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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 28, 2003
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Memorial Service for Frankie Hewitt
We gather here to remember and to pay tribute to Frankie Hewitt. In this theater, a remarkable story in our nation's history and the story of a remarkable woman are intertwined. Frankie spent more than three decades of her life here. And from the stage to the audience every corner holds her spirit. Here, she turned a place of tragedy into a monument to one of our great Presidents; she established a working theater and museum; and here she brought to life celebrated works of art.
And we're here today because in some way Frankie touched our lives.We all have our own stories and memories.She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend. Our love and sympathy goes especially to Lisa, Jillian, William, Steven, and Jeffrey. For all the hats that Frankie wore - the one I remember her wearing so well is that of public steward. The words of the man she honored here define Frankie's public work. Abraham Lincoln said, "If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend." Frankie always believed in her cause, she was sincere in her endeavors and she was a friend to all who knew her.
Even as a child growing up in Oklahoma during the Depression, little Frankie Teague had the tenacity to accomplish whatever she put her mind to. The daughter of migrant workers, she knew what hard work was. She worked her way from a prune farm in California to Capitol Hill - where she excelled as a speechwriter and Congressional aide. She was the first woman to run an investigating committee on the Hill and the first non-lawyer to run a judiciary committee. She campaigned for President Kennedy and served as a public affairs adviser for the United Nations.
But given all of her experience in politics, restoring Ford's Theater became Frankie's greatest political undertaking. Before Frankie transformed the theater, it was known only for President Lincoln's assassination. It had been closed for nearly a century when Frankie took up her cause. Frankie wanted Ford's to be an active theater where children and patrons could learn about the arts and history. Although she said, "All I knew about theater was how to buy a ticket," Frankie knew politics - and she used her experience to raise money to restore Ford's.
Frankie lobbied presidents, politicians and corporations to achieve her goal - and her hard work paid off when Ford's reopened in 1968. But simply restoring the theater was not enough for Frankie. After two theater companies struggled here, she took to the director's chair producing 150 original productions. Frankie's work reflected her vision for Ford's Theater. She said, "I want patrons to be able to take something away, something positive about history or themselves or the human condition. I want to send them out of the theater feeling better than when they came in."
Frankie called Ford's the "Switzerland of Washington" and she entertained presidents and political leaders in bipartisan style. President Ford's attendance at the production of "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" in 1975, marked the first time a president had been in the theater since Lincoln. My father-in- law, President George Bush loved the musical, "Forever Plaid." He was such a fan that he invited the entire cast to stage the production at the White House and in Kennebunkport. And given my husband's resolve to get to bed early, he especially liked Frankie's insistence that the performances run on time.
Recently, President Bush presented the 2002 National Humanities Medal to Frankie for her contributions to the arts and history. She knew of the award and we only wish she could have come to the White House to receive this much deserved honor. But knowing Frankie, she would have wanted to throw a big party to honor all of the other recipients. She was one of those people who preferred to be in the audience applauding. Today, we applaud Frankie, her life, her work and her spirit. We can keep her spirit alive by supporting the arts and this theater which she so loved.
Abraham Lincoln said, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." What a life Frankie Hewitt had and how much life she gave to those who knew and loved her. We thank her for the memories and for the profound lessons she taught us. Frankie once said, "I feel very lucky about what I do." Today we say, Frankie, we are the lucky ones to have known you.
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