THE BODYGUARD: Louisville man protects the rich and famous
World leaders, sports heroes and movie stars don't go anywhere without a bodyguard, and one Louisville man has made a career out of protecting them all.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- World leaders, sports heroes and movie stars don't go anywhere without a bodyguard, and one Louisville man has made a career out of protecting them all -- including Louisville's own Jennifer Lawrence.
Mayor Greg Fischer announces a plan to boost the bourbon industry in a packed Brown Hotel lobby. Several feet away, far from the cameras, is a man who is almost unnoticeable, whose name you've probably never heard. But, in a second, he could become the most important man in the room.
He's Greg Gitschier, the mayor's bodyguard. And, it's a job he didn't ask for. Fischer asked for him.
"I was working security for the PGA and I ran into him. And, you know how he is, he said 'You know, you need to work for me some,'" Gitschier said.
That's because the mayor knew about Gitschier's resume, which is, to say the least, impressive. Twenty-two years as a Secret Service agent, protecting a long list of current and former presidents. His first? Jimmy Carter at the 1984 Kentucky Derby.
"They stayed up in Lexington, and then they came down and I drove the car down from Lexington to Louisville and took him into the Derby, as a brand new agent," Gitschier recounted.
The next year, Gitschier began a four-year stint with Ronald Reagan, a man he describes as pure class.
"And, it was time for him to eat, and he said 'Did my boys eat?' And, they said, 'Oh I'm sorry Mr. President, I didn't know your sons were here.' And, he said, 'No, my boys. I'm not going to eat until they eat.'"
Gitschier went on to work with George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But, the moment he describes as the tops in his career came in 1999, when the lifelong Catholic was chosen to guard Pope John Paul II in St. Louis.
"There's 117,000 people in there," Gitschier recalled. "And, people were crying, people were praying, you know, all walks of life, you saw people dressed in Muslim attire, Hassidic Jews, Hara Christas. There was something about that man that people were just drawn to him."
And before the Pope returned to Rome, Gitschier stopped being a bodyguard for a brief moment and kissed the pontiff's ring.
In 2005, Gitschier left the Secret Service and began an impressive civilian career, heading up security for every PGA event at Valhalla and guarding General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, including accompanying him to four of the last five Olympics..
Last year, Gitschier a long-time friend of Jennifer Lawrence's family, got a frantic call from her brother saying he was being harassed by Canadian Han Cong Zhao, who was obsessed with Jennifer and had just arrived in Louisville. The man was arrested -- he never got close to Lawrence's family. But the experience prompted Jennifer to ask Gitschier to accompany her when she's in Louisville. One of those moments came last Christmas, when Jennifer visited cancer and ICU patients at Kosair Children's Hospital
"And, she was just spending a tremendous amount of time with each child. I mean pictures, selfies, autographs -- and if a brother or sister was in there, she was autographing those. It was just great."
So, you might be thinking, 'Gitschier must've been busy last week, guarding celebrities at the Kentucky Derby.' Not true. In fact, other than Jennifer Lawrence, celebrities are the one group he doesn't work with. And, it has everything to do with the fact that, as a bodyguard for the mayor, he's a sworn LMPD officer.
"I don't care who they are, if they're going to break the law in front of me, and think as a bodyguard, I'm going to look the other way, they're 100 percent wrong," he said.
Now knocking on the door of 59 years old, Gitschier stays sharp with regular trips to the firing range at TG&G in Newburg. He's still got it -- he fired off dozens of shots at a target 25 yards away, and all but one landed right on top of each other, and right on the bullseye.
Firing a weapon, though, is only a very small part of Gitschier's training. In fact, he says he's never used a weapon as a bodyguard. And, he says, if he ever does, he's failed.
"It's a last-ditch resort. Things have gone so bad that you have to bring out, you know you have to solve it in a violent confrontation. And, that's putting your protectee in grave danger."
A much bigger and more important part of Gitschier's training does involves real-life situations that can be created at a secret training facility that's unlike any other in the area.
Gitschier offered us a taste of what he does in a threatening kind of situation. "There's a threat coming from that door... what do you do? Normally, I give you plenty of room, but once I perceive that threat, and you may not see it, you may be looking over here, but once I perceive that threat, I have to turn you, put my body in between you and the threat and get you out quickly."
So, how much longer will he do this? Gitschier admits 58 is pretty old for, as he says, a bullet catcher. But he says it will be tough to leave what he loves.
"Hopefully, when I feel like I can't do it anymore, I'll be smart enough to step away and let some young people take over," Gitschier said.
Guarding Mayor Fischer is not Gitschier's full-time job -- he's actually one of three men who rotate.
But, he still keeps very busy with other bodyguarding assignments, and doing things like being a deacon at his church and running a summer camp for kids with cancer.
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