ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s own Tim Harris hugged President Barack Obama on Thursday to cheers and applause during a White House event honoring the Special Olympics.
“I just felt happy,” the owner of Tim’s Place restaurant said of the encounter during a phone interview Friday from Washington, D.C. “My heart told me that I wanted to give him a hug. I wanted him to feel special, too.”
Harris, 28, an athlete and longtime supporter of the Special Olympics, received an invitation to attend the event. Obama recognized Harris from the podium and asked for a hug.
“I love you, Obama,” Harris told the smiling president, who replied, “I love you back,” before the two hugged.
“Presidents need some encouragement once in a while, too,” Obama said afterward. “That felt really good. That was nice. Thank you, Tim.”
Since he opened his Albuquerque restaurant in October 2010, Harris has received international recognition for overcoming the limitations of Down Syndrome and his penchant for greeting customers with a hug.
“I’ve always been a hugger,” Harris said. “I am a hugging machine. I was born that way.”