert from their place in Nice. "I thought Luciano was especially spectacular,” he commented as if he knew him personally.
All passengers, famous or not, stood in baggage claim waiting for their luggage.
While standing there, I was daydreaming again. All I could think about was if Pavarotti had been there, I would not only have obtained his autograph but exchanged contact information and made a pitch for him to come to Washington D.C. and perform a benefit concert for my Fort Washington hospital.
As I lifted my luggage from the conveyor belt I came back down to reality: I was still just "almost famous.”
Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a health care consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at email@example.com.