Gail - Of course we remember Henry Kissinger -- not the finest man ever to walk the earth, but certainly one of the most influential. It must have been fascinating to hear him speak!
Wes - Hey, the French ambassador is pretty darn important! Especially after the nonsense a couple of years back about "freedom fries" and so forth. We need to be friends with the French again... and with the rest of what Rumsfeld disparaged as "OLD" Europe, too.
The best speaker I've ever heard was Bill Clinton, in an icy wind at an airport in Fort Worth at 1:30 in the morning of the day he won his first term as President. We were his last stop on the way back to Arkansas to watch Election Day coverage. He had almost no voice left, but he managed to project his vision and enthusiasm undiminished, and it was a thrill to see him. Didn't get close enough to shake hands, though.
A few years later, I met President Jimmy Carter at a booksigning -- it was a great thrill to shake the hand of such a good man. I disagreed with a couple of his actions as President, but in his "retirement," he has been a living ray of light, a shining example of what a life can mean.
I also heard Kurt Vonnegut speak, back in the '70s, and he was wonderful... brilliant and inspirational, extremely passionate.
Carl Sagan, of course, was a regular presence in my life for years, when I worked for him as a Planetary Society volunteer... he RADIATED genius, left me speechless every time.
I got a couple of Secret Service agents in trouble in 1978 -- somehow I slipped past them into an elevator in the TV station where I worked, and I rode up with Lady Bird Johnson! (She lived in the penthouse on top of the building, which she owned, although the Johnsons had sold the actual TV station some years earlier.)
I had no idea what I'd done until we were on our way up. I glanced over and there she was, holding a Frost Bros. shopping bag. I said, "Why, hello, Mrs. Johnson," as if it were no big deal, but gosh -- I had unwittingly thwarted some pretty tight security! But she was very gracious... a lovely woman.
I have an elderly uncle in Ohio who used to come down once a year to visit us. He always flew Southwest, because they are so kind and helpful, and they understood his needs -- he's just a little bit mentally challenged. On one of his return trips to Ohio, he sat next to an older black gentleman and talked with him at great length about everything from airplane food to his service in WWII. Upon landing, my uncle said, "You know, you look familiar -- do I know you from somewhere?" And the gentleman said, "It's possible," smiled, and headed down the aisle.
A few minutes later at baggage claim, my uncle was telling his niece, who had come to pick him up, about his charming companion on the flight. "Oh, there he is," my uncle said, pointing out the man as he pulled his suitcases off the conveyor. "HIM?" said the niece. "My gosh, that's JAMES EARL JONES!"
This is fun! What famous people have YOU encountered?