And for Caledonia residents Tom Simons and Sam Beech, learning about Ali’s death Friday made them particularly sad because they recall meeting the professional boxer on Sept. 21, 1986. They remember his sense of pride mixed with humility, his connection to people was instant and genuine, and he captivated people with his sense of humor.
“He was just a glorious human being in the fullest sense,” Beech said. “You never would have known that he fought for his life.”
Ali and a group of investors planned to make the Ali 3.WC sports car and he planned to announce the project that day. Simons, a Caledonia Police officer, and Beech, a federal postal inspector, were among several men assigned to escort Ali to the press conference. The plan: Pick up Ali at once was the Sheraton Hotel near Case High School, drive him to Caledonia in a mobile home, and protect him.
But that’s not quite what happened.
“We helped dress him,” Simons said. “I will never forget that three-piece pin-striped suit.”
“And he levitated himself off the ground,” Simons said. “His body lifted off of the ground and it looked so real that I almost fell over. He was a strong man, and a pretty good boxer hear.”
Ali took pictures with the men, signed copies of a Muslim prayer book, and proceeded to chauffeur the group to the press conference. Exceeding the 45 mile per hour speed limit, none of the men had the heart to tell Ali to slow down. They just enjoyed the ride.
“He asked for body guards, but what he wanted was really someone to talk to,” Beech said. “He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
Simons doesn’t remember much of what was said in the press conference. But afterward, Ali asked to visit the Serendipity Child Care Center to meet the children there, Beech and Simons recall.
“He wanted to do things on his own and he was just all about loving people,” Beech said. “You never thought this was a man who was into fighting because you would think that he would want nothing to do with people. But he wasn’t like that at all. People loved him and he loved people.”
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