THIS HAS BEEN A YEAR OF many changes for Bill Clinton, and yet, when the President continued a 23-year tradition by opening the White House doors to PEOPLE for a preholiday interview (see page 112), Washington bureau chief Garry Clifford was struck by one bit of continuity. "The biggest surprise is that this man is not aging," says Clifford, who has interviewed five Presidents during her two decades at the magazine. "His gray hair is getting a little grayer, but he has kept to his fighting weight of 195 pounds, and he has kept his sense of humor."

Though sanguine about the previous 12 months and optimistic about the months ahead, the leader of the free world (and one of our 25 Most Intriguing People of 1997) was, well, a bit wistful. The nation's most famous empty nester profoundly misses his only child, daughter Chelsea, 17, who left the White House in September for Stanford University. When he dropped her off, he tried to control his sadness. "We should be happy," he told Hillary. "We should now think about her, not ourselves."

This is also a time when we reflect on the year just behind us and are moved once again by PEOPLE readers' generous response to so many of our stories from around the country. Our Nov. 24 report from Fairfield, Iowa, describing the slaughter by intruders of 16 cats housed in the Noah's Ark animal shelter, spurred the year's record-setting 847 letters. More importantly, it prompted readers to send the Ark some $7,000, so it can continue to save stray cats. Two organizations working to reclaim human lives—Loaves & Fishes in Sacramento (see page 149) and Angel Harvest in L.A.—were deluged with goods and contributions following our profiles highlighting their charitable efforts.

When celebrities share their challenges in our pages, the results can be equally dramatic. "After reading in PEOPLE [April 7] that skater Scott Hamilton had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, I did a self-examination," wrote Jeff Jacobs, 28, of Nashville. "That night I found a lump." Operated on in August, Jacobs is now cancer-free. Baseball great Kirby Puckett, who told of his battle with glaucoma, received hundreds of letters from possible sufferers; William Shatner's tale of tinnitus had the University of Maryland clinic's phones ringing with people who hadn't known why their ears were ringing.

Nothing, however, has given us more pride than the $50,000 our readers contributed to the Princess Diana Fund, benefiting the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which PEOPLE established after Diana's August death. "I don't have a lot of money," wrote 17-year-old Erin Lummen of North Augusta, S.C. "But the Princess Diana Fund is a very worthy cause. She has inspired me to become a better person." Indeed, she inspired us all.