I actually have a “When I met Tim Kaine” story that is either funny or embarrassing or, for me, a bit of both.
I moderate a political awareness club at Rockhurst High School. When Tim Kaine was elected governor of Virginia in 2005, our club president, Kevin Jakopchek, wanted our club to invite him to speak at Rockhurst. We drafted a letter to the Virginia Governor’s Office and got it approved by the school administration. A few months later, as the Governor had settled into office, he heard back that Governor Kaine was planning to return for his reunion in 2006 and would take us up on our offer that fall.
At some point, the details of his visit were taken over by the President’s Office and our director of Alumni Outreach. There were two events planned: a small group discussion with 25-30 students, organized and hosted by our club, and an all-school assembly which was organized by the school administration.
On the day of the event in October 2006, I was part of the welcoming committee that met then-Governor Kaine in front of the school. I walked with him to the classroom where we were holding the small group discussion. On the way, we talked about stories in the news, including one of that week’s biggest news stories concerning his predecessor as governor and currently his fellow U.S. Senator from Virginia, Mark Warner. Warner had just announced that week that he was not going to run for president in 2008. At the time, he was widely considered to be the most viable alternative to Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. (This, of course, is just another reminder how wrong conventional wisdom can be.)
As we approached the classroom, someone from the President’s office, probably Larry Freeman, asked me if I was going to handle the introduction for the small group discussion. I hadn’t really thought about this or prepared anything. Yet I am always over-confident in my ability to improvise, so I readily agreed.
I walked with Governor Kaine to the front of the classroom. There were about 30 students, 10 members of the administration and staff, and a couple of reporters and other guests. I knew almost everyone in the small assembled crowd to some degree and was likely a little too comfortable among a group of people who were mostly people that I had stood before and delivered presentations on numerous occasions.
I began by mumbling a few words about Tim Kaine’s background and quickly realized that continuing unscripted was fraught with a number of dangers, including the possibility that I might cut significantly into Governor Kaine’s time with my teacher’s penchant for rambling and repeating. Suddenly aware of the potential for significant embarrassment, I grasped the necessity of passing the stage to the star of the day. I hastily concluded my introduction with the words,
“Without further ado, please give a warm welcome and homecoming to the Governor of Virginia, Mark Warner….”
I don’t even think I realized what I had done until I started to add up the rather large number of jaws dropping and faces cringing in the audience before me.
Tim Kaine was gracious and funny. He shook my hand with one hand, pointed at me with the other, looked at the audience and quipped, “I bet that’s the first mistake he’s made all year.”
A reporter from a local newspaper, The Wednesday Magazine, was covering the event and her article in the following week’s edition on Tim Kaine’s visit began with the line, “Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s return to his alma mater, Rockhurst High School, got off to a rocky start when the US Government teacher introduced him as his predecessor, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner.” This was one time when I was particularly glad that my name did not actually get into the newspaper.
A couple of years later, I had the good fortune of teaching and working with Tim’s nephews, John and Curtis Kaine. One time I started to tell John the story of what I had done. He interrupted me and pointed out that his uncle had come over to their house after leaving Rockhurst that day and that the entire family had joked for an hour about my flub. John told me that this was one of the highlights of his uncle’s visit. I suspect that I will probably always be remembered, however ignominiously, by our likely future Vice President.
A few years ago, over a Thanksgiving weekend, I ran into the entire Kaine family at a showing of The Descendants starring George Clooney. I spoke with John for a few minutes and despite the fact that Tim Kaine was on a family visit and sitting down to watch a movie and probably had no interest in shaking hands with random people or drawing attention to himself, John invited me over to say hello. Perhaps the wound was too fresh in my mind, but I was just too embarrassed to go over, and fortunately, the movie started soon after. I think today that I would probably enjoy recounting the visit with him and would definitely welcome another opportunity to do the introduction the right way.