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D.C. Nurse a Speaker At Clinton Library

Dedication Tomorrow in Little Rock

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2004; Page B01

She still had to get to the cleaners and the hairdresser and a reception to toast her at Greater Southeast Community Hospital, where she is a nurse. Then there would be a TV interview before she would dash off to Dulles for her flight to Little Rock.

If Gloria Hackman was a bit harried, her broad smile radiated pride as she sat in her family's rowhouse near H Street NE this week, pausing to eat a hamburger and fries from McDonald's.


Gloria Hackman takes a congratulatory call. She speaks at the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock tomorrow. (Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

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"Isn't this something?" she asked, as her 90-year-old mother sat in the adjoining room, chuckling.

Tomorrow, Hackman will speak in praise of Bill Clinton at the dedication of his presidential library, a celebration that is to draw President Bush and two former presidents in addition to Clinton.

"Twenty-five thousand people," she said, the words rolling slowly off her lips. "Boy!"

Hackman, 47, the daughter of a shoeshine man and a cleaning lady, met Clinton five years ago, when he introduced air-quality regulations at Maury Elementary School in Northwest, where she worked as a nurse and taught children about preventing asthma.

Hackman's role that morning was to talk about her program and to introduce the president before a large audience and a phalanx of television cameras. It was her first public speaking engagement, and when she finished, Clinton embraced her, placed his cheek on hers and told the crowd that "as a son and a grandson of a nurse, I like hearing her speak."

A reminder of that moment is still enough to make Hackman swoon. "Electrifying," she said.

Several weeks ago, Hackman received a telephone call from the Clinton Presidential Center, asking if she would be interested in speaking at the dedication. It took her all of a moment to agree.

Hackman flew to Arkansas yesterday with Larry, her 11-year-old son, taking along a fur coat, a snazzy black suit and three disposable cameras to capture her sharing a stage with American political royalty.

Her turn in the program will come after the introductions of Bush, Clinton, former presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter and the playing of "Hail to the Chief" and the national anthem. Hackman is one of six people who will offer brief testimonials about Clinton, a group that includes a single mother from Philadelphia, who is to speak about his welfare-to-work initiatives, and Deborah and Chris Bredbenner of Riverdale, who acquired affordable health insurance coverage for their children under a program created by his administration.

Hackman, a nurse for 24 years, is to talk about the measures Clinton instituted to reduce air pollution produced by automobiles by up to 95 percent. Her remarks were written for her by Clinton's aides.

"As a nurse, it's nice to get recognition," Hackman said. "A lot of times, it's only the doctor who gets recognized. They're important, don't get me wrong. But the doctors come in for 15 minutes. The nurses are there all day."

Hackman was born and raised in the District, one of four children born to Booker and Nancy Carrington. Her father, who died in 1996, shined shoes at various downtown locations for more than 50 years; her mother cleaned houses for families in Northwest Washington.

After graduating from Spingarn Senior High School in Northeast, Hackman got her nursing degree from the University of the District of Columbia before working at Greater Southeast from 1982 to 1991. She moved to Virginia Beach for five years before returning to the District, where she became the nurse at Maury.

While teaching the class on asthma at Maury, she found that 25 of the school's 315 students suffered from the disorder.

When the White House was searching for a site for Clinton to introduce air-quality standards, the D.C. chapter of the American Lung Association recommended Maury. The lung association sponsored the "Open Airways" program that Hackman taught at the school.

Rolando A. Andrews, chief executive of the association's District chapter, said that his organization has made little progress in persuading city officials to institute the "Open Airways" program at more public schools even as public health officials have recognized asthma as a problem for children in urban areas. He said the program is offered in 13 of 104 D.C. elementary schools.

"We haven't been able to properly secure the funding," he said. "I keep on pushing for it."

Hackman gave up her post at Maury several years ago and these days works part time at night, tending to prisoners in Greater Southeast's inmate ward. She prefers part-time work at the moment so she can devote herself to caring for her son, who is enrolled in a home-schooling program.

After Greater Southeast officials learned that Clinton had invited Hackman to the dedication, they hosted a reception in her honor in a boardroom five floors below where she normally works.

A parade of hospital administrators and nurses whom she did not know showed up to shake her hand.

"A famous lady. We're very proud of you," nurse Teresita Bantug told her.

Afterward, as Hackman rushed to her car so she could make it to the cleaners before closing time, she searched through her bags for her jumble of keys.

They were in her hand.

"Overwhelmed," she sighed, as she hopped in her car and sped off.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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