Bridgette Hoskie felt overwhelmed.
Her younger brother, Jay Barrett, had recently come home with her to begin palliative care after a lifetime battling cystic fibrosis. During his latest hospital stay, Barrett had written a “bucket list” and given it to her.
Among his top requests: He wanted to go to Washington to see the nation’s capital for the first time. In an ideal world, Barrett mused, they would visit the White House and President Donald Trump would emerge from a partition to surprise them – just as he had with a group of tourists in 2017 – and maybe even acknowledge him with a wave.
After reading her brother’s list, Hoskie called a friend in a panic.
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“I said, ‘How am I going to make these things happen?'” Hoskie told The Washington Post in a phone interview Wednesday. “‘How am I going to get the president to wave at him?'”
Her friend encouraged her to start simply by emailing the White House’s public address.
“And I was like, well, that’s ridiculous,” Hoskie said. “Then I realized, if I can email the White House, what if they got 10 or 20 or 30 other emails?”
So Hoskie, who happens to be a staunch Democrat and an elected city council member in West Haven, Connecticut, got to work. She asked the mayor and colleagues, mostly fellow Democrats, if they might send an email on her brother’s behalf – or if they knew anybody in the White House. She also posted a vague request on Facebook.
“I am looking for some help in making something on my brother’s bucket list a reality,” she wrote. “If you want to help me send me a message or post below and I’ll message you. This is a secret/surprise so I will not be posting what it is.”
To her surprise, she received numerous messages from people eager to help.
“Everyone honestly has been amazing. Democrat, Republicans, you know, they have all reached out and were just, like, ‘What can we do?'” Hoskie said. “People who know that I’m Democrat said, ‘Oh, you know, we’re not a [Trump] supporter, but we’re going to support you and your brother.’ It’s just really humbling to think that complete strangers would do that.”
The New Haven Register ran a story Monday about Hoskie’s efforts. On Tuesday, Hoskie received a call from a 202 area code. It was the White House.
Hoskie rushed home from work and called the number back. Then she handed the phone to Barrett. “Jay, it’s the White House. The president’s going to talk to you,” she said, as if the White House calling was no big deal. And she began filming.
“Holy Christ,” Hoskie said, according to a video Hoskie took of the call.
“Hi, Jay, you look handsome to me. I just saw a picture of you,” Trump can be heard saying.
“Aw, you’re giving me kind honors,” Barrett replied. “I look like s—.”
Trump laughed. “How are you doing? How is it going, Jay?”
“It’s going, you know what I mean?” Barrett said, still star-struck.
“You’re a champ,” Trump said. “You’re fighting it, right?”
“That’s what the Irish do, right?” Barrett answered.
“Yeah, that’s what the Irish do,” Trump said. “You better believe it. You look good. I wish you could come to a rally.”
The two chatted for about three more minutes. Trump praised Barrett’s sister. Barrett vowed to support the president “through thick and thin” and asked him to “pencil me in” for a rally. “I plan on coming down to D.C. between now and my expiration date,” Barrett promised.
By the time they hung up, Barrett was visibly emotional.
“That was pretty crazy,” he said to the camera, scratching his head. “Did I just talk to the president of the United States on the phone?”
On Wednesday, Barrett said the reality of the phone call had only begun sinking in.
“It was just, like, holy Christ, you know? I’m getting a call from this guy. Like he’s taking time out of his busy, busy schedule,” Barrett told The Post. “He could be doing a million other things. He could have taken an extra five-minute nap. We know he doesn’t sleep much. . . . Instead, he chose to call me.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Barrett said he used to consider himself an independent, voting “back and forth” for Democratic and Republican candidates over the years. He supported Barack Obama in 2008 but didn’t vote to reelect him in 2012.
Gradually, Barrett said, he realized his values aligned more with the Republican Party. In the 2016 presidential race, Trump stood out to him right away, even amid a field of more than a dozen GOP presidential candidates.
“He was my choice from the moment he rode down the escalator,” Barrett said, referring to Trump’s 2015 campaign kickoff at Trump Tower.
Barrett said it was widely known among his family and friends that he was the rare Trump supporter in a state that ultimately went for Hillary Clinton by 13 percentage points.
“We didn’t talk about it,” he said. “But they knew where I stood. I don’t care what somebody’s opinion about me is.”
Barrett has spent a lifetime disregarding what people think. Before he was born, Barrett’s older brother died of cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder with no known cure that attacks the lungs and leads to infections and difficulty breathing. When Barrett was born with the same disease, doctors warned his mother that he, too, would likely not make it past childhood.
He is now 44 and has “always been a fighter,” his sister said.
“We don’t know if it’s six months [left],” Hoskie said. “We just know that it’s not about the quantity of time, it’s about the quality, so right now we’re just trying to live our best life.”
Ever since they were little, Barrett and his sister have had their differences, though both said they are still able to have a relationship.
“I tell people: He likes steak, and I’ll eat a hamburger. He likes baked potato, and I like mashed potato,” Hoskie said, laughing. “He watches Fox News 24/7 and . . . I’ll just watch regular TV if I do watch TV. We’ve always been like this. If there was something to disagree about, we were going to disagree.”
But for helping him fulfill a bucket list item, Barrett has nothing but gratitude for his sister.
“My sister Bridgette took a little idea . . . and turned it into reality,” he said. “If it wasn’t for her making the first cryptic message to other friends, then doing the local paper interview, this would have never been possible.”