Gambo’s Wayne Warren looks back on chance meeting with Muhammad Ali

Describes three-time world champion boxer as “down to earth”

Colin Farrell colin.farrell@tc.tc
Published on June 10, 2016

Muhammad Ali made a surprise trip to the Gander International Airport on a refueling stop in 1978, retired RCMP officer Wayne Warren and three others took the chance to pose for a pic with the boxing legend. Pictured (from left) are Clyde Golding, Tom Matthews, Ali, Pat Hammond and Wayne Warren.

©Photo courtesy of Wayne Warren

Over his 15 years stationed with the RCMP Detachment in Gander, Wayne Warren of Gambo had an opportunity to see a number of famous faces.

“You meet a lot of people at Gander Airport,” he said. “Movie stars, sports stars over the years.”

He added that during the ‘70s and ‘80s a large amount of international flights went through the Gander International Airport.

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“I remember the Russian hockey team going through there — Katarina Witt people like that and movie stars like Sylvester (Stallone) and John Travolta,” Warren said.

Of all the celebrities he had a chance to meet, Warren said none can top his chance encounter with boxing great Muhammad Ali.

“It was June of 1978 he came in on a flight at Gander from Russia,” he explained. “Gander hasn’t changed since ’78 — you’ve got to (the tarmac) from the aircraft to get into the building.”

Warren added that he was on the tarmac with Tom Matthews, a K-9 handler with the department at the time.

“This guy came off (the plane) with his wife,” he recalled. “When he got closer we could see it was Muhammad Ali. He came over where we were, and he was really interested in the police dog and what police force we were with.” 

Warren said they chatted with the boxer for a short period of time.

“Then he wanted to know where he could get a hamburger and fries, he had an urging for hamburger and fries, he had been in Russia for two weeks doing expedition boxing. So I said come on I’ll show you where to go.”   

Warren explained that the local radio station called the airport to see if they could get the boxer on the phone.

“So I went on got his wife — told her about the (call),” he said.

He said Veronica — Ali’s wife — went and told him about the phone call from the station.

“He came out he was right excited, very jovial, very friendly — started going on with his old jive ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’- he spoke with the guy on the phone, then he finished the call.”

Warren said that the boxer told them about his time in Russia and about an upcoming match he had when he return to the states against Leon Spinks.

He added that Ali even exchanged some playful jabs with a former janitor at the airport by the name of Steve Hollohan.

“Everybody had a great laugh,” said Warren. “The lobby was filling up because there were more and more flights coming in — people were afraid to approach him first — then they seen us having so much fun with him that they started coming up and getting autographs, shaking his hand,” he added.

Warren said that there is one thing that stands out in his mind, “I shook his hand. I noticed his hands were quite big, but they were quite calloused too from I guess fighting so much,” he said.

Ali was at the airport for approximately an hour while the flight he was on refueled before departing.

“It was unbelievable. He was so down to earth for a guy who is so famous,” said Warren.

Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3 at age 74.

colin.farrell@tc.tc

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