I met legendary cartoonist Pat Oliphant on March 1, 1978. That date is etched in my memory because I also met Katie Moran, the woman who became my wife of 34 years (and counting), on the very same day. The three of us had lunch together at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, but we were not alone. There were two police officers and a federal bureaucrat accompanying us. If this sounds complicated, it was.
It started with a meeting at the Denver Police Department Headquarters. I was employed by a contracting firm that was hired by the Colorado Department of Transportation to work with the Denver Police Department to develop and implement a comprehensive pedestrian safety program for the city of Denver.
Katie was working for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in Washington, DC, but was in Denver to visit some innovative programs to improve bicycling safety. Since her NHTSA office also dealt with pedestrian safety, her boss arranged for her to meet with the Denver Pedestrian Safety Program while she was in town. A representative from NHTSA’s Regional Office accompanied her to the meeting.
Ordinarily, when a dignitary visits a project like ours, my boss, Richard Thackray, would have been the hand shaker and chief explainer. Richard was out of town, so he instructed me to “take care of that woman from Washington.” So I represented the project.
I had learned that one of the officers assigned to the pedestrian safety detail, Pete “Fanner” Finicle, was co-owner of an historic airplane. The other co-owner was former Denver Post political cartoonist, Pat Oliphant. Oliphant had moved to Washington, DC, but visited Denver, “Fanner,” and his airplane, from time to time. I had been a long time fan of Oliphant’s cartooning, so I persuaded “Fanner” to introduce us the next time he was in town.
During a short break midway through the morning, “Fanner” took me aside to tell me that Oliphant was in town and he and “Fanner” were hoping to have lunch together. “Fanner” was expected to join the safety group for lunch, so he had a serious conflict. I suggested that Oliphant join the rest of us. “Fanner” checked, and Oliphant agreed.
I was overjoyed. I would meet Oliphant at last. I was certain that he would be a fountain of humorous anecdotes about cartooning; how he got his ideas; what special drawing tricks he had developed; stories about other cartoonists. It was not to be. Oliphant uttered maybe five words the entire time. “Fanner” regaled us with cop stories, from appetizers through dessert. Lunch was over and I had learned nothing about Oliphant
As the afternoon wound down, I volunteered to show Katie some of the high-frequency pedestrian accident sites, or, alternatively, survey the city while having drinks at The Top of the Rockies bar, atop one of Denver’s tallest buildings. The bar won out, and that was the beginning of our long conversation. Oliphant is still drawing cartoons, and I still enjoy them. But of the two people I met that day, Katie was by far the most interesting. We were married on March 1, 1980, two years to the day after I met Pat Oliphant.