I was running late to The Athenaeum, a museum of fine arts in Alexandria, Virginia, for a book event. My Uber driver following his GPS directions had taken a convoluted route, going God knows where, that I had to override from the back seat and tell him how to get close enough for the directions to be accurate. I walked in and found the signing table to greet my client/author Jack. As his wife gave me a hug, he said, “Admiral Church is here, too,” and motioned toward a corner of the room where a man with a handful of people around him was talking.
The packed venue also had a dozen Navy and Marine Corps senior officers (active duty and retired) and Department of Defense SES’s (Senior Executive Service is a position classification in the civil service of the federal government, analogous to general officer or flag officer ranks in the U.S. Armed Forces). Several had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, so some real ringknocking going on.
Vice Admiral (3-stars, retired) Thomas Church, and I had worked on his book ‘Fixing Washington’ back in 2016, had talked many, many times on the phone but had never met in person. But I knew him from pictures used for his book and its dust-jacket author photo. I didn’t know if he’d seen pictures of me from my LinkedIn profile and website.
“Be right back,” I told Jack and Ariane and walked over to the small cluster around the admiral. I stepped in and split the arc of listeners—three women and one man—then saw the admiral’s stick-on name tag, the kind invitees often pick up and wear at events, so folks know who they are. As their talk tapered off… they all turned… curious looks on their face, including the admiral… and I said, “You know he does this…” Let me back up before I continue. In Washington DC and its environs, at many events, there are those people who orbit the notables (people with position, influence, and power), who have a certain deferential body language and a way of taking part in conversations with them… that often strikes me as overly polite and fake, like a facade supporting in-the-moment ass-kissery. I am the antithesis of that. I pointed at the admiral’s name tag on his navy-blue business suit. “When he’s circulating and trying to pick up women, he uses an alias.”
Tom Church grinned. “You gotta be Dennis Lowery.” And we exchanged a manly men handshake. He flicked a finger at the name tag on his chest, “Just a joke,” he smiled. “Excuse us,” he took my arm at the elbow and we headed to the bar for drinks. After a few minutes of chat, I needed to get back to Jack since I was there to support his book event. “We’ll talk later,” I told Tom. As he turned toward the pockets of people drinking and chatting around the venue, I saw him peel off the name tag and set on a side table. I took a picture and snagged it. He and I had discussed work on a revision to his book in 2019 and when we start, I’ll send it to him as a memento of our first in-person meeting.