It will go down as one of the most successful undercover operations of 2020. The surprise 88th birthday party for my partner, coauthor,  and legendary Secret Service Agent Clint Hill.

THE RUSE

Clint thought that he and I were going to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants. I’d told him we had seven o’clock reservations, but before that, we were invited for cocktails with another couple at my parents’ new residence, which Clint hadn’t yet seen. Meanwhile, our next door neighbor Vicki had offered to have our dog Dazzle over for a playdate with his bestie Enzo.

We left promptly at 4:45 and had a lovely time catching up with my parents and friends Telly Hoimes and B.V. Vaughn. The plan was for us to depart at 6:15, head back to collect Dazzle and take him out for a quick pee, and then go out to dinner. Unbeknownst to me, Clint had called the restaurant a few hours earlier to check if they were serving his favorite dish—cassoulet—that night. Fortunately, he didn’t give his name, or he would have found out that we did not actually have a reservation.

THE PREPARATION

Meanwhile, there was a manic flurry of activity at our house as the caterers, a bartender, and thirty-four friends were sneaking into our home, just minutes after we left. Paige Peterson and Wendy Miller were moving furniture, pulling serving dishes and fondue pots out of the cupboards, and lighting candles, while my sister Stephanie and her husband were greeting guests, taking coats, and handing out RayBan style sunglasses. Steve John had prepared a music playlist of Sinatra tunes and was syncing his phone with the Sonos system. Jessica Miller had created a fabulous (and mouth waveringly delicious) James Bond themed cake with a caricature of a Secret Service agent holding a gun in one hand and Clint’s signature Campari cocktail—The Clint—in a tall glass in the other.

In order to get Clint into the house, I told him that Vicki had already brought Dazzle back to our place, so no need to collect him. I furtively texted Paige:  ON OUR WAY. I chatted with Clint the short walk back to our house, my stomach swirling in a frenzy of anticipation. I could tell he didn’t have a clue. As we turned the corner toward our front door, I was pleasantly surprised to see that no one was arriving late—the guests had been told to arrive between 5:45 and 6:00.

Wendy Miller and Paige Peterson

John Lamar poses by Clint’s portrait.

THE SURPRISE

My heart was beating as Clint turned the key into the lock. Being the gentleman he is, he always opens the door and allows me to walk in first. So in I walked. I could hear someone whisper “Shhh.” Clint walked in behind me. He told us later that he was concerned when Dazzle wasn’t waiting for us at the door wagging his tail. And then he saw a pair of shoes down the hall. His immediate thought was that we were being burglarized.

Clint is shocked to see dozens of friends yelling Surprise!

One of our friends, Mike Rowe, later commented, “I hoped he wasn’t carrying a gun.”  Fortunately not.

And then Clint saw lots of shoes and lots of people and in that moment, they yelled “Surprise!” and started singing Happy Birthday to you

Clint was in complete shock. We had pulled it off! Surprised the Secret Service Agent. I could see in his face that he was overwhelmed with joy, even though he was really struggling to keep his emotions in check.

“I can’t believe it,” he said, his eyes on the verge of, but not quite, welling up with tears. As he looked around at all the friends who had dropped everything to celebrate his 88th birthday, his shock turned into an enormous smile. There were hugs and handshakes, and then the party began.

Clint, Lisa, Mike Rowe

We feasted on crab cakes, filet of beef on crostini, shrimp cocktail, asparagus with aoli dip, peanut chicken skewers, bread and veggies with cheese fondue, wine, champagne, cocktails, and of course that amazing birthday cake. The room was buzzing with conversation and laughter and every time I glanced at Clint, he had a huge smile on his face.

One of my guests remarked that the sign of a good party was that no one wanted to leave. Well, then, it was a darn good party. It was after midnight when the last guests finally bid goodbye.

THE VERDICT

“It was perfect,” Clint said. I was thrilled I was able to pull it off. And so grateful that he truly enjoyed it. As I said in my toast, We are all here because we love you, and we are blessed to know you.

It was a great party celebrating a truly great man.

For more about the party, check out Mike Rowe’s take on Instagram and Facebook. And Clint’s version of events on his Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

 

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