Have you ever yearned to be in the spotlight? Yearned to have people treat you with respect and gaze at you in wonder? In a small town, arriving in a limousine conjures up that kind of response. Or at least I thought it might.
At one point, I thought it might be fun to drive around in a stretch Cadillac, so when I came across one for sale, I bought it. In order to justify it to Myrna (or should I say, to myself, as Myrna had long ago quit trying to understand some of the things I did), I started a small limousine service.
A special chauffeur’s license was required, so whenever I got a call for hire, I called one of the drivers from the funeral home across the street. The rest of the time, I just cruised around in it.
At first, it was a lot of fun. It was the only limo in the city, and people’s heads would turn, but after a while I noticed that Myrna and all our friends rode in the back enjoying the trip while I sat up front alone and drove.
One day I got a call from the mayor of Beaverlodge, a small town a few kilometres away. He told me the Lieutenant Governor was flying in to participate in a celebration, and he wanted to hire my limousine to transfer her from the airport to their town and a special anniversary supper. I said I would be pleased to be of service, and we arranged to meet at the airport a half hour early in order for the mayor to brief me on proper protocol.
I know I should have hired a funeral home driver with a proper license, but the Lieutenant Governor had been the province’s Solicitor General, or the “top cop” in the province, so I thought, what better time to break the law and probably get away with it?
The mayor met me at the appointed time beside the terminal and explained that we had permission to go onto the ramp once the government aircraft arrived. His Worship was a very conservative man and wanted everything to be perfect, so he took great care in explaining all the proper procedures.
“She is acting as the representative of the Queen, and as such should be given the same respect, which means you must not touch her, don’t turn your back to her, and only speak if she speaks to you. You must call her ‘Your Honour’ or ‘Your Worship’ and never address her by her name.” And he continued prattling on..
As the plane taxied up to the ramp, the gate opened, and I wheeled the big car out to the base of the stairs. I got out and opened the door for the mayor and his wife. The Lieutenant Governor stepped out onto the top step and looked around before starting down the stairs.
The aid decamps, dressed in full military parade uniform complete with white gloves, and followed the Lieutenant Governor. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, the mayor bowed, and his wife curtsied. They addressed her as “Your Honour.” As they bent down, the Lieutenant Governor glanced over their heads and made eye contact with me.
“Layton?” she blurted, her eyes widening. “Layton? Is that you?” She started to move past the mayor, who was now standing upright again with his mouth gaping open.
“It is, Helen,” I replied, smiling as I stepped forward for one of her big hugs. I thought the mayor’s eyes would pop out of his head. He had been so intent on instructing me on protocol that I never had a chance to tell him that Helen Hunley had been my Boy Scout leader years before, and she’d been the mayor of our town when my dad served on council.
Helen attended our church, her insurance company had insured my first cars, and she had been our family friend as long as I could remember.
As we cruised out to Beaverlodge, protocol slipped away as Helen and I swapped stories, bringing each other up-to-date on our lives. This delightful encounter reminded me that it is more fun to be with a friend than it is to be someone in the spotlight.
Helen Hunley was the gracious mayor of Rocky Mountain House from 1967 to 1971 and served as MLA and the Province of Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor from 1986 to 1991.