Rolly: Thanks for the coffee, Colleen Bangerter
There will be many eulogies for former Utah first lady Colleen Bangerter at her funeral Thursday, no doubt focusing on her roles as wife, mother and loyal member of her beloved LDS Church.
I'm sure there will be mention of her eight years as first lady of Utah during her husband Norm's two terms as governor, and her work on women's and children's issues, and drug-free campaigns with former first lady Nancy Reagan.
But I have another insight.
It's a story of compassion from the first lady toward me. Some might consider the gesture trivial, but it meant a lot.
It was during a trip the governor took to Europe in the summer of 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and amid signals from the former Soviet Union of a willingness to forge a partnership with the West.
Gov. Bangerter, like a number of U.S. governors, took a delegation to Soviet bloc countries to explore economic development and trade opportunities for their states in an emerging new market.
The Salt Lake Tribune sent me along to cover the trip and, during the two-week adventure, I got to know the Bangerters pretty well.
We traveled to Budapest, Prague, Berlin and Moscow. We also stopped off for a couple of days at an international economic development conference in Linz, Austria, and visited the international electronics giant Philips Corp., in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Philips had a subsidiary in Utah.
That's where the memorable event happened.
Executives at Philips treated Utah's governor and his entourage like royalty. There was an evening in a private room at Eindhoven's finest restaurant. The meal was exquisite, and the toast to Bangerter elegant.
The next morning, Philips' brass had arranged a presentation at company headquarters for the Utah visitors, featuring a video on its futuristic vision in television technology and reports from several of the company's leaders.
That business meeting was accompanied by a continental breakfast served by the company's staff and, in step with the class the company had demonstrated from the beginning of the visit, beverages were served that reflected company's research about their guests.
Along with the rolls, cheeses, meats and fruits, the staff dutifully brought out coffee and orange juice. They had been told that the Utah visitors were Mormons who did not drink coffee.
So, being part of the Utah group, I got orange juice.
I watched in anguish as the Philips representatives were served coffee. My pain intensified as the tempting aroma wafted past. But because the hosts had been careful to do everything right, I didn't want to correct them. So I suffered in silence.
After a while, Colleen Bangerter, who had seen me drink coffee in copious amounts throughout the trip, noticed.
The first lady, whose life revolved around family and church and surely never had the hot drink that is taboo to Mormons come anywhere near her lips, nonetheless, felt my pain.
She touched one young server on the arm as she passed by and said, "I believe that gentleman over there [pointing toward me] would like a cup of coffee."
I could have kissed her.
It was a response I had come, actually, to expect from this thoughtful woman. A truly classy lady.