It is a cliché that “truth is stranger than fiction” and only this week we saw this played out in ‘Ann’s Place,’ a little Akron café, in Ohio, in the United States.
Picture the scene:
Josephine “Ann” Harris (70) owner of Ann’s Place is plying her trade as she normally does serving up meals when who drops by, the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Ms Harris’s encounter with Obama took place outside her diner, where the president ordered two eggs, over medium, with bacon and wheat toast and accepted a waitress’ offer of grits.
Harris, a great-grandmother, hugged Mr Obama and posed with him for photographs, local media said.
“I’m sure this was her highlight,” Ms Harris’ sister, Frankie Adkins of Tulsa, Oklahoma, told the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper.
President Obama was finishing up a campaign bus tour during which he visited several restaurants to dine and talk with the locals. Ann’s Place was one such eating house.
Several hours later word reached the Presidents’s ears aboard Air Force One that his breakfast host had passed away having suffered a heart attack.
The president called Ann’ s daughter from the air to express his condolences. A hospital spokesman said Harris had complained of fatigue and a tingling feeling.
This remarkable story in today’s Irish Times reminded me of two personal experiences I had as a reporter, very much in this vein.
Having started to work at the BBC in Belfast in the Seventies one of the then Good Morning Ulster producers was Terry Sharkey. Late into the evening shift he dropped a Newsletter death notice under my nose adding “take a look at that and take a race up to the Shankill Road and see what is behind it.”
I had only recently arrived in Belfast from Dublin where I had been studying and at the height of the Troubles the notion of going up the Shankill Road on my first assignment was not attractive.
I studied the puzzling death notice which read and I paraphrase ‘ Dooge – in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen ….Wednesday …….in the presence of Christ the High King Thursday.’
Having grabbed a taxi I made my way to the Shankill Road and knocked on the door of a house to be greeted by a friendly face who invited me inside. I set about unravelling the mystery death notice.
It transpired that my interviewee had been honoured by the Queen for keeping the power running in Newry’s Daisyhill Hospital during the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike in 1974.
Being unmarried Mr Dooge invited his mother to accompany him to Buckingham Palace to receive his award. The sense of pride and joy in Mr Dooge’s face in having his mother with him in the presence of the Queen quickly turned to pain as he narrated that she had fallen ill the next day and died of natural causes.
Hence the meaning of the mystery death notice in the Newsletter.
Some years later I embarked on a series of interviews on the lives of six Northern Ireland artists, Tom Carr, Charlie McAuley, Taylor Carson, Cecil Maguire, Maurice Wilks and Colin Middleton.
Before getting around to interviewing Tom Carr two of my interviewees, Colin Middleton and Maurice Wilks had died. When I sat down to interview Carr he quipped ”I am not so sure I want to do this interview. You have killed off two out of six of us already.”
Yes indeed, ”truth is stranger than fiction!”