Remarks During a Visit to the Jeanne Jugan Residence on Mother's Day

May 13, 1984

Mother Mary Agnes, thank you for inviting us here today.

Since the Little Sisters of the Poor was founded in 1839, the order has spread to 34 countries on 5 continents and cared for more than a million of the elderly today, of my generation. And here in Washington, although this home is only a year old, it replaced one that was operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor for more than a century.

And throughout all these decades, you've cared for the elderly in our Capital City who had nowhere else to go. You've brought them into a warm and happy home. And you've given them, in addition to the necessities, the thing that only the love of others can bestow: dignity.

I know that for your financial support, you depend on individual donations, and I can't think of any worthier cause than the Little Sisters of the Poor. And on behalf of all those you've done so very much to help, I thank you.

You know, Nancy and I, coming down here from Camp David on the helicopter, we couldn't help but be thinking about this particular day and what it was. I think in hindsight, perhaps, I realize more about my mother than -- and as so many of us do, did not at the time -- Nelle was a little woman, auburn hair, and, I realize now, had a strength through some very trying times that held our family together. We were poor, but the government didn't come around and tell us we were, so -- [laughter] -- we didn't know it. And probably we didn't know it because Nelle was always finding someone that was worse off then we were that needed help.

And my father was hard-working. He had a sense of humor. He also had a very great problem, but my mother saw that my brother and I, from the time we were children, understood that problem and that it was something -- a sickness, and that he was not to be blamed, but to be loved.

And she taught us about life, I think, by her deeds as well as her words. She had never gone beyond -- in education -- beyond elementary school, but she had a different kind of education that I think has been imprinted and a faith that I know now has been bestowed on me.

I'd like to just tell a little anecdote about it. Some years after I was in Hollywood, I was able to bring my parents out there, and she immediately started finding people. And one she found was a county tubercular sanitarium that could provide, as a public institution could of that kind, the necessary care, but certainly failed in some of the homelike atmosphere that was necessary.

And my mother went to work, and she visited that place regularly. She arranged for movies to be shown and for television and things of that kind that they had never had before. And one night -- and she has left us now -- but one night I was at a banquet. I was the speaker at a banquet. And a few years ago, banquet food wasn't of the same quality that it is today. And the waiter that was coming along leaned down to me and whispered and said, ``Would you rather have a big steak than what we're serving here?''

``Well,'' I said, ``if that's possible, yes,'' -- [laughter] -- because I did a lot of banquet speaking in those days, and I'd had enough of banquet food. Well, he arrived back with the nicest, big T-bone steak you ever saw and put it in front of me.

Now, in the meantime, I had decided that he had to be a motion picture fan, and he must have liked my pictures. And I was basking in that kind of reflected glory. And as he put the steak down, he leaned down and whispered in my ear, ``Anytime, for a relative of Nelle Reagan's. I used to be a patient at Olive View Sanitarium.'' [Laughter]

But Nancy, at the same time -- and this is a coincidence -- thank heaven, Nancy's mother is still with us -- Nancy's mother, living in Chicago, was one of a kind also. I don't think there was a policeman or a doorman or a cabdriver or anyone like that in Chicago that didn't know Edith Davis, because she, too, was always engaged in good works. And we saw a classic example of that.

Nancy and I got off the train, the New York Twentieth Century Limited in Chicago, in the midst of a blizzard and laden with bags and baggage and so forth from the trip we'd been on. Everyone else -- and not a redcap, not a porter in sight and everyone struggling with their bags and everything. And we -- this whole length of the train to go -- and all of sudden looked down, and here came Nancy's mother, arm in arm with two redcaps. [Laughter]

And as she got closer, we could hear, she was asking the one about his children. She knew his children's names, knew all about them, what grade they were in, and was talking to him. The other one, asked about his wife's operation. She knew all about that, too. And just happened to stop by us and say, ``Oh, these are my children. Could you give them a hand with their bags?'' [Laughter] And a whole trainload of people saw us stride down the platform with Nancy's mother and with the two porters, and they were still trying to manage with their bags, and we had plenty of help.

But I think things like this make me understand what Abe Lincoln was feeling when he said, ``All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my mother.''

And I know there are many of you mothers in this room. I also know that there are others who live as mothers live, the Little Sisters of the Poor, 17 who are residents in this home and together with the 4,500 Little Sisters around the world who have chosen to give of themselves completely in humble service to their fellow men and women. The residents are your family. Your prayers and hard work have made this a very friendly and, it's very obvious, a joyful home.

And thank you all for allowing us to share this special day with you. And we wish each one of you a very happy and rewarding Mother's Day and the blessings of our beloved God.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. in the home's auditorium. Prior to his remarks, the President and Mrs. Reagan attended the home's Mother's Day dinner for its residents and their families.