Mrs. Green goes to Washington

Pat Haley Contributing columnist

Pat Haley Contributing columnist

It was a dark day when the unspeakable black funnel leveled half of Xenia and annihilated our home in the Arrowhead Subdivision off Bellbrook Avenue.

On April 9, 1974, my family and I were standing at Shawnee Elementary School like thousands of other Xenians, awaiting assistance from the Red Cross, when we noticed a motorcade heading directly toward the school.

A few minutes later a large black limousine pulled up immediately in front of us. President Richard Nixon slid out of the back seat and stuck his hand out to me and said, “Thank you for coming. I am here to help. Please let me know what I can do.”

Our brief encounter was the first time I had met the president of the United States. Ironically, this happenstance greeting began a series of impromptu sightings of presidents and vice presidents that has lasted for nearly 45 years.

I am by no means a presidential junkie, but I have repeatedly been in the right place at the right time, and I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities to meet those who have served in the Oval Office.

Columbus was a popular stop along the presidential campaign trail. Although I never met him, President John F. Kennedy once joked, “There is no city in the United States in which I get a warmer welcome and less votes than Columbus, Ohio!”

Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter visited Columbus on Sept. 8, 1976, and I had the opportunity to meet him near High and Broad streets as he walked by.

President Gerald Ford visited Columbus on Nov. 1, 1976, the day before voters went to the polls to choose between him and Jimmy Carter for president. I walked a couple of blocks to the Statehouse and shook his hand. The following day, he lost a close race.

Four years later, we were back in Columbus where I met presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. He walked past where I was standing, and I had the opportunity to shake “The Gipper’s” hand.

After the Reagan years ended, I saw President George H.W. Bush at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus.

In 1992, I had the opportunity to see candidate Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary, along with vice presidential candidate Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, during a campaign stop in Wilmington at the courthouse.

Brenda and I also met President George W. Bush at a reception at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va.

In 2016, I twice had the opportunity to see President Donald Trump. During a 2017 visit to Washington, D.C. and the White House, I met Vice President Mike Pence when he addressed the members of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

The late President Ronald Reagan was a popular president. He had undeniable warmth and charisma, and columnist Peggy Noonan captured that warmth in a story.

We have all received them. The fundraising letters written by both Democrat and Republican national committees pursuing donations for political candidates.

Mrs. Frances Green, an 83-year-old widow from California on Social Security, had been a faithful Reagan contributor, albeit one dollar at a time. She was by no means a wealthy woman, but Mrs. Green received an invitation from the Republican National Committee to a reception at the White House over the Fourth of July weekend in 1988.

Determined to meet President Reagan, she boarded the Southwest Chief in Los Angles and settled in for her long three-day train trip to Washington, D.C.

On the Fourth of July, Mrs. Green arrived at the White House gate on Pennsylvania Avenue. She approached the Secret Service officer and showed him her invitation.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in. Your name isn’t on the guest list and you have to be vetted for security reasons,” the officer said politely.

Mrs. Green had not read the fine print of the invitation. It called for an RSVP and a sizable, mandatory contribution. She was heartbroken.

The kindhearted Secret Service officer called one of the presidential aides he knew and told them Mrs. Green’s story. The aide told President Reagan about Mrs. Green and the president also was touched by her story.

The next day, Mrs. Green returned to the White House for a special tour. As they were ending the tour, the aide and Mrs. Green were standing outside the Oval Office. The aide brought Mrs. Green to the door to peek through to get a glimpse of President Reagan.

As they peeped through the door, President Reagan saw Mrs. Green and motioned for her to come in saying, “Frances! Those darn computers, they fouled up again! If I’d known you were coming, I would have come out there to get you myself!”

The president and Mrs. Green sat together on the Oval Office couch, talking about California and Mrs. Green’s life.

Some would have considered the time spent with Mrs. Green in the Oval Office a waste of President Reagan’s time, but it wasn’t. It was just two good, decent people caring for each other.

One just happened to be president of the United States.

Pat Haley is former Clinton County (Ohio) commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.

Pat Haley Contributing columnist Haley Contributing columnist