Interview SummaryNeal Gillen, an attorney and businessman associated with the Johnson White House, begins the interview by recalling when he first met the Abells. Gillen describes his extensive background in Democratic politics. Gillen discusses the Lady Bird Special campaign tour, including his and Bess Abell's role in the operation. The impact of the Lady Bird Special on the 1964 presidential election is considered. Gillen details the principal message that went along with the Lady Bird Special. The creator of the Lady Bird Special is also explored. Gillen also talks of the logistics behind the Lady Bird Special. Gillen discusses the dynamics between Lady Bird Johnson and the female reporters in the White House press corps. Gillen describes his role in Lyndon Johnson's 1964 presidential campaign. Gillen recalls how much traveling Bess Abell did during Johnson's 1964 presidential campaign. Gillen discusses Bess' idea to create a golden railroad spike as a souvenir to commemorate the Lady Bird Special campaign tour. Gillen drew inspiration from Bess' golden railroad spike idea to create a bronze pencil as a gift for a business associate. Bess' role in designing a poster for the 1980 Democratic National Convention is also mentioned. Gillen recalls when President Johnson met fashion designer Abe Schrader. Gillen articulates his role in Lady Bird Johnson's beautification projects. Gillen then describes Bess Abell's personality. Gillen reflects upon when he first met Walter Mondale. Additionally, Gillen remembers an interesting incident from the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Gillen describes how well the Carters and the Mondales got along during the Carter administration. Gillen characterizes the tense environment surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Gillen also describes his participation in developing the Merry-Go-Round Farm subdivision in Potomac, Maryland. Gillen talks of his involvement with horses over the years. Bess Abell's keen understanding of the political system is discussed. Bess' disapproval of the recent messaging of the Democratic Party is explored. Gillen assesses Bess' legacy for White House social secretaries. Gillen compares Bess to John F. Kennedy's social secretary, Tish Baldrige. Gillen considers what Lyndon Johnson was like as a president. Gillen concludes the interview with a short reflection on Bess Abell's battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Interview KeywordBess Abell Tyler Abell White House Lady Bird Special Lady Bird Johnson Whistle-stop campaigning Lyndon Johnson White House press corps 1964 presidential campaign Golden railroad spike Posters Abe Schrader Beautification Walter Mondale 1968 Democratic National Convention Jimmy Carter Merry-Go-Round Farm Campaign finance Democratic Party Tish Baldrige
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Interview UsageInterviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Interviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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Gillen, Neil P. Interview by Brien Williams. 03 Oct. 2019. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Gillen, N.P. (2019, October 03). Interview by B. Williams. Bess Abell Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Gillen, Neil P., interview by Brien Williams. October 03, 2019, Bess Abell Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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