A group of Nancy Reagan's friends have pooled their resources to come up with an unusual birthday present for the first lady. But finding something for the woman who has almost everything isn't easy.
The dozen or so friends, including Bendix vice president Nancy Reynolds and publicists Robert Keith Gray and Peter Hannaford, quietly raised $3,900 in Nancy Reaganhs name to renovate a swimming pool for the handicapped in Southeast Washington. According to Sheila Tate, the first lady's press secretary, Nancy Reagan will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the pool this Monday, which coincides with her birthday.
Gray said he learned from the D.C. Department of Recreation that the swimming pool -- an indoor facility built in 1977 at the D.C. Center for Therapeutic Recreation, 3030 G. St. SE -- was badly chipped and was not scheduled to open this summer because there was not enough money for repairs. He said the idea "was that we should do something fun in her [Nancy Reagan's] name."
But a spokeswoman at the center said yesterday that the four-year-old pool was not in disrepair. What's more, Dr. James Hinkle, chief of special programs at the center, said the pool had already had its yearly maintenance. "I don't know nothing about Mrs. Reagan," he said.
Gray said he sent a letter to the center, offering to pick up the $3,900 tab, which is what he was told it would cost to get the pool repaired. He was told that it had not been operational this year.
"That's not true," said Alexis Roberson, acting director of the D.C. Department of Recreation. "The pool's been open all season. It needed its regular repairs. Sandblasting and painting are standard operating procedure. We went there and did our normal maintenance."
Asked about the birthday gift from Nancy Reagan's friends, Roberson said, "I don't know anything about it."
Contacted later, Gray said he didn't want to get in the middle of the swimming pool snafu. "If they say they didn't need it, well, that's not what we were told. If they don't, so be it."
Sheila Tate, Nancy Reaganhs press secretary, tried to clear up the confusion.
"I KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON," she said late yesterday afternoon after a flurry of phone calls. "We asked them to keep it a secret."
A phone call from Roberson. Well, yes, she said. She did know about the birthday present after all. It was supposed to be a surprise. She said the $3,900 donation, the largest cash gift to the department, was unusual. "We try to get help, particularly with the budget crunch. We get a lot of 'in kind' contributions. We don't so often get money," she said.
The Good Humour Co., she said, recently donated 15,000 pounds of ice cream (which has a retail value of $22,000) to the department. She also said that they have a trust fund and that one employe's salary is paid by a private citizen.
As for the swimming pool, "The contractor is going to send the bill to Bob Gray," she said. Roberson estimated the tab could come in $100 under budget -- about $3,800.
Helen Jo Hillman, director of the center, said yesterday the pool would have opened even without the donation.
Tate said she visited the facility, one of two swimming pools in Washington specifically built for the handicapped, earlier this week. "It was a real problem. The paint was flaking away." Tate said she didn't know how long the pool had been closed, but it had ben drained of water. Tate said the pool had been drained for the repair work but that it would be filled by Monday.
"To my mind," said Sheila Tate, "it was a very nice gesture on the part of her friends."