The recent activities on and about Martin Luther King Jr. Day triggered my memory, once again taking me back to a cool, late fall evening in 1964. I was working the late shift alone at my father’s service station near the very busy U.S. 27 in Cynthiana. I was filling up a 1962 Chevy four-door Bel Air, a blue one, with Michigan tags.
The driver, a very well-dressed African-American gentleman, was wearing an elegant fedora dress hat. I took his Gulf Oil credit card into the office before I looked at it. When I did, I was shocked. It read “Martin Luther King Jr.”
He was not as famous that night as he became in the next few years of the turbulent 1960s; however, he was certainly famous enough at the time to make me wide-eyed with wonder, when I fumbled and stammered my way to verify that it was indeed the famous man.
He graciously allowed me to detain him for probably eight or nine minutes while engaging him in now long-forgotten conversation and small talk before he let me down easy by asking for directions to Louisville and then driving away into the night, leaving me pinching myself to make sure I hadn’t dreamt it.
Almost four years later, I was a Lexington metropolitan police officer in a patrol car on an early spring evening when all cars were instructed to contact the station using only the restrictive police call boxes, which were not monitored by the press or the public.
My partner, Detective Leroy Livesay, made the call as I sat behind the wheel. Dispatch informed us to come to headquarters to pick up riot gear, special weapons (shotguns) along with extra ammunition. King had just been assassinated.
Over the next 40 years as a professional private detective, I was privileged to work for and around many famous people — mostly Hollywood types, some real movie and music stars along with well-know athletes, a few political figures, and even one ex-U.S. vice president.
Many were OK, although some were a royal pain, but almost all were interesting and entertaining, as well as famous at the time. I enjoyed meeting most of them.
But now, late in the game, it occurs to me that, in the long run of time, the first one I met will surely be the one remembered by history the longest. He and his accomplishments and non-violent methods will be remembered after all the jocks and movie stars are long forgotten.
As for me, I recall how he took time to befriend a star-struck, small-town boy he met along the way. A true gentleman. I remember him.
John Landreth of Richmond is a private investigator.