Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer died on June 21, 2018 at the age of 68. Below is a description of one of the times he spoke at an AIPAC Southwest Region event during my tenure as the region’s director.
At 5:45 pm the hotel event coordinator asks to speak privately, 45 minutes before the scheduled fundraising dinner. In a hushed tone, his arm gently pressing against my shoulder, he explains that “The elevator to the dining room isn’t working.” He expounds, hands praying, pointing at my chest, that “Otis can’t arrive any earlier than 8 to initiate repairs.”
“The private dining room, it’s sub-level to the restaurant. And Dr. Krauthammer requires the elevator to get there.”
“I know,” I responded a bit tersely. “You mean the only way for Dr. Krauthammer to enter to event is by way of the stairs?”
“We can pick him up out of his wheel chair then separately carry him and the wheel chair into the room?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be acceptable, knowing the terms of agreement. But, I’ll ask.”
By know it’s 5:50 pm in April of 2006, and approximately 50 high-level pro-Israel donors will be entering the private dining room expecting to hear Charles Krauthammer speak. With great trepidation, I call his travelling assistant with the details and ask about the efficacy of the “carry” option.
“I’ll ask” he says. “But doubt it.”
Sure enough, he quickly responds with a firm no. Understandably, that option lies beneath Dr. Krauthammer’s dignity. If we can’t find a reasonable solution, he will not speak at the dinner.
“What about a ramp?” I ask the event manager. “Can your folks build a ramp that Dr. Krauthammer’s wheelchair can roll on over the stairs?”
While he went about figuring that out, I once again call the traveling assistant, this time with a bit more optimism. After some back and forth, I receive an answer. Dr. Krauthammer will use the ramp as long as he, the assistant, approves it after a thorough test.
Thus, at about 6:15 six hotel maintenance workers arrive with three long, wooden boards. They carefully place the 2x6s over the 5 stairs, connecting each with rope or twine. Various people, including myself, walk back and forth, testing the improvised ramp. It works well. However, we can’t replicate the downward force of a motorized wheelchair on a relatively short ramp. As it’s now 6:28, we’ve done all we can.
I’d be lying if I said Dr. Krauthammer looks happy when he arrives with his assistant, who upon getting the nod from his boss walks through a tense gauntlet of maintenance and hotel personnel, event staff and restaurant workers to test the ramp. Expressionless, he walks down, up, down again and back to the top. We look at him, he looks at Krauthammer, no one breaths.
“It’s good,” he pronounces evenly.
Still, the final decision rests with Dr. Krauthammer. We wait maybe 30 seconds before he thrusts his vehicle forward. At the top of the ramp, he hesitates before slowly accelerating. Concern arises as the wood bends, but he rolls on. The ramp is holding. Yet, anxiety prevails as no one can predict the momentum of the wheelchair at that pitch. Fortunately, Krauthammer operates the chair like Neil Armstrong landing the Eagle on the moon. Besides a slight bump at the end, at 6:30 pm he enters the room unscathed.
And so do I.