President Barack Obama will campaign in Roanoke tonight, marking the first time a sitting president has held an event here since 1977. We’ll flashback throughout the day to other occasions that presidents have visited Roanoke. We’ll kick it off, however, with a flashback to the last time Obama held an event in Roanoke as a candidate.
Sunday, May 13, 1990
BUSH PRAISES VOLUNTEERS/ LIBERTY U. WELCOMES PRESIDENT
By DANIEL HOWES HIGHER EDUCATION WRITER
LYNCHBURG — President Bush blew through Western Virginia on Saturday, bringing Sean Michael Law an engraved gold tie pin and Liberty University’s 1,700 graduates an exhortation to community service.
Law, the grandson of Roanoke Mayor Noel Taylor, was the luckiest of the few valley residents who took a break from their weekend chores to catch a glimpse of the president, his wife Barbara and their security-rich entourage.
The 6-year-old stood by his grandfather’s side as the Republican mayor greeted the Bushes. Smiling, the president shook the youngster’s hand and gave him the pin engraved with Bush’s name on one side, the presidential seal on the other.
Then it was thumbs-up and on to Lynchburg, where 16,000 spectators and graduates waited in the afternoon sun for Marine One and the three other helicopters carrying aides and White House reporters to swoop down alongside Willard May Stadium.
By then, the stage had been set – perfectly. A huge U.S. flag hung between two majestic columns and under a classic white arch, adorned with “Liberty University” in gold letters. Blue drapes hung on three sides of the stage, the lectern ready for the president.
Still missing was the presidential seal, which was hung just below the microphones after Bush arrived.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, telling the Bushes that they had come to a “Bible-believing, Christ-honoring university,” lauded the president for his leadership and his positions on everything from abortion to Panama.
“We appreciate your strength. We appreciate Panama and what you did there,” Falwell said, calling Bush “a man who believes in family values and that adoption is better than abortion.
“We’d like to say . . . we admire and respect you, the president of the United States.” Spirited applause. A standing ovation.
Bush, the white hood of the just-bestowed honorary doctor of humanities degree draped on his shoulders, hailed the democratic changes sweeping Eastern Europe and urged the graduates to dedicate themselves to volunteerism.
“In this more peaceful time, when our armies can become smaller, we must mold a world where the armies of people helping others can become bigger,” he said.
Extolling the freedoms won in the American Revolution – “rights like freedom of speech, due process under the law and to think and dream as we choose” – Bush said: “And I might add, the freedom to pray as we choose.
“I support and will continue to support a constitutional amendment restoring voluntary prayer [in schools],” he said, departing from his prepared remarks. “We need the faith of our fathers back in our schools.”
Thunderous applause. It was, as Falwell had said earlier, “an evangelical Christian audience.”
Returning to his speech, the president said, “Remember: Individually, we can change a life. Collectively, we can change the world. Each of you can reject membership in a `Me’ generation – proving that yours is the `We’ generation – and show how a definition of a successful life must include serving others.”
He singled out Liberty’s Kenya Relief Project, its annual scholarships to two students from every country in the world and its children’s home in Korea.
“I salute these deeds of the heart, as you give of yourselves – missionaries in the finest sense of the word.
“Here at Liberty, you’ve shown how `a thousand points of light’ can become a galaxy of people working to solve problems in their own backyard,” the president said, mentioning the school’s home for alcoholics, its Center for Urban Outreach and its home for unwed mothers.
The Bushes left Columbia for Roanoke, where they arrived a little before 3 p.m.
By that time, an hour’s worth of musical entertainment in the Liberty University stadium was more than half finished. This was a commencement – the school’s 16th – where the graduates were seated more than an hour before the ceremony was scheduled to begin.
And there were to be no collegiate hijinks. The beach ball that a couple of graduates started bopping back and forth above their robed colleagues was seized by officials.
Secret Service agents – hands crossed at their waists, heads scanning back and forth – took up their stations in front of the stage and throughout the crowd. Uniformed police, their backs to the president, stood on the hills inside the stadium and in the woods outside the chain-link fence.
Bush spoke at Liberty in 1983 when it was known as Liberty Baptist College and he was known as the vice president. Lt. Col. Oliver North addressed Liberty graduates in 1988, a year after then-Attorney General Edwin Meese was the commencement speaker.
When the president finished his remarks Saturday and left the stage, Falwell stepped to the microphone and told the audience to stay put “until Marine One is out of sight.”
As another musical interlude began, a Secret Service agent removed the presidential seal from the lectern and dozens of reporters and photographers hurried to their cars and vans. So, too, did scores of spectators – obviously not family or friends of graduates – who clambered up the hill toward the parking lots.
Staff writer Deborah Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Illustration: PHOTO: By Cindy Pinkston. 1. The Rev. Jerry Falwell congratulates Bush as Bush receives an honorary doctorate in humanities. 2. The president meets Sen. John Warner at Roanoke’s airport, where Bush’s party boarded a helicopter for the trip to Lynchburg. color.