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On The State Dinner Guest List, A 'Letter Writer' Ignites Imaginations

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Twila Legare and Marc Legare arrive for the state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mrs. Sophie Trudeau of Canada at the White House on Thursday.

The White House state dinner in honor of Canada's prime minister had an exclusive guest list: philanthropists, business leaders, political powerhouses, one public radio host, ambassadors, movie stars.

And then, right between The Honorable Patrick Leahy, U.S. Senator (Vermont) and The Honorable Jacob Lew, Secretary of the Treasury, there she was, along with her husband:

Ms. Twila Legare, Letter Writer
Mr. Marc Legare

Who is she? What kind of letter? And to whom?

The mystery seized the attention of the kinds of people who pore over invitation lists for state dinners — that is, reporters.

Twila Legare and her husband live in Las Vegas, where she's an accounts-payable supervisor at the Wynn Las Vegas. She's also currently working on her college degree — which is, in a way, why she was invited to the state dinner.

"I had written the president thanking him for encouraging me to go to school," Legare tells NPR, "which is no easy task for a 60-year-old woman."

Legare got her associate's degree, and is now working on a bachelor's degree in history. She hopes to start a genealogy business when she retires.

And in the meantime, she says she and her husband had a lovely time at the state dinner. Marc got to meet Mike Myers, one of his favorite comedians.

The White House has said that President Obama reads 10 letters a day, out of the abundance of messages sent to him by the public. But while some 3,650 letter-writers reach the president's desk each year, far fewer have received a state dinner invitation in response.

It's happened to a few lucky souls, though. Most recently, a young environmental scientist named Stephen Chen was invited to a state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping after writing a letter thanking Obama for the speech he gave at Chen's graduation, in which the president talked at length about climate change.

"I couldn't get it out of my head that this could potentially be an elaborate hoax," Chen wrote. But by the time he and his mom (his date for the night) had dressed up and met Mark Zuckerberg, it was clearly the real deal.

Legare had the same concerns, according to her sister, Darla Mayfield.

"With so many scams today, she had to get everything verified first," Mayfield told NPR. "But I am thrilled she got to go to D.C."

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