Personal Remembrance of Mikhail Gorbachev

I first met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1992 in Kyoto, Japan, when he was less than one year out of office. Although we went on to work together in a different capacity for close to two years, for this particular visit I served as his aide-de-camp. And at one point he took me aside and explained that he and his wife Raisa wanted to host a small dinner party for the various musicians who were performing in connection with the conference we were all attending.

Seated around a large circular table that evening were 14 people that included musician Paul Winter, children’s singer songwriter Raffi, and the Gorbachevs. When we were all in our places, Mr. Gorbachev, through his chief interpreter Pavel Palazhchenko, welcomed everyone and asked that we each introduce ourselves in turn. It ended with our host who said, without ceremony or any hint of self-importance, “My name is Mikhail Gorbachev and I was President of the Soviet Union.”

At that point he announced to the group that Mr. Locke had left out an important detail in his introduction. By way of context let me explain an event from earlier that day.

Mr. Gorbachev had been serving as chair of a conference with several hundred delegates from around the world. I was in charge of his daily schedule, and so it was natural that during a coffee break in the proceedings he called me over and asked me to set up a short private meeting with former Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu.

The previous day I had been given a tour of the conference facility and knew there was a small meeting room not too far from where the main proceedings took place. But just as I explained this as an option to Mr. Gorbachev, he stood and summoned Mr. Kaifu. At that point I realized there was no time to contact the facility’s staff and so I led the two former heads of state, their respective interpreters and security details to the aforementioned room only to find that it was locked.

The same thing had happened the previous day, at which point the individual giving the tour discovered he had forgotten the key. In response he had taken out a credit card from his wallet and slid it between the door and the jamb until an audible click was heard and the door opened.

Recalling this scenario, and with my distinguished entourage looking on expectantly, I asked if they would kindly look away for a moment. I took out a credit card and flipped the lock, opened the door, and held it for the group to enter.

Back at the dinner party I was to have a firsthand experience of Mr. Gorbachev’s sense of humor. This global statesman, committed multilateralist, Nobel Prize winner and tireless advocate for peace explained that Mr. Locke had neglected to mention his skill at breaking and entering.

Hugh Locke



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