In the 'card's
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s not often a Christmas card leads to multiple invitations to meet with first lady, Michelle Obama – but that’s exactly what transpired for former Manistique resident Elaine (Lowry) Brye. She most recently introduced the first lady during the Democratic National Convention, held in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4.
Brye, daughter of a career Army man, spent most of her childhood traveling. When her father, Col. Phillip Lowry, was deployed to Vietnam in 1970, Brye moved briefly to Manistique. Her grandparents, Lil and Harold McNamara, lived in the area, and her mother, Joan McNamara was a Manistique native and graduated from Manistique High School in 1948.
“Anytime we were in the states, during the summer, we would go to their cabin on Indian Lake,” she said.
In the year and a half she lived in Manistique, Brye attended the high school for her entire sophomore year, as well as half of her junior year.
After high school, Brye joined the Air Force ROTC, where she met her husband, an Air Force pilot. The two married and had five children – four sons and one daughter.
“My husband and I have five children and one each in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps,” she said. “That’s our big joke; I said we are encouraging him (her youngest son) to go into the Coast Guard. We actually didn’t push any of them, because that’s too big of a decision … but I’m sure he’ll consider it, just because it’s kind of what our family does.”
“They come by it honestly, but it is amazing that they’ve all chosen to do it,” she said.
After her husband left the Air Force after nine years, Brye said he flew for a commercial airline while also helping her run their small farm in Ohio. Besides the farm, Brye stayed occupied by being a stay at home mother, and, eventually, a science teacher.
When her husband took a position working for an airline in Afghanistan, Brye accompanied him and taught for the year they were there.
“Now he’s retired and we’re back at home trying to catch up with visiting,” she said.
But Brye never thought she’d be visiting with the first lady – a surprise that followed the innocent sending of a Christmas card.
“I was writing Christmas cards last winter and I knew that the first lady had been doing a lot of work for military and their families through the Joining Forces Initiative,” she said. “I just decided, on a whim, to write her a Christmas card and just tell her thank you for caring, and I never expected to hear anymore about it.”
Months after sending the card, Brye said she received an invitation in March to attend a state dinner to honor Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House.
“When we got there, and we went through the receiving line, the first lady told us we were sitting with her,” she said. “We were just, understandably, shocked. We had a wonderful time and it was an opportunity of a lifetime. We never dreamed – I mean, who does that?”
After the dinner, Brye went on with her life, until August, when, during a road trip to North Dakota with her husband, she got another surprise. While stopped at a gas station, Brye received a call from the first lady’s press secretary, asking if she would be interested in attending the DNC as the first lady’s guest.
“Of course, that was really shocking, because that was just not something we expected,” she said.
Brye agreed, and, three days later, she was called again – this time about possibly introducing the first lady at the convention.
“I did do debate in Manistique High School, so I thought, ‘Okay, I can do that,’” she said.
Though Brye describes herself as “not a political person”, she said she agreed to the first lady’s request.
“She just really wants to honor our family for all of our service,” she said.
The ensuing experience was “incredible”, Brye said.
“They flew us down, met us at the airport, I practiced on the podium, met with the speech coach,” she said. “Our Manistique speech coach must have done a pretty good job, because they blocked us for an hour, but after about 20 minutes, he said, ‘I don’t have anything else more to tell you.’ I told him it’s always easier when you’re speaking from your heart.”
On the day of the convention, Brye said she could feel the excitement and electricity in the air. Despite being forewarned about a potentially distracted audience, she said she was pleasantly surprised.
“They were a great audience, and basically hanging on every word, so that made me feel so much better,” she explained.
Brye said she tried to make her brief introduction encompass the pride she felt toward her family – especially her father, who recently passed away and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.
“I just really wanted to honor him, I wanted to honor my kids, I wanted to honor every kid who had gone and chosen to serve and I wanted to honor their families, because they’re heroes too,” she said.
Brye said she had a brief period of quasi-celebrity in and around the DNC following her speech.
“Since that time, everywhere I go at the convention or even in Charlotte, people have been coming up to me and telling me that they’re praying for my children and how they were touched,” she said.
On her way home during her interview with the Pioneer Tribune, Brye noted that she was flattered by the interest in her story – especially from the Manistique area.
“I always considered Manistique my home, even though I didn’t live there very long,” she said.