Tuesday, March 29, 2005
In college I was an employee of WakeWorks, a business founded by two of my fraternity brothers that provided wait, bartending, and catering staff to local conference centers. As a member of their Elite Team and a Captain I was often given first opportunity at some of the better jobs and clients. So, when Oprah Winfrey announced she would be throwing Professor Maya Angelou (Prof. Angelou taught a class in Modern Poetry Performance at Wake) a 75th birthday party at the Graylyn Conference Center and that WakeWorks had received the bid for staffing the event, I was all over it. That night I worked a little as a bartender, but mostly my duties consisted of being a wine steward. Johnnie and his wife were seated at one of my tables and I poured a lot of wine for them over the course of the night. As is my custom, I referred to him as "sir" whenever occasion called for me to address him. After about the third such occasion, he turned to me and said, quite cordially if forcefully,
"What is your name?"
"Well, Ryan, my name is Johnnie. I'll call you Ryan and you'll call me Johnnie, and that's just how it's gonna be."
"Very good. May I pour you some more wine, Johnnie?"
"Yes, Ryan, thank you very much."
We had a lot of fun for the rest of the night calling each other by first names (or at least I did) and he thanked me very kindly at the end of the night. I experienced Johnnie as a man, as a human being, and not a CourtTV personality. For people in the news like he was, such is a rare treat for a college wine steward. Rest in peace this day, Johnnie, and may you rise in glory on the last.