Lunch With Ford, Dinner With Reagan

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Unbeknownst to me, my first husband, Don, drove from Portales, NM, to Albuquerque, NM, and back to Portales in one day. Then he told me that he had just filed to run for US Congress from our district in New Mexico. I was so upset. We had lived only two years in New Mexico and were essentially unknown in the political world. Yes, we had discussed that someday we would get involved, but surely not when we had two children who needed our attention, were still paying for his Ph.D., and were living in a rent house we did not like. How ridiculous! is what I thought. Plus, I was also about to explode because there was no discussion. He let me rant and then said that I could either come along and enjoy this adventure or stay mad. Which would it be? He suggested I calm down and we go to get ice cream whenever I was ready.

This was the beginning of Don’s political career. I was still in my position with the ENMU Drug Prevention Center and loved all that I was learning about what kind of help people with mental health problems needed, not just drug abuse. I also was taking two classes a semester towards a degree. Don began campaigning on the weekends and then all of the time. A very awkward situation took place while he was gone at our house. It was a pretty Saturday morning. I was in the tub taking a quick bath. Expecting my cousin Lawanda, I left the front door open to come in when she arrived. When a knock came on the door, I expected it to be Lawanda. I said, “Come on in.” Then I heard the door open, and someone entered our living room. I called, “Lawanda, I am almost finished.” Then I heard a man’s voice say, “I am not Lawanda, but I will wait?” I was mortified. I had left the bathroom door open so that I could hear the kids playing outside, and thought “Is he where he can see me from the living room if I step out of the tub?” I intended to wrap a towel around me and go to my bedroom, but now what?” Thank goodness! I heard Lawanda’s voice. She was introducing herself to the unknown man.

I said, “Lawanda, can you come into the bathroom?” She did so and laughed when she saw my quandary! She then went into the bedroom and grabbed my robe for me to put on. I finally was able to get out of the tub. With a full-length robe on, I entered the living room to speak to the man that had to let himself in. It was State Senator Colin McMillan, head of the Republican Senate in New Mexico. He told us that he drove from out of town to see who this person no one knew of was that now is running on the Republican ticket for U.S. Congress! This visit became more embarrassing. We visited for a short time before he invited Don and me to a reception to meet others. It was to be held in Roswell, New Mexico, in a few weeks. He was then ready to leave. We stepped onto the front porch with him, saying, “Thank you for coming.” As he visited a few minutes more before leaving and was looking right at me, I leaned against the pillar on the front porch of our rental house, and the pillar fell off the porch. That wasn’t very pleasant. That did it. I planned to find a house to buy. I did find one just being finished and dealt directly with the builder. I also found a way to buy it. Don was stunned when he called home a few days later. I told him about Senator McMillan’s visit and said, “I am moving. I just made arrangements to purchase a home by trading the piece of land you previously bought(without telling me) in hopes of us building a home at a later date. You need to drop by home and sign some loan papers.” He knew not to say anything, and he did get home a few days later to sign those papers. Within a few weeks, the house was finished. Dawn, Johnny, and I moved ourselves to our new home.

We had only been in that home for a short while when a letter arrived from President Ford. The letter was addressed to Dr. and Mrs. Donald Trubey, so I opened it. We were invited to a week-long training for candidates running for Congress or Senate. Next, an invitation arrived in the mail personally inviting spouses to attend the training and a White House luncheon with President Ford. This all sounded like a great learning experience, and meeting President Ford at the White House would be an excellent experience. We both attended every single training they offered, and I was right. I had a great time the entire week. Spouses had our own training, and mentors critiqued us on our speaking. They made suggestions, such as I might want to change my party from Democrat to Republican. They also had us make presentations on subjects of their choosing. I was provided material to study before presenting. I disagreed with the material I read and objected to what they wanted me to say. My mentor helping me said, “You will need to know this because what you will be presenting what it is that your husband will be supporting with us.” Not wanting to offend Don, I relented and presented the source of information even though I did not believe what I was saying. It did not feel right. I wondered how many go to those offices and go against their own beliefs.

June 23, 1976, was the day of the luncheon, and I was excited. When it was time, a bus took our group to the White House. We got off the bus and walked to those stairs leading up to the door that I always saw on television. When we got to the top, Don said, “Wait here. I am going to find a bathroom and will come right back. Wait so that we can go upstairs together.” I said, “Go on, I will wait.” Then I turned around and watched as others were getting off the bus and heading up the stairs. Suddenly, I got a fun idea. “I can pretend to be the First Lady welcoming people to the White House.” I immediately imagined myself that way and began seeing what it might feel like to be “The First Lady.” I began shaking everyone’s hand, smiling and trying to help them feel more comfortable entering the White House. The soldier standing at attention leaned over me and said, “You know that you are not supposed to be doing this, don”t you?” I responded, “I assumed I was not, but I will only do it until my husband returns.” I continued welcoming each person, and he stepped back into position. That new energy moved through me, and apparently, I did take on a new facade while greeting each person preparing to enter the White House. Don returned and said, “What are you doing?” I smiled and said, “Pretending.” When I was going through the buffet line, several people looked at me and suddenly realized that I was the one standing at the door. Each one was stunned when they realized it was me that welcomed them. All commented on being with me the last four days and evenings and then not recognizing me “at all” when I greeted them. Some said they thought I was the First Lady or someone special. It worked. It was a great beginning.

Upstairs, Don and I entered a large room with a beautiful buffet prepared and ready for our luncheon. We each got a chance to visit with President Ford. Something fun happened when we were introduced. We both got tickled! He was questioning me, and I began questioning him. Something I said made him laugh. A gentleman then interrupted us and said that we had to stop talking because so many others were waiting to speak with him. I saw him only once more. A group of us wanted to eat dinner together that evening for memory’s sake, and no one seemed to be able to get a reservation within walking distance from the White House. I began talking to the Chef and others serving the buffet about where to go. The chef suggested a restaurant had previously turned us down. I shared that information, and the chef instructed me to go into the kitchen and tell them that he said I was to use the phone. They would help me. The cooks in the kitchen gave me the restaurant’s number to call and said, “I am calling from the White House and … ” when they first answered. I did just as they said. Immediately, they took my reservation under my name. As I hung up, I saw President Ford and his Secret Service men stepping into an elevator out of sight of others attending the luncheon. He tried to step off the elevator to come to finish our talk, but they would not let him do so. He called to me loud enough that I could hear him say, “Goodbye and thank you.” So that was my lunch and my meeting with President Ford.

Later during the campaign, Don ended up with what they thought was a bleeding ulcer. He happened to be at home. I took him to the hospital, and he was transferred to a larger one almost twenty minutes away in Clovis. He almost died. It was the beginning of cancer that he fought for the next five years of his life. However, we did not know that until six months before he really did die of cancer. The phone rang in his hospital room. He was to attend a dinner the next evening in Albuquerque, NM. It was a fundraiser, and Don was to receive part of the funds. People were expecting him. Understanding how bad he was, they asked if I could come. I did not want to leave him and go, but Don also wanted me to attend in his place. They said they would send a plane for me and see that I got to come home immediately after dinner. I made arrangements at work and for sitters to be with Dawn and Johnny and reluctantly went. I felt certain that I would be seeing Representative Manuel and Jean Lujan, and others that I recently met. Our US Senator, Pete Domenici, might also be there. When I arrived, I was quickly escorted to the downtown Hilton Hotel. They were sorry I did not get to come in time to attend the $1,000 cocktail party held earlier. Next, they showed me where to stand in line. Everyone that was to be in line was already in their position to enter the room—all but me. Someone said, “You will go in right before…and then I saw him… Ronald Reagan.” I had no idea he was going to be at the dinner. They introduced me to him. We shook hands and smiled. Then the ones ahead of us began entering as the M.C. announced their names. The ballroom where the $100 a plate dinner took place was well lit. I noted that we would have to walk across the entire ballroom to get to the stairs to go up on the stage. When it was my turn, I was surprised when they turned all of the lights off in the entire room. It was dark. Then they put a spotlight on me the entire way across the floor as they played “If You Knew Susie Like I Knew Susie…” At the time, I was going by Susie as I had done from the time I was a few months old. (I did not switch to “Susanne” until I got out of that bad second marriage. I wanted to go back to my pure self and began by going back to the name on my birth certificate, which was “Susanne.”)

After I got onto the stage, a gentleman directed me to my chair next to the empty one by the podium. Next, I watched as the lights came back on, and Ronald Reagan walked across the room to his music. To this day, I do not know why I got the spotlight on me. Ronald Reagan sat by my side next to the podium. He was to be the main speaker for the evening. We visited lots during dinner. He had no one on his other side, so it was only me or be silent. W had fun. We talked about everything from marriage to taxes to children. Ronald Reagan told me that he brought California out of a bad situation, but he had to raise taxes to do it. He also shared that he had been studying taxes on bread. He said that it would only cost pennies if we could eliminate all of the taxes on bread. We left that discussion and visited about his love for Nancy. Then he looked at me and said out of the clear blue sky, “Nancy has an excellent astrologer. In fact, Susie, I use her when I am stumped and have needed to make a difficult decision. She has been a great help.” I thought that was very interesting. I remembered his words, and in l988, I had my first reading by an astrologer and thought of Ronald Reagan as I was trying to figure out some of my most difficult choices in life and why I made them. I learned that she had written many books. She became a great friend when we both lived in Norman. She is an excellent person as well as an excellent astrologer. Gloria Star is her name.

Don died at midnight November 30th/December 1st. Sixteen years later, after marrying John and moving back to Pauls Valley, where I was born and where so many relatives live or have lived and where both sets of grandparents lived, I went to the courthouse and changed back to Democrat as I was beginning to see how beliefs were changing in the Republican party. Do we really need something that labels us? We are all God’s children, and we are all unique.

LESSON: When we begin seeing Self differently, we can do wonders. When our mind begins to agree with our heart and soul, miracles happen! (I would not ever have gotten that position at ENMU at the drug abuse center if I had not followed my boss’s advice in Iowa City and started seeing myself as “executive” material. Seeing myself that way involved turning down four other jobs first as I waited for an executive position. (My mind worked fast to give me a new energy surge and different energy as I played the role of “First Lady at the door, which was just absolutely fun.”) Of course, I was doing a simple affirmation in my mind “I am First Lady, and I am welcoming my guests.”

GIFTS: I got to meet President Ford and watch how personable he was as he related to people. When I think of him, he makes me smile. This whole week of Ford’s training was a gift to me. I learned about, participated in, and actually watched the training for congressional candidates and spouses. This training gave me opportunities to plant seeds in the minds of those running for office about the need for mental health funds from the federal level to every state, talking about how it would help individuals and their families and our law enforcement officers.

Dawn and Johnny were with a great couple they liked for the week. I did not have to worry about them. (I was generally the one to stay home and take care of Dawn or find a babysitter to take care of them, if necessary, to meet Don on the weekends to help his campaign. I attempted to keep the family intact, attend children’s events if possible, and worked to support the family financially. Not having his salary was hard during both of his campaigns.

I was stunned when I looked up and saw that Ronald Reagan was right behind me in line and that it was him that helped guide me about what I was to do. After Don’s death, Ronald Reagan mailed a 9 x 11 color picture of us talking after dinner to me. The picture included him, our friend Congressman Manuel Lujan, and me. Ronald Reagan signed the picture and wrote a note on the back. Manuel also signed it. When he became President a few months after signing that picture. Manuel Lujan, Jr., became Secretary for the Interior under him. I received a letter asking if I would be interested in a position in his administration. I wrote back something like: “No because I feel like I need to remain in Portales and maintain a stable home for Dawn and Johnny until they finish high school.” Ha! A year later, that changed. Ask my children about those next years with dating and a marriage that was “not good.” They had anything but a stable environment! Lessons are hard; they do teach us!

Being at that event and visiting with Ronald Reagan was not only a great diversion from sitting in the hospital room watching Don while he was in so much pain, but it turned into a delightful evening that I did not think I would enjoy until I got there. We never missed another dinner. I was always with Don at the head table.

2 thoughts on “Lunch With Ford, Dinner With Reagan”

  1. Cadijah Brown says:

    How exciting!

  2. I don’t think the title of your article matches the content lol. Just kidding, mainly because I had some doubts after reading the article.

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