When the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. learned his 92-year-old grandmother died late last month, he had a hometown friend on hand to reminisce about her life: Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.
Both men hail from Greenville, S.C., and it turns out Mr. Jackson's maternal grandmother, Matilda Burns, effectively babysat for the former South Carolina governor once upon a time.
Just two days after Ms. Burns' death on Feb. 23, the civil rights leader related that slice of family history while introducing Mr. Riley at a Chicago conference on disparities in education. ("Jackson Leads Jail Tour To Push for School Aid," March 5, 1997.)
Mr. Jackson, 55, recalled how much it meant to his grandmother, who he said never went to school or learned to read, when her former charge hosted her at the governor's mansion.
The 63-year-old Mr. Riley, in turn, recalled Ms. Burns as a "real friend of mine." Mr. Riley got to know her during his visits to the home of a neighborhood family who employed her as their regular babysitter, a spokesman for the secretary said.
"Some of the real heroes of the South were the older African-American women," Mr. Riley said in his speech at the three-day "Closing the Gap" conference convened by Mr. Jackson. "Jesse's grandmother is certainly one of these people."
Riley slept here
Some more facts about the education secretary:
Mr. Riley will be a principal for a day in New York City on April 10. He will supervise at least one school, but may split his time between two buildings, his spokesman said.
Mr. Riley's name has also come up recently as the only Cabinet member invited by President Clinton to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.
The secretary and his wife were two of 831 guests of the president who have slept in the famed room during Mr. Clinton's stay in office, according to records released late last month as the administration tried to deflect accusations that it promised a night in the historic room to generous donors.
--CAROLINE HENDRIE & DAVID J. HOFF [email protected]