Charlotte Filmore leans forward in her wheelchair to confide a special wish, one she hopes will be filled quickly.
"I want to see Mr. Clinton at the White House," she said.
A retired educator, Filmore admires Clinton for his interest in education. And, having seen a lot of presidents come and go, she said Clinton is the best of them all.
"That man and his wife have opened more doors in education than anyone else," she said. "I wish I could tell him how I feel."
However, Filmore is feeling the pressure of time. She is 100.
Filmore has seen the inside of the White House plenty of times, but that was when she was taking coats for guests of President Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower. On a bookcase across from her living room couch are framed and signed photographs, one a portrait of a smiling Eisenhower, the other of Mamie Eisenhower posing in one of her signature full-skirted dresses. Each is signed to Filmore.
Filmore said she was a housekeeper for Mamie Eisenhower's personal secretary, Mary Jane McCaffree, and McCaffree would ask Filmore to help out at the White House for large receptions.
In those days, she went to work through the side door, on the east end of the building. If her wish to meet Clinton were granted, Filmore said, she'd like to arrive at the front door.
While working at the White House, Filmore became fond of Mamie Eisenhower and bristles if anyone renews an old rumor the first lady was an alcoholic.
"No, no, no," she said. "She wasn't a drinker. She had scarlet fever as a child and that was her problem."
The assistant director of the Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kan., Mack Teasley, said there was no evidence Mamie Eisenhower was a heavy drinker, nor did she have scarlet fever. He said people often mistook her balance difficulties--because of Meniere's syndrome, an inner-ear problem--for alcoholism. It actually was rheumatic fever that Eisenhower suffered as a child, he said, that caused her to fatigue easily.
The work Filmore did at the White House was just a brief chapter in her long life. Born in Prince George's County on Oct. 2, 1899, she said her family was both black and American Indian. She particularly remembers her grandmother's straight black hair and high cheekbones. Filmore has those same facial features, and her long braided hair, which she wears coiled on top of her head, is black with generous streaks of gray.
Around age 17, she moved to Washington and began working as a cook and maid. At 6 feet tall, Filmore is an imposing woman even when seated. As a child, she said, she was always tall for her age and people thought she was older than she was, so getting a job was never a problem.
Filmore said her proudest accomplishment was opening the Filmore Early Learning Center in her home on Ontario Road NW about 1970. She said she worked several jobs and rented out rooms to Antioch Law School students to finance the center, where neighborhood preschool children could come free for the day.
In a 1983 Washington Post story about the center, Filmore was seeking help to keep it open. At the time, 25 Adams-Morgan children ages 2 to 6 were enrolled. The center closed about 1990, Filmore said.
Les Butler, a health communication specialist, met Filmore at a United Black Fund dinner in 1978 and they became friends. He said he makes dinner for her four days a week and helps her to get into bed at night.
"She is a great spiritual adviser to me," he said. "She has become like family."
Butler, 44, said Filmore speaks often of Clinton.
"She keeps saying she has two wishes. One is to meet President Clinton so she can thank him in person for all the good he has done for people of color and for all he has done in education," Butler said. "The other is to make it in the year 2000 so she can say she has lived in three centuries."
One wish down, one to go.
CAPTION: Charlotte Filmore, 100, was a housekeeper for Mamie Eisenhower's personal secretary and helped out at the White House, using a side entrance. One of her wishes is to be invited back and enter by the front door. "I want to see Mr. Clinton at the White House," she says.
CAPTION: Filmore's other wish was to live to see 2000. She said her proudest accomplishment was opening the Filmore Early Learning Center in her home.