Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"And you'll call me Johnnie..." 

I was rather shocked to learn tonight of Attorney Johnnie Cochran's death. Just as in my reaction to Yasser Arafat's death, there is something about having met a person, having shaken their hand and talked with them, that personalizes an event like this a little more. Sure, Johnnie and I weren't best friends or even casual acquaintances, but I did meet him and did spend some time with him once. So, when I heard on the news tonight that he had died, it struck me a little harder than when other death's are reported of persons with whom I did not have a personal connection. The article eulogizing him by CNN is disappointing to me. Say what you want about the man or the various court cases in which he has been a part. A man is more than his most famous court case. The article cited above talks more about O.J. Simpson than it does about Johnnie Cochran and that makes me a little sad. In an effort to remedy that, let me tell you the story of when I met Johnnie, so that you might know him more not as the lawyer who successfully defend O.J., but as a human being.

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?"
"Ryan, sir."
"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.



Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?