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Dr. Lewis Sumner Thorpe, born in 1926, describes a visit to Rocky Mount by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Dr. Thorpe says it was basically a mistake – the President wanted publicity for making a trip to Appalachia, and his staff thought Rocky Mount was in Appalachia. The trip was scheduled through NC House Speaker Tom Pearsall, a prominent Nash County citizen. Dr. Thorpe was asked to provide medical support for the visit, with assistance from Dr. Orville Bell. He describes the complex preparations, including emergency contingency plans with the old Park View Hospital (Nash General Hospital had not been built yet), and having an ambulance on standby (it was an ambulance but also a part-time hearse, in these pre-EMT days, with no oxygen or medical equipment onboard but a “Johnson’s Funeral Home” sign on it). He also talks about the preparations made by the Secret Service and county officials. They staged a disabled tenant farmer’s house out in the county to look more stereotypically picturesque. The narrative was that this farmer and his large family were grateful for the government support they received (as they no doubt were, in real life). The President’s plane came in to the airport in Rocky Mount and he was helicoptered out to the farm. The visit was a brief one, and Johnson was driven back through town to wave at the crowds, then flew back to Washington. Dr. Thorpe says it was a great relief when they left. Everyone was particularly on edge, he remarks, because Kennedy’s assassination had happened so recently.

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