John Lewis, Karl Rove, Franklin Graham, Ann Stock, Ari Fleischer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Jody Powell, Inaugural Memories

Newsweek, January 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

John Lewis, Karl Rove, Franklin Graham, Ann Stock, Ari Fleischer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Jody Powell, Inaugural Memories


John Lewis, RFK Jr., Karl Rove and others remember past inaugurations.

John Lewis

The congressman from Georgia on the memory of Dr. King.

The most memorable inauguration I went to was in 1993. Being a member of Congress, I had an opportunity to sit on the grand inaugural stand just behind the podium--not far from the president and the chief justice. Just being able to look down at the large crowd that had come to witness this was moving to me; I remember becoming very emotional. It was one moment of history, but it reminded me of another: 30 years prior, when we listened to Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the other end of the Mall. Watching President Clinton be sworn in was an honor. But what I vividly remember thinking, at that moment, was how special it was for anyone to witness, up that close, such a peaceful shift in power--and also to have witnessed an event 30 years before that had so much impact, not just on the African-American community but on the entire nation. It was a ceremony of great meaning for me.

Karl Rove

The former senior adviser to President George W. Bush on sneaking away from the reviewing stand.

Ever since Teddy Roosevelt built it where the White House greenhouses once stood, the West Wing has served as a symbol of our democracy, and its heart is the Oval Office. At the 2001 inauguration parade, I sneaked away from the reviewing stand to inspect what would be my West Wing office. It was sparse and bright, and being there seemed surreal. I had to stop and ask myself, "Will I really be working here?" Late the next evening, as I cleaned my desk before going home, an elderly man wearing an even more ancient ball cap appeared at my door. He was a White House janitor, and he motioned toward my trash can. After he dumped the contents, he turned and fixed me with a stare. He asked me to remember to "honor the house"--and departed without waiting for a reply. I would have many late nights during the next few years, but that first one has always stuck with me. Most Americans expect what he expected: they have high expectations for those who are called to serve in a small building on 18 acres in the middle of Washington, D.C.

Franklin Graham

The evangelist on praying with his father.

Billy Graham has had the honor of praying (or participating in some way) at eight presidential inaugurations, beginning in 1965. When it came time for Bill Clinton's second, my father was invited again to offer an inaugural prayer. His health problems had flared up, so he asked me to accompany him to Washington, D.C. During that ceremony, I was seated at my father's right side on the platform. To my left sat all of the Supreme Court justices. Behind me was the Democratic and Republican leadership from Congress. I had been impressed to see members of opposing political parties--in battle just two months before--now greeting each other warmly. It was an amazing setting in which I had a prime seat to witness such historical pageantry, and I had the privilege of sitting in support of the man I love and respect so much. When the time came for my father to pray, the only aid he needed was a firm hand to help him stand. I was glad to watch from this vantage point: four years later I would step forward to that same podium and offer the invocation for the inauguration of George W. Bush.

Ann Stock

President Clinton's social secretary on a wardrobe malfunction.

THE transfer of power occurs with precision, but also with a touch of chaos. At 11 a.m. on Inauguration Day, the moving van with all the Clintons' things from Arkansas arrived at the White House. At the same time, the usher's office brought over all their belongings from the Blair House, where they had stayed for four or five days. President and Mrs. Bush were moving out, and there was a van to collect their belongings. There was lots of activity.

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