Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Presidential Inaugurations

The 50th Presidential Inaugural in 1985

Presidential Inaugurations are exciting events in America's history.  There is an electricity in the air and a deep appreciation of the historic significance taking place.  Ron and I have been privileged to attend several.  As we witness President Obama's second, the 57th, it brings back memories of Inaugural's past.


President's Nixon's first Inauguration in 1969, was Ron and my first and to say we were in awe is to put it mildly.  We were living in Dallas and that first Inauguration was my very first trip to Washington DC.  I flew in to town on January 17th.  While Ron worked, I walked.  The bandstands were in place in front of the White House.  What a sight.  I walked all the way around the White House, past the Washington Monument.  All along the reflecting pool there were hundreds of vintage World War II quonset huts that were still being used as "temporary" offices.  (Mrs. Nixon would soon convince the President to have the eye-sores removed and return the mall into the beautiful place it is today.)

It was so cold I had to duck into store fronts and hotels to warm up, before I could brave the outdoors again.  I found the Lincoln Memorial and stood spell-bound at the sight of its magnificence.  If you've been there, you know there are not many warming huts nearby, so the cold finally drove me reluctantly away to the warmth of a taxi cab.  I was grateful for the cozy boots my friend Marty Vehslage had loaned me. 

Before we left army life on Okinawa, anticipating formal military occasions, I had splurged on a long, silk brocade dress made by a local sew-lady.  It was the perfect Inaugural ball gown, complete with matching shoes.  My mother, always a stickler for the proper lady-like way to do things, had read that long, white kid gloves were mandatory when one was attending an Inaugural Ball.  Dutifully, I went to Nieman-Marcus and spent a fortune on a pair of long, white kid gloves.  They had countless pearl buttons snaking up the inner-arm, and in my mind, they were a total pain to put on, take off, eat-in, drink-in, or anything else ladies have to do during the course of an evening.

We stayed at the Statler Hilton.  Our room was one foot wider on three sides than the queen size bed.  To open a bottom dresser drawer, one had to sit on their feet on the bed.  Ed Morgan was next door.  Ron and Ed dressed in White Tie in the hall way, while I somehow managed to dress in a corner of the room.  We didn't care, it was so exciting just to have a room and be a part of it all.

I never knew I was claustrophobic until my first Inaugural Ball experience.  A secret service agent arranged a spot in front of the stage for me, but people kept pushing me and shoving me.  A man with obviously a few flutes of champagne under his belt kept trying to kiss me.  A woman kept asking me why I thought I was so important?  I got the agents attention, finally, and asked him if there was somewhere else I could go.  He took me to a built-in stone bench around the corner from the stage.  Suddenly, another lady was plopped on the bench next to me.  That's the first time I met Susie Chapin, who became my cherished friend from that day forward.  We both had been frightened by the crowds and clung together on our little bench of refuge.

Ron and Susie's husband, Dwight, would leave soon after the President and Mrs. Nixon arrived at a Ball, to get to the next Ball location before they arrived.  Luckily, Susie and I were able to join them in the lead car in the motorcades.  After the last Ball, a secret service agent inside an elevator caught my eye and held out his hand.  I grabbed his hand and Susie's at the same time and he pulled us both into the elevator.  President and Mrs. Nixon were already inside.  Congratulations were relayed and everyone complimented everyone else on how beautiful all the ladies looked.  It was quite a moment, to say the least.


I worked as a volunteer on President Nixon's second Inaugural.  The offices were somewhere in an obscure part of Washington I'd never been to before.  Along with pals, Nancy Foust and JoAnne Jackson, we always got lost trying to get home after a day of volunteering and always wound up in dense traffic in the Pentagon parking lot. We laughed about this for years, but never could figure out how it happened. During the festivities, again Ron and Dwight worked and I was once again given a special place in the VIP section of history in the making.


This time it was Ronald Reagan who was being sworn in.  We sat with Corky and John Kinnear on the lawn of the Capitol as the sun came out and the announcement was made that our hostages in Iran had been released.  We walked toward the White House with a song in our heart taking great joy in the prospects for the future with our new President.  VIP's were being loaded on buses, headed for the reviewing stands.  Susan Davis spotted us and we jumped on board one of the buses.  Instead of stopping at the bleachers, the bus drove right into the White House parking area.  Our dear friend JoAnne Jackson was getting out of her car and we all hollered and hugged each other.  She took us into the West Wing of the White House where workers were up on ladders, changing the pictures on the walls from the Carters to the Reagans.  They saw Ron, and grinning from ear to ear, they got down off their ladders to tell him they were so glad to have him back.  We had lunch in the White House Mess with our pal, Ron Jackson.


It was Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush's second  and the 50th Presidential Inaugural.  After running their 1984 Republican Convention in Dallas, Ron was asked to be a Co-chair of the Inaugural, along with Michael Deaver.  As it turned out, Mike got sick and wound up in the hospital, so Ron wore both of their hats.  We had military aides that became wonderful friends.  The week-end before the swearing in was a gorgeous, sunny day.  Ron and I walked the entire length of the parade route from Capitol to White House, checking things out.  Then an artic blast moved in and by the next weekend, Ron was being advised to cancel the parade. The bitter cold would be unsafe for horses and people in polyester band uniforms. 

The extreme weather forced the swearing in to take place in the Capitol Rotunda and the parade was moved to the Cap Center, but otherwise we did all the traditional events we just watched the Obama's and Bidens do.  The morning church service at St. John's was so memorable because a shaft of sunlight highlighted only one person in the whole church, President Reagan.  It was a sight I'll never get over.  It seemed to me that God was shining on him because of the place he would hold in our history. The "bipartisan" luncheon between the swearing in and the parade was exciting, and probably delicious, but way too long. 

Mike Deaver was still in the hospital and Ron and I were asked if we wanted to make the whirlwind tour of the Inaugural Balls with the Reagans, instead of the Bush's as planned.  We said No, we'd stick with the Vice President and Mrs. Bush.  We made the round of ten Inaugural Balls.  The off-stage announcer would introduce Ron and he would introduce the Vice President.  Then both couples would dance for a few minutes, change partners, dance a little more and then take off for the next location.

The President and Vice President were on the same stage, only once.  They came together at the Kennedy Center.  The Bush party was already on the stage when the President and Mrs. Reagan joined us.  As they waved to the cheering crowd, our vantage point behind them, provided us with quite a unique view. The bright lights in front of them made Mrs. Reagan's white, one shouldered gown, completely see-through from behind.  She appeared to be stark naked.  I heard Mrs. Bush gasp at the same time I did, and later we vowed to keep what we had seen a secret.  We have done that all these years, but what the heck, it happened such a long time ago, and it sure was memorable.

George Walker Bush and Dick Cheney were being sworn in as President and Vice President.  Long time friends, Lynne and Dick asked Ron and me to be Honorary Inaugural Chairmen.  We were honored.  On the night of the Balls, we made the rounds with them.  The offstage announcer would introduce us, Ron would introduce Lynne and she'd introduce the Vice President.  Eleven times, at eleven different Balls we did the same thing.


Ron and I cherish our Inaugural memories.  We think we might hold the Guinness World Record for the most Inaugural Balls attended with a Vice President of the United States and a Second Lady.  We count a total of twenty-one.  Wonder if anyone can beat that?

May God grant President Obama the wisdom and the will to lead our country with fairness toward all her citizens.

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