1978 – Visiting the White House by Karsten Rist

Karsten Rist

Jimmy Carter was little known outside of his home state of Georgia, where he had served as governor, when he announced that he would run for president. During his primary campaign for the democratic nomination his victory in Florida was of special significance because it gave Carter’s campaign a much needed boost and attracted national attention. For this reason President Carter threw a party for his Florida supporters in the White House in March of 1978.
Carol had been active in the League of Women Voters and had been interested in politics for years. I had been president of the Broward County Audubon Society for the preceding three years. While both of us were definitely supportive of the Carter administration there were surely people in Broward County who were more deserving of being invited to the White House. Nevertheless, we received a beautiful engraved invitation to Carter’s party. We decided to go.
When I instructed the cab driver:”To the White House, please!” his response was unexpected: “Oh my god – and my cab is all dirty.” The guard at the South Gate checked our name on a typewritten list and asked for identification. With that Carol and I were on our way to enter the residence of American presidents since John Adams.
The entire first floor was open for the reception. We had time to admire the beautiful decor and the furnishings in the French Empire style of the early 19th century. What a place to throw a party! The visitors from Florida seemed to be somewhat in awe of their surroundings. There was a feeling of: “You mean I can actually sit on Dolly Madison’s sofa ?” and “Let me strike a pose before the crackling fireplace in the Red Room !” The stately canvasses of Washington, Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and a score of other notables were observing the proceedings with dignity and a sharp eye. We said hello to friends and acquaintences. The guest list was known to have been selected to represent a broad cross section of Carter supporters and we decided that we fit the category of “common folk”.
Around 7:00 PM President Carter gave a short address in the East Room. He said some warm and friendly words about his primary campaign in Florida. He was accompanied by his family. To everybody’s delight, grandson Jason, held by his mother, led the cheers. After the address, a receiving line formed in the Blue Room. When my turn came I said something to President Carter about how much fun the members of the Broward County Audubon Society had mailing empty cans in support of a bottle bill (A bill which would require a deposit when beer or soft drinks are sold in cans and bottles). Alas, my lobbying efforts must be judged a failure. I do not think it is humanly possible for the receiver in the line to focus attention on a different person every five or ten seconds. A small band of Air Force musicians was playing dance music in the Entrance Hall. “May I ask Mylady for a dance ?”.
The evening came to an end all too soon. As we walked down the driveway toward Pennsylvania Avenue Carol said: “Don’t walk so fast. We’ll probably never be back.” We halted and looked back. Behind a lattice of black, leafless branches the gleaming white columns of the North Portico reached into the purple night sky of Washington. An image to remember.

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