GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Decades before Donald Trump entered politics, his business interests brought him to South Mississippi. He wanted to build a casino resort in Gulfport next door to Marine Life. That's when Dr. Moby Solangi got to know our president-elect.
The year was 1994. New York developer Donald Trump got a VIP tour of Marine Life that included getting kissed by a sea lion.
His plan was to build a casino resort in Gulfport.
"Nick came down and looked at it and came back with just raving reports. I said, 'It can't be that good, can it?'" said Trump at a news conference following the '94 visit.
Trump's main coast contact in pursuing the project was Marine Life director Moby Solangi.
"Not only did I get to meet him, I worked with him for three years. He's an incredible man. Very intelligent. Very gracious. We did a project at Marine Life which didn't materialize, but I got to learn a lot from him," said Solangi.
Solangi remembers Trump as a go-getter driven by success.
"He really was looking at big things. Bigger than life, and he was always looking for success. He thought working with us was going to be very successful," said Solangi, who now directs the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.
Solangi was in close contact with Trump during those few years. He was even invited to Trump's wedding with Marla Maples.
"It was incredible to walk on that red carpet and be announced as a guest and friend of Donald Trump," Solangi said.
One humorous incident from that Gulfport visit involved Maples wanting a hamburger. So, Solangi accompanied her, in a limousine, to a nearby restaurant.
"She said she wanted a burger, and our limo got stuck in the drive through. That was one hell of a way of trying to keep everything quiet," Solangi recalled with a smile.
As for Trump's historic White House win, Solangi wasn't that surprised.
"A lot of things were going the wrong way, the economy, immigration, and all these other issues. I think finally people said, 'Enough is enough,'" said the marine scientist.
Solangi said Trump put in some long hours during the time they worked together. He said it wasn't unusual for Trump to call him at "two or three in the morning" with an idea.