Thursday, March 03, 2005

Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois

The late Senator Everett M. Dirksen, from my hometown of Pekin, IL, was quite an orator. In fact, in Illinois he was referred to as "the last of the great orators".
His voice and stories were even recorded in an album which was sold in Illinois.

As a young radio newsman in Pekin (WSIV), in the late 60s, I had the rare opportunity to interview "Ev", as he liked to be called, each weekday morning as he would call me at the station and allow open questioning. I sold a lot of his comments to AP & UPI, bolstering my income. We got along quite well, but Ev did not like ill-informed nor obnoxious newsmen.

In addition to having a huge, warm voice, he loved to tell stories. I actually participated in creation of one of those stories.

Sen. Dirksen, for many years, pushed the marigold as the national flower. To this day Pekin has an annual Marigold Festival each summer, and the town's medians are planted in the many colors of marigold available. His efforts, of course, never were successful.

After I had left Pekin, and moved on to News Director of a station in Joliet, IL, part of the Chicago market, I got a call from his press person inviting me to a Dirksen press conference in Lombard, IL. It seems Ev was keynote speaker at the banquet for the annual Lombard Lilac Festival.

I showed for the press conference the afternoon of the banquet, and during the conference a young newsman for a major Chicago station boldly tried to pin Dirksen for talking out of both sides of his face. "Sen.", he smiled, "Since you are the proponent of the marigold as the national flower, how can you justify being the keynote speaker at the Lilac Festival?"

Ev, missing not a beat, explained in his deep rumbling voice; "My young friend, you obviously do not understand that the marigold is a flower and the lilac a bush!"