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Playing Charades at 35,000 Feet with Sarah Ferguson


Gregory J. Rummo

Kelly and Fran Potis are the Leonia, NJ couple whose chance meeting in New York City with Sarah Ferguson, the former duchess of York, wound up being the winning combination in a contest for charity sponsored by WPLJ radio.

The Potises, who won $10,000 and a new, 2002 Ford Thunderbird donated the money and the car to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Wash., which specializes in pediatric oncology.

Their story, which appeared in The Record, reported that the couple was touched by Sarah Ferguson’s willingness to be involved in their cause, stemming from the death of their 13-month old son in April from leukemia.

“That shows what kind of heart she has,” they said.

Anyone who has ever met Sarah Ferguson would come to the same conclusion.

At least I did - after our chance encounter together in the first class cabin of a Continental Airlines flight from Kansas City to Newark airport several years ago.

I travel to the Midwest frequently. Most of my customers are located in “The Heartland” and Kansas City is a convenient place to fly into.

During the tail end of one such trip, I was in my hotel room packing my carry-on bag for the flight home. Before leaving I checked my e-mail one last time. In among the messages was one from Continental Airlines, notifying me that I had received a complimentary upgrade to first class.

Check-in was routine and everything appeared to be on schedule for another smooth departure out of Kansas City’s very efficient airport. But after boarding the plane, we sat at the gate for several minutes longer than what I was accustomed to.

Suddenly there was a bustle of activity in the jet-way. Several “Men in Black,” complete with the sunglasses, suspicious bulges under their suit jackets and that little squiggly coil of wire behind one ear boarded the aircraft. Behind them was Sarah Ferguson.

She quickly took her seat across the aisle from me after apologizing to the people seated in the cabin for delaying our departure. Everyone recognized her and no one seemed to mind.

Behind me sat one of her bodyguards.

“What happened?” I asked innocently while turning around in my seat.

Out of breath and sweating, he loosened his tie and explained, “We got pulled over by the State Police for doing 90 mph on the interstate. We knew we were going to be late if we didn’t hustle. When we flashed our IDs and he saw who we were, he let us go.”

The former duchess of York was on a trip promoting Weight Watcher’s, for whom she is a spokesperson. But on that day-less than a week after the shootings at Columbine High School, she had taken time from her busy schedule to make a side trip from Denver to Littleton, Colorado to comfort grieving students and their families.

“It was awful,” she told me later during the flight. “They were just children.”

“Next to Diana’s death, it was the most difficult thing I have ever gone through.”

Later on a few of us joined the former duchess in a game of charades that she initiated.

Charades? Playing charades with a former member of the Royal British Family?

What about all those rumors we’ve heard of the English being stiff and stuffy? Sarah Ferguson, like Princess Diana, broke that mold.

I found her to be genuinely compassionate with a fun-loving side to her. She truly is a woman with a sensitive heart. Maybe that’s why she’s the former Duchess of York.

Or maybe it's simply that she's a lot like you and me - a person who only seems larger than life because our impressions about her have been formed based solely on what we’ve seen on television or read in a gossip tabloid.

The writer of the Book of Proverbs warns about such things: “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles.”

Bumping into Sarah Ferguson that day was a sobering reminder to be careful about judging people based on those “tasty trifles” - which are nothing but gossip and innuendo.


Gregory J. Rummo is a syndicated columnist and author of “The View from the Grass Roots.” Visit his website,

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