JAY — Every morning before arraignments, Delaware County Special Judge Alicia Littlefield slips into her black judicial robe, adjusts her collar, brushes off any lint, and sees a young girl who used to spray paint her shoes to match her dress.
“I sometimes have to pinch myself,” Littlefield said. “I am among a handful of people who have had the annual honor of paying tribute, in person, to five different first ladies of the United States.”
During the past 25 years, Littlefield has attended several First Lady’s Luncheons honoring Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. And, on May 4, she will attend one honoring Melania Trump.
“It is quite an honor,” Littlefield said.
Over 100 years old, the historical Congressional Club hosts the First Lady’s Luncheon. The bipartisan luncheon is chaired by Carolyn Yoho and co-chaired by April DeLaney.
Their husbands are U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md.
“For someone who wears a black robe every day, picking something perfect to wear to an event like the First Lady’s Luncheon is something I always fret about,” Littlefield said.
This year Littlefield chose a lavender palette.
“I am all about the shoes, hat and dress,” Littlefield said.
“All of the first ladies have all been fabulous, but my favorite is Barbara Bush,” Littlefield said. “Simply because she is who she is.”
Barbara Bush has always had a caring, grandmotherly image, she said, adding that Bush is a “white-haired woman with the white pearls who never hesitates for a minute to say exactly what she thinks. I have always loved that about her.”
Coincidentally, a multistrand of pearls is also Littlefield’s signature piece of jewelry.
In order to attend a First Lady’s Luncheon, one must have an invitation from a congressional spouse.
“I was first invited to the event in 1992 by my dear friend, Suzie Brewster, whose husband, Bill, was elected to Congress from Oklahoma’s 3rd District,” Littlefield said.
Each member of the Congressional Club can invite only three guests, she said.
“Friendships like mine with Suzie and Karel Brewster have allowed me the privilege of attending so many First Lady’s Luncheons and so many other adventures that most people can only imagine and dream about,” Littlefield said.
More than 1,000 invitees usually attend the luncheon.
Even people who cannot get tickets to the event fill the lobby and areas surrounding the hotel where the luncheon is held just to be a part of the festivities and see who is attending, she said.
Former Speaker of the House and current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, draws quite a lot of attention at these events, she said.
Every year, there is a different theme, with elaborate decorations and centerpieces emphasizing that theme.
“The event is always highlighted, of course, by a speech from the current first lady of the United States,” Littlefield said.
In typical Washington, D.C., style, the theme, meal and entertainment for the luncheon is shrouded in secrecy like a top military secret.
“The entertainment is always spectacular — and it’s very different every year,” Littlefield said. “It ranges from opera to country music.”
The entertainers have included Jay Leno, Lee Ann Womack, Neil Diamond, Barbara Mandrell, “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard and Trisha Yearwood.
One year Lee Ann Womack’s song turned heads and left the audience nervously grinning when she belted out “Stand By Your Man” during the luncheon when Hillary Clinton was first lady, Littlefield said.
“I think my personal favorite was Barbara Mandrell,” Littlefield said. “I’m a country kind of girl.”
“To say I am blessed is an understatement,” she said.