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     “Bob Gunnel from Boxcar PR was saying someone from Louisville Magazine wants to talk to you. I said: What do they want to know? How much I sweat during the week? How much sleep I got — which was very little, by the way. There were a couple 18-, 19-hour days.

    “Bomb sweeps, metal detectors. You do everything — but at every location. Imagine doing a bomb sweep at Yum!, at the Fair and Exposition Center. We had the funeral home, the Ali Center, the airport. You have to advance all those locations. Cave Hill Cemetery. Think about how massive that area is. We had to literally shut it down. There was coordination with Louisville police, Kentucky state police, the Secret Service, the bodyguards for the stars that came to town. You name it, you had to plan for it. The bigger the better as far as Muhammad was concerned. He wanted it to be a grand occurrence.

    “My biggest moment was the procession. The anxiety of knowing you gotta roll though maybe half a million people who are lined up along the 17-mile route. We had extra cars. Little things like, OK, what happens if the limo breaks down? So we set limos out in strategic locations. I was in the lead SUV with Bob Gunnel. We controlled the pace. They had police lined up. We also had plain-clothed officers out there working the crowd.

    “Lonnie wanted to stop for a few seconds in front of the house — if it was safe for the crowd and the family. She always referred it back to me: ‘If it’s safe, Jim.’ Of course, I wasn’t too crazy about the idea. We did everything to make sure it was OK. I talked to Major Kelly Jones: ‘Give me your opinion and have the commander down there give me their opinion of a 15-, 30-second stop.’ Lots of it is just sheer intuition, but you gain on experience of being around crowds and if they’re respectful — and they were totally respectful. I felt good the whole week.

    “As we approached I said, ‘One last check, Kelly, how we doin’ out there?’ He said, ‘Crowd’s OK. We got it under control.’ If it got bad, we would simply increase the speed of the procession, but obviously we didn’t want to do that because we wanted everybody to kind of take it in. The entire 17 miles, I never felt any kind of anxiety. Matter of fact, it was the opposite — wanting to slow it down and let everyone take it in. At the house, we stopped for 15, 20 seconds and of course the crowds came in a little bit and I’m sittin’ there looking at my watch and I’m watching the crowd and I got back on the police radio and I said, ‘OK, Kelly. Let’s go.’ I guess from an optics standpoint, it really looked good. Everybody said, ‘Man, that was so cool that he stopped like that.’ I thought maybe we didn’t stop long enough.

    “When it was all over, I could definitely feel the stress leaving my body like a big weight was lifted off. I wanted things to be so perfect for the family and I wanted them to have the experience of a proper send-off for Muhammad. The crowd gave the family the space they needed to mourn the loss of a husband and a father. That was a special part to me.

    I just used every piece of knowledge that I had in my 40 years along the way. Everything that I garnished in my career I used in the Ali detail because it all came into play. I retired from working with the mayor on March 31 and have been doing some consulting here and there. I’ve been at the Breeders’ Cup. Just came back from working a quarter horse race in Dallas. On planes, off planes. Let’s just say a lot less stressful than planning a funeral for Muhammad Ali.”

    Cain is the retired chief of executive protection in the mayor's office and director of security during Ali week.

     

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    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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