Local woman hugs Obama

Friday, October 14, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

A Mooresville woman and President Barack Obama hugged each other in the Rose garden of the White House last month after the President announced cuts to deficit spending.

Duke and Billie Hamilton were at the White House as tourists on a vacation provided by their son, Dennis Hamilton of Selmer, Tenn. Victoria McCullough, Duke and Billie's granddaughter, has been working in the West Wing as the assistant to the director of public engagement. Victoria is the daughter of Lewisburg resident Tammy McCullough.

Billie Hamilton is a long-time Marshall County resident who has been a volunteer for the Democratic Party here. By chance, Dennis, Duke and Billie Hamilton were seated in the first row before the President spoke. It's traditional for the President to shake hands with the people on the front row after a speach.

Billie was asked how it was that she and the President hugged.

"I asked, 'Do you like hugs?' and he said, 'I sure do.'"

Why'd she ask?

"I don't know," Billie Hamilton replied. "I just did."

The moment was photographed by a member of the White House press corps and it was sent around the world by the Thompson Reuters news agency and carried on an Internet search engine home page such as Yahoo or Google. The photo was found there by one of Billie's relatives who told Julie Bonham, an employee of S&K Market in Culleoka where a color printout was thumbtacked to a support post between the dining room and the kitchen by Bonham.

"We're not saying we're Obama fans," Bonham said of posting the picture. "We are her (Billie's) fans."

Sandra Potts, co-owner of the market with her daughter, Kim, declined to say much more other than Billie "is a good person... We hung the picture up there because she's a good customer...

"We've got a picture of Mickey Mouse and of Phillip Parrish, who will do anything you ask him to do," Sandra said.

That color photo, protected by a plastic sleeve, complete with three holes for a school binder, has become well-enough known in those rural parts of Marshall and Maury counties so that Billie has felt like a "celebrity" when she enters the store.

"We went to church after we got back" from Washington, she said. The S&K Market is where many of the people go for dinner after attending churches in the community. "They were asking for my autograph, but they were just kidding. A lot of them saw it on the Internet.'

Lona Westmoreland dined with her husband, Wendell, last Sunday at the Culleoka store.

"We love her," Lona Westmoreland said of Billie and Duke, "but we don't agree with their opinions about Obama."

Lona and the Hamiltons attend the same Sunday school class.

"My grandson in Nashville supports Obama and you know I'm going to love him," said Lona who doesn't believe Obama loves America.

"No president I know of has ever apologized to another country for what America did," she said.

"It's a cute picture of her and she has a wit about her that's unreal."

Billie was the county Democratic Party's secretary "the year when Matt Collins was working for the party and when Lee Bowles was president" of the county party.

"I've always been a Democrat and I didn't vote for him because he is a Democrat," Billie said. "I voted for him because I think he's a very capable man. He inherited baggage from the previous administration. I think he's doing the best he can.

"If they gave him a chance, they'd straighten it out; the Congress and the President. If they work with him, I believe they'll straighten it out."

President Obama "talked about the jobs bill and that, with help, he needed to get things started for the people," Billie reported. "He said he wanted to put all differences aside and go forward. That's what I got out of it."

When she hugged the President, "I had both arms around him but I thought maybe I shouldn't squeeze too hard," Billie said. "He was very nice. I think he's a very personable man. If you got to talking with him, I think you'd enjoy it."

She had less than a minute with the president. Her husband and son were sitting nearby and Obama shook their hands.

"The entire speech, including my family on the front row receiving handshakes and my mom getting her hug, was on all the national news channels," Tammy McCullough said. "I had people calling me telling me they saw my family on CNN, Good Morning America and on the Internet news.

"When my dad called, we didn't believe it," McCullough said. "It was cool.

"Mother is a sweet little thing and she just said that to him."

Duke Hamilton is a farm manager in Mooresville.