How my mother met Paul Newman!

September, 27, 2008

It was one of those snapshot moments that I will never forget -- my mother meeting Paul Newman.

Many years ago during the Detroit Grand Prix weekend, I decided to take my mother to a party hosted by Ford. This was a risky move, of course. After all, who mixes moms with work?

Not long after our arrival, she decided she HAD to meet Paul Newman.

No, no, no, I told her. Paul Newman was off-limits. I had always been told he wasn't keen on fans coming up to him, and there was absolutely no way I was going to allow my mother, charming though she may be, to disturb Paul Newman's social outing.

But when do mothers actually listen to their daughters?

A Ford official who had been chatting with my mom and knew that I was not going to participate in the mom-Paul Newman meeting volunteered to take her over to visit with Newman. I was mortified! Would she embarrass me? What would she say? Bad-idea alarm was going off in a major way.

I snuck off to the side to watch.

It was a fabulous moment.

My mother, beaming, was introduced to Mr. Newman, and he graciously smiled. He actually looked pleased to meet her -- he took her right hand in his and then covered the handshake with his left hand. A happier woman I have not seen. Those blue eyes, that smooth demeanor. I would have called it an Oscar-worthy moment, but … he truly looked like he wasn't acting and was enjoying her conversation. Sigh. PAUL NEWMAN WAS SHAKING MY MOTHER'S HAND AND TALKING TO HER!

Of course she sold me out, telling him that her daughter was absolutely horrified by this whole encounter. He laughed and reassured her that meeting her was HIS delight. Oh, so smooth. And those blue eyes. (Have those been mentioned?)

My mother was bubbling with excitement when she rejoined me, and later she told all of her girlfriends about the encounter. It is a story we still enjoy sharing.

The moment thrilled her. Maybe it thrilled me more. For that I will forever be a Paul Newman fan.
Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.


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