This is the third in my WOW series of happenings through my years.
It was 1976. I was employed by the Jefferson County School System as Home, School and Community Coordinator. I worked out of the office of Human and Community Relations. We were in the beginning stages of implementing our court order to desegregate our School System and we were one of the busiest departments with in the system. Each morning was a buzz of activities as I worked to get 22 staff members on their way into the schools and community for the day.
A phone call on a busy Wednesday morning I did not need, however my secretary informed me I had to take the call. I said a quick hello and the response was, “Mrs. Key, this is the Office of the President calling from the White House.” I knew this was a staff joke so I responded, “and this is the Queen Of England from Buckingham Palace.” I heard a little laugh and the voice at the other end said, ” Mrs. Key this is the White House calling for President Ford requesting you meet with him in regard to the progress of your court order on integration”. I apologized for my flippancy and she proceeded to explain the arrangements that had been made for me – including air, hotel, and transportation to the White House and said they looked forward to my arrival the next day.
I arrived at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington and was presented an itinerary of where I should be at what time , how I would get there and how I would return. By this time my adrenaline was on overdrive and my self confidence must have taken another plane.
From the moment I put the phone down, until I arrived back home on Saturday, my brain felt disengaged from my body.
Since I had very little control at this point, I found myself sitting outside the Oval Office awaiting my call to enter. I will never forget my thoughts for those few minutes. What am I doing here? Why me? I am a high school dropout, not exactly the intellectual equal to visit and chat with the President of the United States. Before I could rationalize the situation I was in, I was being greeted by President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office.
What a wonderful experience! A kinder, more down to earth person I have never met. I was instantly at ease as he questioned me about our challenge to desegregate our schools in Louisville. The questions were of honest concern and I answered them as honestly as they were asked.
As he walked me to the door, I had to ask the question, “Why Me?” His answer was, I wanted someone who was working in the trenches that would give me straight answers and not what they think I want to hear. I could not have chosen anyone better, thank you. I will remember you told me not to use the integration of our public schools as a political football and I promise you, I will not.
This was a WOW I shall never forget.