“Preserve, protect, cherish”

On Thursday, December 15, 2011, I sat in the Rotunda of the National Archives and sent myself this message as I listened to Chef Roland Mesnier speak to newly naturalized citizens of the United States.  I had seen him on a panel of former White House chefs at NARA in October.  Born in France, he understands how special it is to become a citizen of the U.S.  He conveyed that beautifully in an impassioned speech to the group of new citizens sitting in front of him.  I loved what Chef Mesnier said at the end of his speech.  Wonderful sentiment, one I captured at the moment by sending myself this email.

From: Maarja
To: maarja
Sent: Thu, Dec 15, 2011 10:31 am

Preserve protect cherish what u have been given

Of course, being Maarja, I was sitting in the wrong place in AOTUS David S. Ferriero’s “house” during the ceremony. I showed up in the morning to witness the Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Day oath of citizenship in the Rotunda of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Repeatedly asked by a series of officials if I was a guest or a petitioner, I didn’t know what to say! The event was public and I simply had chosen to come watch.  Did that make me a guest?  Of whom?  How should I characterize myself?  NARA fan? Friend of David Ferriero? Member of the Foundation for the National Archives? Who turns up at NARA for the third consecutive time during their Christmas vacay, anyway? Me, daughter of displaced persons and World War II refugees. 

I was more starry-eyed than usual on this visit to NARA.  My tie?  A red and blue one I used to wear while I worked on disclosure review of Nixon’s tapes while employed by the National Archives from 1976 to 1990.  The U.S. flag pin on my collar?  The one I bought around 1970 while Richard Nixon was President and wore during the Vietnam War. 

I had worn the same tie and the same flag pin on July 4, 2011, when I attended the Independence Day celebration at NARA as a guest of David Ferriero.  The keynote speaker then was Judge Royce Lamberth.   On Thursday, Judge Lamberth swore in the new citizens.  You see him sitting on the right in the photo above as David gave his remarks of welcome

I was born in the United States, in New York City (Manhattan).  My family moved to Washington, D.C. when the Voice of America, for which Dad worked, transferred its operations from New York to the nation’s capital.  Just around the time that the photo at left was taken, my Mom and Dad, who had fled totalitarian Communism, stood in a courthouse in Washington and took the oath to become citizens of the United States.  I’m in the center in the photo. 

I think I still have that little girl inside me.  So it’s fitting that on Thursday, I sat on the aisle in the back row of the Rotunda, not realizing until I got up at the end of the ceremony that those seats were for students from the Potomac School.  You see the child in the photo in my big smiles and palpable joy when I’m  having fun during visits to NARA these days.  Of course, that means she was there inside me when I was being beaten up for my work with the Nixon tapes during the G. H. W. Bush administration, too!  If a lifetime of experiences shapes us, then the child we once were always is there inside.   Eva, on the left, is gone. She died December 16, 2002.

Preserve, protect, cherish.  Not a bad way to describe the work of the National Archives, come to think of it.  Certainly guiding principles for me during my career!  And also ones for a number of officials and staff who work there now and whom I respect and admire. 

At the end of the ceremony, I joined the new citizens in a reception in the Archivist’s Reception Room on the business side of David’s house.  Ferriero was there, too (you see him in the doorway), as was Judge Lamberth.  Lamberth had spoken at the American Society of Access Professionals conference I attended on December 7th at NARA but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him then.   Lamberth was born in Texas and has an interesting background.  He served in Vietnam during the war.   After service as a Captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps, he was an official in the Department of Justice before being named to the bench.

Yesterday, I introduced myself to Judge Lamberth and chatted with him about my role in two well-known cases in which he presided over hearings.  One involved my Fedland agency in a tangential fashion.  As agency historian I did the research that formed the basis for a letter General Counsel sent to the defendent.  The letter, which named me and described how I did the research for my agency, became part of the court record (it was used by the plaintiff).  If you count the fact that an article I wrote was mentioned in a pleading in the Nixon Grand Jury testimony case that Lamberth ruled on this year, that makes three cases.

I mentioned the Nixon tapes lawsuit, Kutler v. Wilson, in which I testified in 1992. I said my testimony was challenging but the experience very interesting.  Lamberth presided over a hearing on the case on August 9, 1993, although he was not the judge to whom it was assigned.  We talked yesterday about the leak in 1993 of an internal memorandum by Acting Archivist Trudy H. Peterson by someone within NARA to Nixon’s side. 

Yes, that really happened.  Someone decided to take an internal document and just give it to Nixon’s side, in a seeming attempt to undermine Trudy.  I well remember how Lamberth commented from the bench on the leak of a NARA document from within the agency to the former president’s lawyers.  We also talked about his decision in the recent lawsuit that led to release of Richard Nixon’s Grand Jury testimony.  I mentioned that I had been at the ASAP conference and we talked about the Freedom of Information Act and how different perceptions of government are depending on whether you are inside or outside it. 

Now that I’ve met him, I’m even more impressed by Judge Lamberth.  Not only is he smart and savvy, he seems like a very nice person, too.  Easy to talk to and friendly.  I laughed at what he said about different universities in Texas!  He introduced me to his wife who also was present.  I didn’t ask anyone to take a photo of us, I just held out my camera and grabbed this shot.  I told Lamberth I love the ties he wears!  He wore a great red, white, and blue tie on July 4, 2011.

I chatted with David Ferriero, too, but didn’t try to get a photo or hand my camera to a bystander.  Believe it or not, I don’t get pictures of myself with David each time I see him, LOL.  AOTUS’s schedule is tight but it was nice to be able to talk to him again about a few Fedland issues.  Ever forthright, Ferriero even clued me in nicely on the facts regarding a misperception I had formed about how he does something within NARA.   It’s a small matter, not one I’ve addressed at the blog, but I’m glad to have the story straight from the Big Dude himself!   I’ll be able to speak definitively, if I address it at the blog in the future.  Gotta tell you, I’m increasingly impressed by how David rolls.

A beautiful, deeply moving visit to NARA.   When I arrived at 9:30 a.m., I tried to explain why I was there.  Officials sent me to the holding room where the petitioners who were about to become citizens were waiting.  Right before the ceremony began, the court official asked family and friends to gather in the back of the room to be escorted to the Rotunda.  I remained seated, I wasn’t a family member or friend of any of the individuals in the room.  Then she called off the names of the petitioners and they lined up.  I was the only one left sitting.  I stood up and asked where I should go.  The official said, “You should have gone with the family and friends.  Just line up at the end of the line of petitioners and go in with them.  Someone in the Rotunda will tell you where to sit.” 

Family and friends.  Yes, I’m part of the NARA family in a way, come to think of it, thanks to David Ferriero having reached out to me in May.  He has helped me reconnect with my beloved National Archives in a beautiful and truly meaningful way.  And I definitely have friends throughout the agency. 

Yet it was fitting that I didn’t know how to respond on Thursday and that as a result, I got to walk to the Rotunda from the holding room at the end of the line.  It gave me a chance to watch on Bill of Rights Day as all the people who had come to the United States from many different countries solemnly prepared to take the oath of citizenship in front of the Charters of Freedom.  Then, and at the reception in the Archivist’s Reception Room that followed, I smiled at them and wished them well.  As Chef Mesnier said so beautifully, may they preserve, protect and cherish what they have been given.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s