- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

National Press Club luncheons can be stodgy affairs where policymakers and erudite writers come to dine and take questions from their peers. Not so Tuesday, as the club welcomed country singer, businesswoman and philanthropist Dolly Parton. The effervescent Miss Parton has ideas on politics, the plight of working women and a cause close to her country heart - children’s literacy.

In a sea of blue and gray pinstripes, Miss Parton was the main attraction in her self-described “country girl glam” look, a cognac-colored sequined number that showed off her world-famous curves, platinum-blond locks and hot-pink talon nails.

“Children need to believe in themselves. That’s why my favorite book is ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ ” said Miss Parton, who has delivered about 20 million books to children in rural counties like the one where she grew up in East Tennessee.

Through the Dollywood Foundation, Imagination Library mails an age-appropriate book to every child in participating communities until the child turns 5, fostering a love of reading and a jump-start on kindergarten.

“They call me the ‘book lady.’ That made my daddy so proud,” she said.

Miss Parton’s father was illiterate and always wanted more for his 12 children. Her father’s inability to read and write is the inspiration behind Miss Parton’s tireless efforts.

This summer, Miss Parton is publishing her first children’s book, “I Am a Rainbow,” with all proceeds going to her reading charity.

Miss Parton also discussed her role as the international ambassador for the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. She grew up in the foothills of the Smokies and still calls Tennessee home.

She says her family, growing up deep in the mountains, and her sense of faith are constant sources of creativity for her.

“Music is the voice of the soul. I still write songs for the same reasons and from the same place,” she said.

After 50 years in the music industry, Miss Parton told the sold-out crowd she won’t slow down churning out tunes anytime soon. On Tuesday night, Miss Parton premiered her new CD and musical, “Sha-Kon-O-Hey! Land of Blue Smoke,” at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Prince George’s County.

She also is proud of collaborating on “Nine to Five: The Musical,” set to open on Broadway this spring and based on her hit 1980 movie co-starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Miss Parton said she relishes the fact that the movie made political statements about working women at the time because she always identified with the modern woman.

“I’ve always been proud to be a woman. Being a woman has served me well. I look like a woman, but I think like a man,” she said.

When asked by a club member about politics, Miss Parton said she was excited by the idea of a woman running for president last year, “but every 28 days, those terrorists better start running.”

“People have asked me about running for president, but I think we have had too many boobs in the White House,” the buxom Miss Parton said.

Before the luncheon, The Washington Times asked Miss Parton who she thought would make a steelier magnolia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

“They are both really special ladies,” she said.

At the end of the day, Miss Parton told the club she would like her legacy to be one of helpfulness.

“I followed my dreams and did what I wanted to do,” she said. “I have enjoyed my life and being myself, but I enjoyed being able to help.”

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