Some 80 years after graduating from school, Vivian Bailey has taken the field trip of a lifetime.
The 97-year-old Columbia woman — a World War II veteran and retired federal employee who for more than a decade has been raising money for Howard County students — met Tuesday with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Bailey, who grew up in segregated Tulsa, Okla., in the 1920s, never had an opportunity to travel as a student. After serving in the Army and two federal agencies, she has spent much of her retirement raising money so that students at Running Brook Elementary in Columbia can afford to take field trips.
Earlier this year she accompanied a group of fourth-graders from the school to Washington — traveling with the students for the first time. On Tuesday, she returned to tour the White House and to meet with Obama.
"It's always been a wish of mine, ever since the president has been in office," Bailey said in an interview. "When I walked in there, I was probably speechless for a second. It was a dream that I had. I was hardly able to talk."
The White House released two photos of Bailey. In one, she is leaning on the president's desk in the Oval Office while speaking with Obama and Biden.
She was joined on her visit by Running Brook Principal Troy Todd and teacher Melissa Peyton.
Bailey has been raising money for students at the school for the past 15 years, she said, sending solicitation letters to friends and contacts she has developed over a lifetime. Sometimes the money is used for school supplies, but more often than not it helps students pay for travel.
"I wanted to make sure the kids got fields trips like they did in richer parts of the county," she said.
Bailey served as a company commander in the Women's Army Corps at bases in Georgia and Alabama during World War II.
After the war, Bailey moved to Chicago to work for the Veterans Administration. She took a job at the Social Security Administration in Chicago in 1952, and eventually moved to the agency's headquarters in Woodlawn. She retired in 1975.
The visit Tuesday was Bailey's first to the White House, but it turns out Obama was not the first president she has met. She spoke at length with Bill Clinton at Duke University a few years back at an event to memorialize the scholar John Hope Franklin.
Bailey was a childhood friend of the celebrated historian.