(my) President

Two little stories, nothing extraordinary

Photo: Paulo Spranger/Global Images Archive

I interviewed Jorge Sampaio once, I think in December 2000, when he was running for a second term as President of the Republic. The interview was conducted at a hotel in Faro and, in the end, having exhausted the questions and done the photos, despite his busy schedule, we stayed a little chat.

After having worked for several years in national bodies, I was recently working at a regional newspaper, Barlavento, and Presidente Sampaio wanted to know a little more about the difficulties and challenges of a media organization far from the capital of Lisbon. It was an interesting conversation, which ended because an advisor reminded him that it was time to hit the road, campaigning.

I came to meet President Sampaio again on a trip he made to Monchique, while the socialist Carlos Tuta was mayor. The delegation was taken to the top of Picota (the second highest point in the Monchique mountains), from where there is a magnificent view of the mountain buttresses, the coast and the sea. We arrived there via a tarred road ordered to be built by the local authority and which was then recently inaugurated.

After inspecting the views, Jorge Sampaio wanted to walk a little and began to descend, at a slow pace, the little tar road. I, I can't even remember why, I stood by his side and asked him: "Does the President like to walk?" To which he replied: "yes, very much, it was a taste that I had in Scotland". “Well, not long ago I was in Scotland for 15 days, hiking in the Highlands and I loved it!” I replied.

From then on, Jorge Sampaio wanted to know what I knew of that country and we started talking and walking down the road. Behind us came the entourage, also on foot, some of them completely flushed with the effort, as was the case with Chamber President Carlos Tuta. The cars had been up there, at the top of Picota, with the drivers waiting, but the entourage – with mayors, deputies, other official entities and journalists – had to walk there, as long as President Sampaio did not stop, on the road from Picota below.

Until an aide approached him and said in a low voice: "Mr. President, it's better to stop, because there are many people there who can't stand your step." And we even went very slowly…and down the road, going downhill. Sampaio stopped there, smiled at me, apologized for having to stop the walk and waited for the driver to bring his car, and the entourage went there, more rested, each one in their own cars.

These two stories are by no means extraordinary. But they realize the man that Jorge Sampaio was. A man of great education and sensitivity, interested in people and causes, always cultivating dialogue.

If even more proof of this were needed – all of his public life, which began with student struggles in the 60s and continued with his work as a lawyer for political prisoners in the Plenary Courts of Fascism – I think the causes he gave himself to when he ended his two presidential terms attest that he was a Good Man, with a big heart.

For me, I consider it a privilege to have had a President of the Republic like Jorge Sampaio. I confess here that, despite having always liked Eanes and Soares a lot, for me Sampaio was and will be my President.