|Photo source: Wikipedia, 2009|
By Jim Heffernan
Much is being made this month of the retirement of Justice Alan Page from the Minnesota Supreme Court. By law he must retire at age 70, which he marks this month.
Does Page need further elaboration? Maybe to a few, but not many in Minnesota. Most people remember him as an all-pro lineman for the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970s, a player of such skill and power that he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
Even while still playing professional football, Page went to law school, and in 1992 was elected to the state Supreme Court, where he has served ever since.
This is all Google-able information that needs no further elaboration here. What follows is not on Google, because it is a personal recollection of mine of one brief encounter with Page in the 1970s, long before he became a high court justice, and was still playing for the Vikings.
Sooner or later just about every Minnesota luminary, especially in politics but in sports and the arts as well, finds himself or herself in the newsroom of the Duluth daily newspaper – The Duluth News Tribune. I worked there for 42 years, a decade of those years (most of the 1970s) as the entertainment and arts writer and editor. My end of the operation was located in a small, enclosed office with large windows just off the newsroom.
I had plastered the walls and windows with memorabilia reflecting my job, including large travel posters that came to me in the mail because I was also listed as the newspaper’s travel editor (who never traveled anywhere on their cuff). One of the posters on my wall, perhaps 18 by 24 inches, was a vivid color photograph of the inside of an Austrian cathedral showing massive organ pipes rising to a blue ceiling (looked a lot like heaven), with seraphim and cherubim floating alongside (proving it).
One day as I sat at my desk I saw a large man wearing casual but athletic style clothes walking in the direction of my office on his way to an exit. He stopped in his tracks when he saw my travel poster of the cathedral organ pipes and rococo adornments, and just stared, saying something like, “Wow.”
I greeted him and invited him in to take a closer look, which he did as we engaged in small talk about the poster. The encounter didn’t last more than a couple of minutes. Not a football fan, I didn’t know for sure who this visitor was, although I surmised it was someone of importance in the wide world of sports. Yes, of course it was Alan Page, I learned for sure by checking with the sports desk across the room where he had undergone an interview.
Some people you meet you never forget, and years later when he was on the state ballot for the Supreme Court I always recalled my encounter with him. I presume I voted for him. Who could be a better justice than someone representing a minority – African American – who had achieved greatness in his chosen athletic field, educated himself to join the legal profession and who appreciated 18th Century rococo cathedrals?
Page participated in an extended interview by Tom Weber on Minnesota Public Radio Tuesday morning that can be accessed HERE. It’s well worth listening to. A shorter interview by Tom Crann today on MPR's All Things Considered may by linked HERE. To learn more about the Page Education Foundation, please link HERE.