A First Date to Union Station to See a Train Wreck and Other Amazing Tales About Growing Up a Tobriner and Marrying a Povich
Interviewee: Connie Tobriner Povich
Date: Dec. 19, 2017
Interviewed and transcribed (from audio recording) by: Carl Lankowski
Location: Povich residence in Cevy Chase DC
CL: Let’s start with the basics about you. When and where were you born?
CP: I was born May 12th, 1936 in Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, DC and came home from there to a house on 33rd Street NW, at the corner of Rittenhouse Street, in Chevy Chase DC and lived there for 23 years, until I got married.
It was a close-knit neighborhood. Most of the houses were built in the 1930s. The children were all of Blessed Sacrament or Lafayette School age, which is why, I guess, the families moved here. A great school district. Most of the moms did not work. So we knew the families, not just the children. We knew the parents and grandparents.
CL: Wasn’t that address around the corner from The Purple Iris Inn?
CP: No. It was on the corner of 32nd and Rittenhouse Streets. We had dinner there many Thursdays when I was growing up. Rumor had it that the Purple Iris was a shady place with underground stuff going on there. I never witnessed anything shady and can’t explain it, but the rumor persisted. It was a beautiful structure and it did have purple Iris plantings all around it.
CL: Why did you go Thursdays?
CP: Because that was the maid’s day off. Many of the moms that didn’t work had help—some daily, others once a week. They all rode the bus here from SE and NE DC. They—Essie, Eula, and Willie—befriended each other. They held the jump-ropes for us. They watched us roller skating. It was a wonderful life growing up in Chevy Chase DC.
CL: Your first memories must have been from around 1940-41.
CP: Right. It was the Second World War. There were routines. Every third Wednesday the air raid sirens were tested. You had to stay home and turn your lights out. It was very scary. I can remember thinking, well, if we always had this air raid on the third Wednesday, why doesn’t the enemy know that? (laughter) Anyway, my father was an air raid warden. He would leave the house with his accoutrements, flashlight and the like, and he would knock on doors if people had light showing through the shades. He would be gone for 45 minutes to an hour. We got used to it. The war played a big part in the life of Chevy Chase—as it did throughout the country. I remember the drills we did at Lafayette School. We were led from the classrooms into the hallway; boys on one side, girls on the other. They made a game of it that involved passing a bean bag down the line. Of course, the boys always won. But only because they threw it. It was hard on us. A lot of the mothers wrapped bandages. I remember my mom going over to Garfield Hospital two or three days a week to fold bandages to be sent to the war.
We didn’t get a lot of news, because we didn’t have television. We did have newspapers but at our age then we didn’t read them. We had a neighbor who took us to the movies on Georgia Avenue every Saturday, where they had newsreels. That was the only news we had of this war. But I didn’t go all the time. We were driven there by my friend’s mom, Mrs. Kasmer.
During the war, we all collected newspapers. We packaged them up and took them to school. Our class was paid money, I think by the pound. So the war was a portion of everybody’s life.
CL: You would have started school around 1941?
CP: Yes. I attended Lafayette. School was wonderful. You had patrol boys. You came home for lunch every day. Then there was the playground. The upper hill did not belong to the school—that was federal parkland—but the school used it. We spent our summers there. There was a little shack up there. A picnic table. I think the present little community recreation house was built in 1954 under the direction of the Department of Recreation headed by Henry Gichner, who lived on 33rd Street, just down the street here. He was wonderful. He was also a baseball umpire. His daughter is one of my best friends; we still are good friends today.
The newspaper drives were a school activity. The money raised by each class was used to buy a Victrola [phonographs, record-players].
Also, every classroom had a vegetable garden. Every Friday, every student got to take vegetables home.
CL: Were these gardens all on the school property?
CP: Yes. They were separated by hedges. It was a magnificent school. I loved it. My mother played the piano at my Lafayette graduation. You would be hard pressed to find anybody who didn’t like it.
Roberta Barnes was the principal at Lafayette when I was there. Mr. McKever was the custodian. Chico was in charge of the public tennis courts.
CL: Did your mother teach you piano?
CP: No. I had lessons from a piano teacher who taught at Holton-Arms School. I had to go down to her apartment near Dupont Circle. I went together with my friend’s younger sister. We took the L-4 bus down Connecticut Avenue. My mother insisted that I take lessons. She was a pianist. I had to take them for five years. Finally, I put my foot down and said “I’m not doing this anymore.” Her response: “well, you will have to do something musical.” So, she picked the accordion for me. I did that for one year. That was enough! I was growing up by then. “I’m not doing this anymore, mom!” (laughter) My brother played the violin. Every morning after waking up, we had to practice, violin, piano, go to the skating rink, eat breakfast, and go to school..
CL: What is your brother’s name?
CP: It is Matthew, but everyone calls him Toby. He was the smart one in the family. I was the ditsy kid. I was into skating and dancing. He had the brain.
CL: Talk about your girlhood a little. From our preliminary conversation, I understood that you were taking piano, ballet and skating lessons.
CP: I am a figure skater. That started then. I started skating because I had curvature of the spine, scoliosis. The doctor got me started on skating and dancing. I practiced a lot, competed a lot. I went on to teach skating for 20 years at Cabin John and Wheaton ice rinks. I am now a Gold Test skating judge. I also took dancing at the Washington School of Ballet under Miss Gardiner and Mary Day. Ballet performances were at DAR Constitution Hall. Howard Mitchell, the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra played for us.
We all had activities. My friends took piano lessons. Some of them learned to read and write Hebrew.
CL: Where was that?
CP: It was all downtown. The synagogues continue to function to this day.
CL: Did you go for Hebrew lessons?
CP: No. I was skating when Hebrew classes were offered.
CL: Where did you skate?
CP: At the Chevy Chase Ice Palace on Connecticut Avenue just below Albermarle Street. There was a bowling alley in the basement, so when they were making ice we would go down there and bowl. With our skates on. We also went to the Hot Shoppes across Connecticut Avenue.
Coming back to Hebrew, it’s interesting to think about the schools in that way. We all said the Lord’s Prayer. We all started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. I don’t think they do that anymore, do they? I don’t think my children know the words to those. Anyway, Lafayette was great. The Parents Teachers Association was very strong. The Lafayette neighborhood was well endowed financially by parents, so we were able to hire a nurse, an art teacher—things that went beyond what the city would provide. Along those lines, but much later, we were able to hire a principal. I happened to have been on the search committee. He was from New York. Imagine!
As for the school day, we all looked forward to recess. Jump-rope was a big thing. So was trading cards. They were playing cards that we traded. We filled shoe boxes full of them.
We got around on city buses. When we attended Deal Junior High we caught the M2 at Utah Avenue. And if you were going anywhere else, you took the D6, which ran along Broad Branch Road.
Two girls in my class—one was Karen—lived at the Episcopal Home at the corner of Nebraska and Utah Avenues. It was for children who didn’t have parents available to them. Those two girls were in many of my grades. They went all through Lafayette. I don’t remember there having been any problem accepting them. They were not ostracized; nor were they withdrawn.
On the other hand, I do not recall the presence of any African Americans in the neighborhood or at Lafayette at that point.
My best friends from those early days left the area: one lives in Florida, the other in California.
Neighbors included Les Whitten, who died just a couple of weeks ago. He was a reporter for the Washington Post. They lived on the corner of Quesada and 33rd. There were the Seals, the Hendersons, the Tices, the Gichners, the Werbles, the Parsons, the Whitings, the Mileses (Miles Glass Co.), the Hubbards (a music teacher), Ambassador Day, the Kasmers (a dentist), the Wimsetts, the Lucs, the Bellslies, the Hahns (of Hahn shoe stores), the Richwines (a doctor). Then there was Mrs. Garret, who served neighborhood girls tea and cookies when we visited. There were the Bazelons and the Millers (both Judges), Don Carpenter (Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad) and the Schlosseers (who owned a jewelry store).
Another thing about Lafayette—and I assume all the schools in DC—we had a guy who we called Officer Friendly. Have you heard about Officer Friendly?
CL: I have not. Who was he?
CP: He was a policeman. He came every so often to visit us at school. And all the children in district schools were friendly with Officer Friendly. They instituted this “program” so that children knew we could approach Police Officers and that they are our friends. Our Officer Friendly’s actual name was Mike Mansfield, as I recall. We had an assembly and he talked to us about public safety issues and took our questions.
Another thing about school in those days: dogs were allowed to walk to school with the kids.
For recreation, we took outings to Glen Echo—an amusement park with rides—and Chevy Chase Lake in Maryland.
CL: What form of transportation did you take there?
CP: There was a streetcar, but I was driven, because it was usually something we did on my birthday. If I were seven, I could take seven friends. Eight, eight friends. In a car.
We were not allowed to swim in the Glen Echo pool because of Polio. We could go out there, but only if we promised our parents we would not go in the water.
CL: That was convenient.
CP: It was. However, it closed under my father’s administration in the 1960s, because it was not integrated. Some parts have re-opened, like the ballroom, I think.
CL: What sorts of people lived in this neighborhood?
CP: Interesting people—doctors and lawyers. Some businessmen—a glass company. My two best friends lived across the street on 33rd Street. There is Lenore Kasmer. And Bette Gichner. Her father owned the Gichner Iron Works. They did the original fences at the White House.
CL: Did they live close by?
CP: Yes—on 33rd Street.
CL: You attended Lafayette from 1941-1947?
CP: That’s right. Then I went to Deal Junior High School for two years.
CL: Memories from Deal?
CP: In the seventh grade my teacher’s name was Miss O’Donnell. Very pretty. With harlequin glasses—different color frames to match different outfits. I was president of my class. They actually elected a girl. I guess there were more girls than boys in the class. I remember Jerry Cherner, the son of Cherner Motor Company. He was very loud and noisy; I appointed him as a kind of sergeant at arms. If you were talking, he’d say “you owe 5 cents.” Deal was really good. One thing in retrospect: you could select archery as a gym activity. Today? No way. 24 pound bow. It was where that new Deal building is now. Just being able to walk around from classroom to classroom was a big deal for little people. I remember girl’s gym, where we talked about things I had never heard about. Very instructive, I found. Not just how to shoot baskets and play soccer. We had discussions about health and hygiene. Altogether, I did have a wonderful time growing at Deal.
I was really into skating and playing in the neighborhood. To this day, there is the relic of an old firebox alarm on the NW corner. We were told to report anybody who was tampering with it. But many times, boys would break into it and the fire engines would come. My parents left keys in the ignitions of their cars and in the front door. Early on, I don’t remember it ever being locked. I was never given a key. What for? Incidentally, do you know your neighbors? I knew everybody living around us.
CL: As it happens, we are block captains for our block, so, perhaps exceptionally, we do know the neighbors on our block.
CP: I think that everybody knew everybody then.
CL: What did you do after Deal?
CP: My father decided that I was not comprehending what I was reading. [He thought] Deal was a little too social for me. So, he took me out and put me in Madeira School in Greenway, Virginia. I started there in 9th grade and went on to graduate from there in 1954. It was so difficult for me there. I went from getting all As and having fun with boys and girls to an all-girls school getting mainly Cs. It was probably good for me.
CL: How did you get out there?
CP: We did a car pool from here to the corner of Foxhall and Reservoir Roads, where we met a yellow school bus that took us the rest of the way. It took forever; this was before the Beltway was built.
CL: What are your memories from Madeira?
CP: It had a great dance department. It had great athletics. I played field hockey; I was president of the dance club. We were made to take music—singing, choir. The group I was in sang in the National Cathedral. That was nice. There were two French teachers, sisters. They never spoke English to us. It was wonderful. I hadn’t had any French at all to that point. I liked that. I am not terrific in Math, but I liked most of the teachers. It was difficult because it was a boarding school. There were not too many day students. And the boarders thought not much of day students, I perceived. That was kind of hard. I once invited a boarder to come home for a weekend. She didn’t want to come. It broke my heart. The rapport was not good between day and boarders. But Madeira was good.
After that I went to college. I was a dance major.
CL: Where did you go?
CP: Bennett Junior College in Millbrook, New York. I wanted to go to Bennington College and didn’t get in. And my boyfriend wanted to go to Dartmouth and didn’t get in and went to Yale. But these two schools were an hour and a half apart. That boyfriend is now my husband and I met him when I was 14 and he was 15.
CL: Was he living here then?
CP: In Washington, yes, but in another part of the city on the other side of Rock Creek Park. He was from a relatively famous family. His father was a sports writer for the Washington Post.
CL: Would you like to talk about how you met?
CP: Sure! On New Year’s Eve 1952. He went to Landon School and I had a date with a classmate of his. He was with a girl and they were making out like crazy and to myself I said “I want that guy!” And two months later he asked me out. On the first date, I had a very strict curfew. I think we went down to Union Station to see a train wreck. The train came in and didn’t stop; it crashed through the floor. It was a spectacle. But I got home five minutes after my curfew. I walked in at 12:05 Thank God my father was asleep. Running upstairs I said “Ma, I just met the guy I’m going to marry.” Her response: “you’re late: go to bed.” And it all turned out to be true. I did marry him…eight years later.
CL: What year was that?
CP: The train wreck was in 1952. Maybe earlier. I was 14, early on in high school. He was living in Silver Spring, I think. He worked as a soda jerk at a drug store. About the time I was 16, Chevy Chase Ice Palace was closed. It was bought and turned into a television studio. So we had to find a new place to skate. We went to Uline Arena at 3rd and M Street SE. I would drive all the way up to Silver Spring to see if he was working at the drug store and then drive all the way to the Arena. I’m surprised that my parents let me do that.
CL: That was a long drive.
CP: It was, but if you are devoted to something as much as I was into skating, you did it. We dated, but in those days you didn’t just go with one person. Among my friends, we just dated different guys. It was not so one-on-one. I have lost track of what dating habits are these days. But that’s how it was. I dated a lot of his classmates and he dated my friends. It was nice; it was pleasant. I didn’t really have a problem with it.
CL: Since David was living in another part of the city, how did you manage to see each other?
CP: He could drive. He was already driving when he was 15. He had a license from the State of Maine. That license was recognized here.
CL: His family summered in Maine?
CP: Yes. So he drove everywhere. I can remember when the baseball Washington Senators had spring training down in Pompano Beach, Florida. He drove one of the player’s cars back from Florida. He came to pick me up in it; it was an Oldsmobile with power steering. He asked me if I would like to drive it. “Oh, I’d love to,” I said. I can remember driving down 33rd Street and he told me to take a right onto Stephenson Place. I went right up over the curb because I was not used to power steering, completely surprised by the lack of resistance of the steering wheel. (laughter) “You can drive now,” I said.
CL: Were you aware from an early time that his dad was a celebrity?
CP: No, not at all. I didn’t read the sports pages, so I didn’t know. And I didn’t know anything about baseball. I can tell you, though, that when I started dating him I memorized the Senators batting averages. That was the only thing I knew about baseball. That and what the guy looked like. And I never attended a baseball game. So Shirley Povich was not famous to me; he was just a lovely gentleman. That was important. He was easy to talk to and so was his son, David.
CL: Where is Landon?
CP: Where is Landon? Well, you haven’t been here long. Landon School for Boys is in Bethesda on Wilson Lane. It’s a boys school, grades 3-12. They had a good athletic program and David was a good athlete. So was his brother, Maury Povich.
CL: What happened after you completed Bennett?
CP: I came home and got a job with Eastern Airlines. I was too short to be a stewardess, so I was hired for reservations. I got married when I was 23, in 1959.
CL: Where was the ceremony?
CP: The ceremony was at the Shoreham Hotel. My grandparents on my father’s side lived in the Shoreham. She was not able to walk, but she could get down from the seventh floor to the Blue Room. The reception was around the corner in the Palladium Room.
CL: There used to be a cabaret act there. It was called “Miss Foggy Bottom,” (laughter) You know, political jokes. That was about 25 years ago. It was about the time I discovered The Capitol Steps, who were just getting started. A third act, playing for several years in Georgetown at that time, was “Gross National Product,”
CP: How old are you?
CL: I am the tender age of 68.
CP: I know these names, but I was having children then and far from Georgetown.
CL: To return to your story, where were you living after you were married?
CP: We got an apartment in Arlington. We lived there for three months before moving to New York City, to the upper west side at 70th and Broadway, a fourth floor walk-up apartment. My husband was enrolled at Columbia Law School. We stayed there for three years.
After David’s graduation, we returned to the DC area, first to Virginia. Then we bought a house in Chevy Chase DC on Quesada Street. I think that must have been 1964. We had the house where Patty Myler lives now. We were there for 13 years. We then moved to 3306 Rittenhouse Street where my daughter now lives, just a block away, where we lived for nearly 30 years. And we moved again to our present address on Rittenhouse and have been here for eight or nine years.
CL: You must have liked the neighborhood to have owned three homes here.
CP: I did and do. Altogether, I’ve lived in four houses here. All within two blocks of one another.
CL: That’s an accomplishment! Well, I’ll confess that we have something in common. I lived in Manhattan’s upper west side for most of the 1970s, the longest stretch at 104th and West End Avenue, while earning my graduate degree at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
CP: I followed David to Manhattan and transferred with Eastern Airlines. I took the Subway every workday from 72nd down to 44th and 6th Avenue. Every so often I had to work the shift from 3:00PM to midnight. Taking the subway at midnight was not one of my favorite things. David used to meet me at the station entrance at 72nd and Broadway and walk me home. Manhattan was so full of surprises. One night a gorgeous woman caught my eye. David said: “that’s a guy.” I had no idea. That was my first clue that not everyone who was born a man or a woman stayed with those genders. I was so naïve.
CL: Let’s go back to your family and how they got to Chevy Chase DC.
CP: My father’s father was one of four Tobriners who came over from Germany. One settled in New York. Another came here. A third ended up in Denver and a fourth made it to California. The brother who came here settled in a house on 16th Street not far from the White House. His name was Leon Tobriner, my grandfather. He was a lawyer here in Washington. He practiced in the Southern Building at 15th and H Streets, NW. He died at age 97 and worked until then. Meanwhile, from 16th Street he and his wife moved to the Shoreham Hotel.
My father, Walter Tobriner, had a younger brother, Ralph Tobriner. I don’t know much about him. My father went to Sidwell Friends School.
CL: When was your dad born?
CP: 1902. From Sidwell, he went on to Princeton class of 1923. As he was Jewish, he was barred from sports teams and dining clubs (or maybe they were called eating clubs). More importantly, he could not live on campus. But he had a letter from the president of Princeton thanking him for tutoring the football team. From there he went to Harvard for law school. Returning to Washington, he joined his father’s law firm: Tobriner, Tobriner and Umhau. My grandmother’s name was Blanche Barth. She didn’t like me very much. In my day I cultivated this Veronica-like wave. When I visited her, she would say “you have such a pretty face. Why do you cover it up with all that hair?”
On my mother’s side, the family came from Mill Valley, California.
CL: Where’s that?
CP: North of San Francisco. My grandfather had a stationery store. My mother, Marienne Smith, was one of the first women to graduate from Stanford University. She never learned how to ride a bike; she never learned how to swim. She was kept very busy taking care of her younger sisters and brothers. Anyway, after she graduated, she wanted to be an actress. So she went to London; she was intent on attending the London School of Drama. She had a letter from her bank attesting to the fact that she had $500 on deposit in Mill Valley. She took it to the president of a bank in London—she stood on a corner viewing four banks and had to decide which one to go to. She entered one and approaching the teller, requested to speak to the bank president. “He’s busy; how can I help you.” “Well, I want to open an account. But I want to do it with the president.” My father always told me and everybody: “go to the person in charge.” She finally got in to see the president and the first thing he said after she explained that she wished to transfer her $500 there, was “well, why did you choose this bank?” Her answer: “You have the most beautiful Corinthian columns.” The one across the street had Ionic ones.
After graduating from the London School of Drama, my mom returned to the United States and got as far as Philadelphia. There was a theater on Broad Street. She entered and applied to whomever was in charge: “I want a job here. I want to act, but I will do anything.” “Well, you can sell tickets, paint props, clean bathrooms, you can act, you can usher.” “I’d love to do that.” Long story short, this woman, who had been talking to my mom —her name was Connie Wolf and married to a guy named Alfred. As it turned out, Alfred was a classmate of my father’s at Princeton. He owned the theater. And I have always called her Aunt Connie, and of course I am named after her. One day, she had called my father in DC and told him “I have the woman you are going to marry. Get on the next train and come up to Philly.” “It’s Wednesday, Connie, I have a job here. I can come up on Friday.” So he went and met the woman who would become my mother. Seven weeks later they were married.
CP: They met and took a train down to Florida. A boat through the Panama Canal and up the coast to San Francisco to meet her parents.
CL: So, how did they get to Chevy Chase DC?
CP: Upon their return to Washington, they got an apartment at the Wardman Park Hotel at Connecticut Avenue and Woodley Road. It was named after the famous local architect. My father returned to work and my mother had the job of finding them a place to live. It was the mid-1930s. She had no idea about the city. She enthusiastically reported an excursion to SE DC to my father. His response: “You can’t live down there!” “Why not? It looked very nice—stores, people on the streets…” “Nope. We’ve got to be up here.” I don’t really know how they found the house on 33rd and Rittenhouse Streets, but they wanted it. By then I think she was pregnant with me. The woman next door, Viola Tice, was going to buy the house on the corner, but my mother talked them out of it because she needed the house right away. The row of houses was still being constructed, all by the same builder.
CL: A fascinating story, really. It was in the depths of the Great Depression and they were still building houses here?
CP: They were. The same builder did the whole block in those years. He also built the houses on Runnymede Street. I remember during the war homeowners would take in people. The people next door took in two girls. One was named Alta. There was a housing shortage. They were coming from all over to work in the government. Women especially. And they lived with that family for years, even after the war was over. That was going on over the whole city, where people had space to take in recent arrivals pouring into Washington to work for the government during the war.
CL: It may help us understand how people were able to afford houses at that time in this neighborhood to begin with.
CP: I know people now who are taking in people from houses burnt in recent wildfires. Or flood survivors in Texas. But during the war I don’t remember anyone else besides my neighbor doing that. It was indicative that some people working on Capitol Hill or in the executive branch would live in Chevy Chase, so far away from their workplaces.
CL: What was your impression about this new neighborhood?
CP: We were among the first people to live on the block. Many homes have of course turned over, but we know at least one person on Runnymede whose mother taught piano lessons. But many of the owners did not work for the federal government. Roosevelt appointed Clarence Jay Postmaster General and he lived on 33rd Street.
CL: Of course, General John Blackjack Pershing lived around the corner from here for a while, but the house was torn down to make way for the new development in the 1930s. Was your mom engaged in the neighborhood?
CP: Well, she did her time at Lafayette School. She went on field trips with us. She wasn’t on the PTA. I volunteered her for a lot. I was in the Girl Scouts and she was involved with those activities. She was pretty involved. She was president of Planned Parenthood. She did a lot of interesting committees. She helped with the Washington Figure Skating Club. She was on hospital boards; there was the bandage wrapping during the 1940s. She was also a pianist. There were four of her friends who played together. One neighbor had two pianos in the living room and four women – eight hands – would play. Lots of rehearsing.
The women in those committees all had children with whom I became friendly. Our troop leader lived on the corner of McKinley and 33rd. Her name was Mrs. Smith and her daughter was Carol Smith. I can remember a couple of others in the troop. We met in one of the churches on Chevy Chase Circle, on Patterson Street.
CL: So you were quite engaged.
CP: Indeed. I flew up from Brownies to Girl Scouts. I don’t think our kids’ generation were as engaged organizationally as we were. We were forever working on merit badges, always busy. There was a second girl scout troop in the neighborhood. There were a lot of girls that needed troops. I can remember lots of trips to farms, mainly to compensate for their perception of us as city slickers.
CL: With all this as background, what about your dad?
CP: He was older when he got married; he was in his 30s. Nowadays that’s par for the course. He was always a lawyer. Much about him is well captured in an online bio. He was a professor of law from 1927-1950 at the National University School of Law, later merged with George Washington University. During the war he served as a colonel in the Army Airs Corps. He was president of Garfield Hospital.
CL: Where is Garfield Hospital?
CP: It no longer exists. I think it was located near 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue. That was from 1952-1955. Three hospitals had merged: Providence, Garfield, and Doctors Hospital. Together, they became the Washington Hospital Center.
My father was also president of the Lisner Home for Women, located in Chevy Chase DC on Western Avenue. It defined itself as a home for indigent white women. Its more recent renaming was the Lisner Louise Dickson Hurt Home with an ethnically, racially diverse clientele for both men and women. It is located on the south (DC) side of Western Avenue just east of Wisconsin Avenue. My grandfather Leon had been president before my father’s tenure in that role. Later, it was my brother, Toby Tobriner and then his daughter, my niece, Marnie Kagan, who followed as president of the home. My father directed DC’s Blue Cross plan between 1953-1961. He was chairman of the board of the Washington Hospital Center for a time, from 1959-1961. I can remember—I had my babies there. I didn’t want a private room, because I liked to talk to people. I was told: “Your father is the president of the hospital; you’ve got to have a private room.” So it came to pass.
My father also served on the DC Board of Education from 1952-1961, becoming president of that body in 1957. It was during that time (1954) the schools were integrated.
He was a delegate to three Democratic National Conventions: 1956, 1960, and 1964. I attended the one in 1956. It was so much fun. I was staying in Sun Valley, Idaho, so I took a train from Boise to Chicago, the site of the convention. Noted DC-based civil rights leader, Joe Rauh, had a son, Mike, who was a Congressional page. He got me onto the floor of the convention.
There were so many affiliations. He was chairman of the National Housing Association from 1961-1967. That was the period in which fair housing legislation was adopted to end racial discrimination. He was also the chairman of the National Cultural Center. (1964-1967) while also serving as the chair of the Washington Area Metro Transit Authority when the first contracts were let for MetroRail.
CL: So, what was he like? What was it like living with this guy?
CP: Hard. I mean, the conversations. For breakfast we had to have read the first page of the newspaper. He would quiz us: “what’s the headline?” If you hadn’t read the paper, it was not a good day. He was home a lot. We had one car and my mother took him to work and picked him up from work. He had a sense of humor, though I didn’t always understand it. He had a wonderful group of friends, who were in high positions. My mother was so nice and so easy and so helpful. My brother attended Lafayette, Deal, and Wilson before going on to Princeton’s class of 1957 and then earning a PhD at UC-Berkeley. My father was not athletic. Both my brother and I were athletic. He didn’t quite understand why we had to play all these games. My brother had been the quarterback for the Wilson football Tigers and also played football at Princeton. One day, my mother, my father and I went up to see a Princeton-Yale game in New Haven. David’s parents were also on the train. They met David’s parents and sister on the train. David’s sister, Lynn, was a sweetie. She was in the paper yesterday. She was writing a book—they all write books. She wrote The Good Girl’s Revolt, published in 2013, set in the 1960s. I don’t know if you have read it…
CL: I haven’t had the opportunity yet…
CP: Later, President Kennedy appointed my father to the Board of Commissioners, DC’s governing body. There were three commissioners. I have to tell you about the three. Do you know what the District flag looks like?
CP: There are three stars and three stripes. Those are the three commissioners. Kennedy appointed my father to be the president of the Board of Commissioners. His title was Commissioner/Mayor. He was the last appointed commissioner, after which came Walter Washington, our first appointed and later elected mayor. The commissioner title was dropped.
After Kennedy was assassinated and Johnson became president, my father wanted to become a judge—and he would have made a very good judge. Very decisive. But Johnson didn’t like him at all. The upshot: Johnson appointed him ambassador to Jamaica. He served in that capacity from 1967-1969. When his ambassadorship was over, he remained a State Department consultant. He also became a member of DC’s Committee of 100, from his nomination in 1974 to his death in 1979. George Washington University has his papers.
CL: You and David were already married when your father was commissioner…
CP: Yes. The license plate on his car was “1”. That was a nuisance,
because whenever I drove it, I had to be very cautious. 25 miles an
hour. Our neighbor, Bruce Mencher, is a judge., He wanted that tag and I
later gave it to him. It’s hanging somewhere in his house.