On Friday, June 10, Joe Camposeo ’66 was among the throngs of people lining Broadway in Louisville to observe the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali. He was a big fan of The Champ, who died on June 3 at age 74, and had even met him twice. But Mr. Camposeo’s presence in Louisville on that day was purely a coincidence: He was in town from Connecticut to attend his 50th class reunion at Bellarmine.
Perhaps appropriately, the first time he met the boxer, Mr. Camposeo was a Bellarmine student.
It was 1964, and Ali—who was then still known as Cassius Clay—had just defeated Sonny Liston in Miami Beach to win the title of world heavyweight champion. Mr. Camposeo and his friend Stephen Johnstone ’66, both sophomores, found out when his plane would be arriving at Standiford Field and joined a crowd that gathered on the tarmac.
“We pushed through and got relatively close,” Mr. Camposeo said—so close that they were clearly visible in a photograph that ran on the front page of the Louisville Courier-Journal the next morning. But he would get even closer to Ali 26 years later.
After graduating from Bellarmine and going to graduate school, Mr. Camposeo returned to his hometown of Manchester, Conn., where he served on the school board and the town council before being elected town clerk, a position he’s held since 1996.
In 1990, Muhammad Ali made an appearance at the G. Fox & Co. department store in Hartford, Conn., to promote his new men’s cologne. “They said if you bought a bottle of cologne for $25, you could have something signed,” Mr. Camposeo said. He brought the photo that had been taken in 1964. Upon seeing it, Ali, who had by then been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, teared up and said something to the woman seated next to him. She told Mr. Camposeo that the photo had moved Ali because his mother was in it.
“I said, ‘I’m in there, too,’ and pointed myself out,” he said. Ali again said something to the woman, who repeated it to Mr. Camposeo: “He said that you’re just as pretty as he is after all these years.”
A reporter from the Hartford Courant asked Mr. Camposeo why Ali had spent so much time with him and wrote a short story about their exchange. And on June 9, 2016, that newspaper ran a front-page story about Mr. Camposeo’s two moments with Ali: “Cologne, And A Compliment To Remember.”
“That article appeared in the morning paper the day I was boarding the plane” to head to Bellarmine’s Reunion Weekend for the Class of 1966’s 50th reunion, he said. Oddly enough, it was exactly 26 years after his second encounter with Ali.
The 50th reunion was great, he said. “I must say this: I felt so good about seeing people I hadn’t seen in a number of years, but perhaps moreso about seeing how engaged the younger people were—as young as the 10-year attendees. It was just terrific. It’s great to be part of that legacy.”
And, in a small way, to be part of the story of Muhammad Ali.
Carla Carlton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Mark Mirko, Hartford Courant/used with permission