Visually, the contrast could hardly have been more striking.
She was a tall, elegant, high school senior. He was a bearded and grizzled Vietnam veteran. She was dressed in heels and a stylish gray sheath; he in jeans, warm-up vest, and a cap saying U.S. Marine Corps. Here they were on Wednesday night, standing before a gathering of 60 or so, two of the most talented and accomplished people Edmonds has ever known.
The scene was a gathering of VFW combat veterans, students and their families at the Edmonds American Legion hall. They were there to honor and be honored as winners of the VFW’s annual patriotic essay contests. See more in a related story here.
Olivia Olson had just delivered her moving Voice of Democracy speech. She had won first place for an unprecedented fifth consecutive time and — although she didn’t know it— renowned Edmonds artist Michael Reagan was about to present her with the surprise of a lifetime.
Reagan is known for his remarkably lifelike pencil drawings of what he calls Fallen Heroes, military men and women who have died in the line of duty. His drawings have numbered in the thousands, each delivered to the wives or parents or children of the hero, and all at no cost to them. Seldom however has he done such a portrait for a living person. For him to do so, the individual would have to be exceptional indeed.
Those who have heard Olivia Olson speak know that she is not only exceptional, but mature and talented well beyond her 17 years. This year’s essay, entitled American History: Our Hope for the Future, was, in the opinion of the contest judges, her best yet.
When she completed her speech — all completely memorized and without notes — the crowd gave her a standing ovation. Then Michael Reagan unexpectedly came forward bearing a large discreetly wrapped package.
The usually unperturbable Olivia was clearly bewildered at what was happening. Reagan showed copies of several military young women, now dead, whose portraits he had drawn, and said how consistently moved he was at Olivia’s grasp of the meaning of patriotism and sacrifices such as these. He then unveiled a stunning portrait of Olivia and presented it to her as his personal tribute.
She looked over her left shoulder at her mother with an expression that wordlessly said “Mom, what is happening?” Then, fighting back tears but with a smile on her face she accepted the large framed picture. She stared at it for a moment, handed it to her mom and embraced Reagan for what seemed like a full minute. There was not a dry eye in the place, including the eyes of Michael Reagan.
That night, in a room populated by winners, one lovely lady stood out above them all.
Everyone understood; it was a moment and an honor well deserved.
— By James Blossey, VFW Post 8870