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Monday, 18 May 2009

Jerry meets the President

An old colleague, Jerry Reitman, is involved with a charity that raises money for hospitals in the US and around the world (last year $245 million) that treated 17 million kids.

Once a year, they have an Event in Disneyworld to honour kids who have been treated - one from each state and from Canada, the UK, Ireland and Australia with family and siblings. They call these children Champions, and afterwards the US Champions go to Washington. This year Jerry, a past chairman of CMN, was invited. The children had a tour of the White House, then they and their families went to the South Lawn, and met the President.

Jerry said, He was great. He shook hands with every Champion, took a group and individual pictures and spent 20-30 minutes there...and even took questions from the kids. He then said to the kids, "I have go back to work in the Oval office but you know what, we have a new swing set just outside the oval office" and he pointed. "Would you like to try it out...it hasn't had much use so far."

The kids screamed and said yes. The President returned to the Oval office; the kids, their siblings, their families went over to the Swing set (more than just swings of course) ...and for the next half hour had a great time. (While the Secret Service went bonkers)

The swing set is about 75 feet from the Oval office...and we could see the President (through the bullet-proof glass) and who I presume were his secretaries or staff, looking out the window and smiling.

And then unannounced, unexpected, the President came out of the Oval office in shirt-sleeves and asked the kids how they liked the swing set...they all screamed again and he then returned to work. There were no outside press allowed. No CNN, NO networks. No Video. Of course everyone had a camera and took pictures by the thousands I'm sure, and the official White House Press office.

When Jerry met him, He asked what I did, and was as cordial and approachable as he appears on TV. He is totally unassuming, down-to-earth, and easy to speak with...although for someone as loquacious as me, I was a little tongue-tied!

As he was leaving to go outside to the kids, I said, "Oh by the way, Uncle Steve says hello!" He turned and said, " Uncle Steve?" And I said, " Steve Shields. He is my friend and next door neighbor, and was over for dinner last Saturday and said, if I met you to say hi, and to say what a great time he and Kay had last weekend when they stayed here at the White House."

And then the president knocked me out, when he said, "Get outa here. You really live next door to Steve...Steve and Marion and the family had a great time..."

(Steve Shields is the brother of Michelle Obama's mother Marion...Marion Robinson, whose maiden name was Shields).

Frankly, I have no idea whether Obama will be a great president. No doubt he will make dreadful mistakes. Who doesn't? And his room for manoeuvre is small. But you get a lot to like. The fact that there were no news reporters there struck me.

The website to remember is www.childrensmiraclenetwork.org.

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