This is a personal account of a meeting with Buzz Aldrin during his visit to Pontefract on 30th April 2008. The trip was arranged by Ken Willoughby of West Yorkshire Astronomical Society.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But there was something missing as the young reporter, I guess she was about 21, from the local paper asked questions and efficiently wrote them down on a pad with a biro in shorthand. I arrived when the press conference was already under way. I spoke to Aldrin for AstrotalkUK.org (episode 12) on amongst other things, his interest in astronomy.
This was Buzz Aldrin’s first visit to Yorkshire. He was here only for a couple of days. A press conference, ticket only lunch and a formal presentation from Buzz in the evening would conclude the day.
For a man with huge achievements he was of a small stature. How should I address you I asked? He could have chosen Major, Fighter Pilot, Astronaut or even Doctor. “Buzz” he replied with a hint of surprise at my need to ask.
His wife, Lois a diminutive yet dominating figure was also filling the role of her husband’s business manager. Sharp and incisive, she watched over the orderly coming and going of the interviewers during the press conference. “Your first visit to Yorkshire” I asked? Yes but I lived in Mere, close to Knutsford back in the 50’s”. Apparently, her first husband, also in the air force was based at the nearby Burtonwood airbase.
There were about 8 of us around the table during lunch discussing politics, astronomy, his retirement as well as the trip to the moon. Lois, who was by his side throughout the day, actively participated in the conversation during lunch. Although assertive, her contribution was not always well considered. Occasionally, it seemed she was even a source of embarrassment for for the second man on the Moon. Adjusting the hearing aid in his left ear Aldrin was much more at ease communicating in this informal gathering than he would be during the official presentation later in the evening. In naivety I imagine him and Neil going out for a beer every other Saturday night but no – he had not seen Neil for a few years, only meeting up during formal reunion events.
His physical appearance and mental awareness not only concealed the jet lag of early morning arrival from the east coast of America but also his 78 years. He appeared to be at ease and content. No sign of the emotional fragility that resulted in alcoholism, depression, nervous breakdown or divorce that he candidly recalled in his book – Return to Earth.
It was on my drive home after his presentation in the evening that I finally understood why I had been troubled by the young journalist who was interviewing Aldrin when I first arrived. Although aged 11 at the time, I did not fully comprehend, first hand, the exceptional event of humanity’s first step on another world. But still somehow managed to appreciate the unique significance of being in the company of a man who had walked on the Moon.The young journalist was simply too young and missed out. How fortunate that of all times when I could have been around during Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, I was around then.
Of the 12 men who walked on the moon, now only 9 remain and they are all in their 70s.