In 1961 President John F. Kennedy began a series of luncheons with newspaper publishers. Even Mrs. Kennedy hosted a luncheon in April of that year in the East ballroom for 196 women who worked in news, radio, television and magazines. In October, 1961 Tri-City Herald publisher Glenn Lee was invited and his experience is reprinted here. Too bad he didn't bring a camera. Accompanying this story is the original photo...one of Lee himself.
Herald publisher tells of his luncheon with President
By Glenn C. Lee, Herald publisher
Published on October 22, 1961
WASHINGTON -- Something that I never thought could ever happen to me, occurred Friday -- I walked past the high metal fence on Pennsylvania Avenue and up the stairs into the White House where I had lunch with the President of the United States.
Now as I think back on it, there is a sense of unreality about the experience -- as if it never happened.
But it did happen and I was there. And believe me it was quite an experience.
I wasn't alone of course. There were 17 of us, all publishers of newspapers in Washington State. Thirteen of us were from daily newspapers. Four were from weekly papers.
Everything started a week ago when I received a telegram from the President in which he stated he would appreciate having the opportunity to discuss with me regional, national and international problems. Would I have lunch with him at the White house on Friday, Oct. 20, at 1 p.m., he asked?
My first response was to check with the telegraph office to see who was pulling my leg. But I discovered instead that it was a legitimate telegram and I quickly wired my acceptance.
A trip to Washington D.C. is not an inexpensive thing. It's cheaper and shorter to fly to Hawaii but the money invested in the trip back East was money well spent.
I came away from the luncheon a much better-informed person and with new faith in our government and in our American processes.
The luncheon, as I mentioned, was for 1 p.m. If I had a nickel for every time I looked at my watch Friday morning, ti would have paid for the trip. At about 12:20 I hopped a taxi in front of my hotel and went to the White House entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.
I identified myself at the guardhouse, was cleared, given instructions and walked up the circling walk to the main entrance of the White House -- a place I have seen thousands of times in pictures.
An attendant met me at the main-entrance door and escorted me to the Red Room -- a reception room, just off the right from the main lobby. I had a moment to gaze at the lobby. It was big and busy and guards and secret service men were apparent everywhere.
One by one the guests gathered in the Red Room. We were shown a sketch of the table-seating arrangement and were told where the President would sit and where each of us would sit.
Then, about 1:15 p.m. the President came in and shook hands with everyone. We visited for a few minutes before he led the way into the dining room.
Everyone was seated around a long oval table. I sat almost directly across the table from Mr. Kennedy, about six feet from him, and I thus had a wonderful chance to observe him at close range during the luncheon and the conversations which followed.
He looked trim and healthy and confident. His gaze is direct. He looks squarely at the person talking to him and answers, quickly and directly.
Our luncheon went quickly but not hurriedly. There were about eight waiters. They served us soup, then filet of sole with peas and potatoes. We had fruit for dessert and coffee. Our dinnerware carried the presidential seal.
After lunch, Mr. Kennedy smoked a cigar. I found the atmosphere both relaxed and informal.
The President was dressed in a soft-white shirt, green tie, gray flannel suit and wore brown shoes -- for those of you who are style conscious. He looked at ease, and I'm sure he was. He was friendly and casual in his appearance.
Mr. Kennedy expressed his appreciation to us to have made so long a journey to meet with him and we, in turn, expressed our appreciation to him for having invited us.
I noticed a new story in which Rep. William Miller of New York, Republican National chairman, stated that the luncheons -- this is the fourth newspaper group the President has had for lunch -- were a use of "'taxpayers' money for propagandizing."
I have not idea what it cost to feed us but I would think $10 a plate would more than cover the government's expense. On the other hand I doubt that any publisher made the trip back there and home for less than $600 and every penny of that was either out of his own pocket our out of his newspaper's expenses, or both. So if it's merely propaganda money that Rep. Miller is worried about his fears can be eased. This one time Uncle Sam got by cheap. It's true I never had lunch at the White House with President Eisenhower but Ike never invited me.
Almost at once when the conversation began, the subject of Berlin arose. Pierre Salinger, the President's press secretary, instructed us not to quote Mr. Kennedy directly on any subjects discussed but to make general statements as to his attitude.
I gained a new grasp of these problems -- Berlin, Asia, Cuba, and communism. Berlin, of course, was the problem that most concerned the publishers and also the Administration.
Many questions were asked about it, Mr. Kennedy doesn't see and easing of tensions and is fearful lest any miscalculation should put both Russia and the United States out of business.
The President had an amazing knowledge of details and he demonstrated a tremendous knowledge of international problems facing the nation as he responded.
It was when the subject turned to matters concerning the Pacific Northwest -- Columbia Basin contract renegotiation, the Canadian power treaty, California power inter-tie, the Hanford reactor and Columbia River development that he did more listening than talking.
Mr. Kennedy admitted he was not as well posted as he should be on these regional matters but he was attentive and asked searching questions.
At about 3:15 p.m. -- about two hours after it started -- The President looked at his watch, pushed back his chair and stood up. He thanked everybody again for coming and said he was going to Cape Cod for the weekend.
I was the last man to shake hands with him. I told him the people of the Tri-Cities and Southeastern Washington would be very appreciative if he would manage a visit to Hanford during his next month's visit to the state. He could then see the reactor first hand.
He asked how far Hanford was from Seattle and I replied just a matter of minutes by plane. The President told me to have our Senators -- Magnuson and Jackson -- extend him an invitation and he'd try.
Well how do I feel about my luncheon at the White House? I found it everything I expected -- and more. It was exciting and interesting and very inspiring.
When this nation's President and an average citizen can sit down and have lunch together then we must have an outstanding country and form of government and we'd better look after it.
I came away impressed, informed and exhilarated and with new faith in our government and its processes.
And finally, I came away very favorably impressed with Mr. Kennedy, his openness, his clear-cut answers and his confidence in the basic strength of our nation.