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Staff file photo / Betty White laughs during an onstage interview at Life: An Expo for Boomers & Seniors at the Chattanooga Convention Center in 2010.

Being a Betty White fan might be the easiest thing in the world to do. Who wasn't charmed by her wit and comic timing, but more importantly by her down-to-earth approachable personality?

Talking to famous people is a very big part of my job every day, so I'm not often star-struck, but talking to White remains a lifelong highlight. I actually had the pleasure twice — first in a telephone interview and then 20 minutes alone with her in a tiny room in the back of the Chattanooga Convention Center. She was everything one would hope and more.

To set the scene, White visited Chattanooga in 2010 as the special guest for Life: An Expo for Boomers & Seniors, which the Times Free Press sponsored. As part of the deal, she agreed to sit down with a reporter before her onstage appearance. She'd also agreed to do a telephone interview to advance the appearance. It was while on the phone that she told me "Robert Redford" was the only thing on her wish list that she had not done.

It's her pat answer, but it was still funny and delivered with that famous giggle of hers. I still have the phone number in my phone, by the way. I have no idea who, if anyone, might answer, but it's the one I used to call THE Betty White, so I'm keeping it.

READ MORE: Remembering Betty White's Chattanooga connections

Anyway, a few weeks later, there I was cooling my heels backstage with two co-workers from the paper, Lyndsi and Tanya. We were waiting for White to arrive when we noticed two young men and a woman walking around trying their very best to act like they belonged there.

I give them credit for the idea, but the timing and location weren't working for them. We called them out and told them they couldn't be there. That's when one of the guys explained that he had a Sharpie in his pocket and a tattoo artist waiting on standby.

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Remembering Betty White

He said he wanted White to autograph his inner thigh and then he was going to rush over to the tattoo guy and have the signature made permanent.

I have to say that the long silence that followed probably gave him a brief sense of hope that it might happen, but the reality was, the three of us were trying to process what he had just said, and what it might actually look like, were it allowed to happen.

Ultimately, we denied his request and sent them packing.

About 10 minutes later, White was escorted backstage, and we were introduced. The two of us settled into a room big enough for two chairs, and everyone else left. Once we sat down, I thought it would be funny to tell her about the young man and his plan to have her sign the inside of his thigh so he could have a tattoo done of the signature.

The range of emotions that flashed through her eyes was quick, but evident. Shock was quickly replaced with a smile, and she said in that same jovial way she's cracked wise on everything from the game show "Password" to the feature film "The Proposal": "You didn't send him away, did you? Is he still here?"

It was said with that same famous giggle, but her eyes betrayed her just enough. The relief on her face told the truth. She made a classic Betty White joke, but just for a minute.

As if that wasn't enough to forever win my heart, a high school friend of mine had reached out before the event to tell me of her son's love affair with the star. My friend was dealing with a troubling long-term illness that required her and her husband to be gone for treatment for long periods of time.

Their teenage son, who was often left home alone, discovered "The Golden Girls" and became a huge fan of the sitcom — and White in particular. My friend wanted to know if there was any way I could arrange for her son to meet White. I did what I could, and they showed up at the expo, like several thousand other people.

Apparently things got weird during the meet-and-greet with other fans. My friend and her family are not the type to insinuate themselves where they feel uncomfortable, so they left. I explained this to someone at the paper, and word got back to White. She very graciously sent the family an autographed photograph with a personal note.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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