July 28, 2003:
Bob Hope came to Inyo County several years ago to film a Texaco commercial for one of his television specials. That’s not exactly news now except that Mr. Hope’s death inspires fond memories of a man who made our country laugh most of his life.
It was one of those busy days at Lo-Inyo School in Lone Pine when everyone was trying to get every lesson covered in an effective way. Schools function on schedules, organization and efficiency. When I found out my classroom was going to be disrupted by a trip to the Lone Pine Airport, I was a little unsettled. So a world-class celebrity was going to stop by. What learning would come of that? I had to admit, however, I was curious.
Our principal, Duncan Hobbs, managed to get every student from every class out to Lone Pine Airport in an orderly manner. We waited and a plane flew in and out stepped that familiar face. I don’t remember now how it all went, what he said, but I remember quite a crowd of kids and a man who had taken time out of a busy day to stop by. It was fun and interesting and after the little ceremony with the kids saying hello and greeting him, we returned to the classroom.
My wife was teaching first grade at the time and to use the experience for as much educational value as possible, she had each child draw a picture and then do a language experience with their thoughts recorded at the bottom of the picture. After school she bound the booklet of drawings to make a nice souvenir. We decided that I would give it to one of his assistants when Mr. Hope returned to the airport after filming the commercial in Death Valley.
It was winter, one of those crystal clear days, with warm sunshine, that deteriorates into a sharp cold night as soon as the sun drops below the mountains in the afternoon. Mr. Hope’s plane was late, as filming had dragged on.
Finally, a radio message said he was coming in. The airport terminal was surprisingly empty now and when he landed, an assistant took me to him. He was friendly, excited to see someone, or at least so it seemed. I told him that my wife’s class had prepared a present for him, a booklet of their thoughts about meeting him earlier in the day.
"That's great! I would love to sit down and look at it, but first I have to call my wife Delores and tell her it looks like I am going to be a little late for dinner, but I am coming." Instead of having an assistant or secretary make the call, he went over to the phone himself and called his wife.
Coming back in full make-up still, wrapped in a heavy coat, he looked fatigued but brightened up as soon as he took the booklet in his hands.
He sat down with me and looked at each picture, read each language experience, laughed, smiled and commented. He clearly loved kids and understood their unique points of view.
He took the booklet with him as he went to board his plane for his return home and dinner. He thanked me enthusiastically as if I had given him some kind of humanitarian award for a lifetime of work.
A few weeks later a packet of over three hundred signed pictures arrived at the school for the students. That may not seem so amazing, except that each picture was individually addressed to a student using his or her name. Someone had asked for a complete list of names from the school and Mr. Hope had made sure each student had a personal small token of his appreciation for their welcome at the airport that day.