Born on November 14, 1896, today is Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower’s birthday. I remember her fondly.
“Take good care of Mamie, Mr. Youngblood,” the General once told my father.
Dad always heeded this directive from his former president and Supreme Commander, and he maintained contact with former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower well after his retirement from the Secret Service. Over the years, the professional relationship between my father and Mamie evolved into a true friendship – not unusual for Mamie, who surrounded herself with people. She was very personable…very dear. She wrote warm, hand-written letters to my parents and sent wedding gifts to my siblings when they married. One year, she visited my parents in Savannah, and my mother gifted her with one of her handcrafted sand-dollar necklaces, which Mamie graciously received. In turn, Dad maintained correspondence with her, never forgetting her birthday, and visited her regularly.
My siblings and I sometimes drove with him to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to the Eisenhower Farm to “go see Mamie.” One Christmas, I protested the drive to Gettysburg, preferring to nestle down in our cozy home in Vienna, Virginia, with my new gifts. But my parents insisted, allowing me to bring my new Madame Alexander doll, which Mamie admired. (I am grateful my parents persisted.)
Visiting Mamie in the modest farmhouse, widely decorated in pink, was not unlike visiting your grandmother. Mamie was friendly and outgoing, and she smiled graciously as she talked. We sat with her on the small porch overlooking the General’s putting green. She wore a Mickey Mouse watch, which intrigued me. When she noticed my interest in it, she jutted out her wrist and explained that it was her favorite watch and the only one on which she could see the numbers.
My last visit to see Mamie in Gettysburg was in the fall of 1978, approximately a year before she died. This time, I sat by her bedside in her very pink room. Propped up by several pillows, still dressed in her feminine, pink, silk nightgown, she talked to me, smiling all the while. She complimented my long hair and explained how women wore “Mamie bangs” during the 50s. She then pointed to her forehead, stating that it was “in here that mattered,” emphasizing that intelligence trumped beauty. She then lovingly pointed to a framed photograph of her late husband, fondly referring to him as “Ike.” This was when I first witnessed her deep sense of pride.
Though she was much older when I saw her last, I will forever remember Mamie’s image as that in the 1959 painting by Thomas Edgar Stevens (above.) In my opinion, it captures her elegance and humbleness all in one breath. In pink. Lots of pink. And I can just imagine that Mickey Mouse watch hidden under her left glove.
Happy Birthday, Mamie!