Write Again…My time at the White House

Published 2:47 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2023

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You remember “Tip” O’Neill. The long-time fixture in the U.S. House of Representatives, who rose to the top of that legislative body, finally to wield the gravel. Clout, for sure.

When asked who was the smartest President he ever knew and/or worked with, without hesitation he replied “Jimmy ‘Canter'” in his Massachusetts pronunciation.

To that I would add that Jimmy Carter, in addition to his academic excellence he was one of the most moral, most ethical presidents we ever had.

He served only one term, defeated for re-election by the handsome former actor then governor of California.

That upheaval in Iran, led by the Ayatollah, happened during Carter’s term in office; and then the American rescue efforts intended to extract U.S. Embassy personnel went so badly, it sealed Carter’s fate. What could go wrong, did go wrong. Thus was Carter’s re-election failure sealed. It took not prescience to see that.

All this was transpiring in 1980, the fourth year of the presidency of the man from Plains, Georgia.

In the early summer of that year I wrote a letter to Walter B. Jones, our U.S. Representative, and one to Jody Powell, Carter’s press secretary, inquiring about the possibility of getting an invitation to any event at the White House which would have the president present. (How ’bout that dual alliteration.) I told them I was a newspaper columnist.

No response was forthcoming, which I had hoped would happen shortly after sending my letters. Didn’t happen.

Weeks later, however, after returning from Williamston to attend some education affair that preceded the opening of the new school year, I had barely pulled into the yard when Sarah, our older daughter, then twelve years old, burst out of the house yelling, “Poppa! Poppa! You got a call from the White House!”

And so I did. With instructions to call such and such number to speak with an Anne Wexler, a presidential aide who worked in the White House.

Next morning I made the call, had a brief but friendly conversation with Ms. Wexler, who provided information relative to what was needed by them in order to extend an invitation to the White House. Just basics like my social security number, and a couple of other things that have now slipped away from my memory.

Came the day of my visit to the White House, and I was up and on my way¬†early, and I mean early, bound for the nation’s capital.

I stopped in Fredericksburg for breakfast, then hit the road again. When I arrived in D.C., my objective was to find a place to park in proximity of the White House.

Little did I then, nor do I now, know how to competently navigate in that city. However, I found a place to park in front of the Treasury building. Ironically, that was where my great-uncle David Franklin Houston worked during President Woodrow Wilson’s second term. He served as Secretary of the Treasury. “Uncle Frank,” as my father knew and called him, had been Secretary of Agriculture in Wilson’s first term, as well as a part of the second.

Prior to all of this, the Monroe native’s vocational background was as a college president. He was brought to Wilson’s attention by Jonathan Hines Page, of Cary, whom Wilson had appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James, which now of course we would refer to as England/Great Britain.

As much as I would relish telling about the time I spent that day in the White House, seeing the president, and being briefed about the topic that was the reason for the event, with a small group in the Executive Office Building following Carter’s address, my friends here at the WDN can provide only so much space for me. Even what I’ve related to this point is well past my usual limits.

I have not been back to the White House again. Ever. That’s okay.

But there was a day in late August, 1980, when I did something really special.

Oh, yes. NOTE – This was written after learning that former president Jimmy Carter was at home in Plains, receiving hospice care.

God bless him and his family.