When Margaret Truman and Julie Eisenhower were the featured speakers at the First Ladies Luncheon of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Society in 1988 and 1989, they talked about their mothers. But Maureen Reagan, this year's speaker, found it the perfect occasion to set the record straight about her father -- not about Nancy Reagan, her stepmother.
Let history note that in Maureen's recollection: "Ronald Reagan does not take naps. He never has in his life. As a child he hated naps, and as an adult he absolutely abhorred going to sleep when it was not bedtime."
Even in his White House days, Maureen said, he had to be forced to rest in the afternoon while he was recovering from the assassination attempt.
As for that famous picture of the president zonked out and pounding his ear during a long flight to Europe, well, Maureen Reagan said, that was all a fake. As soon as the president got on the plane he "lay down on the bunk and had them take a picture of him pretending to be sound asleep. Then he got up and said, 'Good. Now send that to Nancy. Now let's get to work.' "
Maureen debunked what she called another "myth" -- that Ronald Reagan had to have words put in his mouth because he was incapable of "thinking for himself."
As a matter of fact, the former president's loyal daughter said, "he happens to be one of the very best political speech writers in the United States." And Maureen, who was never shy about airing her views around the White House, said the president often handed her a speech writer's draft, asking, "What's wrong with this speech?" and "I would say, 'It turned your prose into boilerplate.' "
The great communicator also was a great storyteller to his kids, always making up tales with some kind of educational message, she said. He used to put himself into these stories, which sometimes offered a brand-new view of some of the great discoveries in science. Like the time he was a cold germ.
"He was having this wonderful life just living from larynx to nostril, wreaking havoc wherever he went," Maureen recalled. "And one day he was feeling tired and he found this green fluffy stuff, so he nestled himself down in this green fluffy stuff to take a nap."
That particular nap turned out to be fatal, and it may say something about Reagan's aversion to naps. As Maureen recounted this childhood tale at her father's knee: "In his next life he found out that was the beginning of penicillin." Iowa City artist Michael Roberts never dreamed that his fascination for what he calls "political intrigue" would lead to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Yet that's what appears to be in store for two portraits he's done of George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev. The work by this 42-year-old painter fascinated Ambassador Jack Matlock and his wife Rebecca so much that Esther Coopersmith, the doyen of U.S.-Soviet friendship, will personally deliver them to the Matlocks in Moscow this summer.
Larger than life-size, these head-and-shoulders portraits are painted in a realist style in acrylic on plywood and mounted on a base giving them a stand-up paper-doll effect.
Roberts says he came up with his approach several years ago because he likes current events and the "political intrigue" involved. While he's watching the nightly news on TV, he often takes photographs of people and scenes, and then re-creates them on plywood. He's done several paintings of Bush and Gorbachev, as well as one of China's Deng Xiaoping ("with bullet holes in him because he's an irritating guy," says Roberts), Dan Rather, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and other famous faces.
His work came to Coopersmith's attention through a circuitous route that began when Elizabeth Leach, a partner in the Washington gallery of Carega Foxley Leach on Connecticut Avenue NW, stopped by Roberts's studio last fall to see sculptures by his wife, Connie.
Roberts says Leach was "shocked" by his paintings, then decided to give them a try in Washington. Since then Roberts has done a number of commissions, including one of Leach's husband, Jim, who is an Iowa congressman, and another of House Speaker Tom Foley.
Coopersmith says she first saw the paintings in the Americana collection of John and Janet Wallach. She was so convinced that they belonged in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that she persuaded the Wallachs to sell them to her. She offered them to the Matlocks shortly before they returned to Moscow after the Gorbachev visit.
Roberts, who painted his first portrait when he was in the ninth grade and went on to study at the University of Iowa, calls his portraits funkier than historical paintings.
"They make a statement," he says. "Either you hate these guys or you love them. But in any case, they're people who influenced my life." In the June 8 issue of Publishers Weekly, Barbara Bush says she opposes suggestions for a national educational policy as a solution to what ails learning in America.
She thinks it ought to be up to the states and communities to decide how to educate their kids. "Because you have such different constituencies and because you want to have input on your children's education," she told PW's editor in chief, John F. Baker.
As for teaching kids to read, she says, the major problem isn't lack of money to pay professionals to do the job. She believes the problem starts with parents who don't read to their children.
Her own reading habits are voracious and need satisfying throughout the day. She says she and President Bush go to sleep reading every night. She also reads in the bathtub.
"I take several baths a day," she told Baker, "and I have a stand, so I just leave it there."
Embassy Row got a new resident last week when the Republic of the Marshall Islands moved in at 2433 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Coming from the Pacific island republic to dedicate his nation's first embassy here was President Amata Kabua. Formerly part of the old U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific, the Marshall Islands achieved sovereignty in 1986 and is the first of the Micronesian nations to open an embassy in Washington.