I had always been very active in political campaigns and was serving as Secretary for the Republican Party committee in my community in 1976. Through a series of coincidental but serendipitous encounters with three of the top Republicans in Pennsylvania (Hugh Scott, senior Senator; Bill Scranton, past governor; and Elsie Hillman, member of the Republican National Committee) my name had been independently put in front of the Ford administration for a position in his administration - after he won the election.
Prior to the election I was asked to serve as a volunteer member of President Ford's advance team - the group that gets all the logistics in place prior to a presidential visit. My first assignment was to work a visit by President Ford to Notre Dame University. It was only a 12 hour visit, but we started working on it almost a week in advance.
It was one of the most exciting times of my life. Imagine having such high-level access that I could, literally, walk past Secret Service agents into the President's private room while preparing for his visit! Every, and I mean EVERY, detail of each minute of the entire visit from Air Force One "wheels down" to Air Force One "wheels up" was plotted out - where the president would be (very specifically), who would be around him, etc. I participated in all the meetings coordinating personal, Secret Service, Military, communications, police, etc., logistics.
I helped with a number of things, but had one specific duty that was mine alone. Seems President Ford was going to talk for a few minutes to the people who had been his next door neighbors when he was growing up. This was after his main speech of the visit, and in a closed off section of the facility housing the auditorium. My job was to get the neighbors in place and have them ready to greet the President, which required me to be with the President, his old neighbors and a couple of Secret Service agents for about ten minutes. I got to stand less than six feet from the President, and was impressed by how athletic and commanding he came across in person - MUCH better than how he seemed to appear on TV.
Two quick vignettes from just before and right after this (to me) momentous event. BEFORE - I had the neighbors in place and was trying to be cool, because the only other people around where the President's personal Secret Service detail, and showing any humor or taking ANY shit were NOT part of their world. Suddenly, I and one of the agents saw the shadow of a man with a holstered gun go past the semi-shear curtains in the window a few feet away.
It was like being in the TV show 24! He SPRANG into action, calling in the troops as he did via his hidden microphone. He tried, unsuccessfully, to go through panic-bar doors that had been chained and padlocked. If the chain had been only slightly less thick, I'm sure he would have been successful. While this was happening a saw several more silhouettes flash by the window. It turned out to be a false alarm. Seems that one of the local cops assigned to security didn't stay where he was supposed to and walked around the building. I'm SURE he ended up with several new assholes after pulling that stunt!
AFTER - when I had completed my assignment, I walked outside to the front of the building and the head of the Advance team was chatting up the President's Chief of Staff, Dick Cheney. I was invited over, introduced and stood around talking with them for about 20 minutes. Gee, if I would have only known then that Dick would one day become America's Darth Vadar!
If Ford had won instead of Carter, my life would have spun off in TOTALLY different directions. I would have moved to Washington as part of the Ford administration and who knows what after that!