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June 9, 2004

Surprise meeting had lasting impact for Weaver

From: Daily Home Online, AL - Jun 9, 2004

By April Jo Love

A man in a blue suit leans over a boy sitting in a wheelchair. The man's hand is extended, and he's clearly smiling. Across from him is President Ronald Reagan.

Robert Weaver, a Talladega business owner, still has the autographed photo framed and hanging on a wall at his home.

Though years have passed since their meeting, Weaver still speaks of Reagan with great respect and appreciation.

"I will always treasure the photo sent from the White House of President Reagan shaking hands with me," Weaver said. "The president paid attention to something some little shoe salesman in Talladega put together — twice."

When he met the president, Weaver was visiting Washington, D.C., with Danny Odum, a deaf teenager with terminal cancer. Weaver had gotten to know Odum while volunteering to spend time with him during chemotherapy treatment.

After touring the White House, Weaver and Odum went to collect their coats, which were being held by an attendant.

The attendant informed them that they could pick up the coats when they returned from seeing the president, Weaver said.

"I was so excited. We didn't know we'd even see him when we arrived that morning," he said with unmistakable enthusiasm.

But not only did Weaver and Odum see Reagan, they spoke to him.

After having been escorted past the White House lawn ropes, Weaver and Odum waited for the president. As Reagan walked down the pathway to his helicopter, he changed his course and came over to them.

Weaver does not recall exactly what was said, but after a few minutes of conversation, the president left for a speech, acting "like he wasn't too excited about it."

What Weaver and Odum did not know was that their brief encounter with Reagan made national news.

CBS interrupted its broadcasting of the Contra hearings to show Reagan meeting Odum.

"After that, (Talladega) was flooded with calls from newspapers around the country wanting to know more about Danny," Weaver said.

At one point, he did have a videotape of his television debut but has since misplaced it.

The photograph taken that day came in the mail a few weeks later.

While this was the only time Weaver spoke to Reagan, he had seen him in person prior to that time.

Weaver arranged for two children from the Alabama School for the Deaf and a blind singer with "a voice like an angel" to perform the Lord's Prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

The performance, a combination of sign language and singing, was an idea Weaver developed while taking a sign language class.

He remembered security being particularly high because it was the first time Reagan had returned to the Hilton Hotel since the assassination attempt on his life.

Although guards made it difficult, Weaver managed to get the perfect seat.

"Without having to turn my head, I could see President and Mrs. Reagan and the girls at the same time," Weaver said. "Reagan never took his eyes off the girls during the song. Without a doubt, the song was the most prayerful moment at the breakfast."

In addition to the performance, Weaver and the performers had prepared a picture made of jelly beans, Reagan's favorite candy. The artwork depicted the deaf sign for "I love you," a sign which Weaver called the "trademark" of the deaf.

Initially, security would not allow the group to present the picture to the president, but in the end Weaver got Alabama Gov. Fob James to deliver the gift.

In a rush to get the picture to James, Weaver scribbled the girls' names and addresses on the back. He wrapped it in a sporting goods store bag, which he turned inside out to hide the advertisements.

A few weeks later, the girls received thank you cards from the president in the "typically warm Reagan style," Weaver said.

Although his encounters with Reagan were brief, Weaver said he will never forget his time with "the great communicator."

About April Jo Love

April Jo Love is an intern for The Daily Home and student of Auburn University.

Contact April Jo Love

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