Friends help woman attend inauguration

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 2, 2009

Betty Levi said she thinks new President Barack Obama is doing agreat job in his first weeks in office, which makes it even moreexciting for her because she was given a trip to see history in themaking when he was sworn into office on Jan. 20.

Levi said she never would have been able to make the trip if itwasn’t for a loving group of people who made the whole thingpossible. It started with Lane Lofton, whom she used to watch overwhen he was a child.

Lofton, a Samford graduate who works in the office of an Alabamacongressman, was in charge of distributing the complimentarytickets to the inauguration and he was told he could have a few tosend home. He said Levi, who now teaches 3-year-old kindergarten atthe Lindsey Headstart Center in Brookhaven, was his firstchoice.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Betty was the first person I thought of that I knew wouldappreciate this type of experience,” Lofton said. “I know plenty ofpeople who did realize the gravity of it, but it goes withoutsaying that I wanted it to go to someone who has really longed forthis.”

So when Lofton called Levi to offer her the tickets, she thoughthe was kidding.

“I thought he was playing with me at first,” she said. “He said,’I’m for real,’ and I hung up the phone and called his mama.”

Lynn Lofton, Lane’s mother, said before she heard from Levi, shegot a call from Lane.

“He was really sad,” she said, laughing. “He said, ‘Mom, I don’tknow if she didn’t know who I was or what.’ Then when she called,she said, ‘What is this about?'”

Once the misunderstanding was cleared up, Levi realized thedream was going to be a reality. She said she didn’t have clothesthat would stand up to the harsh Washington D.C. winters, so shecalled Dave and LilAnn Pace, whose children she also cared for whenthey were younger.

“I said, ‘Dave, I’m gonna need a winter coat,'” she said. “Andhe told me, ‘You got it.'”

So with her ticket to the inauguration and her warm winter coattaken care of, Levi spoke to her boss, Linda Clark, who said shewas more than glad for her to take off work to go.

“I was so happy for her to get to go,” she said. “I knew it wasa once in a lifetime experience. But I wasn’t sure Betty wouldfly.”

That was a thought that crossed both Loftons’ minds too, as Levihad never liked to fly. But they were able to talk her into takinga flight that had only a few stops, and she arrived in Washington,D.C., Sunday before the inauguration.

Levi said she and her niece, Cecelia Smith, got to the park at4:30 a.m. the day of the inauguration and ended up standing aboutsix rows behind the chairs once they were allowed into the park.She said she could see the news helicopters circling above, andcalled her boyfriend, Myles Smith, to see if he could see herwaving in the crowd.

She said it was interesting to see how many people from all overthe country pulled together to celebrate the historic inauguration.She said she and Smith made fast friends with the people aroundthem: a man from Louisiana, a group from Ohio, and some people fromCalifornia.

The group formed a bond, Levi said, because when it got too coldfor them, they danced together. And when the crowd began to move,they held on to each other train-style to make sure they didn’tlose one another.

“I was calling roll since I’m a teacher,” she said. “Andwhenever he finally got sworn in, everyone just grabbed someone andhugged them. Everyone was smiling and laughing, and saying, ‘We didit!'”

Levi stayed with Lane Lofton during her time in the nation’scapital.

Lane Lofton said just getting to see his “second mom” again wasworth giving up his bed for the few days that she was there. Hesaid just getting to see her be so happy about seeing historyfirsthand was the best part of her visit.

“I think my favorite memory was coming home the night of theinauguration, and we’d been up since 2:30 that morning, and we wereexhausted,” he said. “I walked in and Betty was watching thecoverage of the neighborhood ball, and I thought, ‘I’m looking at alady that hasn’t slept in 22 hours, and she hasn’t stopped talkingsince I came in, she’s so excited about this.’ This was one of themost special times in my life, but being able share it with someonewho has been special to me since I can remember anything reallyamplified that.”

And Levi agreed. She said it was truly touching to see all thepeople that cared enough to make the trip possible for her.

“God had really been good to me,” she said.