Terrence Moore, Guest Columnist
So there I was, 43 years after living in Dennison Hall as a freshman at Miami University, standing in the East Room of the White House among the chosen media for the last official act of President Barack Obama.
I still can’t believe it.
Before a lively crowd in mid-January on the Monday of the King Holiday Weekend, the occasion was to honor the Chicago Cubs for winning their first World Series in 108 years. I observed it all for Sports on Earth.com, and then I wrote a column about the Cubs, the President of the United States and the many times I threatened to pinch myself throughout the afternoon.
My collection of splendid moments began at the West Gate of the White House, where a Secret Service agent wanted my driver’s license or some other form of identification. After he studied my ID and the sheet of paper on the other side of the window, I was on the list. I knew I would be, but when I actually was, wow.
I moved through the metal detector, and on the other side, another Secret Service agent gave me a red tag about the size of a credit card to wear on a chain around my neck. Just like that, I had an official White House media pass, but I couldn’t believe what I saw. No picture of something such as the Rose Garden. Neither did it feature Dolley Madison running out of the burning building with a portrait of George Washington in her hands nor any of the slew of White House pets through the years.
It simply said “press.”
Up ahead was the West Wing, home of the Oval Office, along with something just as poignant to me, which is the White House press room. I thought of Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, Sam Donaldson and all of those other White House reporters of lore. Before long, we were signaled to come outside for something the veterans of the room called “The Gathering,” and then a small guy took us up some big steps, down a sidewalk and through the front doors of the White House.
‘I mean, am I really HERE,’ I kept thinking, with members of the United States Marine Band playing catchy tunes in their red uniforms from the lobby as we took a left turn into the East Room. Everything happened in this place, ranging from the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the performing of great artists such as Aretha Franklin to the placing of caskets bearing Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and five other deceased presidents on platforms across the way.
With my mind dancing between the past and the present, the Cubs entered the room in single file to trigger a standing ovation from the packed house singing “Go Cubs Go” at the top of their lungs. That was great, but this was greater: Somebody on the public address system announced the arrival of “The President of the United States,” and the place roared even more.
President Obama was hilarious, and then he was serious, and then he was hilarious again. Then after a few Cubs-flavored gifts from team officials and players to the man with just five days remaining as Commander In Chief, the whole thing was over.
It still lives in my soul, and it will forever.
Which brings me to some final thoughts on my latest trip to the White House:
— No, that wasn’t my first time in the Executive Mansion beyond a regular tour. I was part of the media contingent in January 1996, when President Bill Clinton honored the Atlanta Braves in the East Room for winning the World Series the previous year.
— After I dissect both White House trips, my biggest thrill came during the first one, when I met the late Helen Thomas, the legendary wire-service writer who was called on by every president from Kennedy through Obama to ask the first question of press conferences. She was so kind, because she answered all of my questions, and I had a lot of them. I had more, but I didn’t want her to miss any deadlines.
— I’ve now been up close and personal with 6 1/2 U.S. Presidents. I’ve met Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush when they were out of office. I’ve been in the same room with Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama when they were presidents. The “1/2” was Lyndon Johnson, who flew by our window at school in a helicopter as president when I was in the third grade in South Bend, Ind. I also touched the fingertips of a near U.S. President in Robert F. Kennedy, just two months before his assassination.