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The Dart: Healy adds to ornament collection

Abigail Healy, here with her dog Angel, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to be the alcohol liaison for the White House Drug Abuse Policy Office from 1981 to 1985. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Every year at Christmas, Abagail Healy gets the new White House Christmas ornament.

But rather than just a patriotic holiday reminder, for Healy those ornaments are a reminder of the time she took her cause to Washington, D.C.

When The Dart found Healy Friday, she was making preparations for holiday celebrations with her family. The decorations she had placed out at home included the White House ornaments, a series that started 31 years ago.

“They started making the White House ornaments in 1981, the same year I went to Washington,” Healy said.

The native-born Natchezian had relocated to the nation’s capital in 1981 as a presidential appointee, the first and last alcohol liaison for the White House Drug Abuse Police Office.

In that capacity, Healy advised President Reagan about national alcohol policy, and any speeches that the president or first lady gave about alcohol abuse went across Healy’s desk for approval.

“We traveled to 27 different states talking about the administration’s policy on drugs, alcohol and other substances that abuse the minds of our young people,” Healy said. “Alcohol abuse is a misnomer. How do you abuse it? Do you kick it? Do you bite it? No, it abuses you.”

During that time, she also traveled to major metropolitan areas — Atlanta, Princeton, N.J., Los Angeles — with the American Bar Association to meet with leaders there to discuss the issue of alcohol abuse in those areas. Those discussions later led to 20 policy resolutions the ABA adopted and submitted for federal consideration.

Abigail Healy gets ready for Christmas by decorating her house with a new White House ornament she receives each year. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

“The alcohol lobby in this country is very powerful,” Healy said. “There were a lot of people who did not want that to happen.”

In 1985, Healy left the White House position to come home and run for Congress, taking 30 percent of the vote.

“I really believed Congress needed to hear the message we had,” she said.

It was a message Healy had learned dearly. In 1979, she had entered treatment for alcoholism, and the information she learned in treatment wasn’t widely available at the time — and now, it’s still not widely distributed, Healy said.

“I’m not a prohibitionist,” she said. “But I think it helps all of us if we make, educated, informed choices, and it is hard to make a choice without the information. I was raised in a drinking society where it was never given a second thought.”

So Healy went on a personal mission. She was very active in the politics of the state Republican party all the time, and she made it known to everyone she could that she wanted a presidential appointment to get her message out.

Eventually, she prevailed and the president appointed her to the policy position.

After her time in Washington, D.C., Healy came back to Natchez, helping to establish the Guardian Shelter and the Sunshine Shelter.

These days, she works to guard her own sobriety — it’s very precious, she said — and anyone who is struggling is plenty welcome to come see her.

The philosophy that took her to the White House is still one she keeps today, Healy said.

“Whatever it is you can do, do it — do the right thing,” she said.