Wednesday, August 23rd 2017

Obama “rescued” Mary — paid trip to Norway

This moving story was published in Norwegian in the national newspaper, VG, on October 4, 2008.

Below is a translation provided by Leisha Camden, an Oslo-based blogger:

mary-anderson-letter.jpgÅSGÅRDSTRAND (VG): Mary was a newlywed and ready to move to Norway, but was stopped at the airport because she didn’t have enough money for the trip. Then a stranger turned up and paid for her.

Mary Menth Andersen was 31 years old at the time, and had just married Norwegian Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to starting a new life in Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold with him. But first she had to get all of her belongings to Norway. The date was November 2nd, 1988.

At the airport in Miami things were hectic, with long lines at the check-in counters. When it was finally Mary’s turn, she placed her luggage on the baggage line — and got a message that would crush her bubbling feeling of happiness.

“You’ll have to pay a 103 dollar surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway,” the man behind the counter said.

Mary had no money. Her new husband had traveled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call.

“I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions,” recalled Mary.

Although she explained the situation to the man behind the counter, he showed no signs of mercy.

I started to cry, tears were pouring down my face and I had no idea what to do. Then I heard a gentle and friendly voice behind me saying, That’s OK, I’ll pay for her.

Mary turned around to see a tall man, a total stranger.

He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, Who is this man?

Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man.

He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants.

She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway, and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

The piece of paper said ‘Barack Obama’ and listed his address in Kansas, which is the state where his mother lived. Mary carried the slip of paper around in her wallet for years, before it was thrown out.

“He was my knight in shining armor,” says Mary, smiling.

She paid the 103 dollars back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly-paid community organizer in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard University.

In the spring of 2006 Mary’s parents (note from Soul’s Code: they live in California) had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier.

In a letter to Mary’s parents dated May 4th, 2006, and stamped ‘United States Senate, Washington DC’, (above) Barack Obama wrote:

I want to thank you for writing those kind words about me and for reminding me of that incident at Miami airport! I am happy that I could help then, and I am happy your daughter is doing well in Norway. Please send her my regards.

Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States Senator

The parents sent the letter on to Mary.

This week VG met her and her husband in the café that she runs with her friend Lisbeth Tollefsrud in Åsgårdstrand.

“It’s amazing to think that the man who helped me 20 years ago may now become the next US president,” says Mary delightedly.

She has already voted for Obama. She recently donated 100 dollars to his campaign.
She often tells the story from Miami airport, both when race issues are raised and a conversation turns to presidential elections.

“I sincerely hope the Americans will see reason and understand that Obama means change,” says Mary.