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  • Debra Scala Giokas

A Thank You Note For My Readers

I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude to my readers and those who have attended any of my talks, whether virtually or in person at a library or at a historical society. On November 20th, I will deliver my 17th talk, and I continue to be amazed at how many people want to learn more about our first ladies. We truly weren’t taught about them in school. I hope this changes.

Some highlights I’d like to share include a trip my husband and I took in July to Hyde Park, New York to visit Val-Kill Cottage and Springwood, as well as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. It is one thing to read about someone, and it is another to walk where they walked. You can almost feel their presence.

We were fortunate to see Eleanor’s Sleeping Porch on the second floor. That area is not always open. Her humble home, filled with mismatched furniture and photos all around created a sense of warmth, and yet, this was no ordinary place. It welcomed many Democratic Party politicians seeking her advice and support, including John F. Kennedy. Then it was on the Springwood, the formal home, one owned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother where the family lived until he died. That home reminded me of Sagamore Hill. We also saw the burial site of Eleanor and Franklin in the rose garden. Roosevelt means field of roses. How appropriate.

We had the chance to view the special exhibit at the FDR Library and Museum called “Black Americans, Civil Rights, and the Roosevelts, 1932-1962” which will be there until December 31, 2024. I also was amazed at all of the books Eleanor had written and all of President Roosevelt’s collections including a myriad of miniature ships.

I can’t learn enough about Eleanor Roosevelt. She is an inspiration to me.  I recently watched the movie Sunrise at Campobello and also enjoyed the historical fiction novel, First Ladies, by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. This tells the tale of the friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and the civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.

On October 22, I had the pleasure of speaking at the 25th Anniversary Tea of the Rocky Point Historical Society. There were about 90 people in attendance, and I loved sharing what I continue to learn about the first ladies. They were the first group to hear that I received a letter from Michelle Obama, a note thanking me for my letter and for sending her a copy of my book. In her book, The Light We Carry, she discusses how she came to knitting and how it helped (and continues to help) calm her anxieties and stay upright during these turbulent times. It was such a thrill for me to hear from her.

Debra Scala Giokas and Kathy McKeon
Me and Kathy McKeon

If that wasn’t enough, I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy McKeon. I recently read her book Jackie’s Girl, and she was kind enough to chat with me and sign my copy. In 1964, Kathy was just nineteen years old when she arrived from Ireland and was employed by former first lady Jackie Kennedy as her personal assistant. I don’t include Jackie Kennedy in my book because I could not find anything that she may have needlepointed or crocheted or knitted, and Kathy McKeon confirmed this for me. She said that Jackie was more of an outdoors person, though she did like to paint. She also helped with some of her fashion designs. It was an amazing experience to speak to someone who knew her personally and well. Jackie Kennedy will always be a favorite first lady of mine.

Another highlight was receiving a letter from former first Lady Laura Bush. I sent her my book, and she was kind enough to send me a nice note in acknowledgement. I have these letters and photos framed above my desk at home. They mean the world to me.

I am inspired to keep learning and sharing what I learn with those who attend my talks. To accomplish this, I joined the First Ladies Association for Research and Education (“FLARE). The mission of FLARE is to create and sustain a network to promote and publicize research and education relevant to the contributions, lives, impacts, and lasting legacies of U.S. first ladies.

The author and illustrator with their books
Me and Mary Ryan Reeves

I also want to mention that I had the good fortune to finally meet my illustrator in person. We dined with our husbands in Rehoboth, Delaware, in July and it was as if we had known each other for years. Mary Ryan Reeves is a talented artist who brought my words to life in our picture book about Claire McCardell. She also created a coloring book and the cover for Ladies, First.

Thank you for spending some time with me. Thank you to those who have written to me. Please continue to check my site for talks happening next year. I wish you and your families a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. And always remember to follow your dreams.

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