In 1995 there was a golf tournament held at Shawnee Slopes for Preston Manning and the Reform Party. I entered and when we holed out on the eighteenth, Preston Manning was there to greet everyone and thank us for participating in the fundraiser. A meal followed, where there were several silent auction items. I don’t particularly remember what most of the items were, except for one; a dinner for 8 with Preston and Sandra Manning. There was a lot of hovering around this item, and I know a couple of bidders were involved because they could get several hours of direct lobby time in with the leader of the Reform Party.
A thought gelled in my mind that here was an opportunity to show my kids that absolutely anybody was accessible to them, so I put in my bid, and kept bidding till the auction closed and my name was at the top!
Dinner was at the Delta Hotel in downtown Calgary. We invited as our guests my cousin and his wife, a couple that were close friends, and our two kids, about 10 and 15 at the time. We arrived first and Mr. Manning came right at the appointed time. His wife, Sandra arrived a little later – she was a realtor at that time, and had a deal closing that night. The Mannings sat one at each end of the table, and we had sat the kids near the ends of the table as well. I had nothing on my agenda, and no prescribed set of questions. Yet, comfortable conversation began immediately. Preston even came with a cheat-sheet list of topics in case there were gaps in the conversations. The Mannings were very down to earth, charming, and had no trouble relating to anyone at the table. I remember the salads were delivered, and Preston and my son had both ordered Caesar salad. It came in an unfamiliar presentation – the whole head came as one piece, standing upright in a dish in the middle of a pool of dressing. Brian did a ten-year-old double take and looked over at Preston, who had had the same reaction. Brian shrugged his shoulders, picked up the head of lettuce, dipped it in the dressing and started eating it like a carrot. Preston shrugged his shoulders and followed suit.
At dessert time, Preston and Sandra traded places, as Preston said, “to bother the people at the other end for a while”. Shortly after dessert, the Manning’s event coordinator politely came and whispered in his ear. Preston immediately said, “We’re good here – you can go home for the night” I guessed that had been the Mannings’ prearranged opportunity to clear out if the dinner had gone sideways. But we all stayed and kept chatting for quite some time.
What did we learn from this event? That indeed, anyone is accessible, that the Mannings were genuinely nice people, and that there’s always one more way to serve a salad.