For Starkville resident Rex Buffington, news that movie star Elizabeth Taylor died yesterday at the age of 79 after a long battle with congestive heart failure brought back memories of a 1979 encounter he had with the actress.
Taylor was born in London, but moved to Los Angeles with her family shortly after the start of World War II. She started acting as a child and had a successful career that spanned decades. She earned two Academy Awards for her work, for 1960’s “Butterfield 8” and 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Taylor was as well known for personal life as she was her professional. Her love life was often as scandalous as it was glamorous. She had married eight times, although she married actor Richard Burton twice.
It was during Taylor’s marriage to her sixth husband, U.S. senator John Warner, a Republican from Virginia, that Buffington, now the executive director of the Stennis Center for Public Service. spent the day with the star.
In 1979, Buffington was the press secretary for Senator Stennis. Senator Stennis had been invited to Pascagoula, Miss. to give a speech at the commissioning of a ship. The senator couldn’t make it, but extended the invitation to Senator Warner and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
“Senator Stennis asked me to travel with them,” Buffington said. “ I was there to show them Mississippi and help them feel welcome.”
He met the senator and the movie star at the airport very early the morning of the trip.
“I got there before they did, but I remember the car rolled up, she got out and we stood there eye to eye for a moment,” Buffington said. “She really did have the most beautiful eyes.”
He said that the actress was very tired because she had just returned from the funeral of one of her former husbands. Despite her fatigue, she remained gracious as ever.
“She was really interested in the trip and wanted to know everything about Mississippi,” he said. “She very much seemed to be playing the roll of the senator’s wife.”
Buffington said the day went smoothly and Taylor seemed to enjoy herself.
“She was very studious about not trying to grab the lime light,” he said. “Although she was really the one everyone was interested in.”
After the trip, he saw her occasionally on Capitol Hill, often supporting her husband. But her marriage to Senator Warner only lasted a few more years.
Although scandal and gossip that plagued her throughout much of her life, Taylor was also a strong activist. During the 1980s, Taylor became an outspoken supporter for AIDS research. She founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. She raised money to help those affected by the disease and fought the negative stigma attached to those infected.
Despite her sometimes tumultuous personal life, Taylor was without a doubt one of Hollywood’s most interesting actresses.
“She was really very kind and nice and warm,” Buffington said. “And yet, there certainly was a mystique about her.”