5 questions with local PR firm owner Bob Gunnell

Published: Jun. 24, 2016 at 2:36 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2016 at 2:58 PM EDT
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Bob Gunnell (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Bob Gunnell (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - "Muhammad never stopped loving Louisville, and we know that Louisville loves Muhammad."

Those were the words of Muhammad Ali's widow, Lonnie Ali, on June 10. It was a day of sadness, but it was also a beautiful day for WAVE Country. We witnessed so many people of different faiths putting aside differences to say goodbye and thanks to The Greatest in a celebration of his life.

I, myself, fielded some of our coverage from the Muhammad Ali Center and even in the sweltering heat got chills seeing the many remembrances for Ali.

One of the people who had a front row seat to it all was Bob Gunnell, the founder of Louisville-based Boxcar PR. His firm was tasked with ensuring the memorial service and all the other events ran smoothly.

It took his entire Boxcar team of 18, but so many others were involved. Gunnell said he gives Mayor Greg Fischer and his staff a lot of credit, and also praised Karen Williams and the LCVB, Louisville Metro police, the Muhammad Ali Center staff and the staff of the Louisville Downtown Marriott.

Here now are my five questions with Bob Gunnell:
1. How long ago did Ali approach you to begin the planning and how often were those reviewed?
I was approached almost 10 years ago by John Ramsey. He recommended me after having dinner with the Ali's and hearing of them not being happy with the national firms they had interviewed. I was initially hired to write a draft, then hired to complete the Book, the name for our funeral document. That process took almost three years. Danielle Davis on my staff worked with me to update it annually. I worked with the core committee which consisted of two lawyers, a CPA, Lonnie and myself. We would meet annually then Muhammad would approve all plans.
2. What was the most challenging part?
The most challenging aspect was planning an event that you hoped would never happen. Of course, we knew it would occur some day, but obviously didn't know when or know how the world would react.

3. Tell us a memorable story about Ali.
Most of my interaction with Muhammad came in his final years. He taught me that you don't have to speak to be powerful or kind. We were having dinner at Brendon's on Fourth Street a few months back when that example really hit home. An off duty police officer was escorting, helping us depart when other patrons in the restaurant began to stand for and say Ali. Muhammad, even though it was late, signaled to stop then took pictures with anyone that approached him, which was the entire restaurant. Everyone would have understood had he left, but he never forgot who he was or how to treat his fans.

4. You were there in his final hours. What was that like?
I described his final hours as a beautiful life event. That may sound odd, but observing the family and the mix of grace, love and grief they all displayed was very touching and said a lot about the respect they had for their dad and husband.
5. We all felt a connection to Ali during the memorial service. Can you share your favorite part? 
For me the memorial service brought a feeling of peace. Standing with my son and staff beside the stage I knew we were part of something incredible. My favorite moment, and I am not saying this because he's my friend and works at WAVE, was John Ramsey's eulogy. I knew how close they were and was confident he would do great. But, as he and I discussed many times, he was on stage with President Clinton, Billy Crystal and Bryant Gumbel. I was blown away and very proud of my friend and his eulogy. I thought he, more than anyone, captured Muhammad's life and the spirit of who he was and what he meant to our world.

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