Charlotte Filmore, 100 years old and a big fan of President Clinton, got her New Year's wish yesterday to meet him--and then some. For more than 30 minutes, the president of the United States held her hand as they talked about children and education.
Looking more like old friends than people who had just met, Clinton and Filmore sat side-by-side in the Oval Office, he on a gold-and-red striped couch and she next to him in her wheelchair. He listened intently as the retired educator spoke.
"This is a good president," she said. "He has touched so many. This president has opened up doors for children and education. I watch him on TV."
Then turning to Clinton, she said, "I keep tabs on you."
The president chuckled.
"You are entitled to say what you want," he assured her.
Filmore was profiled in The Washington Post this month, talking about her long life in Washington as a maid, caterer and then founder of the Filmore Early Learning Center, which opened in her Adams-Morgan house when she was 70. As 2000 approached, she said she hoped to see the 21st century and have a chance to express her gratitude to the president.
She got both wishes.
A White House aide said Clinton read the Jan. 6 article in the District Weekly and immediately asked his staff to make arrangements for Filmore to come to the White House for his weekly live radio address.
She arrived yesterday morning at the northwest gate on Pennsylvania Avenue and was ushered in through the diplomatic entrance, usually reserved for ambassadors and members of Congress. This was a decided step up from the days, almost 50 years ago during the Eisenhower administration, when she had to use the side door whenever she came to the White House to help take coats at large receptions.
During his five-minute speech, Clinton spoke of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday that will be celebrated tomorrow. Then he said: "I'm joined by Charlotte Filmore. . . . Through the years, she has seen her share of discrimination. For a time, she even worked in the White House--and back then she had to use a side door. Well, today, Charlotte Filmore came to the White House and walked through the front door."
After his radio remarks, Clinton acknowledged the applause from the audience, then turned to Filmore and applauded her.
"You'll have to excuse me," the startled centenarian said to about 80 people in the room. "I have to regain my composure."
She raised her right forefinger in the air, much as she probably did when she ran a day-care center and wanted the children's attention.
"This young man and his wife have put their lives in danger to travel the world and bring world figures back here to talk," she said to an absolutely silent room. "This president and his wife have opened up the doors for children and have done so much for education."
Clinton beamed. He held her hands and gave her a kiss as everyone applauded again.
After talking with other guests, the president sat down next to Filmore, who was wearing a new beige dress for the occasion. Her deep orange and black scarf nearly matched his tie.
For the next half-hour, the regal great-grandmother had the full attention of the president.
"Thank you for everything, dear," she said, still holding Clinton's hand. "Thank you so much. I hope I'll be around for a while. . . . I wish I could walk. I've got a good mind, and honey, it is good! It's my legs, they're not so good."
Then, Filmore was off to the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown for a reception arranged by Les Butler, a friend who looks after her. Filmore is able to live alone in her Adams-Morgan third-floor apartment with the help of Butler, 44, who is a health communications specialist. He met Filmore at a fund-raiser for her school in 1978.
Another person profiled in The Post recently, Luis Manuel Gonzalez, well-known in the area from his days as a jazz trumpeter, also had expressed a wish to see the White House. The Cuban native turned 95 on Jan. 10, and recently received his own invitation from the White House for a special tour.