There are Advance Men and there are Advance Men, and then there was Michael Sher. I heard late yesterday that Michael Sher had passed away in his sleep early Wednesday morning in New York City. It is so unlike Michael to just “pass away in his sleep” for this was a guy who did not, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “go gentle into that good night.”
Now this is a true story, told to me in D.C. when I first back from Ethiopia in the summer of ’64. It was told to me on a recruitment trip with Bob Gale, the director of recruitment for the Peace Corps. Sher had not been a PCV, but he was working for Gale, who had developed the famous blitz recruitment system in the Peace Corps in the early days of the agency. Sher had gone to work for Gale without a salary. He was a rich kid and he was taken by the Kennedy glamour of the Peace Corps, the politics, the excitement of Washington.
Over the years, Gale would tell (and retell) this story about Michael as a way, I think, of inspiring us all to be better recruiters for the Peace Corps. When you worked in Washington, D.C., after your Peace Corps tour, you recruited for the agency regardless of what your real job was at HQ.
Gale told me one night over drinks about his best recruiter, Mike Sher. “Mike had a crisis mentality, because he was always in crisis. He was willing to do anything. Anything. And he proved that again and again.”
Gale and Shriver were in New York City at a recruitment event at Columbia and Shriver was to speak, but then he had to make it to the airport and back to D.C.
Shriver, of course, had stirred up the crowd with his talk and the students wanted to shake his hand, make contact, touch the great man, and Sarge went off the stage and threw himself into the crowd and began to work the room.
Gale turned to Mike Sher and told him to get out to La Guardia and hold the plane. As Gale remembers, “Mike had a lot of imagination as well as New York chutzpah and if anyone could hold the plane for Sarge, Mike could. Still, there were limits to how long anyone could hold a plane.
“I finally dragged Sarge away from the crowd of undergraduates and glanced at my watch and my stomach turned. We had twenty-five minutes to get to LaGuardia. It was a clear night, so there would be no reason the plane would be delayed. I had to count on some freak thing to delay the flight. I couldn’t see how Mike would manage this one. Well, we got to LaGuardia, raced to the gate of Eastern–in those days, you walked out on the tarmac to the plane–and by God, the plane was still there. Sarge and I were running toward it and I suddenly saw why the plane was on the ground. Mike Sher was lying down in front of it. Lying down on the tarmac with his arms wrapped around the wheel, holding the plane for R. Sargent Shriver. The kid was there for Shriver. The kid was always there for Shriver.”
The kid died yesterday in his sleep in New York City at the age of 71 after a year of illness. He couldn’t hold on any longer.