(From the “PEOPLE” section of my book, page 220)
My wife’s sister has made it to the big time, sort of. At the very least she has received the fifteen minutes of fame that pop artist Andy Warhol predicted everyone on earth would get sometime during their lifetime.
To set the stage for Barbara’s fifteen minutes, you first must recognize that she has an enormous heart and a spirit of community to go with it. In other words, if there is something she can do for people that will enrich their lives, she will do it. Past recipients of this generosity have included family members, neighbors, friends, total strangers, and, of course, the hundreds of children she helped mold during her years as a teacher.
Early on, Barbara discovered that one good way to enrich the lives of others is to volunteer for organizations that enrich the lives of others. In our city one such life-enriching organization was Starlight Musicals, a not-for-profit group that brought Broadway musicals to town. The volunteers who took tickets, sold T-shirts, and handled publicity were called Starlighters. Barbara was a Starlighter.
Over the years a lot of big names came to town to put on shows such as Annie, Show Boat, Man of La Mancha, and so on. Sometime before or after the show would be the inevitable reception for the cast. It was there that the Starlighters got to rub elbows, however briefly, with stars such as Robert Goulet, Danny Kaye, Red Buttons, and Tim Conway. Season after season, Barbara rubbed elbows with them all.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. Barbara and her husband joined a group of teachers on a trip to Rome. There were the usual tours, of course, including the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, and, of course, St. Peter’s Basilica. It was at St. Peter’s that fame caught up with my wife’s sister.
There is always a crowd at St. Peter’s. Visiting priests, religious brothers and sisters, and pilgrims from all over the world come to worship and pay homage at the birthplace of Christianity. Add to this devotional throng an endless tide of tourists.
As Barbara moved with her group silently among the magnificent stone columns, she spotted him. There, standing with another group, was Tim Conway, the man who had enriched the lives of so many on The Carol Burnett Show; the man who had come to our city to sing and dance in a Starlight Musical; and the man Barbara had once rubbed elbows with.
It was like seeing an old friend. Barbara sidled up to the star and introduced herself. Yes, he remembered being in our city, remembered the show, and graciously testified to enjoying the experience. What Barbara did next testifies to the true goodness of her heart and the childlike joy she gets from other people.
“I leaned over and asked him if he would do something for me,” she recalls. “I asked him if he would do his famous little old man shuffle.”
What Tim Conway did then testifies to the true goodness of his heart. He brought his elbows to his side and, with a smile, shuffled across the worn stone floor of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“I was horrified that I had asked such a thing in this most hallowed place,” Barbara admitted later. “But he was very gracious about it.”
The truth is, probably no one at St. Peter’s even noticed the event, and Barbara’s moment of fame might have passed into obscurity had Tim Conway not been a guest the next week on the Regis and Kathy Lee television show.
The hosts asked Conway about his trip to Rome.
“I was standing in St. Peter’s Basilica,” he said, “when this woman came up and asked me to shuffle like a little old man.
And I did,” he added with a twinkle.