Brimming with praise for Great Neck's intergenerational program---the Grace Avenue school building that houses CLASP and the Senior Center---Tipper Gore charmed a large crowd last week on her visit to Great Neck. Touring CLASP's facilities, meeting with the little children, meeting with senior citizens, and, later on, speaking to a gathering of residents of all ages, Mrs. Gore won many friends as she told stories of the personal, private side of Vice President Al Gore and his family.
Tipper Gore (l.) with good friend Robert Zimmerman (r.) and Mr. Zimmerman's mother, Annette Zimmerman (center).
Vibrant and full of life, Tipper Gore was a natural with the children. She just as easily moved amongst the senior citizens, very approachable and very careful to focus on each individual concern, shaking each outstretched hand, posing for picture after picture. Young and old, the reaction was, ''She's so beautiful! She's so friendly!''
Before addressing the assembled group of community members last Monday, Feb. 28, Mrs. Gore took the time for a private meeting and photo session with community leaders and elected officials, led by Great Neck's Robert Zimmerman, a good friend of the Gore family as well as a managing chair of the New York State Steering Committee for the Gore presidential campaign. On a one-to-one basis, each one at this private meeting found Mrs. Gore to be particularly friendly and forthcoming. For Lee Seeman, 16th assembly district leader and a Democratic committee woman, there was instant recognition and a very personal greeting.
Then on to the waiting crowd, where North Hempstead Town Supervisor May Newburger touted Mrs. Gore as one person who is ''interested in all issues affecting all of us.''
U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman lauded Supervisor Newburger for her involvement with intergenerational projects and for heading a ''town par excellence.'' Turning to Mrs. Gore, Congressman Ackerman introduced her---''young, dynamic, vigorous, charming, and gorgeous...and her husband is not too bad either!''
''Tipper Gore cares so much about the things all of us believe in,'' stated the congressman, expressing his ''high regard'' for Mrs. Gore and noting her dedication and hard work during a trip they had once shared to hurricane-ravaged Central America.
Taking the stage, Tipper Gore immediately set the tone for her very personal, informal talk as she spoke of her strong ''bond'' with Congressman Ackerman and her admiration for Supervisor Newburger's initiative in developing the Grace Avenue intergenerational facility. ''It's important to care for one another...to have more (facilities) like this...it's the answer to a way communities can be knit together and strengthened,'' said Mrs. Gore.
As for her ''dear friend'' Robert Zimmerman, Mrs. Gore smiled and said, ''Good things happen when Robert is involved.''
And, said Mrs. Gore, good things happen, too, when people care for one another. ''All of us care about families and communities...we care about why and how families work...children and seniors, they're important...these are the simple things, but they are what's important,'' said Mrs. Gore.
The vice president's wife went on to talk about her own family---her husband of 30 years, their three daughters, a son, and new grandson Wyatt, born on July 4---and how members of her family enjoy one another. ''The family has been the great joy of our life,'' said Mrs. Gore, as she told of always putting the family first. ''The family has always been a priority for my husband,'' she said. ''And with 23 years of public service, that says a lot about him...we figured out how to make it work.''
She admitted that conflicts do arise, but she and the vice president do, indeed, ''make it work.'' When Vice President Gore had the responsibility of handing out orange slices after one daughter's soccer game, he took this seriously and waited out the overtime, keeping a foreign dignitary waiting. When he explained his tardiness after he finally arrived at the White House, the dignitary, being a father too, fully understood. ''But we will keep the name of that foreign leader secret,'' Mrs. Gore insisted, as she proudly related the story to the appreciative crowd.
Again, she told her audience, Vice President Gore put his children first, as he flew home in a snowstorm to join his two oldest daughters in a promised marathon. Even though he had been campaigning, even though the storm delayed his return home, even though he had had little sleep, he would not disappoint his children. As for his race time, Mrs. Gore laughingly reported that her husband had said, ''My daughters slowed down to run with me.'' But the important thing to his daughters was that their father was there.
''Family, that's what it's all about,'' continued Mrs. Gore, as she told of her son and the time her husband always devotes to the 17-year-old. The vice president made it to every one of his son's football games last fall, even as he was campaigning for the presidency. And last summer the two climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington state together. ''It's what we think is important...it's what gives life meaning,'' said Mrs. Gore. ''You can do your job and care for your family...and in this new century, we hope it will be easier to balance, to give to one another, to fulfill our very human needs...to strengthen our families and our communities, as we share this great experience of living.''
As the audience applauded, Mrs. Gore stated, ''Now you know more about us...what you don't read...now you know about Al Gore as a person, with his family, a family that works with each other and gives to each other.''
Again speaking of Great Neck's wonderful intergenerational facility, Mrs. Gore promised to ''talk about this all around the country.''
Closing her remarks, Tipper Gore added, ''I congratulate all of you on what you have achieved...dreams can be spread and dreams can become reality!''
And as she slowly made her way out of the room and through the hallway, Tipper Gore took the time to shake each hand, to thoughtfully answer each question. When she disappeared behind a closed door, the audience was still on a ''high,'' chatting about this remarkably friendly, unaffected wife of the vice president. So many seemed so very pleased that this ''Second Family'' really does put ''family first.''