Although it came a few days before I officially took office, I consider our Olcott Mother’s Day celebration to be the real start of my time as president. A couple of weeks beforehand, the guys and I had decided that we would do something special, not just for the moms on staff, but for all of the ladies. So on the Friday before Mother’s Day we arranged a special lunch in Nicholson Hall. One of our fellows, James LeFevour, who counts among his many skills a year’s training in a culinary institute, took charge of the meal. We had asked that none of the ladies enter the dining area until noon so that we could prepare. With our inimitable masculine sense of style, we set each table with white tablecloths, flowers, and candles.
When the ladies came down, we were lined up on both sides of the hallway leading to the dining hall. Because that Friday was the day that had been scheduled for planting trees, a number of the guys who had been outside working with Mark Roemmich and the grounds crew had to come in a little early to clean up. All in all it just added to the “manly man” atmosphere. As each lady approached, one of the men would meet her, offer his arm, escort her to her place, and hold the seat for her. Once the ladies were seated, the guys took their food order and served them. With dessert each one received a long-stemmed red rose as a token of our appreciation. It was a fine display of good old-fashioned chivalry, and in the eyes of our female staff the guys could do no wrong–at least for the next week.
While the men on staff never had any idea of a quid pro quo, it was mentioned that Father’s Day was only a month away. Not to be outdone, the ladies of Olcott took the challenge and decided that they were going to take it up a notch for the occasion. On the Friday before Father’s Day the guys were barred from the kitchen area after 10 a.m. When we were finally allowed to enter at noon, it was a sight to behold. As with the men, the hallway leading to the dining hall was flanked on both sides by the ladies, but they all were dressed to the nines. They were wearing feather boas, some had Mardi Gras–type masks, and every one of them looked sensational. As each man approached, one of the ladies would take his arm and escort him to his seat. Some lucky fellows had two ladies escorting them. In celebration of the our “inner boy,” there was a movie playing, The Godfather. There were poster-size pictures on the wall of Ava Gardner, Farrah Fawcett, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and others. Each table had root beer, in the bottle, and popcorn. We were served and eulogized, and we left feeling thoroughly appreciated. My comment during the affair was “I could get used to this.” I was advised that of all my worries as president, getting used to this type of treatment would not be one of them.
Love has been in the air at the Olcott campus, and it has been keeping me busy. In April and again in June we had staff members getting married. Things kicked off with chief of staff Jim Bosco’s wedding. He and Meredith Leary tied the knot in the Olcott library on April 30. They had met the year before at one of the classes that Jim was conducting. When the inevitable became obvious to them, I was honored to be asked to perform the ceremony. On the wedding day, although Jim did cut a dashing figure in his suit, all eyes were on Meredith, who was purely stunning in her very stylish silvery gown. There were plenty of kids and noise and music. It was a glorious affair.
A little over a month later, it was Chris Bolger’s and Juliana Cesano’s turn. Chris heads up our IT department, and Juli handles publicity for the TSA. They met when Juli came to Olcott from Argentina a couple of years ago. Those of you who know Chris and Juli will understand when I say that they are the TSA equivalent of Brad and Angelina—young, vibrant, smart, and over-the-top good-looking. Again I was honored to be asked to perform the wedding. This one was outdoors, and took place at the fire circle, about fifty yards south of the labyrinth. It was a private ceremony with guitar accompaniment. All in all a lovely and spirit-filled occasion.
A good deal of my time these past few months has been filled with preparations for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s TSA-hosted visit to Chicago. Although there have been enough details for a book, I will share a few of the more interesting points.
Of the many concerns we initially had in planning for His Holiness’s visit, security issues were not high on our list. This was because we were naïve. One month before the date for the visit, two special agents from the State Department and the representative from the Office of Tibet (the equivalent of the Tibetan embassy to the U.S.) met with us in Chicago to do a site assessment. The State Department is charged with the Dalai Lama’s safety when he visits the United States, and I discovered that they take their charge very seriously. Over the course of two days we visited the two venues for the events and the hotel where His Holiness and his entourage would be staying. At each place they examined every step His Holiness would be taking and every area he would be passing through. They did risk assessment and discussed among themselves exactly how they would position their “assets.” They selected public streets that would be closed off and arranged deployment of Chicago police and university security, timing for security sweeps, and the use of bomb-sniffing dogs. I left the experience happy that I don’t have to look at the world in this way, and thankful that there are people that do.
Sunday, July 17, began with a trip to O’Hare airport to meet His Holiness. One of the donors to the event had arranged for him and his entourage to be flown from Washington, D. C., on a private jet. So the section of the airport where we met was new to me. It is a separate terminal for private flights. In all there were about ten people there to meet him. When the plane landed, we were escorted to the tarmac, where we stood in a reception line at the foot of the plane’s stairway. As the president of the TSA, I was first in line. He looked into each one’s eyes and greeted each of us. He draped us with the ceremonial scarves, then got into an armored black Cadillac and drove off with the convoy of black Suburbans filled with his entourage and State Department special agents. At the Pavilion of the University of Chicago at Illinois, I had the opportunity to introduce the Dalai Lama to 8000 people–a memorable experience.
The next day at Chicago’s Harris Theater, 1600 people gathered for the panel discussion with His Holiness. The night before, we had met with the panelists and moderator Eboo Patel to discuss the direction for the upcoming panel. On our way into the restaurant, Rev. Jesse Jackson saw Rabbi Michael Lerner, one of our panelists and a friend and coworker of his. Rev. Jackson came up to the private room that had been reserved for our meeting and said he would attend the panel the next day. The break between the panel and the Dalai Lama’s private meeting with the 300 TS members who attended, found the Dalai Lama, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and me having lunch together backstage. My daughter, who was seated at the table next to ours, said that for her the whole experience was “surreal.” In her words, “Here I am, an eighteen-year-old, sitting at the table listening to the Dalai Lama and Jesse Jackson talk politics, and my dad and Jesse Jackson fist bumping.”
The meeting with the members will not soon be forgotten by those who attended. For the first fifteen to twenty minutes the Dalai Lama spoke highly of the Theosophical Society and its purposes, at one point going so far as to say, “I am one of the candidates for a Theosophical Society member.” I am happy to tell you that His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, is now an Honorary Life Member of the Theosophical Society in America. All in all, it was a good day.