Third-grade photo captures Obama's grin


POSTED: Monday, December 28, 2009

A former Manoa resident sent President Barack Obama an old photo of the two of them taken while they were third-grade classmates at Noelani Elementary School, requesting an autograph more than six months ago. He recently received the autographed picture back, as well as a personally signed thank-you note.

Scott Inoue, now a chiropractor in Stockton, Calif., said the small, black-and-white photo had been stashed away for almost 40 years at his childhood home in Manoa. For some reason, Inoue said, as he was growing up he always remembered that photo and wondered what became of “;Barry.”;

The picture—with the words “;Scott & Barry 3rd grade 1969”; scribbled at the bottom by Inoue's mother—shows Obama almost a head taller than Inoue, with their arms around each other. Against a background of Christmas tree drawings, Obama is smiling more broadly than the shyer-looking Inoue.

“;He was a lot taller than me; he towered above most of us. I don't know why I remember that photo, but maybe it's because he had one of those personalities. Possibly because he was the only African-American”; in a school predominantly attended by Japanese, Inoue said.

Widely published biographies say Obama lived in Indonesia from 1967 through 1971, and none mention his third-grade year at Noelani, Inoue acknowledges. But he said Obama attended at least part of his third-grade year at Noelani in 1969, perhaps during a visit back to Hawaii, and moved away.

When Obama decided to run for president, Inoue had his mother dig up the photo and sent an enlarged copy to Obama's senatorial office in Illinois with a request for his autograph. There was no response. He tried again after the inauguration, and several months later an envelope from the White House arrived.

He was surprised by the warm note—typewritten, but personally signed by Obama—that accompanied the photo. Dated Nov. 6, 2009, the note said:

“;Dear Scott:

“;This is just a quick note to thank you for your kind letter. It is good to hear from you. ... I am pleased to enclose your signed photograph. Thank you again for your thoughtful note, and I wish you all the best.

“;Sincerely, Barack Obama”;

Inoue, 48, said it was a student teacher's idea to have everyone pick someone to partner with for picture-taking.

“;I don't remember why we picked each other. I don't remember too much about him or about that time of my life”; when both were 8 years old, he said.

He had even forgotten they attended kindergarten together until he saw a 1967 class photo in Hawaii Business magazine last year.

Inoue first picked up the president's trail after Noelani when he heard the name “;Barry Obama”; on a radio broadcast of a Punahou basketball game. When Obama became a U.S. senator, Inoue researched his background online to confirm that “;Barack”; was indeed his old classmate.

Inoue said he and his wife, Faye, are avid fans of Obama and have read his two books.

“;He is such a great speaker. He has a way of just connecting with people. It's just so inspiring. Sometimes I'm moved to tears; my wife as well,”; he said.

A copy of the photo hangs in his office, and people “;think it's the coolest thing,”; he said.