Elon University trustee Jeanne Robertson, a professional speaker and humorist, came up with a special plan to celebrate National Volunteer Week, and was rewarded with her lifelong dream, a speaking engagement at the White House.
In line with Elon’s emphasis on volunteer service, Robertson contacted the White House to volunteer to speak at an event to honor the 1,300 citizens who volunteer their time to supplement the White House staff, answering correspondence and doing other duties that would otherwise have to be handled by paid staff members.
“When I heard about these great volunteers, I decided that this year’s National Volunteer Week would be a good time to let them know, in a humorous manner, that their efforts are appreciated,” Robertson said.
She contacted the coordinator of White House volunteers, who liked the idea, and then decided that Robertson could use her nationally known speaking talents to entertain the volunteers at a special gathering on April 29. Robertson spoke to the volunteers in the auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located adjacent to the West Wing of the White House.
Robertson says she was thrilled to have an opportunity to volunteer for the volunteers.
“Elon has been recognized as one of the nation’s top universities for service, so it was a perfect fit for me to bring that message to our nation’s capitol,” Robertson says.
Robertson takes pride in using family-friendly humor material, and steers away from politics in her talks. She used material from several other speeches to deliver a talk titled “Humor: more than an laughing matter.”
National Volunteer Week (April 27 – May 3) is an annual tradition, proclaimed by President George W. Bush and sponsored by the Points of Light & Hands On Network and supported by USA Freedom Corps and Target. The week was first declared by President Richard Nixon in 1974 as an annual celebration of volunteering. Since then, every U.S. president has signed a proclamation promoting National Volunteer Week. In honor of the week, all Americans are encouraged to participate in a service-related activity.
Robertson averages 80-90 presentations to corporations and associations around the world each year. She stresses how a sense of humor can be an integral part of one’s strategy for success. Robertson has been recognized by her peers with every top designation and honor in her profession including the Certified Speaking Professional designation by the National Speakers Association (NSA) in 1980 and induction into the Speaker Hall of Fame in 1981.
She served as NSA president in 1985, and in 1989 became the first woman to receive the Cavett Award, the organization’s highest honor. Toastmasters International named Robertson the recipient of its 1998 Golden Gavel Award, given annually to one individual for accomplishments in leadership and communications. The North Carolina Press Association named Robertson its 2001 North Carolinian of the Year for “her popularity on the speaking circuit, her award-winning ways and her representation of North Carolina.”
A former Miss North Carolina and Miss Congeniality in the Miss America pageant, Robertson is a 1967 graduate of Auburn University, and the author of three books on humor. She has produced five DVDs in the past nine years and can be heard daily on XM Radio’s Family Comedy Channel.
Robertson and her husband, Jerry, are active member of the Phoenix Society, supporting Elon Athletics, and made major gifts to fund construction of Dr. Alan and Norma White Field at the new Belk Track complex, construction of the Dr. Alan White Bell Tower, and to fund several athletics scholarships. The Robertsons’ son, Bailey “Beaver” Bowline, is a 1989 Elon graduate.