James S. Brady saw the worst side of Hilton Head Island long before a crazed gunman made him a victim of the worst side of America.
Brady was press secretary to President Ronald Reagan when he was shot in the head during an assassination attempt in 1981. He survived it, but barely, and became the symbol for greater gun control in America until his death this week.
When I met him in 1980, Brady was the spokesman for John Connally's presidential campaign.
He was with the tall Texan on a daylong barnstorming bus trip from one end of the state to the other during the South Carolina GOP primary campaign that February.
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The day started at 8 a.m. in Clemson. It ended when the bus rolled up to the Hilton Head Inn at 10 p.m., a good hour behind schedule.
Unlike every other stop that day in Anderson, Newberry, Orangeburg, Aiken and the like, Connally was greeted rudely on Hilton Head.
It was not a first, of course. Earlier in the month, U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp was heckled when he spoke to a Republican group on the island. A man sitting by the family kept saying, "What does Jack Kemp know about the economy? He's just a football player."
Kemp's 16-year-old daughter was restrained a couple of times by her mother, but eventually tapped the man on the head and said, "My daddy wasn't a football player. He was a quarterback."
Brady was a quiet background figure on the barnstorming bus trip. The ride into the heart (and front pages) of the pivotal state was the idea of Connally's political strategist.
I rode along on the whole trip, along with U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, former Gov. James Edwards and reporters from Washington, New York, Boston, Miami, Detroit, Louisville and many other places.
Together we stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting, with barbecue, prayer, square dancing, Girl Scout troops, police escorts, red-white-and-blue banners, Frank Howard, crying children, beer, a bluegrass band, a key to the city, a high school band, talk about Russian aggression and applause for getting prayer back in the schools.
Thurmond, then only a quarter of a century into his tenure as senator, would whip each crowd into a frenzy with warnings about Red China and free trade.
He would sum it up for the simple by saying: "He believes in everything we believe in."
Brady made sure each journalist got face time with Connally during the bus ride.
The big-city reporters seemed more interested in finding the most obscure dateline for their stories as we rolled across the countryside. I didn't tell them about Hell Hole Swamp.
Everyone was tired when we got to Hilton Head.
And the islanders had been bellying up to an open bar while waiting for the show to arrive.
Connally tried to make his rousing speech for the 10th time that day, but he was often shouted down. It was a precursor to his rude treatment at the polls, and after South Carolina, he dropped out of the race.
Brady moved on to Reagan's campaign. But on Hilton Head, his boss didn't need any advice from the offbeat press secretary the press would grow to love.
Connally's last words of the day: "There's something I promised myself a long time ago; never make a speech at a cocktail party or a football game. Good night."
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.