Thursday, October 1, 2009

The story of Sergeant Preston and the NSA

Daily News Sports Editor
Rich Preston has had friends in high places.
Preston, the general manager and head coach of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, is friends with Condoleeza Rice, who was the first African-American woman to hold the office of United States Secretary of State.
Preston, a 57-year-old native of Regina, and Rice, a 54-year-old native of Birmingham, Ala., became friends while both were attending the University of Denver in the early 1970s. Preston was there on a hockey scholarship; Rice was earning a BA in political science, which she got in 1974 at the age of 19.
Preston said her family — her father, John, was an assistant dean and also taught — followed the hockey team closely and would have the team over to
their home for dinner once every season.
At one point, Preston said Rice asked him out.
“It was one of those dances where the girls ask the guys,” said Preston, before his squad met the Kamloops Blazers on Wednesday night at Interior Savings Centre. “Still, it was in 1972-73 . . . but I was Canadian.”
In other words, eyebrows were raised when the two of them showed up at the dance.
Later, the two would go their separate ways.
After a stop at Stanford University, Rice ended up in the White House as President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor.
Preston wound up as an assistant coach with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.
And so it was that with the Sharks scheduled to play in Washington, Preston decided it would be nice to at least say hello.
To make a long story shorter, Preston eventually got through to Rice’s personal assistant and asked to leave a message for Rice.
“I said, ‘Just tell her Sergeant Preston called. She’ll know who it is,’ ” a chuckling Preston recalled. His nickname while playing hockey at Denver was Sergeant Preston, after the legendary Mountie, of course. Preston told the
assistant when the Sharks were to be in Washington and at what hotel they would be staying.
When the team arrived and he got to his room, there was a message from Rice awaiting him.
“So I called her back,” he said, “and we talked for about 20 minutes.”
As the conversation wound down, Rice told Preston that she would love to meet him for coffee but that she “had a meeting with the President” at 5:30, which was minutes away, immediately after which she was flying to Europe for a NATO meeting.
Preston’s response?
A laughing Preston said: “I asked her, ‘Can’t you postpone the NATO meeting?’ ”

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