Santa Claus is not the only annual visitor to Children's Hospital. For the fourth year in a row, Nancy Reagan paid a holiday call. My associate, Beth Schwinn, was on hand for the First Lady's visit yesterday. Her report:
After weeks of preparation at the hospital and the White House, Nancy Reagan made her annual visit to Children's Hospital yesterday, to meet patients, distribute dolls and donate $25,000 to the hospital.
Just as elaborate, however, was the trouble the staff and children took to welcome her and ease her visit. Children were ready in playrooms in each unit so Mrs. Reagan would be able to visit as many children as possible during her three-hour stay.
One unit lined up along a hall as she passed, wanting to know whether she had arrived in a limo, and speculating on how rich she must be to have bought so many dolls.
"Of course she's rich," said one. "She's the president."
The children themselves had made signs and banners in Mrs. Reagan's honor for each floor. In the adolescents' unit, Mrs. Reagan was greeted with a group song and a piano solo by one of the patients.
"The children all look forward to her coming," said Elaine Frevert, the vice president for nursing. "The staff looks on it as a tradition. We remember her and feel she remembers us."
After Mrs. Reagan passed by, there were a number of dazed faces and lots of Huggins dolls, which she had brought along to hand out. The dolls were stuffed playthings between one and two feet high, dressed in peach-colored fur and satin baby clothes and with various hair colors and expressions -- a cross between Miss Piggy and a Cabbage Patch doll.
Most of the patients Mrs. Reagan visited did not recognize the dolls. Not so Shawn Morgan of Mitchellville, Md., who is returning home in a few days after a bout with epiglottitis.
"That's a Huggins," the five-year-old told the First Lady after she had incorrectly described it to him as a bear.
Shawn accepted her offer of a doll for his sister, Jenny, who is 4 1/2 years old. But, to his parents' surprise, he refused one for his 2 1/2-year-old brother Colin. "He wouldn't want one," said Shawn.
Marcia Posner felt very lucky to have brought her son, Eric, 5, in for his eye checkup on the day Mrs. Reagan visited, especially because her 16-year-old daughter Carole's hospitalization last year also coincided with Mrs. Reagan's visit.
Mrs. Reagan had stopped to chat with Carole, her mother recalled, and shook hands. "It was painful (Carole was in the hospital with orthopedic problems) but she said it was worth it," the mother remembered. "She was awed by the fact that Mrs. Reagan singled her out. She still has the doll."
Eight-month-old Justine Williams charmed Mrs. Reagan's entourage by smiling back at the First Lady. Justine had stomach surgery on Monday, but went home right after Mrs. Reagan's visit.
"She's always this cheerful," reported her mother, Alicia Williams of Waldorf. "The nurses didn't want to let her out of the recovery room after she woke up on Monday."
Alicia Williams restrained her daughter from chewing on the doll's nose, and continued, "I'm going to save this for her, and show it to her when she's old enough, and tell her Nancy Reagan gave it to her when she was in the hospital."
Although the White House staff brought 300 dolls, solemnly handed out by Secret Service agents, the supply ran out. More will be delivered to the hospital today for children who didn't receive one, according to a hospital official.
The $25,000 check Mrs. Reagan presented to the hospital represented a gift from the sponsors of the annual NBC program, "Christmas in Washington." The program was broadcast on Sunday.
As she left one unit, Mrs. Reagan said she looked forward to visiting again next year. Hospital staffers look forward to it, too.
"You'd expect this to be an unhappy time of year at the hospital ," said Elaine Frevert. "But, with events like this, it's very pleasant."
Another famous Washingtonian has done Children's Hospital a great deal of good in recent days. His name is Joe Theismann.
More than $1,200 has been donated to the hospital in Theismann's name since the Redskin quarterback broke his leg on Nov. 18. Theismann had asked that fans donate money to the hospital in lieu of sending flowers to his room at Arlington Hospital.
"Joe himself sent a lot of flowers over, his room was so full," said Joyce Buck of the Children's development office. "His main objective was to have the money which would have gone into these gifts sent to Children's."
Buck said that donations in Theismann's name have slowed to a trickle. But she thinks they may increase again as a result of Washington's victory over Cincinnati on Sunday. All "Theismann money" will go into the hospital's general fund.
Here's a theatrical way you can help yourself and Children's Hospital at the same time.
The Port City Playhouse is a nonprofit tax-exempt, 10-year-old performing arts company in Alexandria. Like so many nonprofit organizations, Port City is currently looking to sell memberships. A Port City membership costs $22.50.
But here's the welcome twist: For each new member who signs with Port City between now and Jan. 24 (the end of my Children's Hospital campaign), the playhouse will donate $2.50 to the campaign.
Membership entitles you to a seat at each of Port City's four productions a year. To sign up, or for further information, contact Port City Playhouse, P.O. Box 2711, Alexandria, Va., 22301. The phone number is 780-0206.
Another group walking an extra mile for sick kids is the Association of Foreign Service Women.
These women were greatly taken by my call to collect foreign coins for the benefit of Children's. They point out that the State Department (their stomping grounds) is where lots of foreign coins tend to congregate. So AFSW has set up collection points for foreign coins at State.
Once the coins are in hand, the AFSW will take them to Ruesch International, a coin exchange at 1140 19th St. NW, which has generously offered to convert the coins into American money and send the proceeds to the hospital.
There will be two collection points at State: the Book Room (Room 1524) and the Housing Office (Room 1254). Both are in the main State building on 23rd Street NW.
Book Room hours between now and Christmas are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Housing Office hours are 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Finally, here's a Children's letter that really "got" me. I trust it'll get you, too.
It comes from Laurie G. Kirk of Northwest, who contributed $25 to our annual fund-raising campaign -- even though she is unemployed.
"I hope that this small amount will be of some benefit to 'little ones' whose problems are still greater than mine," Laurie writes.
If someone as strapped as Laurie can find a spare $25, readers, can't we do the same? Or better?
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.