The World’s Greatest

My daughter, Alexandra Lee Lord, was born on January 20, 1972, three years and three days after Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. Her proud father saw a miniature black and silver trophy in the drugstore and brought it home for her. It said, “World’s Greatest Baby.” At that moment, we decided to change her nickname from “Thumper” to the name I still use unless she is in serious trouble — “Ali” after Cassius Clay who, in 1964, changed his name to “Muhammad Ali.”

To me, the name stood for someone who knew how to survive and be himself or herself, no matter what the situation and no matter what anyone else believed. Or, as Shakespeare so wisely said, “To thine own self be true.” Both my daughter and her namesake have lived up to that motto.

The nickname was my idea, not my Southern, “I’m from Port-Arthur-Texas, Ma’am” husband’s. He loved football – after all, he is an Aggie. He was in the Corps and spent twenty years in the U.S. Army Reserves, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His daughter is also an Aggie, I am proud to say.

Alex is a Republican. Always was and always will be. That’s how I met him.

My parents were avid Republicans. Every time he heard President Harry Truman on the radio, my Dad turned the radio off.

Dad had worked in a specialty steel mill after a year in college during the Depression, but quickly joined the non-union ranks and was a top-notch steel supply salesman for a local company. His father was in charge of the blueprint department at Westinghouse Corporation, so he was also management, not union.

Mom and Dad bought a large oak console TV in 1952 so that we could all watch the Republican primary. They even ventured down to Wheeling, West Virginia, where they shook Eisenhower’s and Nixon’s hands shortly after Nixon had convinced Eisenhower to keep him on the ticket with his “Checkers” speech on September 23, 1952.

While I remember watching my first Republican primary, General McArthur’s speech to a Joint Session of Congress, and reports from the battlefront in Korea, I was young and idealistic and rooted (usually silently if I wanted to finish dinner without crying and being sent to my room) for the unions, jitterbugging, three stiff petticoats under my skirts, loafers, and civil rights.

I learned to love boxing in 1952 at the age of 11 or 12, thanks to our new TV. Light Heavyweight boxer Archie Moore was my hero. I glued myself to the tiny black and white screen in my parents’ bedroom in Swissvale, a suburb of Pittsburgh, and yelled and booed over every punch.

The console TV was the one place that my parents and my brother and I could all come together and enjoy Ed Sullivan and sports without arguing about politics. We all cheered for Archie Moore.

According to Wikipedia, “Moore holds the record for the most career knockouts (131) in boxing history. . . . Moore is rated by prominent boxing website BoxRec as the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all-time. Moore was also a trainer for a short time after retirement. He trained boxers such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and James Tillis.”[1]

By September 21, 1955, Moore had fought professionally for 20 years. He became World Light Heavyweight Champion in 1952 in a dramatic match against Sugar Ray Robinson. But he wanted to add Heavyweight Champion to his titles. So, “on September 21, 1955, Moore went up in weight to face future Hall of Famer Rocky Marciano for Marciano’s Heavyweight Championship. Moore briefly dropped Marciano in the second round (the second and last time Marciano had ever been knocked down), but Marciano recovered and knocked Moore down five times, knocking him out in the ninth to retain the belt. It was Marciano’s sixth and last title defense before retiring in 1956.”[2]

I was devastated and couldn’t wait to see Moore fight again. But I had started dating. One of my boyfriends was a wrestler. My hero became Gorgeous George. After I watched my boyfriend being twisted like a pretzel at an intramural match, I threw up in the ladies room and lost my enthusiasm for wrestling and boxing. My new boyfriend played football and liked to talk about the Steelers, the Pirates, and politics. Life was good.

I hoped Archie Moore would achieve his dream of being the Heavyweight champion. “In 1956, Moore fought mostly as a heavyweight but did retain his Light Heavyweight title with a ten round knockout over Yolande Pompey in London. He won 11 bouts in a row before challenging again for the World Heavyweight Championship. The title was left vacant by Marciano, but Moore lost to Floyd Patterson by a knockout in five (Patterson, yet another future Hall of Famer, himself made history that night, becoming, at the age of 21, the youngest World Heavyweight Champion yet, a record he would hold until 1986).”[3]

Moore, like my favorite artist, Honore Daumier, was great at what he did best, but often felt a failure because he didn’t reach what he thought was the ultimate prize. Daumier (1808-1879) is the father of political cartoons. The list of his lithographed plates compiled in 1904 numbers no fewer than 3,958. This 1855 lithograph depicts the “Combat between Schools: Idealism and Realism.”[4]

20130911085740-Daumier1953.2EDIT_000

Daumier was also a painter and a sculptor. When I researched his life in high school, I felt that he did not value his skill at caricature nearly as much as he did the art of the Impressionists who surrounded him. He made his living at caricature, but dreamed of being a “great artist.” In hindsight, Daumier was way ahead of the Impressionists. He is considered one of the pioneers of realism. Sadly, his paintings “did not meet with success until 1878 . . . when Paul Durand-Ruel collected his works for exhibition at his galleries and demonstrated the range of the talent of the man who has been called the ‘Michelangelo of caricature.’ At the time of the exhibition, Daumier was blind.” He died a year later.[5]

I went off to college where I majored in Government. A perpetual lover of lost causes, I created a committee to campaign in support of Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978) in the 1960 presidential primaries against John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). “Humphrey was elected to the Senate in 1948, the year his proposal of ending racial segregation was included in the party platform at the Democratic National Convention, where he gave one of his most notable speeches on the convention floor, suggesting the Democratic Party ‘walk into the sunshine of human rights.’”[6] I was thrilled when the campaign sent us literature about the senator from Minnesota who seemed to truly care about the lives of all Americans. My enthusiasm was not shared by the rest of the campus. Four other girls volunteered to support Humphrey out of the 2,000 or so young women who attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

At the Summer Olympic Games in Rome (August 25-September 11, 1960), an 18-year-old light-heavyweight boxer from the United States named Cassius Clay stunned the world when he won a gold medal, convincingly beating an experienced Polish fighter in the final. I was only vaguely aware of Clay, mostly because of the way he “danced” when he boxed. While he was winning the gold in Rome, I was on my way to Paris and Geneva as part of Smith College’s Junior Year Abroad Program.

Moore continued boxing as the World Light Heavyweight champion and attempted several times to win the Heavyweight title. As for me, I remained active in Republican politics after graduating from Smith and moving to Washington, D.C., in 1962.

On November 15, 1962, Archie Moore faced Cassius Clay.

“Don’t block the aisle and don’t block the door. You will all go home after round four.” – Clay before the fight

“The only way I’ll fall in four is by toppling over Clay’s prostrate form.” – Moore before the fight

“I don’t give myself much credit for beating him. He’s an old man.” – Clay after the fight

“Cassius proved that he was everything I thought he wasn’t. I had hoped to stay close to him, wear him down, but it didn’t work.” – Moore after the fight[7]

The match was carried on closed-circuit TV so I didn’t see it. I was sad that Moore lost but he seemed to have come to terms with reality. Perhaps the fact that his purse was $75,000 and Clay’s was $40,000 helped just a bit.

By 1963, I was the Secretary of the Young Republican Club of Washington, D.C., the largest Young Republican club in the nation. And I dated the club president. That’s how it was done before Women’s Lib.

Like everyone else in Washington, D.C., however, I was enthralled by the dynamic President and his wife, regardless of their politics. It is still hard for me to accept that John F. Kennedy was a year older than my father. He and Jackie always seemed to belong to my generation. I was devastated when he was assassinated in November 1963.

After one more fight in 1963, a third-round knockout win over Mike DiBiase in Phoenix, Moore announced his retirement from boxing. He is the only man to have faced both Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.[8]

Shortly after Moore retired, Cassius Clay became the top contender for Sonny Liston’s Heavyweight title. On February 25, 1964, Clay was declared the victor after Liston did not answer the bell in the seventh round. Crowed Clay, “I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

That fall, I broke up with the Young Republican Club’s president, resigned as secretary, then cried my eyes out because the party was changing. It was becoming too conservative for a “Rockefeller Republican” like me. I voted for Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, helping them win their landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. Johnson choosing Humphrey as his vice-presidential running mate was one of the reasons I voted Democrat. During his tenure as the Majority Whip from 1961 to 1964, Humphrey was the lead author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, introduced the first initiative to create the Peace Corps, and chaired the Select Committee on Disarmament. I cried some more as I sat in front of the TV and watched the returns come in. Then I packed and went home to Pittsburgh.

I met my husband – yes, he really did introduce himself with “I’m from Port Arthur, Texas, ma’am” – on October 4, 1967, at a Young Republican Club mixer in a Pittsburgh bar. We were married exactly one month later, then, three nights after that, drove through a blizzard to his father’s funeral in Port Arthur.

In 1968, we attended a Nixon rally in Pittsburgh before Gulf Oil moved us to Philadelphia. Like a good wife (pre-Women’s Lib), I had returned to the Republican fold.

Alexandra Lee Lord was born at Ridley Park Hospital, near Philadelphia and the Gulf refinery, on January 20, 1972. I breathed through contractions as I watched Richard Nixon deliver his State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress and the world. Cassius Clay, who had just turned 30 years old, was now known as Muhammad Ali. Although Ali asserted frequently that he was the world’s greatest, her father and I knew that our Ali was the World’s Greatest Baby and the prettiest thing that ever lived.

Time passed. Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974. On October 30, Archie Moore helped train Houston-born heavyweight boxer George Foreman for his famous “Rumble in the Jungle” title bout in Zaire against Muhammad Ali. “As usual, Ali was confident and colorful before the fight. He told interviewer David Frost, ‘If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whup Foreman’s behind!’ He told the press, ‘I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.’. . . In the eighth round, Ali dropped an exhausted Foreman with a combination at center ring; Foreman failed to make the count. Against the odds, and amidst pandemonium in the ring, Ali had regained the title by knockout. In reflecting on the fight, George Foreman later said: ‘I’ll admit it. Muhammad outthought me and outfought me.’”[9]

My husband and I divorced in 1979 after a little more than 10 years of marriage. I breathed a sigh of relief when Alex and his three guns moved out. He is a wonderful person but, as our battles over thermostats in the North and the South proved, we are not compatible. He continued to vote Republican. I was definitely a Democrat. It made for some interesting conversations – when we were talking and not yelling.

Ali and I moved to Missoula, Montana, in 1979, but she visited her father and his new family every summer in Kingwood, Texas. By the time she was ready for middle school in 1983, we all agreed she should try living in Texas full time.

I worked in Alaska for a while, then in San Francisco.

I loved San Francisco. I had wanted to “wear flowers in my hair” ever since my Republican friends went to the City by the Bay for the 1963 Republican Convention. One day, as I was walking around Union Square, I saw a small group of people listening to a man dressed in camouflaged fatigues. As I got closer, I realized I was listening to Jesse Jackson. He was running for President. His speech was about the Rainbow Coalition. I was hooked. I voted for Jackson in the presidential primary.

In Houston, in 1992, I shook the hand (twice) of first-time Democratic candidate for President, Bill Clinton, when he was invited by Mayor Bob Lanier to give a public, lunch-time speech on the steps of City Hall. He was late, as usual, but his speech was worth the wait.

In the early 1990s, Archie Moore again worked as a trainer for George Foreman.

My ex-husband is in a nursing home. He has little memory of the past. Archie Moore died in 1998. Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016. He was the greatest boxer during my lifetime but our Ali remains the World’s Greatest Baby and the prettiest thing that ever lived.

Hopefully, next year, I will celebrate my daughter’s 45th birthday by watching the inauguration of the first female President of the United States.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Moore, accessed June 4, 2016.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Moore, accessed June 4, 2016.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Moore, accessed June 4, 2016.

[4] Honore Daumier, “Combat des écoles, L’Idéalisme et le Réalisme,” 1855 Lithograph © Courtesy of The Allen Memorial Art Museum. http://www.artslant.com/ew/works/show/737841-combat-des-%C3%A9coles-lid%C3%A9alisme-et-le-r%C3%A9alisme, accessed June 4, 2016.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Daumier, accessed June 4, 2016.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubert_Humphrey, accessed June 4, 2016.

[7] http://boxrec.com/media/index.php/Muhammad_Ali_vs._Archie_Moore, accessed June 4, 2016.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Moore, accessed June 4, 2016.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali, accessed June 4, 2016.

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