The Collegian
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Librarian meets Obama during recent Richmond visit

Last Wednesday, University of Richmond librarian Lucretia McCulley shook hands with President Barack Obama in the same room where she once hosted her son's high school graduation party.

McCulley was in the clubhouse of the Southampton Recreation Association, where Obama met with a group of about 35 people, consisting mostly of the residents of Stratford Hills in South Richmond.

Obama's visit to Richmond was the last stop on his two-day, four-city tour of the country in which he held a series of conversations about the economy, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

McCulley said she had been invited to the meeting by Matt and Stephanie Perry, whom the Obama administration chose as the family that would host the event and have the chance to meet privately with Obama before the group conversation.

Matt Perry owns Riverside Outfitters, which organizes canoeing and river rafting trips and other outdoor excursions. Stephanie Perry teaches math and science at Albert Hill Middle School.

The pair has two children, daughter Lucy, 11, and son Matthew, 13, who were also invited to the event. McCulley said that there were five other children at the meeting, ranging from ages 5 to 17, as well as a 105-year-old woman from Ashland, Va.

McCulley said her son, Paul Ream, a junior at Davidson College, was studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, right now and was very disappointed to miss the event. But his voice did not go unheard at the meeting, McCulley said, when her husband, Dan Ream, asked a question on Paul's behalf during the question and answer period.

McCulley said that her husband, who is the director of outreach and distance education at the Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University, was also glad to have the chance to thank Obama personally for the stimulus money that directly affected VCU.

It prevented the university from laying off employees and it allowed them to make important purchases like Smart Boards for classrooms, she said.

McCulley and Matt Perry both said that they enjoyed how personable and down-to-earth Obama was.

Perry said of his family's conversation with Obama before the meeting: "It was like talking to a long lost uncle. He was really dialed into the conversation, and not just checking something off a list."

Perry said Obama asked him questions about his small business, and then discussed education with Stephanie Perry, who told him how the stimulus money had been beneficial to her inner-city middle school classroom.

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Even the Secret Service was friendly, Perry said.

"We had fun with them, and the courtesy they treated us with was just remarkable," he said.

And as for the speech Obama gave to the larger group, Perry said that the first half was fairly formal, but the second half was motivational.

"I feel pretty darn inspired and hopeful," Perry said.

McCulley said she thought that Obama's recent visits to middle-class communities around the United States were partly driven by his desire to feel more grounded with the American people.

"He said that he wanted to get out of the 'Washington bubble,'" she said. "He enjoys connecting with people and seeing how the American people are living and thinking."

McCulley said that in Obama's opening speech, he said that the economy was getting better, but that the healing process would take a long time.

"He told us, 'I'm stubborn and I'm not giving up, because I know how long it takes to make a change,'" she said.

She said that he talked a little bit about the upcoming November elections, and the Republicans' budget proposals. He believes that their proposals are not going to end up doing what they say they will, so we all need to pay attention and look more closely, she said.

Perry and McCulley both said that another one of Obama's goals was to motivate voting among the people who believe in his agenda and can help to push it forward.

"It's so important for people to get out and vote, and it's especially important for college students to continue to vote and continue to care," McCulley said.

Contact staff writer Eliza Morse at eliza.morse@richmond.edu

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