“Glad I Remember How To Wear It” | Blog #35

“Glad I Remember How To Wear It” | Blog #35

Well, the last three days have been a bit crazy even for me. Friday, I awoke to a beautiful morning, packed, and prepared to leave the hotel I’d been in most of the week. Before departure, I walked a block or so up New Hampshire to a bakery and grabbed a table outside in the sunshine. At 9:30 Kelly McCarthy, Assistant Dean of Development and Alumni Relations for School of International Service, joined me. We had been trying to meet in person ever since she was hired for the job a few years ago. After sharing with her the news that I was worth more to her (and AU/SIS) dead than alive I spent the time trying to give her contacts of alums from my years. 

After checking out I drove over to Arlington, VA. During the year between my middler and senior years at PTS I did a year-long internship at Little Falls Presbyterian Church in north Arlington. I thought I could drop by, look around, and borrow a classroom to do an hour or so of reading and writing before catching lunch with a former student, Bruce Vaughn, who now lives in the neighborhood. But the church was locked down tighter than a tick on a dog, so I went to Bruce’s early.

In one of my last blog posts, I wrote about how significant and special working with Dean Jack Child was at AU. The other formative and transformative experience was being a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Abdul Aziz Said for his World Politics Class my senior year. World Politics was the introduction class all incoming SIS students had to take and Dr. Said was a legend. Born in Syria and trained in French schools, he came to the US, did his undergrad, masters, and PhD at AU and then joined the faculty and taught for the next 50+ years. He established the field of “Peace Studies” and brought a deep commitment to what are called “soft” issues to the field often dominated by realpolitik. Raised in a Christian minority, Professor was deeply influenced by Sufism and did more than the entire religion/philosophy faculty to encourage me to integrate my faith in all my studies and listen to a growing call to Christian vocation, though he was hoping that would be more directly in international relations either as a Foreign Service Officer or an academic. I was so grateful to be able to return to DC last October with Amy to attend his memorial service as he died at age 91.  All 120 incoming SIS freshman had to take his intro class so there were six TA’s assigned, three undergraduate and three graduate. My girlfriend, Suzanne, our friend Elena, and I were the three undergrad TA’s. Each of us had 15 – 20 students in a preceptorial. My fifteen were bright, able, and engaged. One, Angelo Pucci, was the son of the Italian Military Attaché and would often bring a friend who was the son of the Air Attaché, but who wasn’t even enrolled in AU! My three top students, John Berry, Kelly Gilbert, and Bruce Vaughn all went on to higher degrees and significant work. John (whose great grandfather, grandfather, and father all graduated from West Point and retired as two-star general, brigadier general, and colonel) went into the Peace Corps and then USAID and was head of station in Kigali, Rwanda when the murderous Civil War broke out; his book, Genocide in Rwanda, tells that awful story. Kelly did a masters at Harvard’s Kennedy School and now works as a banker in CT. Bruce took a Masters in IR in Canada then a PhD in Canberra, Australia becoming one of the US leading experts in the South Asia/India-Pakistan region. He has taught at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and now does analysis for the Congressional Research Service. Spending a long lunch with him and hearing his passionate conviction that the most pressing threat to South Asia – Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan – is climate change was sobering, especially after all the recent deaths due to the extreme heat in the region. How fun that he lives within a 9-iron drive from my old Little Falls PC and his son just became and Eagle Scout at the troop there.

Friday night I flew home to Nashville. Amy’s mom’s family, the Denman clan, were having a family reunion in Winchester, TN and her cousin, Laura Murphy, had asked me to conduct a graveside service for her mom, Amy’s aunt Rachel. Amy’s mom was the third of nine children; Rachel was #5, the middle child and was always so sweet, energetic, and encouraging.  I was grateful to be called upon to take the service, but I wondered if I’d even remember how to wear my robe after being away from church for so long.  Rachel’s now buried next to Amy’s grandparents, “Preacher” and Mimi, in Winchester (Amy’s grandfather was a Cumberland Presbyterian Church minister). Being with the extended family and seeing Leah engage her great aunts and uncles did my heart glad. But we couldn’t stay long as I had a flight back to DC on Saturday night!

One frustration was the hotel near the airport I was staying in Saturday night wouldn’t allow me to park my car on Friday night and catch the shuttle to the airport, since I was getting in late on Saturday night. Instead, I had to park in another hotel of the same chain, literally across the street. So, by the time I flew in, caught the shuttle, retrieved my car, and checked in to the hotel, I wasn’t too receptive to the greeting of the person checking me in who was the same person that wouldn’t let me park there the night before! Suffice it to say I was still grumpy when I left early Sunday morning for the drive to Delaware and Pennsylvania.

My first stop in Delaware was the beautiful Winterthur Museum and Gardens. Long have I wanted to visit this national treasure, but never have had the chance to see the glories hidden in the Brandywine Valley, save the Wyeth Museum in nearby Chadds Ford. Winterthur is “the premier museum of American decorative arts, with an unparalleled collection of nearly 90,000 objects made or used in America since 1640. The collection is displayed in the magnificent 175-room house, much as it was when the family of founder Henry Francis du Pont called it home.” Additionally, it is surrounded in “1,000 acres of protected meadows, woodlands, ponds, and waterways. The 60-acre garden, designed by du Pont, is among America’s best, with magnificent plantings and massive displays of color throughout the year.” It was everything that I had hoped for and more. The main exhibition told the story of how Jaquie Kennedy enlisted HF du Pont to chair a committee to overhaul the White House when the Kennedys moved in and furnish it with American antiques and decorative arts turning it into a living museum of American History. 

From Winterthur I drove the 6 miles along the old “Post Road/King’s Highway/Route 1” to Longwood Gardens. Developed by Pierre S. du Pont – H.F.’s cousin – Longwood was influenced by European decorative gardens and feature several large, intricate, water fountains. But the massive 4.5 acre Conservatory containing 4,600 different types of plants and trees, and the rose arbor were my favorites. The day had been overcast and rainy but had brightened when I arrived at the gardens, and I was so grateful to be able to finally experience the glory of du Pont’s passion and philanthropy. Visiting both Winterthur and Longwood Garden made me appreciate Nashville’s Cheekwood even more and I came away vowing to become more involved when I get back home.

My day finished at home in Bethlehem having dinner with two old high school friends, Judy Parr and Dr. Carla R. Krieger at the Hotel Bethlehem on Main Street. I was impressed at how vibrant the downtown was with more restaurants with outdoor seating than I ever remember. The first challenge was finding parking! We ended up spending from 6:30 – 10 catching up. Carla is the AP Chem teacher at our old high school and the advisor to the National Honor Society. Judy, whose father was Dean of Students at Lehigh, is off to England next week for her daughter’s wedding. There is nothing like being with old friends to keep you young. So grateful for these remarkably gifted and talented friends. 

Great couple of days. Today, Monday, more friends and a tour of the Martin Guitar factory!