It never hurts to ask, even if he is the president

"If you don't mind my telling you," my secretary said, looking up from her shorthand pad, "this is a silly thing to be bothering the president of the United States about."

"Maybe so," I said. "But let's give it a try."

The letter I was dictating that day in 1982 was going to President Ronald Reagan. In it, I told him about the collection of advertising signs, posters, and whatevers displayed on the walls of my ad-agency office. The collection gave me a special kind of comfort as I chugged through each day's work as the company's creative director.

Among the dozens of pieces visitors to my office most enjoyed looking at was a 1951 magazine ad, probably out of Life, showing a handsome young movie star - Ronald Reagan.

His signature, reproduced along with the ad copy, continually made me think how good it would be to have his actual signature on the piece. In my letter, I asked if I could send him the ad for an autograph.

My secretary, who tended to speak freely, said, "Silly, silly. You'll never hear from him."

Three days later, this same secretary stood quaking in the doorway of my office, stammering, "The Wh-Wh-White Hou-Hou-House is on the ph-ph-phone." Later, I realized I'd missed the rarest of opportunities to say: "Tell them I'm in a meeting, and I'll get back to them."

I grabbed the phone and heard a presidential assistant introduce herself to me. She told me that she had put my request to the president and that he'd be pleased to honor it. If I would send the ad to her attention, she said, she would hand-carry it to the president and then send it back to me.

I did, she did, he did, and back it went onto the wall, this time along with (also framed) the White House envelope in which it had arrived.

The presence of a postage meter indicia on the envelope suggested that it had not been mailed at taxpayer expense, and I wondered whose postage meter it was. I never found out. My secretary said I shouldn't bother the president about it.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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