Rosa Parks as seen from a limo mirror

Thursday, October 1, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bill Favret waited. Outside the Westin Hotel last Friday, as school children sang and dignitaries jockeyed for photo opportunities with Rosa Parks, he was patient.

Standing beside a gleaming black Cadillac stretch limo, he waited to drive Mrs. Parks to her next engagement. He did this with his usual calm, although he would tell you that this was a most unusual passenger.

"From the time I picked her up at the airport, the reaction to her was absolutely stunning."

A group of guys at the airport, he says, applauded as she passed by them. When she alighted from the car in downtown Cincinnati, people cheered and clapped. And cried.

"She made me think of Mother Theresa," he says. "A little tiny lady who shook the world."

"We're not leaving'

A family walked down Fifth Street, a couple and their five kids, on their way to someplace else, in kind of a hurry. The man asked Bill who his passenger was.

"We're not leaving," the man told his kids.

Then right there on the street, Bill says, the father took them aside and told them the story. The bus. The white man who demanded her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Ala. Her refusal. Her arrest.

The children, who were white, in case you are wondering, listened quietly. Then the family waited outside the hotel until the ceremony inside was finished. And when these children finally saw Rosa Parks, they knew why they were putting their hands together.

Bill tells this story beautifully, better than I can repeat it. A former advertising executive, he has done some community theater, was Elwood P. Dowd in a Showboat Majestic production of Harvey, for instance. This is his retirement job.

He thinks maybe this job -- meeting interesting people -- keeps him sharp. Well, that and his crossword puzzles.

He wasn't what I expected. Not that I have a whole bunch of experience with limousines and limousine drivers. Weddings and funerals are about the extent. So, I wasn't too proud to ask Bill if I could take a ride.

The windows are tinted, so I don't think anybody noticed that I played with the TV, the bar and the lights.

The rich and the famous Bill, who lives with his wife, Eileen, in Pleasant Ridge, works for Executive Transportation Services, Inc., of Newport. He is used to having weirdos in the back of his car. At least I didn't ask him to walk my dogs, as did Cloris Leachman, who also told him he was eating too many fatty foods and tried to get him to break the speed limit.

And I was, he says, a better conversationalist than Brooke Shields.

Steven Forbes tipped him $20, after he switched the limo for a nice four-door Caddy. His PR people didn't like the image of him in a stretch.

"Steve Forbes was neat," he says. "I'm kind of a fan of his. But he was no Rosa Parks."

We drove out to Lunken Airport to pick up a customer, who would be arriving at the Million Air hangar. The lounge there has autographed pictures of the people who regularly use the services of private jets and limos. Mr. Forbes. Jimmy Buffett. Greg Norman. Reba McEntire. Margaret Thatcher. Elton John.

Bill has chatted with some of them. That's one of the perks of his job. He meets the rich, the famous and -- on one occasion -- the great. She sat in his car last week, taking up very little space on the broad bench of black leather, a "tiny little lady who shook the world."

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.

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