Bob Langford [edited by Ellen]

There are indications I won't be here forever'

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- it's roomy, as boxes go. Pallets on the floor. Two-by-fours supporting walls covered with original art. Nice view of the White House.

It has been Ellen Thomas' home for the last three years.

Mrs. Thomas, who did most of her growing up in Burlington, and a half-dozen compatriots have vowed to stay in Lafayette Park "until there are no longer nuclear weapons."

On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue (and the new ant-terrorist barricades), tourists wait in line to take the White House tour. From that side of the street, it's hard to tell the protesters from the winos who use the park's freshly mowed grass to sleep off the night before.

They're both just bits of local color. Things that make for good stories back in Dubuque or Dallas or Danville.

"People drive by and honk and yell," Mrs. Thomas says. "I just don't listen."

She went to Washington the administrative assistant to Jay Hair, the president of the National Wildlife Federation and a former professor at N.C. State.

Then one day, as she tells it, she was walking by Lafayette Park, dressed in her business suit and carrying her ever-present briefcase, when she says she stopped "just to talk." She never left.

"I decided I wanted to make a difference," she, says, "to have some impact."

(Hair declined to comment on Mrs. Thomas saying through a press aide that "she left for her own reasons.")

Since that day three years ago, Mrs. Thomas:

Has gone to court to ensure the group's "religious right" to stay in Lafayette Park (she produces documentation without being asked).

Has researched the history of protest in Lafayette Park (they are about 100 feet from where the suffragettes spent the winter of 1917).

Has written a play about her experiences called "Peace Park," (it gets its first public reading Wednesday).

Has written letter after letter to President and Mrs. Reagan asking them to disband this county's nuclear arsenal (the First Lady waved at her once).

She looks like a dated photograph. Like someone you'd see thumbing through a 20-year-old issue of Life magazine, right down to the headband with the button, save for the five felt-tip pens that hang from her necklace. "This way I always have a pen when someone wants to sign the Petition."

The group hopes that if they get enough signatures, things might change.

"We have a lot of people come over every day," she says. "There used to at least four times more when we had larger signs. But they made us [make] smaller ones."

(Yes, even the protesters across from the White House have to contend with sign ordinances.)

Along with her nuclear arms petition, she holds another with the headline "Meese, Bush, Reagan, impeach them all."

When asked about it, Mrs. Thomas quickly points out: "Oh [I'm] not in favor of impeachment," she says. "I'm holding these for another guy."

Mrs. Thomas wasn't involved in campus protests at Western Carolina University in the late '60s. But, she says, she isn't trying is recapture a lost youth.

This, she says with religious conviction, "is the reason I was born."

She has a daughter [in the military, and a son headed for] UNC-Greensboro, [] who gets out of high school in Burlington next week. What do the kids think about what mom is doing?

"They're glad I'm happy," she says with a smile. "But," she continues, "I'm doing this to save my children from nuclear obliteration."

So, how long until she goes back to the briefcase?

"Well," she says, ["thanks to arms control effort,] lately there are indications that I won't be here the rest of my life."
Exhibit 23 F