Condi Rice

Powell Symphony Hall

On Tuesday last, I heard former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak at Powell Symphony Hall. She came to town as part of the Saint Louis Speaker Series. This series has been around for many years, but I had never attended any of their events until this week. I went as Joanie’s guest, who is a regular patron of this series. Also in our party were two of Joanie’s nurse friends, Vicky and Becky. Before Dr. Rice’s talk, we had dinner at Dooley’s Beef N Brew House. This restaurant is located across Grand from Powell.

Powell is a beautiful hall, home of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and whose ornate entrance hall is pictured above. I’ve only been to Powell a few times, but once I was again visiting at Joanie’s behest and at intermission, she pointed out Stan ‘the man’ Musial to me. I would have never noticed Musial, unless she had pointed him out. I’ve long contended that Joanie knows everyone who lives in Saint Louis. She always demurs at this claim, so let me revise it to that she knows everybody worth knowing in Saint Louis and I am pleased to know her and be known by her.

Rice spoke for an hour and followed that up by taking questions for half-an-hour. I was way up in the cheap seat, the nose bleed section, but a big screen TV projection of the speaker helped to overcome the separation. Her talk covered three main themes, her personal history, and her history in the Whitehouse and finally, her reading of the current national and international situations. She wandered back and forth among these subjects and at times her lecture seemed disjointed, as she jumped in both time and space from one topic to another. I’ll spare you my recounting of the more political aspects of her talk. I doubt that I could do her justice. Her personal anecdotes were the most enjoyable aspect of her talk anyway.

She described her grandfather as a “Utah sharecropper”. She explained that his Alabama County, spelled Etowah, is pronounced Utah. Being a sharecropper, but wanting to better himself, he saved his money for college. He attended school, but after one year, his money had run out. Looking around, he noticed that some of the other students were getting money to go to school, scholarships. He asked the dean about these scholarships and was told that there was one left for any student who wanted to become a Presbyterian minister. To which he answered, “I always wanted to be a Presbyterian.” The Rice family is Presbyterian to this day.

Rice went to the University of Denver herself. Initially, she wanted to be a pianist, but soon discovered that she was way out classed by the more gifted students. She next tried Literature, but found it horribly dull. Next she tried local government and civil affairs. She interviewed the Denver city water manager, whom she described as the most boring man who I have ever met. A junior now and still floundering, she received a letter from her parents stating that it may be her life, but it was their money too. Finally, she took an international relations course taught by Josef Korbel, father to the first woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. He always referred to Rice as his star pupil.

In the weeks and months after 9/11, the White House was a chaotic mess. Every day brought new threats, both real and imagined. The unending tension began to wear on everyone. Then the anthrax scare hit the White House, while Rice was in China with President Bush. An ashen gray Dick Cheney appeared via telecom . A suspicious powder had already been forwarded to the CDC for analysis, but there would be no word for a day. Someone thought of using the mice that infest the Whitehouse as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If the mice remained feet down, then everything was still alright, but if mice were found feet up that meant trouble. Later that night, Rice delivered the news during the middle of a state banquet, “Mr. President, the mice are feet down.” This was promptly translated for the Chinese Premier, who was seated next to Bush.

I didn’t have a question for her that night. So, I didn’t bother to fill out my card. The next day, a co-worker suggested a great one, “Dr. Rice, what progress have you made on your life’s greatest ambition? Are you any closer to becoming the next baseball commissioner?”

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