Remarks by the First Lady at a Reception for the White House Historical Association
4:40 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thanks so much! (Applause.) You all rest yourselves. You’ve got a lot of art to look at so I don’t want you to get tired. (Laughter.)
Well, welcome, everyone. Welcome to the White House. I’m not going to speak long because I want to give you plenty of time to enjoy the house. But let me start by thanking Fred, not just for that kind introduction but for the years of partnering, your passion, your leadership. It has truly been a pleasure to work with you and the entire committee, so I’m so grateful to you.
I also want to acknowledge Luci Johnson, who is here with us. Where is Luci? Luci Johnson. (Applause.) Luci, I’m always thrilled when you can come back, so thank you for being here.
I have to take a moment to acknowledge the one and only Bill Allman. (Applause.) I know Bill doesn’t like -- he’s turning red already. (Laughter.) But we all love Bill. And his knowledge of this house is astounding. It has just been a joy to call you a friend, part of our family. You are a true treasure to this nation, and I don’t think many people know how valuable you are, how much knowledge you have up in that brain of yours. But it’s just been fun to get to know you, and I’m going to miss you. But we’ve got a few more months, right? (Laughter.)
I want to recognize and thank the White House Historical Association board members who are here and those who are not, the Preservation Committee members. And of course, I understand we have some wonderful college students who are joining us today. Where are you guys? Stand up so I know where you are. There you are. (Applause.) Yay! You look good! (Applause.) All right, I’ve embarrassed you enough too. (Laughter.) Have you been having a good time?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Well, I’m glad I got a chance to say hello to you. You guys are the next generation, so it’s terrific when we get to have you here in the house and you get to hear all the wisdom. Because it’s going to be you who will be standing and sitting in these seats in the future, so enjoy. You’ve got big shoes to fill.
Now, normally Barack and I get a little nervous when we host a big event with lots of food and drinks around the artwork. (Laughter.) After all, we’re moving out soon, and as I’ve said, we’ve got to get our security deposit back. (Laughter.) But something tells me that we don’t have to worry about much with this group.
And of course, the truth is that while my family might live upstairs, this beautiful home, this house -- the People’s House -- belongs to every American. And we all have a stake in the history that happened here -– from Dolley Madison saving this amazing Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from that fire, to Lincoln pacing these halls while saving our nation, to a 32-year-old Jacqueline Kennedy taking us on a national televised tour.
And that’s why, for decades, the White House Historical Association has taken the lead in protecting and strengthening the legacy of this extraordinary home –- from raising funds to running educational programs for young people like the ones here who have been hanging out with us today.
And from the day my family got here, we’ve tried our best to further this mission by opening up the White House to as many people from as many backgrounds as possible. And you all have worked with us side by side all the way. Over the years, we have welcomed 4 million guests for public tours. And you all brought your shop back to the Booksellers library downstairs and offered our guests educational materials, ornaments and keepsakes.
When we planted a vegetable garden on the South Lawn and invited students to harvest it, you created gardening and seed kits that inspired them to go home and plant gardens of their own. You helped us add new drapes and chairs to the State Dining Room and refresh the walls of the Blue Room. And just last year, we were proud to unveil our 11-piece State China Service -- Obama china -- (laughter) -- which can be integrated with prior settings to highlight and also extend the entire collection.
And when we decided to expand our collection of 20th century art and recognize a wide range of American artists in these rooms, you all rolled up your sleeves and got to work. It’s no accident that during meetings in my office in the East Wing that we sit next to a Rothko, or that folks sitting in the Oval Office or visiting can spot modern Native American pottery on the bookshelf or works by Edward Hopper on the wall.
As many of you know, the President and I, we are true art lovers. We don’t know as much as some of our friends do, but we hope when we get out of here we’ll learn a little bit more. But we think that all of our country’s great artists have a place within these walls. And that’s why, in one of our very first Preservation Committee meetings, I asked Bill Allman and some of our other members what it would take to turn the Old Family Dining Room into the first White House room devoted entirely to 20th century art. And I understand the students -- you guys held your panel there today. Pretty cool, right?
But we knew that that wouldn’t be easy, that we would need support from generous donors and museum foundations, and we’d also need a lot of guidance from experts. But that didn’t stop you all. You all stepped up and delivered in ways that I could have never dreamed of. And today, the Old Family Dining Room is a highlight of the public tour and an enduring tribute to modern artists -- from the Art Deco tea service, to the woven rug, to the stunning painting by Alma Thomas -- who, by the way, is the first African American woman to have her art work featured in this home. (Applause.) It’s a beautiful space, and it turned out well.
And as Mrs. Kennedy put it in that televised tour all those years ago, she said this house should always have “all the history of our country in it.” And thanks to all of you, today it does. Together, we added some new touches, and we preserved the proud history and character of this house for future generations.
And more than anything else, that’s really why we’re here today. Because we all know that this work isn’t just about one administration. First families are all just temporary residents in this house. And it’s our job to take care of this place so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren can admire and enjoy this home as much as we have. And we couldn’t have done it without all of you.
So today, I want to end as I started -- by thanking you for everything you’ve done for the White House and for the country. So I want you to enjoy your time here today. Spend some time in these wonderful rooms. Take your time. Take in all the beautiful artwork. And I hope you just have a wonderful afternoon.
I’m going to get out of the way so you can get that done. And I’m going to turn this stage over to Bill Allman, who will direct you.
But thank you, thank you, thank you. This has been just a pleasure to take care of this house. And I hope that you’re proud of all we’ve done this year -- or this administration. Thank you. (Applause.)
4:49 P.M. EDT