By Patrick F. Cannon
A few days ago, Mr. Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee, the noted film director, announced he would boycott the remaining games of the NBA’s New York Knicks, of which he has been a long-time courtside season ticket holder. It seems he feels disrespected, since he had been asked to use the VIP elevator instead of the one set aside for employee use only.
In his defense, Lee has been a season ticket holder for many years; currently courtside season tickets cost north of $30,000. I don’t know anything about Madison Square Garden and its elevators, but ones first reaction to news of this kind is to mark it down as just another example of celebrity hubris. The story did get me to thinking about how we have fed their expectations by giving in to their excessive demands. Who has not heard of rock musicians demanding booze, drugs and women in their dressing rooms as a condition for performing?
For many years, I hired speakers for the Lions Clubs International annual convention. In addition to a hefty fee, we routinely provided a hotel suite and first-class air fare. In many cases, we would also get a list of required “amenities,” which could include brands of alcoholic drinks and other goodies that they expected to be in their suites. As far as I can recall, drugs and women were never requested, but occasionally we did have to provide private plane travel for the more sensitive.
If the celebrity happened to be our nation’s President, we didn’t have to worry about anything; we just did what the Secret Service told us. But in the case of one international celebrity, our usual expectations were confounded. One of the features of the convention was the presentation of the Lions Humanitarian Award, which included a nice piece of sculpture and a cash grant to a non-profit of the recipient’s choice. In 1986, due to the exertions of Lions club members in India, the awardee was to be none other than Mother Teresa, who had agreed to accept the award in person.
The convention that year was in New Orleans. At the suggestion of the Indian Lions, I duly sent a letter to Mother Teresa, confirming the date and location of the convention, and advising her that we would be pleased to make travel arrangements for her and a companion, and reserve a suite at our headquarters hotel; in this case, the New Orleans Hilton. I don’t recall the exact timing, but some time passed without a reply, so I queried my contact in India. He responded by telling me that she had asked only for the date, time and location of the event, and would make her own arrangements.
This was, of course, unheard of, and caused extreme consternation among the leaders of the association. Thinking perhaps that I had been derelict in my duty, they themselves tried to get more information, to no avail. In the end, we all had to take her appearance on faith. I should also mention that Archbishop Phillip Hannon of New Orleans found out that she was coming, and was equally flabbergasted that I could provide no real information about her travel plans.
The day and time of her promised arrival finally came, and a group consisting of our international president, the archbishop, assorted other nabobs, and me gathered at the entrance to the New Orleans Super Dome. Just at the time specified, I noticed a rather old and faded Chevrolet sedan pull up to the curb. Don’t ask me how, but I immediately knew that it would contain Mother Teresa, so I walked over just as she and another nun emerged from the back seat.
“Are you Mr. Cannon?”, she asked.
I won’t bore you with all the details, except to say that when we all got to the holding room, she sat next to me and asked me about my family first, then about who would be in the audience. I won’t say she actually ignored the dignitaries, but they didn’t seem very happy. I don’t really remember her remakes after receiving the award, but we had a large video screen behind the stage and the cameraman focused on her face as she spoke. There must have been 15,000 people in the audience and there was not a sound as she spoke, and I noticed tears in many eyes.
It turned out she had been staying in Baton Rouge, at a convent of her order, the Missionaries of Charity. I think we did end up sending her a check to help defer her travel costs, but that was it. And I’m sure she never worried about what elevator she used. By the way, she remains the only official saint I’ve ever met. As for sinners…
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon