Thank you to Debra Wallace for sharing her memories of President-Elect Donald Trump with us. I think with the sadness, disappointment and real fear that some are feeling its important for us to remember that our politicians do start out as real people with real families and friends. Like the rest of us, they all have a story. Now that the election is over I am hoping we can move forward and all start looking for the good, the positive and any shimmer of light we can find.
Debra Wallace is an award-winning internationally-syndicated journalist, author, blogger, social services reporter, and entertainment writer. To learn more about Debra and her work: Wallace Media Services.
Did I mention she is talented, fabulous and has an adorable little boy…
The Donald Trump I Knew
The time was in the early 1990s, and the place was Palm Beach Florida, when I was the business editor/writer for the local society newspaper, The Palm Beach Daily News, affectionately nicknamed The Shiny Sheet.
My official “beat” was to cover local business leaders, among them powerful CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, private banks, and Worth Avenue companies including Tiffany’s and Van Cleef and Arpels. But shortly after I started working there, I was asked to assist the staff with extensive coverage of Donald Trump’s request to turn the historic Mar-a-Lago mansion into a private club.
This was a controversial zoning case at the time that involved binders filled with legal documents, and dozens of local meetings, often with heated discussions from the local residents who opposed the zoning on one side and Donald J. Trump on the other.
One day I was standing outside “Sprinkles” ice cream shop when a beaming Donald Trump walked in talking about the imminent birth of his daughter, Tiffany who was born in October 1993, and is now 23 years old.
A local man saw Trump walk in, ran up to me and said he needed to get something off his chest, “That guy, Donald Trump is loud, brash, and rude. He is going to ruin our quiet community. I can’t stand him!” I was too stunned to respond. The man walked away, and as Trump left the shop, a second man I didn’t know walked up to me and said, “You know; I love that man. Donald Trump is kind-hearted, dedicated and a true leader.”
I was again speechless – one of the few times in my life.
All of this came back to me while I was following the Presidential election. It is obvious that Trump was elected president of the United States by a divided country.
For many months, I have heard relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbors and those around the country say they voted for Hillary Clinton, or for Donald Trump, or against one of them, or for the lesser of two evils, or they didn’t want to vote for either candidate, so they just stayed home.
The moment Trump’s victory was announced, I started to hear a verbal and social media backlash against the “real estate mogul and reality TV star,” whose campaign invigorated half the country and angered the other half. So I felt compelled to talk about the Trump I knew, and who I believe the rest of the nation will get to know in the coming months and years.
When I heard Trump’s first televised speeches as President-elect I was reminded of my many interactions during, and after, the Mar-a-Lago zoning issue.
I remember when Trump personally went to the posh Palm Beach homes of his neighbors to calmly discuss their concerns and what it would mean to them if his historic estate previously owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post could become a private club; a place I was invited to and visited more than a dozen times for charitable events, and interviews with Trump and his staff members.
I would often ask the planners of the various events for charities involving children, the elderly, the disabled and the arts, and other noteworthy causes what they were charged to hold an event at Mar-a-Lago. The answer would come in a whisper. “Off the record; he’s got a soft heart for those in need, that’s why Trump is doing this fundraiser.”
A few years after I left the newspaper to become a free-lance writer, I was still living in South Florida, and remember having lunch with friends in Palm Beach when I heard a buzz in the air about The Beach Boys coming to play at a small event at Mar-a-Lago.
Newly married at the time, the minute I heard about this I could just imagine the look on my husband’s face if I could say that his work-a-holic wife was taking the night off to take him to see a private Beach Boys concert.
I asked a business woman club member I knew if she could put our names on the guest list, so I could surprise my husband with this once-in-a-lifetime concert. “We won’t eat or drink or incur any charge,” I urged, with hope in my eyes. Her chilly reply: “Sorry, I can’t invite any additional guests; we are already full on our guest list.”
Shortly after my hopes were dashed about the concert, I had the chance to talk to Trump’s long-time assistant, Norma, who had arranged many of the interviews I had previously conducted. I told Norma how much my beloved husband would love to see The Beach Boys. I did not request an invitation, although I am sure she could hear in my voice how much I wanted to go to that concert on a cool fall night.
About an hour later, Donald Trump called me and said ‘Please bring your husband and be my guests at Mar-a-Lago for The Beach Boys.’ I thought I was hearing things.
Trump personally greeted us amid the hundreds of people at the exclusive concert, and asked if we were having a good time. He mentioned there was an after party with other musical guests and encouraged us to stay as late as we wanted. It was one of the best concerts I had ever attended and the icing on the cake was that we took home a small beach ball that was tossed into the audience.
The memories of that night, of Trump’s kindness, especially since my husband died of congestive heart failure in 2012, is what I think of first when I wrap my head around Trump’s transition into the US presidency.
Several years later, as a writer for a satellite TV magazine, I was sent to Trump Tower to cover the first season of The Apprentice. Trump spotted me in the press line, turned to me and we talked for about five minutes, despite the fact the event was about to start. He asked if I was still living in Florida, how my husband and I were doing. We talked about my nephew who was about the same age as Tiffany, who was in elementary school.
As he was getting ready to go back to his press event, Trump turned to me and said, “Thank you! When you were reporting about Mar-a-Lago, you always treated us fairly and accurately, and I appreciated that. If I can ever help you out, let me know.”
This is the Donald Trump I knew more than 20 years ago, and I believe the same type of man the American people have elected as their president. He may rub many people the wrong way, but to me he was respectful and kind.
By the way, I still have that beach ball the musicians tossed out into the audience.