By Suzanne Roberts, House 1985
After Reagan’s re-election to a second term, his State of the Union address was a much anticipated event. The date of the address happened to fall on the President’s birthday, which made things even more exciting. It will not surprise you that Pages were involved in all sorts of preparations for the big event: testing teleprompters (not), posing for journalists’ photos (not), having floor cards signed by more famous members (not) and in my case, sitting in a member’s seat during the address (definitely not).
Word in the Page dorm had it that the Republican Pages were going to present a large, signed birthday card to the President. I thought the Democratic Pages should do something also. I made an approximately 7-foot-long banner the night before the address with the help of a few friends, and stashed it under a chair prior to the start of the speech. At the conclusion of the address, Congress sang “Happy Birthday” to the President and the Republican Pages, as expected, presented the large birthday card to him. At that moment, seven of us climbed on to the rear brass railing on the Democratic side and unfurled the banner. Reagan pointed and nodded in acknowledgement.
It was an education for those of us involved to observe how partisan the State of the Union address actually is. Most Democratic members did not participate in singing “Happy Birthday,” nor did they join in interrupting the speech with applause. To put it plainly, our “stunt” was not well-received by the Democratic leadership. Our presence was requested by the Doorkeeper of the House, James T. Malloy, and we reported to his office the next morning. Those of us who actually held the banner were singled out. When pressed, my friends quickly confessed whose idea it had been. Discussion ensued about possibly sending me home to Oklahoma (head hung in shame in my version). In a panic, I spoke to one of the Washington Post reporters hanging about. (I was crying; he bought me a Coke). He did me the favor of calling the Democratic cloakroom to find out if indeed they were going to send a Page home for wishing the President happy birthday. Ultimately, they elected not to send me home, but I was demoted from floor Page to runner, and served the next two months in a building known as House Office Building Annex 2. The job came with a small windowless room with a desk and a telephone. The unfortunate Page on that job was to sit and wait for phone calls and to retrieve and deliver packages that arrived by van. To date, it has been my closest call with solitary confinement.
Our Page class has been identified by this episode. Apparently it was the only banner ever to be held up on the House floor; the only other banner being one unfurled from the gallery by supporters of women’s right to vote decades before. One of the more humorous things is that in the footage of the incident, the Democratic Page supervisor, Donn Andersen (who eventually became Clerk of the House), is standing right below the banner with no idea of what was taking place behind him.
After her Page service, Suzanne was an exchange student in Switzerland. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Centenary College in Louisiana and her M.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. She completed a residency in emergency medicine in New York and currently practices in disability medicine. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and three spirited children ages 13, 10 and 6. She was sponsored by Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.).