Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to the White House Secretaries.

November 19, 1968

I HAVE a lot of consternation and problems here in the White House right now because some of the men are having to do their own work. And one of the lawyers just told me that he had already talked to three people that he never wanted to talk to since you girls left the office.

At this particular season of the year and prior to our going home, Mrs. Johnson and I have reviewed our blessings many, many times. We have been so thankful for all of the good things that have come our way. The Presidency is a great institution and a powerful office, particularly when it is used for good and to improve the lives of human beings. And in our own way, we have tried to use it that way. I said one evening, when I was trying to get the Congress to agree with me during a very turbulent period associated with the Selma march, when there were a lot of pickets out in front of the White House-there was a lot of disturbance throughout the South, and the country for that matter-that I never in my fondest dream ever thought, back when I was teaching Mexican children in a little grade school at Cotulla, that I would ever be President or ever be talking to 200 million people by television or addressing the Congress on the subject that I was talking to them about that night.

But I could never forget the memory I had when I was teaching those youngsters, seeing the disappointment in their eyes and seeing the quizzical expression on their faces when they had come to school that morning, most of them without any breakfast, most of them hungry, and all the time they seemed to be asking me, "Why don't people like me? Why do they hate me because I am brown?"

So, I was asking the Congress to give me a law that would permit everyone to vote regardless of their color. I said that I never thought when I was back there in that poverty condition in Cotulla that I would ever be President and have all the power that comes to the President. But now that I have it--I am here, and it is a - fait accompli--I am going to let the Congress in on a little secret: I intend to use every bit of it.

We have tried to use every bit of it for good. You have been instruments in that work.

A man who was running the elevator the other day said, "I just don't know what I am going to do in the next few days when I don't haul you up that elevator."

I said, "Well, you will haul someone who is a little lighter but it will be the same."

When we are gone, someone else will come in and try to use the office for the same good purposes.

But I wanted to expressly thank you girls. When I first came to Washington 37 years ago, Mr. Rayburn told me that no Member of Congress was any better than his secretary. I was a secretary. My shorthand wasn't very good and my typing was not much better. But I filled in as secretary for some time.

I really remembered all through that period what Mr. Rayburn had said, "A Congressman is no better than his secretary." I think that is true of a President. A President is no better than the sum total of the people who work for him.

I believe that there is one special thing that has come to me for which I am grateful. I believe I have had the most devoted, the most loyal, the most competent staff people that could be assembled in a short period here in this place.

You have weathered storms. You have enjoyed some sunshine. You have never complained. You have worked around the clock. You have traveled around the world. You have made the impossible possible.

As I was coming in here, I asked one of my experts to get me a quotation that my mother used to say to us when she had the little family flock around her. I had forgotten exactly where it came from or just how it went. But I thought of this quotation when she thought of her dear ones. She used this expression, "These are my jewels." And it comes from "Anatomy of Melancholy" by Robert Burton, 1577-1640. "Cornelia kept her in talk till her children came from school, and these, said she, are my jewels."

So to you five dozen or so young ladies, although I really haven't had the time to tell you every day how proud I was of you or how grateful I am to you or how much and how well you have served your country and your President, I did want you to know today before we break up that these are "my jewels." I shall always treasure your loyalty, your diligence, your love of country, and what you have done for it.

There is a little box here that I will have given to you either today or later if I can get it in time. It is a presidential charm. You don't need to be frightened. You can wear it in any administration. It is a symbol of the office and not the man.

But I just wondered where that word "charm" came from. I have heard of the girls who were charming. I went in to look at Webster's definition of charm. Juanita and Mary and all of them had left. I couldn't even find the dictionary, and finally, I found one. I took it out and all the other books fell down. It is going to take someone a long time to put them back.

But I had a little presidential charm made up. What it is is a bracelet, something like the one that she has there on her arm. You will see it. I want you to take this bracelet and have my initials and your initials put on it along with this date because Webster's says, "A charm is to ward off evil"--a little late to be giving it to you--"and to insure good luck."

If there is any group here that I want to ward off evil and to insure good luck, it is this group.

This charm will be given to you in behalf of all of us in this First Family as a little token of our appreciation for what you have done.

I said to the telephone operators the other day that they were my "first line of defense and offense." They have served me at every hour of the night and morning competently and well. I can say that of you, too.

Maybe I can't thank you on behalf of Lyn like I did the telephone operators. I said, "Mrs. Johnson and I have relied on you to bring us the word of disaster or delight, whichever it happened to be, in the world. But Lyn has relied on you just for delight." When he comes he has all the telephone operators going at one time when he takes the phones off the hook.

I want to thank you on behalf of Mrs. Johnson, our daughters, our granddaughter, and Lyn for the wonderful things you have done for us.

God bless you and happy landing to all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:19 p.m. in the Fish Room at the White House, where he met with the secretaries for picture-taking.

During his remarks the President referred to Sam Rayburn, Representative from Texas 1913-1961, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives 1940-1947, 1949-1953, 1955-1961; Mrs. Juanita Duggan Roberts, Personal Secretary to the President; and Mary Alice Rather, Assistant to the Special Assistant to the President. The President also referred to the period from 1932 to 1935 when he was employed as a secretary in the office of Representative Richard M. Kleberg, Sr., of Texas.

For remarks of the President to the White House telephone operators, see Item 588.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to the White House Secretaries. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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