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Essay: Quirks of a President & Pope


There are many interesting biographies you can find in the neighborhood library or bookstore. They often share a side of famous people we didn’t know or appreciate. Lake Effect essayist Mark Siegrist says there are two that should be on your radar screen.

I love reading biographies.

Sometimes they can be dry. But often they contain golden nuggets about favorite personalities that make you stop and think… Really?

It happened to me recently while paging through separate stories about a couple of big names.

Dwight and Francis. A president and a pope. Each possessing a quirky side just like the rest of us.

Fox News anchor Bret Baier has written an intriguing book, Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission. It’s a wonderful read with a particular focus on Eisenhower’s graceful handoff to JFK’s presidency.

As a military general and commander-in-chief, “Ike” had plenty of help making calls, getting around, and running his errands. So after leaving the White House just using the telephone by himself could be challenging.

Bret Baier recounts how Secret Service agent Dick Flohr had to teach the former leader of the free world how to do it. How a rotary dial actually worked.

Eisenhower came out of his home office complaining about reaching several wrong numbers. That’s when Agent Flohr learned that his boss had been turning the dial as if it were a safe combination. Remarkable.

Baier also writes about how Eisenhower was a little rusty behind the wheel. So much so that whenever he made a reservation at his favorite hotel restaurant the owner would leave plenty of room in the parking lot for “Ike” to maneuver.

That brings us to Pope Francis, who throughout most of his priestly ministry has had little to do with cars. Especially chauffeured ones, preferring public transit to be closer to his flock. And on many occasion forgoing a bus or subway in favor of the sidewalk.

Author Mark Shriver recalls the day Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio), was officially made a cardinal. An account humorously revealed in his book, Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis.

While other churchmen proudly rode through the streets of Rome for their appointment with Pope John Paul II, Bergoglio chose to walk. All vested in red.

The story gets better.

Author Shriver says Bergoglio’s longtime assistant, Father Guillermo Marco was really embarrassed. So Bergoglio offered to buy him a cup of coffee along the way. In a bar, that is. All suited up at the counter for a high church service. The owner was so honored he told the two clerics their hot brew was on the house. And off they went to St. Peter’s Square.

My admiration for a certain president and pope hasn’t changed that much. It’s still high.

Perhaps in being reminded that accomplished lives aren’t perfect. That common behavior, even quirks help make us more human.