Posted on Feb 09, 2011
John M Grau
I have been watching coverage of the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. I learned that, between his acting and political careers, Reagan spent time as a spokesman for General Electric. Traveling the country and speaking to large groups, he honed his message and solidified the values that helped make him a great leader.
NECA was one of the stops on his tour. He not only addressed NECA on his GE tour in the early 1960s, but he came back and spoke to a NECA Convention in 1976 between his time as governor of California and his first term as president of the United States.
Meeting and listening to national leaders has always been a highlight of the annual NECA Convention for me. I started to think back over who has appeared and at what stage in their careers. I did some research and came up with an amazing list of prominent figures in our nation’s history.
Reagan wasn’t the only U.S. president to address a NECA crowd. Gerald Ford spoke to NECA gatherings in 1966 as a congressman, and again in 1977 as a former president. Former First Lady Barbara Bush joined us in 1999.
Four astronauts have addressed NECA audiences: Neil Armstrong (1972), Frank Borman (1978), Wally Schirra (1981) and James Lovell (1996).
Military Leaders include: General Maxwell Taylor (1967), General Moshe Dayan (1974), and General Colin Powell (1998). General Powell later became Secretary of State, but he was not the only one to speak at a NECA Convention. Dr. Henry Kissinger was at the meeting in 1980. We’ll add a military leader to the group when retired General Stanley McChrystal addresses our convention in San Diego this fall.
Spiritual Leaders have paid visits to NECA. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in 1969 and 1985, Robert Schuller in 1979 and 1995, and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in 1974.
Sports figures attending NECA meetings include Bud Wilkinson (1980), Jack Kemp (1994), John Wooden (2004), and Bob Costas (2008). Legendary UCLA coach Wooden was 95 years old when he spoke to our meeting in Los Angeles. That age record will be hard to beat, although the Academy has booked 94-year-old Louis Zemperini (subject of the current New York Times #1 bestselling book Unbroken) to address their meeting in June.
Humorists have enlivened some NECA meetings. Lil’ Abner cartoonist Al Capp (1969) and Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams (2006) were hits, as well as political humorists Mark Russell (1983, 1988, 1992), Dave Barry (1997), Jay Leno (2004), and “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” creator Art Linkletter (1970).
The nation’s most preeminent television journalists have braced NECA’s stage. Howard K. Smith (1972), Harry Reasoner (1975), David Brinkley (1982, 1990), and my all time favorite convention speaker, Walter Cronkite (2000).
Of course, some of the nation’s top print columnists have visited NECA’s conventions including: Drew Pearson (1968), William F. Buckley (1975), James Kilpatrick (1977), William Safire (1984), Claire Booth Luce (1984), Jack Anderson (1987), and Bob Woodward (2003). Radio personality Paul Harvey appeared at both the 1970 and 1989 conventions.
NECA has featured two historians: Doris Kearns Goodwin (2001) and David McCollough (2006), one poet: Maya Angelo (2001), and one Nobel Prize Economist: Milton Friedman (1983).
NECA members have also heard from noted authors, adventurers, business leaders, ambassadors, and cabinet officials. All have addressed NECA Convention as: One of the stops on the path of our nation’s leaders.