Readers offer their personal memories of The Greatest, and their emotional stories reveal a kinder, gentler side of Ali’s brash public persona.
One of you met Muhammad Ali at a Port Townsend memorial where his surprise appearance left an indelible memory. Another of you was in elementary school in Seattle and joined a line of excited kids when Ali visited his aunt.
Over the weekend I asked readers to email me their personal remembrances after the death of perhaps the most famous man in the world.
You didn’t disappoint.
Ali traveled a lot, even as Parkinson’s disease took its toll. So several of the encounters were at airports. Back in 1988, I even had one such memory at a stopover in Chicago.
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What comes through in the remembrances over and over again is that Ali was a gracious, kind man who always took the time to care.
An autograph from a world champ
From Rob Campbell, retired from finance management, of Kenmore.
I grew up in the Madrona neighborhood, near 36th & Olive. One day, soon after coming home from Madrona Elementary, my older brother walked through the door and said, “Muhammad Ali (maybe he said Cassius Clay) is up the street.”
Turns out he was visiting Seattle and had an aunt who lived a few blocks away.
I’ve been a Muhammad Ali fan since I first became aware of him. Before he was ambassador to the world, before the military controversy, not before the social or cultural whirl. Cocky was a word often used. Whatever. I thought he was fun, and he boxed with a speed and style like no one else.
I took off with pencil and paper. His aunt’s house was easy to find; there was a line of kids from the door running down the steps. I took my place and slowly made my way through the front door, then through a small dining room.
Muhammad Ali was in the kitchen, seated at a relatively small table. When it was my turn, his aunt placed a salad in front of him and was starting to shoo the kids away.
Before picking up his fork, he took my paper and pencil and signed, “Muhammad Ali.” He then looked at me and said, “I bet you’ve never seen a world champ before.” I have no idea what I said in response.
Thinking of myself as The Greatest
From Jerry Cooper, retired photo lab owner, of Lake Forest Park.
I was a young, unhappy high-school dropout working in a plywood mill when Cassius Clay was yelling about being the “greatest of all time,” etc. On all of his early fights, I bet against him just because I wanted to see him lose.
It didn’t take long before I realized that I was the loser. As I watched the guy I came to realize that when he was seemingly telling the world how great he was, he was really talking to himself.
He was just bolstering his confidence. To make a long story short, I adopted his attitude for myself.
I got an education, started a business using $900 that I was able to scrape together, and kept it going for 42 years. Without Ali’s attitude I would have still been at the mill.
A year or so ago, I had a conversation with my grandson who was struggling in middle school. I told him about Muhammad Ali and suggested that he start thinking the same way. On June 3, I received a text from his father showing that my grandson had made “High Honor Roll” at his middle school for the first time.
Waking up next to Ali
From Rob Moore, retired businessman, of Woodinville.
When I was a kid my family lived in Jamaica, which was great, at least until I turned 13. I was sent overseas for education, in my case to Ridley College, an old-line Canadian boarding school.
The only drawback to this arrangement was that it allowed me to fly home to the sun only three times a year.
As luck would have it, at the beginning of one such vacation, my flight out of Toronto was delayed and we arrived in Miami very late. I hung around the airport for a night of conversation with the janitors, eventually falling asleep on a bench outside Air Jamaica’s ticket counter.
The next morning, imagine my surprise — no, astonishment — to wake up and find myself sharing the bench with none other than the greatest: Muhammad Ali.
I was later told by the check-in agent, who had witnessed the whole thing, that Ali had arrived about an hour earlier to find a crowded seating area, and had taken a seat at the end of “my” bench, making every effort not to disturb me, even going so far as to point to me sleeping when passers-by had come by for his autograph.
My meeting at Microsoft
From Jeff Snedden, marketing senior director, of Lake Forest Park.
I met Ali in a chance encounter at Microsoft in the summer of 1998. I was eating lunch in Building 18, when I looked out the window of the lunch room and saw Ali walking across the courtyard.
I could hardly believe my eyes. I dropped my lunch tray and ran out the door. There was only one other person greeting him and as soon as they left I stuck out my hand, which he quickly grabbed. I have no idea what I said, stammering out something like: “Champ, you are the greatest.”
He held onto my hand, patting it patiently with his other hand while he listened intently to my star-struck babble. It was incredible.
As it turned out, he was meeting with others from Microsoft who managed our corporate website to learn more about marketing on the web. He had purchased, I was told, GOAT.com. That stood for Greatest Of All Time.
Paying his respects in Port Townsend
From Reed Hunt, corporate development manager, of Sammamish.
I attended Port Townsend High School, graduating in 1979. Among my fellow graduates was a young man names Charles (Chuck) Robinson, a friend and football teammate of mine who also happened to be a nationally ranked boxer invited to join the Muhammad Ali Boxing Team in Santa Monica, Calif.
In March 1980, Chuck and 21 other U.S. boxers and staff died in a plane crash just outside Warsaw, Poland, while en route to an international event in that city.
A memorial service was held for Chuck in the Port Townsend High School auditorium and, as you might imagine, the place was absolutely packed. And while few in attendance knew in advance, Muhammad Ali showed up in our tiny city to pay his respects. This act of kindness and thoughtfulness was forever etched in my mind.
Delivering the perfect eulogy
From Peter E. Sutherland, attorney, Seattle, writing about the same Port Townsend memorial.
The eulogy he gave was transformative. He spoke of knowing Chuck in California and how Chuck had impressed him as a person and as a fighter. He joked about how this small-town white kid beat up on all the black kids in the club. He spoke of how we all had more in common than our differences and how we could use the tragedy to understand each other better in our shared grief.
I remember Ali using the word God, not Allah, when he spoke of our common creation.
I could sense the realization of the audience. Ali honored Chuck and felt as we did about him. We all shared that bond with Ali.
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