Thirty years ago, over Fourth of July weekend 1988, one of the most heartwarming, and most telling, stories regarding Ronald Reagan took place. It is the story of Mrs. Green.
Frances Green was a huge Ronald Reagan fan and like President Reagan she was from California. In 1988, Mrs. Green was 83 years old and had been a contributor, albeit one dollar at each donation, to the Republican National Committee. Mrs. Green received an invitation from the RNC to a reception at the White House. She had little money, supporting herself on Social Security, and saved up every penny she had to go across the country for the reception and a chance to meet President Reagan. She took a train, as it was cheaper than flying back then. She also slept sitting up. That too was cheaper and all she could afford. For her trip back to California, Mrs. Green arranged to have her social security check sent to her hotel in Washington, D.C., so she could pay for her way back.
However, her dream was almost shattered. A few days before the Fourth of July 1988, Mrs. Green made it to Washington and went to the White House for the reception. Standing behind Mrs. Green in line was an executive of Ford Motor Company who had informally served both Republican and Democrat Presidents, Set Momjian. Mr. Momjian’s son, Chris, was kind enough to recount a good portion of the story for Townhall.com
Mrs. Green went to the guard and he told her that she was not cleared. She said she was invited but the guard would not let Mrs. Green in with her name not being on the guest list. Mr. Momjian saw the whole event transpire in front of him. He had been intrigued by this little old lady who looked out of place. She wore a huge white hat and white dress, well they had been white when purchased probably forty years before.
Mr. Momjian felt bad for Mrs. Green, took her aside and got her story. It turns out that Mrs. Green did not send in the RSVP form that accompanied the invitation, or the large contribution that was mandatory for the RSVP. Mrs. Green had in fact responded but it was by handwritten letter as she was taught when she was young. Never would she have dreamed to have responded in any other fashion. It would have been rude.
Mr. Momjian went to the guard and explained the situation but the guard said again that there was nothing he could do. Mr. Momjian then went to the head of White House security who also said that they could not let Mrs. Green in; the guest list had to be vetted for security reasons.
Mr. Momjian came out and asked Mrs. Green if she was going to stay in Washington a few days. She said she was and Mr. Momjian said to show back up at the White House gate on Tuesday, July 5 and that he would give her a White House tour. He went inside for the reception.
Mr. Momjian came out of the White House a few hours later and Mrs. Green was still standing there outside the White House gate. Mr. Momjian went to her and Mrs. Green said that she was heartbroken and that her dream had been to meet President Reagan. Mr. Momjian again promised Mrs. Green that he would give her a White House tour, and hopefully, Mr. Momjian thought, see President Reagan. Mrs. Green was taken back to her hotel, in Mr. Momjian’s car.
Over the next few days several of President Reagan’s staffers, including Anne Higgins and Cathy Osborne, worked hard to try and get Mrs. Green into the White House. President Reagan himself said to bring her in when the chance came.
On Tuesday July 5, 1988, Mrs. Green and Mr. Momjian met at the White House gate. He gave Mrs. Green a special tour of the White House and she was very happy.
However, the chances of meeting President Reagan were slim. An Iranian airliner that appeared hostile, after several verified hostile Iranian acts, had been accidentally shot down by the U.S. Navy and Attorney General Edwin Meese had just resigned. Mr. Momjian and Mrs. Green ended the tour right outside the Oval Office. Mrs. Green had no idea what part of the White House they were in. At that exact moment, the Joint Chiefs of Staff walked out of the Oval Office, after Mr. Momjian brought Mrs. Green to do the door to peek through to get a glimpse of President Reagan.
As they peeked through the door, as recounted by Peggy Noonan in her book When Character Was King, President Reagan saw Mrs. Green and motioned for her to come in saying, “Frances! Those darn computers, they fouled up again! If I’d known you were coming I would have come out there to get you myself.” Mr. Momjian’s son, Chris, said, “She (Mrs. Green) started shaking. She was so excited and nervous.”
The president and Mrs. Green sat on the Oval Office couch for an hour with Mr. Momjian there and talked about California and Mrs. Green’s life. Her dream came true. She met Ronald Reagan.
Afterward, Mr. Momjian and Mrs. Green had lunch in another special location, the White House Mess, where Mr. Momjian was one of the rare people to have eating privileges, especially for a civilian, and even more so to have those privileges in multiple administrations across the aisle.
Mrs. Green and Set Momjian stayed in touch, by handwritten letter of course. It turns out Mr. Momjian had risen from very humble beginnings, as a first generation American. In fact, he grew up poor and his father died when he was very young. Mr. Momjian worked hard and became a Ford executive and was named representative to the United Nations under President Carter. Mr. Momjian’s character never changed no matter how wealthy or prominent he became. Chris Momjian says his father “did that for hundreds of people. He took members of the country club to the White House and then took the kitchen crew from the country club. It didn’t matter to him if it was the company president or the person who cleaned the floors. He treated you the same regardless of whether you could do anything for him.”
After writing back and forth for a few years, Mr. Momjian’s letters to Mrs. Green went unanswered and it appears she passed away in the early 1990s. President Reagan passed away in 2004. At 87, Set Momjian still had an office at Ford Motor Company in Washington, D.C. until last year when its corporate offices moved across town. It is quite likely he was the company’s longest serving employee. He is now 88 years old and is constantly surrounded by his large, loving family in Pennsylvania.
The story of Mrs. Green is not very well known and some would consider it outdated. Peggy Noonan wrote that some would have considered that hour in the Oval Office a waste of President Reagan’s time but, “No, it wasn’t,” she said. “No, it wasn’t.”
Mrs. Green’s story is a poignant reminder that good, decent people who help others and remember their humble roots, such as Set Momjian and Ronald Reagan are a hallmark of our national character as Americans. Mrs. Green had nothing tangible to offer Mr. Reagan or Mr. Momjian, yet her story makes us all the more rich.
Noonan wrote about Reagan “He had a big heart, a kind of liquid heart that flowed out to others.”
Noonan also quoted Anne Higgins who said about Reagan, “He was just a great man. We were lucky he was there. I think God put him there for that specific time in history to do what he had to do.” Perhaps so. And perhaps in addition to Ronald Reagan the Good Lord also put another decent man, Set Momjian, behind Mrs. Green at that White House gate thirty years ago over the Fourth of July weekend to help her achieve her dream of meeting her beloved president.