Kenneth Taylor stood at the podium in the Plaza meeting room, staring myopically at the crowd of newspeople while the glare of TV lights bounced off his glasses.
"Yes," he was saying, "I believe all the hostages are back in the American embassy compound. The students wouldn't entrust them elsewhere," because a rival group might snatch them as hostages of their own.
"Yes," he was saying, "there is no one to fill the vacuum if Khomeini dies.
There could be a return to revolution."
Then, just for a moment, between questions he had heard hundreds of times before, Taylor turned to his wife, standing in the corner, and smiled fleeting and resignedly. The message was clear: This will be over soon.
It was a revealing moment in the career of an unlikely hero, who, with a generous act six months ago became an instant celebrity and quickly learned the joys and tribulations of stardom.
Taylor, of course, is the Canadian ambassador to Iran who hid six American diplomats in his embassy after the U.S. embassy in Tehran was taken over last November. He then arranged their escape from Iran in January by providing Canadian passports. Taylor was in Detroit last week to accept the 1980 Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Award at a luncheon at the Plaza Hotel. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and Windsor Mayor Albert Weeks were among the crowd of 700.
It was a luncheon marked by four standing ovations for Taylor and the appearance of one demonstrator, Frederick Hanks, 29, who said he was an unemployed Chrlysler worker.
"We stand with the Iranian people, who, by their revolution, have inspired people all over the world, Hanks shouted to the gathering. He was not arrested, and left peacefully.
When Taylor closed down his embassy Jan. 26 and left Tehran just hours after the Americans themselves were spirited out of the country, he flew to Paris to rejoin his wife, Patricia.
"Ken said maybe we'd take a vacation," Mrs. Taylor recalled Wednesday. "Instead, everything came together all at once, and then we were just carried along from there."
Carried along on a journey which Canadian officials say was designed to use the escape to promote goodwill between Canada and the U.S.
It came at a time -- despite the appreciation many Americans feel about the rescue -- when relations between the two countries were growing strained over such issues as irrigation projects, fishing rights and acid rain from U.S. coal-burning utilities. But Frank Harris, Canadian cousel-general in Detroit, said there was no direct relationship between the Taylors' tour and those worsening relations.
The Taylor's tour has now taken them across Canada and much of the United States for an unrelenting round of speaking appearances, awards, press conferences, banquets, TV shows and newpaper interviews -- all with a similarity that has now become monotonous.
After Wednesday's press conference, Taylor, 45, admitted as much. The questions had been standard and predictable, his responses guarded: "Vindictivness," he said, is one aspect of the hostage crisis, "face-saving" on the part of the Iranians is another. The aborted American rescue attempt in late April was "courageous" and could well have reached the embassy compound but might have resulted in the loss of life. "A show trial" of the hostages would be viewed around the world as intolerable and probably won't happen.
"Yes," Taylor said, standing in a corner of the room while Freedom Festival officials scurried about and waiters spread out cheese and wine for a reception, "I know I'm not saying anything new or particularly revealing. I have to be careful, because it's a sensitive area."
Back in the '60s, Taylor served in the Canadian trade commissioner's office in Detroit. He is remembered as energetic, always early for meetings, able to work long into the night. Now, he is visibly sagging and, friends say, given to going to bed early.
"Well, it sometimes does get tiresome, going through all of this. We never anticipated these implications of it," Taylor said, returning to the acclaim that followed his exploit. "But I don't really think of myself as a celebrity."
He rubbed his eyes. "Still," he said, "this is just a short-term kind of thing. It's something for just this summer. It'll really have no fundamental influence."
He looks forward to concluding celebrityhood at the end of July and receiving a new assignment.
"I don't mind meeting all these new people," said Patricia Taylor, an Australian of Chinese decent whom Taylor met when they were both students at the University of California in Berkley. "In a lot of ways it's a lot of fun. I try to think of them all as individual citizens, that king of thing."
"Still," she added, "You're constantly tugged. I hadn't really thought of myself as a celebrity, but I suppose I am. It doesn't bother me until about 12:30 at night when somebody is still coming around."
She smiled and glanced at their teen-age son, Doug. During the press conference he had leaned against the wall at the back of the room, trying to look bored, sophisticated and blase.
Now, when the waiters wheeled out a cart of cheese and fruit, Doug rushed up and grabbed a strawberry. Mrs. Taylor laughed. "Just a growing boy," she said.
For one moment she was not a public figure, but a parent.