Humorist speaks at the White House

Jeanne Robertson has made a career of talking. And for some people who talk a lot, it's hard to keep a secret. But not Jeanne, Alamance County's nationally honored professional speaker and humorist.

She kept a secret from me and a lot of other people recently, although it was something she would have loved to have told the world. It concerned a speaking engagement on her calendar. A very special speaking engagement. One she had long dreamed about. And now, after the fact, she can let the secret be known. She spoke last week at the White House.

I saw her last Saturday night at her appearance at Elon University, and the former Miss North Carolina told me that she had something she really wanted to tell me but could not. I knew then it had to be something outstanding.

But a couple of days later she was free to tell me about one of the most exciting experiences of her long career. She was the featured speaker for a weeklong program in which White House volunteers were honored, a part of National Volunteer Week. And she had been absolutely forbidden by White House staff from making any preliminary mention of the appearance.

Jeanne said overall there are some 1,300 volunteers who work in the White House, answering the phone, opening mail, and performing other special tasks. There are about 400 working every day, and some of them have been on the job 25 years.

Her speech was in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. The auditorium seats 130, but they had to bring in extra chairs. She was told the room had never been filled for this program before. Most speakers in the past had been in-house - the White House chef, Air Force One pilot, etc. Jeanne was the first humorist ever to speak there, and she left them in stitches, as she does with all her audiences. When she mentioned Elon University, there was big applause. Many in the audience live in the northern Virginia area, a fertile recruiting ground for prospective Elon students.

She and husband, Jerry, and longtime associate Toni Meredith had a 2 1/2-hour tour of the White House on Sunday, and she said it made her proud to be an American as she walked through that house and experienced the history that is there.

Jeanne had always wanted to speak there, and she came up with the idea of volunteering her services to help honor those volunteers who play a big role in keeping the White House running each day. That's in keeping with her role as a trustee of Elon University, where volunteerism is a major part of the overall program.

On that same theme, Jeanne had spoken Friday night in Hattiesburg, Miss. in a charity appearance for victims of Hurricane Katrina, an area in which Elon students continue to work.
There was big sign with a picture of Jeanne outside the Washington auditorium where she spoke, and that is now a part of her souvenir collection for years of travel and speaking.
And there was another sign there she will remember as well. It read:
"The true strength of America lives in the hearts and souls of our volunteers."
It was signed by George W. Bush.

The White House visit is no longer a secret, and we here in Alamance County can share Jeanne's pride in the fact that she helped bring laughter to some very special people in a very special place and realized a dream in the process.

Printed with permission: Don Bolden, Editor Emeritus, The Times News.

Don Bolden columns appears every Sunday.
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