Coming home to Air Force One

February 14th, 2014 | by Blake Herzog | Comments
ruiz and simmons

Rep. Raul Ruiz and Lee Simmons, former aide to President Jerry Ford, before the landing of Air Force One on Feb. 14, 2014.
Blake Herzog/The Desert Sun

Lee Simmons of Palm Desert was able to use his connections to get himself and wife Jeannette next to the media riser in front of  Air Force One on the Palm Springs International Airport tarmac Friday. But they didn’t get to shake President Obama’s hand, as he’d hoped.

“It still was a pleasure to see the plane, and to see the president,” he said.

Simmons was a decorated Air Force officer and became Air Force One’s first African-American flight attendant before becoming President Gerald Ford’s personal assistant during the 2½ years of his administration.  He went on to hold the job as his aide for nearly three decades, until Ford’s death in 2006.

“I had the pleasure of riding on Air Force One with the president’s body after he had passed. After being with the family for so long it really was an honor,” Simmons said.

Simmons, who was given one of Riverside County’s Senior Inspiration awards in 2009 for his involvement with the Boys and Girls Club and other local causes, said there’s still excitement in the community about the president’s comings and goings, even in today’s divisive political climate. “Especially with this one, he’s so new,” he said.

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