Monday, July 19, 2021

Legacy of a Handwritten Letter

“Mom, mom, guess what?” yelled Sarah running in the house after school one day.

I was waiting for her in the kitchen, watching out the window for the bus to arrive.

“What is it?” I asked, wondering why my usually quiet fifth grader was so excited.

“Mrs. Bayh, the governor’s wife, is coming to a meeting of the Just Say No Club. Since I’m the co-captain, I get to introduce her!”

“Wow, Sarah. That’s quite an honor.”

“I want to get started on my speech right away.” Sarah said, walking to the roll-top desk in the living room. “Mrs. Bayh is a lawyer. You know I want to be a lawyer too. I can’t wait to meet her.”  Sarah gathered a few sheets of paper and a pencil. 

The Just Say No nationwide movement was introduced in the 1980’s to discourage children from engaging in illegal recreational drug use by offering various ways of saying “no.” The slogan was created and championed by First Lady, Nancy Reagan, during her husband’s presidency.

I checked on Sarah a few minutes later. She was bent over the desk, her hand moving quickly across the paper as she wrote her introduction. What an exciting time for a young child to meet the governor’s wife.  Mrs. Bayh made children one of her highest priorities while she was First Lady. Attending a local Indianapolis school’s Just Say No Club was a way of supporting the popular movement.

Mrs. Bayh came to Sarah’s school in April 1989. Sarah worked hard over the next few days, preparing her speech. The day before the visit, my husband Mike, our four-year-old Anna, and I gathered in the living room to listen to Sarah’s remarks. She read with expression and interest. We clapped when she finished.

Usually hard to awaken for school, Sarah bounded out of bed the next day and gobbled the bowl of oatmeal I prepared for her.

“I hope the day goes fast!” she said as I brushed her hair, pulling it back and fastening with a barrette. 

“Today will be a memorable one for sure,” I said, “What an honor and inspiration to meet the First Lady of Indiana when you are only ten years old.” Gathering her backpack and lunch box, Sarah ran out the side door to catch the bus.

Mike, Anna and I arrived at the school just in time to see Mrs. Bayh escorted into the cafeteria  by security with Sarah right next to her. Sarah delivered her introduction with poise and enthusiasm. I cherish the picture I took of Mrs. Bayh smiling and looking at her while she talked.

Returning from school that afternoon, Sarah came in the side door, still excited about the day.

“I want to write Mrs. Bayh a letter and tell her I want to be a lawyer just like her.”

Sarah grabbed a sheet of paper and pencil, and returned to the roll-top desk.

Watching Sarah write reminded me of when I was a twelve-year-old seventh grader in January 1961. John Kennedy was just inaugurated president. He and his wife brought new energy to the White House and were adored by the nation.

Sharing the same first name with the new First Lady helped me feel a kinship to someone famous I would never meet. Walking home from school one day in late January, I decided to write the president a letter. I went to the desk in my bedroom, pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil, and began to write. I remember mentioning to the president that his wife and I shared the same name, and that I thought she was beautiful. I wished him good luck in his work, and signed my letter.

The White House address was well known, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I completed the envelope, found a stamp, and my letter was ready to go. I put it in the outside mailbox attached to our house. A few weeks later, I received a form letter saying the president had received my letter and thanked me, along with a stamped signature.

 I continued the practice of writing letters to presidents and their wives. In July 1976, I wrote a letter to Betty Ford because of her response to a medical emergency in New York while she was attending a dinner celebrating the new American National Bicentennial Park in Israel. A rabbi at the event collapsed from a heart attack. Mrs. Ford went to the speaker’s microphone and led the audience in prayer.

Mrs. Ford sent me a typed letter responding specifically to what I had written. She said,

Dear Mrs. Reed,

I was deeply touched by your kind words regarding my prayer for Dr. Maurice Sage.

During times of such tragedy, we can only turn to the Father of all for His blessing and strength, and I am heartened to know my words offered comfort to so many.

Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

With warm regards,


Betty Ford


Mrs. Ford signed the letter, which I saved along with the article about her prayer which appeared in TIME Magazine.

In February 1977, I wrote a letter to Rosalynn Carter. I don’t remember my thoughts, but she replied with a form response.

Thank you for your kind letter. I appreciate your support and friendship, and Jimmy joins me in sending our best wishes.

  Rosalynn Carter 

Finally, I wrote to Jimmy Carter in January 1987, following his presidency. He replied with a typed letter and signature.

To Jacquie Reed:

Thank you for your recent letter. Your kind words and support mean a great deal to me.

With best wishes.




I was thrilled to receive these four responses to my correspondence to presidential families. When Sarah wanted to write to Mrs. Bayh, I was pleased, thinking she was carrying on my legacy of writing to public servants.

When she completed her letter, I did not go over it for spelling or grammar. I wanted Mrs. Bayh to read her thoughts as she expressed them. We put the letter in an envelope, got a stamp, addressed it, and out it went in the mail.

“I hope Mrs. Bayh answers my letter, Sarah said, as we walked to the mailbox. “I know she is a busy person. But I met her, so maybe she will remember me and reply.”

We smiled walking back to the house. I, too, hoped Mrs. Bayh would answer Sarah’s letter, but I knew better than to expect it.

A few weeks later, I went to get the mail while Sarah was in school. In the pile of bills and advertisements, I saw a letter addressed to Sarah from the Governor’s office. I put the letter back in the mailbox so Sarah could enjoy the excitement of an answered letter.

When she came through the side door, I said, “Before you get your snack, would you get the mail?”

“Sure,” and off she went. I watched through the kitchen window. When she saw the letter from Mrs. Bayh, her mouth dropped. She slowly walked to the house, holding the envelope, looking at the front and back, savouring the moment of discovery and unexpected delight.

“What did you find?” I asked.

“Mrs. Bayh answered my letter. Do you believe that?”

“Let’s sit down at the kitchen table and open the letter. I wonder what she said!”

“I wonder if she liked that I want to be a lawyer like her.”

Carefully, Sarah opened the envelope and read these handwritten words.


February 9, 1989

Dear Sara,

Thank you for your kind letter. I would be pleased to answer your questions. I work as an attorney with Eli Lilly and Company, a large corporation on the south side of Indianapolis. I work exclusively in the federal regulatory area which means that my cases are only with the federal government.

In answer to your second questions – it is neat to be the Governor’s wife. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who takes care of me and because of my new position I am asked to go to exciting places and to do very interesting things and get great letters like yours!

Good luck to you in your future – See you in court!

Best regards,

Susan Bayh


Reading Mrs. Bayh’s kind and thoughtful response turned both of us into devoted fans of the First Lady. Sarah followed newspaper accounts of her activities in the state. I kept the letter because I thought one day Mrs. Bayh might be First Lady of the United States. The letter was also a continuation of the excitement Sarah experienced the day she met and introduced Mrs. Bayh.

A few weeks ago, after swimming, I checked my phone and found a text message from Sarah. She told me Mrs. Bayh had died following a two year struggle with glioblastoma, a fatal and aggressive form of brain cancer. I wasn’t surprised that Sarah would be the one to tell me of Mrs. Bayh’s passing, knowing her admiration and keen interest in her since elementary school.

When I returned home after hearing the news of Mrs. Bayh’s passing, I went to the scrapbook where I kept the photographs from the day of her visit to the school as well as the letter she wrote to Sarah. The letter was important when Sarah received it, but it took on even more meaning with Mrs. Bayh’s passing. Susan Bayh left a lasting imprint on the life of a young girl and her family years ago by taking time to write a letter. Now that she has died, the letter keeps giving and carries on her legacy of thoughtfulness, an example of how she took time to reflect and reply to a young child who admired her. 

Nowadays people usually write letters to public servants to complain, make a demand, express disagreement with policy, or give their thoughts on other matters. Writing to express admiration may be less frequent, but perhaps more important as the character of the individual is observed and honored. The personal attributes of Susan Bayh, Betty Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Rosalyn Carter impacted me. I prayed each of my letters, and Sarah’s, was a voice of encouragement and support amidst the challenges of leadership.


Monday, July 5, 2021

Acceptance of Paper

“Mommy, mommy, I need more paper. The box is empty. I want to draw my idea,” my daughter, Sarah, said. 

I turned around from the kitchen counter where I was making biscuits for dinner to see my three-year-old with an empty box usually filled with drawing paper. 

“Oh, Sarah, my hands are sticky. Look at the dough hanging on my fingers. Hold on to your thought. I will be done quickly.” 

I finished kneading the dough, cut the biscuits, and put the baking sheet in the warm oven. 

Taking the empty box, I went to the closet where we kept the paper. 

“What are you going to draw?”

“I have an idea, but I want you to be surprised,” she said taking the paper overflowing from the box to the table where her imagination came alive. She was happiest with a blank sheet of paper, markers, crayons, scissors, and tape. 

Her sister, Anna, who was born a few years later had the same interests. She, too, thrived, with paper and art supplies. 

Back in the late seventies and eighties when I had my daughters, there were not many books about nurturing creativity in preschoolers . But I did read an article one day in the newspaper offering a few thoughts on art for young children. 

The article said to encourage a child’s creativity, parents should give the child sheets of paper, not coloring books. The article continued, “A blank sheet of paper offers possibility and freedom to the young child. When commenting about your child’s artwork, remember to say, ‘Tell me about your picture,’ rather than naming or describing what you think your child made. Having the child tell about his or her work, gives him or her an opportunity to use descriptive language to accurately name what you see on paper.” 

These comments helped me as I wanted to respond to their artwork in a way that was encouraging and helpful. 

I often brought a bag of paper and crayons with  us to church, in the car on trips, and to keep the girls occupied during my hair appointments. I was grateful for my daughters’ endless ideas and imaginative thoughts. 

“Tell me about your picture, Anna. I see lots of blue and red,” I asked one day watching Anna so busy at the table. 

“I am drawing Dorothy and Toto, my favorite characters in the Wizard of Oz.” 

“You do like Dorothy and Toto. I see Dorothy’s red shoes. Click, click and off she goes back home to Kansas,” I said, Anna laughing while I described her favorite scene. 

Watching Sarah and Anna paint, draw, and cut paper brought delight to my heart. I could tell by their interest and the amount of time they spent at the little table, I was nurturing and encouraging a talent each possessed of creative expression on paper. 

Art became one of their favorite classes when the children started school. Sarah eventually became an art teacher. Anna has used her creativity professionally as a marketing and media director at small businesses. 

While I cherished the pictures Sarah and Anna made growing up, I never considered I would be interested in art as well. I did not like art in junior high. I do remember the sides of my notebook paper were always covered with lines, though. Some of the lines I made into boxes stacked from top to bottom. Junior high was a rough time for me, and without being aware, drawing lines somehow brought me comfort and relief from anxiety and tension. 

I earned a C in an introductory art class in college, but even so, art would eventually come to me later in life, and in an unusual way. 

One day when I walked into my counselor’s office, I noticed an easel with a large tablet of drawing paper. She had told me a few weeks earlier that she wanted to add art to our work, but finding the large easel in the office that day was a big surprise. I looked at the blank tablet and remembered the hundreds of sheets of paper stored in closets in various parsonages in which my husband, daughters, and I lived. I recalled the joy I experienced watching my children create. 

Now I was facing a blank sheet of paper, too. I had no idea what to draw. I had no creative thoughts. I felt as blank as the page. 

My counselor handed me a set of chalk pastels. When I pulled the teal pastel from the box, the dust scattered over my hand before I even used it. I didn’t know if I would like something that was so messy, but I was willing to try. 

“What do you want to draw?” Susan, my counselor asked. 

“I don’t know,” I replied. I was anxious being put on the spot to make something. Here I was in a counselor’s office working through a difficult past. I was not inspired to draw radiant suns or bright stars or houses or cars or animals or people or the many other imaginative items I saw my children make. 

“Why don’t you draw some lines.” Susan suggested. That seemed easy enough. I drew a few simple lines using the teal pastel. Then I reached into the box and pulled out an orange pastel, dragging it from the top to the bottom of the page, creating  more vertical lines. In time, I used a green, then a blue pastel to add lines to span the width of the page. The lines were evenly spaced, the same length. I did nothing else but draw rows and rows of lines that first day. 

With each row of lines, I felt my heart soften. There was something about drawing a single line that set me at ease. I began to feel more open and relaxed. I still didn’t have any ideas of what else to draw, but making lines was calming. 

Susan, witnessing my entry into art, made few comments, but responded “yes” when I noted how the lines were grouped in evenly spaced rows. I didn’t plan the placing of the lines over the paper, but my hand had instinctively gone that way. 

Before I left my session, Susan asked me to name and date the picture. I labeled it, “Acceptance of Lines.” 

Reflecting later on the use of pastels, the large sheet of empty paper and the name I gave the picture, I think I should have re-named the picture, “The Acceptance of Paper.” The paper was patient, ready to accept whatever I decided to put on – whether it was lines, an angry face, a beautiful flower, or scribbles. The paper received and held the color and pattern I put on it using the chalk pastels. 

My experience with people told me that they weren’t as gracious as the paper. Many times we have experiences where we don’t feel accepted by someone, or free to be who we are and express what we are thinking.

The openness the paper provided was a starting place for me to build connections when human connections were painful. Working with the paper each session help me reach outside myself, hesitantly, at first, but gradually with more confidence and anticipation. The rows of evenly spaced lines, reflected my need for order as well. Working through trauma memories plunged me back into the chaotic home situation in which I grew up. My internal need for order while working through those moments, instinctively led me to drawing lines. I drew what I needed emotionally even though I wasn’t aware of what I needed. The paper was a place where I could grow and build experience to carry over into my dealings with people. 

The order I felt from drawing lines helped me stay centered and present in my current life and relationships instead of being stuck in my difficult past. Through paper, color, and shapes, I became more attuned to myself and able to reach deeper into who God had designed me to be. 

I always keep a piece of paper wherever I my purse, in the front seat of the car, at my desk, or on my nightstand. Paper is always close by, ready to receive whatever lines or dots I need to help clear my head, release anxiety, and find order and containment.

Do you ever doodle on blank paper as a way to relax?