EMMET MEARA

Jefferson Phil gets a special birthday treat

Posted Sept. 23, 2011, at 4:46 p.m.

Jefferson Phil leads a charmed life, if you exclude that pesky heart attack a few weeks ago.

For reasons unknown, he is always surrounded by gorgeous women, plus he is good for at least a half-dozen columns a year. JP should be writing this newspaper column because he always, always, always has a great story … even after his heart attack a few weeks ago. He tried to stop the ambulance taking him to Maine Medical Center because he was hungry. He wanted an Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s.

The ambulance driver ignored him.

I don’t know if you have any heroes. My last hero was assassinated in Dealey Plaza. All right, maybe Carl Yastrzemski, maybe Tony Kornheiser. That’s about it.

Jefferson Phil has one hero in this world, David McCullough. JP has read virtually every book McCullough has written and the list is long. Coincidentally, the (double) Pulitzer Prize winner has become a familiar face midcoast, especially at his favorite Rockland eatery, which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.

Several years ago, we were visiting that restaurant when I recognized that famous face. Knowing JP’s weakness, I asked him to scan the corner table for familiar faces. He looked as if he had been turned to salt.

JP disappeared, only to be found bringing two glasses of wine to McCullough’s table. McCullough is a friendly man and actually invited JP to sit down. I waited a few minutes then literally dragged JP away from the table to allow McCullough to finish his meal (it’s always risotto) and avoid a police call.

About a year later, McCullough scheduled a book signing in upper New York State, which happened to fall on JP’s radar since he has family spread through the area. When JP went to the signing, he brought one of his favorite books. But he forgot that the book had already been autographed.

“This book has already been signed,” the author said. The flustered Phil just asked him to sign another page.

That might have been a first at a McCullough book signing. JP didn’t care. He was thrilled to be talking to his idol. We assumed McCullough identified JP as a stalker, possibly to the police.

While recovering from his heart attack earlier this month, JP had his sights set on Searsport, where another McCullough book signing was scheduled at Left Bank Book Store. His wife had bought McCullough’s latest work “Greater Journey” while JP was recovering in the hospital. Perfect.

JP insisted on arriving an hour early “to beat the crowd.” He was awarded number four in the line.

McCullough arrived at the scheduled hour and got a standing ovation from about 100 fans. They let the first 10 people into the book store and there was JP, fourth in line.

I got up front to take a picture to record the famous meeting. I whispered in the author’s ear that it was “number four’s birthday.”

You will not believe it. But McCullough started singing “Happy Birthday” to Jefferson Phil. Naturally, the entire book store joined in. JP turned to salt again. I think he drooled. The (double) Pulitzer Prize-winning David McCullough sang “Happy Birthday” to JP on his actual birthday.

JP even got his books signed. None of them had been signed before.

You had to be there. You had to see the look on his face.

“Last week at this time I was in a hospital bed with a heart attack,” he said.

JP’s daughter, Momma-Allison, heard the story right way.

“It’s going to be difficult to match this” for future birthdays, she said.

I am guessing Jefferson Phil will find a way, somehow. As I said, he leads a charmed life.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

 

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