Frank X. Mullen's press pass for his 1977 meeting with President Carter.

In 1977, as a reporter for my college newspaper, I snagged a Secret Service press pass to cover President Jimmy Carter, who was attending a conference in Denver on Western water issues.

My journalism experience was limited to interviews with professors and students, so I was excited to be among the press gaggle at a presidential visit. I arrived at the Denver Hilton early and pretended I knew the ropes. I stood in a hallway with a couple of other early-bird local reporters. A door opened, and Jody Powell, Carter’s press secretary, called us three scribblers into one of the hotel’s side ballrooms.

A small bar had been set up facing six stools. The president, grinning, poured us glasses of beer. Two real newspaper men—and one rookie—shot the breeze with the most powerful person on the planet. Subjects included solar energy, tribal water rights and the protesters out on the street. Carter was relaxed and friendly. He asked us about our lives. He gave the impression that he was a smart—but regular—guy who just happened to be president.

I left thinking that he seemed like a genuinely nice fellow. I naively thought all future presidents I’d meet would adopt a similar demeanor, whether or not it came naturally.

Holy crap! Was I ever wrong about that.

But nothing I’ve read about Carter since then—including Guy Clifton’s fine story just published by the RN&R—has changed my first impression of our 39th president. He was a decent, humble man who was dedicated to the tenets of his faith. He didn’t pontificate; he practiced. He was the real deal.

Sadly, in this age of Tweets and twits, culture wars and political performance art, I doubt we’ll ever see his like in the White House again.

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