WASHINGTON – Nine-year-old Connor Watkins of Forest Hill had never seen a live turkey or a live president in the flesh before, but that didn’t stop him from walking up and touching both the man and the bird Tuesday at the White House.
Dressed in a red shirt and blue pants and standing only a few feet tall, Watkins stared a 30-pound white turkey named Katie in the eye, then looked up at President Bush towering over him and said, “I think you are doing a really good job.”
Watkins joined dozens of area kids at the annual pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey by the president, a tradition dating back to 1947. Watkins was one of 12 kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County on hand for the Rose Garden ceremony, along with six students from the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick.
“By virtue of this pardon, Katie is on her way not to the dinner table, but to Kidwell Farm in Herndon, Virginia,” Bush said. “There she’ll live out her days as safe and comfortable as she can be.”
Ron Prestage, the chairman of the National Turkey Federation, named the turkey after his daughter, and brought along a spare one named Zack — named after his son — in case Katie was not up to presidential standards. Katie is the first female turkey to ever be pardoned by the president.
After Bush made his remarks, he walked over to the turkey, but was reluctant to touch her.
“Does Katie like to be petted?” he asked Prestage. After grabbing Prestage’s hand and making him touch the turkey first, Bush finally gave her a tap on the head.
But where the president was apprehensive, the students from Maryland were eager to meet Bush’s new feathered friend from Clinton, N.C.
“I never saw a live turkey before,” Watkins said. “Its feathers felt hard, but its head felt soft.”
Francis Garcia, 14, of Bel Air said he thought the turkey looked a little scared and couldn’t handle all the attention she was getting.
“This is one very lucky turkey, because it’s not getting eaten, and that is the bottom line,” said Francis, one of the Boys and Girls Club members at the event.
Linda Grimes, an administrative assistant with the Boys and Girls Club, said the 12 students were selected based on merit. Out of about 1,800 students in the program, Grimes said she picked boys and girls ranging from age 5 to 14 who had good attendance records and were well behaved.
“For many of these kids, it’s the first time they have left Harford County,” Grimes said.
But Watkins, still flush with the excitement of having met Bush, vowed it will not be his last trip to the White House.
“I want to be the president one day, because I like helping people,” he said.