Barbara Gordon, resident in Georgetown since 1961, was brought up on a sugar cane ranch in Cuba, she is bi-lingual and has traveled extensively. She was the first person in the United States to recognize the extraordinary art of Ferdinand Botero and to buy his works. Her art collection reflects her interest in South America and Hispanic artists but includes the Washington color school with artists such as Sam Gilliam and Gene Davis. Her husband MacKenzie Gordon was with the U.S. Geological Society; through his work, they traveled abroad and he was a collector of oriental art. In her interview with Vivienne Lassman, Barbara describes her love of art and her early years in Washington when she worked for the State Department and later as a volunteer for the Association of Foreign Service Women.
Vivienne Lassman: This is for the oral history project of CAG, and my name is Vivienne Lassman. I am interviewing Mrs. Barbara W. Gordon. Today’s date is Wednesday, April 21, 2010. And the interview is being conducted in her home at 2905 Q Street. Barbara, I know that you did not grow up here. If you would like to start by just giving us a little of your history, and your family, and what it was like.
Barbara Gordon: Well, I was taken down to Cuba at the tender age of six months. My father had gotten a job in Cuba, not in Havana, but down the island with a company known as the United Fruit Company.
Vivienne: When was this Barbara?
Barbara: It was when I was six months old. It was about in, well, in 1921 if you must know.
Barbara: Well anyway, that’s the way it was. Anyway, my father said he only took it for two years because a friend of his from Purdue where he had graduated, called him and said look, there’s a great opportunity in Cuba. And he was sort of an agro‑economist in a way. But he was also a…well, I’ll think of that in a minute. He was very adventurous my dad. He had traveled to Asia and traveled to Alaska in his growing up at different times and so forth. And he was in the first world war. And then he went into the Navy, and got out of the Navy and came down to Baltimore.
And he sort of new about my mother from high school but had not kept in touch. But for some reason I guess he had it in his mind that my mother was the one because he found her, because she was teaching in New York and lived in New Jersey with a friend.
Vivienne: And what were your parents names?
Barbara: Beth and Hustous Walker.They both were from the Midwest. From Indiana.
Vivienne: And so they went down to Cuba.
Barbara: Yeah. On an invitation from my dad’s colleague at Purdue University. And my dad, he had a job in Baltimore but it wasn’t a great job. But he had met my mother again, and gotten married, and then had me. They had to think about taking me down to sort of a remote area of Cuba. Because Cuba wasn’t heavily populated. It was around Havana, and some of the big capitals, but down the island and the Oriente Province. It wasn’t heavily populated.
It was populated with workers cutting sugar cane. [laughs] So my dad managed a sugar cane operation and a mill that mined the cane and produced the sugar that got in the boats that went to Boston, and New Orleans, and so forth.
Vivienne: And how long did he do that for?
Barbara: For 33 years. [laughs]
Vivienne: Thirty‑three years.
Barbara: He went for two years and stayed 33. But he went up in the company. Became one of the top officials of the United Fruit Company, in charge of a big area there in the mill.
Vivienne: So how were you educated?
Barbara: Well the company had a school. They hired a teacher. And they had a nice little school made out of wood. It was a wooden school, and it was for eight grades. So one teacher for eight grades. But that wasn’t that much because she just had to organize the time for each of the grades, and there weren’t that many. Because there was another school for the Spanish speaking people that you could go to. There was a Friend’s School, the Quakers had a school down there. In my hometown. they had a wonderful school, and they had a wonderful little church.
Vivienne: What was the name of the town?
Barbara: Banes, Oriente Province, in Cuba.
Vivienne: And so you grew up being completely bilingual?
Barbara: Yes, I did. I did.
Vivienne: And where did you go after that first school?
Barbara: Well, I went to that first school, and then I also had a Cuban teacher who my mother hired to come in and have sessions with me in Spanish. Because I played with my friends in Spanish during recreation time. But we were being taught English and old English things. How to organize your English with a phrase.
Vivienne Lassman: So Barbara after growing up and having your earlier years being educated in Cuba, where did you go to college?
Barbara Gordon: I would like to say about educated in Cuba that I was educated in a small town in Oriente province which is a further most province from the United States in Cuba. [laughs] and that province has been cut up since Fidel Castro took over. It’s been cut up into five provinces. So it was the biggest province in Cuba with the sixth province and then when he came in and started shaking things up, why they converted into five different provinces.
Vivienne: Is that when your father left?
Barbara: Oh, no. he left before Castro.
Vivienne: Before Castro?
Barbara: Oh, yeah. He left just as the revolution was reaching an important point.
Vivienne: And you’ve been able to go back to Cuba since then?
Barbara: No. Only once have I been back since the revolution. And that was with a tour group and we started out in Havana and went down the whole island stopping at the different places.
Vivienne: Which year?
Barbara: It was about oh, it was 2001. It was March, April of 2001. And we were the last tour group that under the arrangements that Clinton had made with the Congress of the United States that you could exchange anything cultural like architects and all that cultural. And as soon as we finished our little trip why Bush put the foot down and said no more. Only the Cubans who are related to somebody in Cuba could go but they could only go every three years. And they could only take $1, 000 or something like that. And then that stopped everything from the United States not from Europe and everyplace else. They could always go to Cuba.
Vivienne: So when you came to the United States, where did you go?
Barbara: I went to college. I went to high school as an intern and I went to college as an intern. And that was my high school was in St. Louis, Missouri and the college was in Elsa, Illinois, which was a little town on the banks of the Mississippi. And up on the high cliffs of where they had a wonderful landscape, a lot of I forget how many acres but there was a big acreage.
Vivienne: And when and how did you come to Washington?
Barbara: Well, I taught at college. I taught Spanish at college for two years after I graduated. In fact, I taught it one year while I was a senior in college. And then I had a mind to go to the University of California, which I did. And so after those two years of teaching I went to the University of California in the fall and I took political science. So it was really a political science course. And I emphasized Latin America and Cuba. [laughs] and after the year was up I buzzed back to Washington and my father knew a few of the people in government and one such a person helped me get a job in the State Department.
Vivienne: Now when you say “buzzed back, ” had you lived here before?
Barbara: Well, no. I lived in Elsa, Illinois during my college year. So buzzing back was coming to the coast I guess back from California. Where I had been for, I was in California about, well, I guess it was about two years.
Vivienne: And so did you meet your husband…
Vivienne: Mac – McKinsey Gordon.
Barbara: [laughs] Yeah, I met him about a year and a half after I came to Washington because I was assigned to go and attend what they call a Gap Conference in England. And that conference was the third round to deal with trade, commerce and finances of the U.N. so to speak.
Vivienne: And this was because you were at the State Department?
Barbara: Yeah. The State Department had picked me out to go with… The other girl that came with me was a Puerto Rican girl and she also was in another part of the language part but she knew the language and everything. I knew the language. So we were sort of secretarial help, typing up things in Spanish and English and so on. We were given a Christmas break and we went to Spain together. And we had a very interesting time in Spain, the first time I’d been there. First time I’d touched the European continent. We were there from September to the following… I think we finished in the first of May of the following year. I had a break so I took off for Turkey and then I visited in Italy and Turkey and then came back and then came on back to Washington.
Vivienne: And where did you meat Mac?
Barbara: And so that that summer is when I met Mac. [laughs]
Vivienne: And he was with…
Barbara: Friends. He had met some of my friends back here and…
Vivienne: He was with the US Geological Survey?
Barbara: Yes. He was always with the US Geological Survey. He never made a move anywhere else. He just sort of went along. [laughs]
Vivienne: So he traveled a lot.
Barbara: Not a lot, but he traveled. But a lot was in the United States because geologists have to live. Then after we were married we went to Brazil for two years. And he did some work for the Brazilian government, because he had been down there before he knew me and had worked for the Brazilian government to find the coal. The Brazilians had loads of iron. They could supply iron to thousands around the world. But coal, good coal for manufacturing was not too good. And so they had some lousy coal.
Vivienne: So when did you buy this house?
Barbara: Oh, well, it was 1961 when Kennedy came. So we had come back from Brazil and I was in California sort of helping with my family and his grandmother. And he had come back directly here, because he had some work to do. And so he had a little rental up here. You know that building that’s, let’s see, it’s on Wisconsin. And just before you get to the Russian Embassy today, is a big building for apartments.
Barbara: We rented an apartment there for a couple of months. And then I went around with some gal, real estate person, and she had a little Volkswagen and there was still snow on all the sidewalks. You know how the snow piles up on edges of the sidewalk that was that kind of a snow. It was piled up on edges of the sidewalk. And if you remember Kennedy was out there without a hat on and a coat and it was a very cold winter. [laughs]
Vivienne: And so with her you found this house?
Barbara: Yeah. And she found this house. And it was up for sale for about four months, very reasonably priced, like $247,000. And so we liked it. It needed a lot of work. You know, it’s an 1800‑something house.
Barbara: It needed a lot of work. And, so, anyway, we sorta liked it and…
Vivienne: Sorry to interrupt. It’s 1792 I have that it was built.
Barbara: 1792? I thought it was something like 1872 or something like that.
Vivienne: Well, there’s a deed of chain. We can go into that.
Barbara: OK. That’s something. That would be interesting.
Barbara: I’d love to find out the certainty, because I think it’s listed somewhere.
Vivienne: Yes it is.
Barbara: When it was built.
Vivienne: We’ll find that.
Barbara: OK. Well, that’s good, because, now, what was I saying?
Vivienne: You found this house for a basic low price.
Barbara: Yes. And, then, when we put in our bid, somebody else, all of a sudden, came to put in their bid. [laughs] And, they bid about two hundred and forty eight thousand or something like that. You could imagine those were fairly low prices, in those days, as compared to this day and age. But, so, then, we put in for the… It was two forty‑seven. So, we went to two‑fifty. My dad was helping us, so we went to two‑fifty and they backed out.
Vivienne: And, they backed out. And, it has four stories or three?
Barbara: It’s really three. It’s really three and a half. It’s two stories full. The third is a half a floor and we made that into Max’s office and his particular interests, which were a lot of oriental books: a lot of oriental things on art.
Vivienne: His oriental art collection.
Barbara: His art in that. And, then, the basement, we converted. The first thing we did was convert what was a basement and made a room and a bathroom. It was not in very good shape. It was probably for servants: the way they lived in those days. So, we cleaned that all out. What we did not do, which I regret to this day, is that we left in there a wall of brick. Then, underneath what is now the living room was dirt: three feet of dirt. According to the laws of the time, you had to have three feet, between you and the house. In other words, you could have dirt, but it had to be three feet.
And, so, you can get in and do whatever you had to do. I do regret that I did not dig it all out. There was a closet there, now, and the apartment. The apartment took up a good bit of space. Then, the washroom was another little space. Then, we had a sort of a closet that went up to the brick wall that became part of the earth. So, we didn’t really get it cleared out. So, I paid the price, with problems of mice every so often [laughs] .
Vivienne: Oh, I see. [laughs]
Barbara: I paid the price.
Barbara: We did spend two years, on the apartment, getting that while we were renting.
Barbara: We ended up here. But, then, we made it into a pretty nice apartment with a bathroom and a little place that was just good for two people. And, it had some windows on the street. You could notice with the staircase.
Barbara: Then, it has a little kitchen and a refrigerator, a closet and a bathroom. So, it’s very concise. I’ve really been renting it ever since. [laughs]
Vivienne: That’s great. Have your neighbors changed on either side?
Barbara: Oh, yeah.
Vivienne: Have you known your neighbors?
Barbara: Well, I knew the neighbor on the right of me. It was a family. They were an abundant family. I think there were nine of them. A man and his wife and about nine kids. They were there a long time. I think they were there a good 12 or 14 years, something like that. Because then, they moved out and then came my other neighbor who was married at the time, and she was with the World Bank. Apparently her marriage didn’t last too long, because they ended up divorcing. She had a boy and a girl. And they were older.
Vivienne: What was her name? Do you remember?
Barbara: Yeah. I think I do. Susan Marcus. And she was in there for 17 years as a neighbor. So I lost her just about a couple of years ago. I think it wasn’t even a couple of years ago, it was probably a year and a half. The new neighbor turned out to be a young man and his wife and a little boy about five years old. And then, she was expecting. What was she expecting? A little girl. So that little girl was born about two months ago.
Vivienne: Now, you’re an only child, Barbara?
Vivienne: Did you have any children?
Vivienne: You didn’t?
Barbara: Only child. Mac was an only child.
Vivienne: And you were an only child.
Barbara: Yeah. And we never had children.
Vivienne: And coming here in 1961 was a very exciting time. Were you involved with any of the administration, the Kennedy Administration?
Barbara: No, no, because we were just moving here. So we were not really involved. I think basically we were involved in that we were always enthusiastic about politics. I particularly. Mack was a geologist. He was a little more laid back about that. But I was very interested in anything to do with politics. And I think that’s my Cuban background. I’ve been interested in Cuba ever since all the comings and goings.
Vivienne: Now you did know some of the well known Georgetown citizens. Catherine Graham.
Barbara: Yes. I knew her. She was so friendly to everybody. I should backup and say that I started working for the state department, not a paid worker, but a volunteer type. And they had an organization of foreign service women back in Washington, and when they were here, they could join that. And then when they have to leave again, they left again. And then new ones came in. So for this little organization, always met once a month in the department of state on the diplomatic floors, which was the eighth floor in the state department.
You know the eighth floor, in my time, it began to be beautiful by different state department leaders, secretaries. The different secretaries starting building things because they didn’t feel they had the proper place to entertain foreign diplomats.
And so bit by bit, the wonderful man that helped them find things, and find colonial things, find important pieces of furniture, and rugs, and the silver belonging to different presidents, and all that. So if you see that floor today, where we would meet once a month, why you are impressed. And they have used it for what the purpose was.
Vivienne: The rooms have been refurbished beautifully. So, you were telling me that Q Street originally did not exist. It was part of a larger estate that needed to be cut through to build the houses on Q Street.
Barbara: Apparently it was so big that they were doing houses on R Street and the next one down was like Reservoir, and then there was Q. They ended it up calling it a Q. But I think P was in order. I think P was already done. Because I don’t think it hit the estate. It was Q up that hit the estate, and so that’s why. And I guess it was cut up because they started selling a piece of the estate to houses. And the houses here, if you’ll notice, are front to front to front and narrow. My house was about 22 feet wide. And I investigated a little bit. Why was that? Well, everybody who seemed to know anything about it said it was because the taxes and the width of the houses, the taxes were only so much. And so they used to build it up and back. And that’s how they reduced their tax amounts.
Vivienne: By having the tall, narrow house.
Barbara: Tall, narrow houses.
Vivienne: So your house is much broader?
Barbara: Yes, back here it winds out, and so the house over here is on a, we all have a back that abuts to an alley. And then that alley was also used, in part of it, for parking. The houses on 30th Street, the next street over.
Barbara: It was an apartment. And then the back of that apartment abutted into our alley, in the back of our houses in the back of this block. And so they would use it for parking. And I for a while was able to rent a piece of the garage that belonged to the people up on 29th Street. They had a big part of the estate on 29th Street, it was open up.
Vivienne: You could rent it as a parking garage?
Barbara: Oh, and then I could rent that, a piece of it …that garage as a parking place. And then when they sold it eighteen years later, I had to go out, Mac and I had to go out on the road, onto 29th, because they wouldn’t rent it.
Vivienne: You couldn’t find another parking place.
Barbara: Well, I know but they wouldn’t rent us that for a garage because there were two garages there in a building right behind us. And I could walk out the back gate and into the garage, and out the car.
Vivienne: Did you and Mac socialize in Georgetown?
Barbara: Well, I don’t know what to say about that. I guess we did socialize. I got into the house tours.
Vivienne: You gave house tours?
Barbara: Oh yes I gave a house tour. I got my house on tour, and then I had a garden on tour. A garden meaning one of the little gardens to show what you could do with a small garden.
Vivienne: That small garden, it looks lovely, yes.
Barbara: There’s a lot of big gardens that were on tour, too. But they had a creative way of doing it, Georgetown people. And we did take an active part in the Citizen’s of Georgetown cause.
Vivienne: In the Citizens of Georgetown Association?
Vivienne: By participating in the garden tour and the house tour.
Barbara: We’d do things like that.
Vivienne: Any other way? Were you on any committees?
Barbara: No, we never went for committees because I got involved in a lot of other things, other than Georgetown. Which was the Washington Performing Arts Society, which I was on the first board of the Washington Performing Arts Society. And I formed the first Woman’s Committee of the WPAS. And some people, of course, lived in Georgetown, lots of others didn’t and so forth. But Patrick Hayes was the major force in that idea of the WPAS. And so we became much more I should say sociable, in that kind of thing, of voluntarism. And Mac would help with that. And then Mac was active at the Corcoran, also, and was on the Friends Board, Friends of the Corcoran. And I was on it for a while, too. We were active in the Corcoran and active in the WPAS. And then I also became the president of the Women’s Committee of the symphony for two years and being on the board of the symphony.
So when we were there, those early years, they were grabbing people and you know it was a new era.
Vivienne: To be involved.
Barbara: To be involved and to get things done. And then it was a cross section of blacks with whites, which was never done before and was being done.
Vivienne: And that was being done on the boards or also in the integrated housing?
Barbara: Well, yes, they were still having problems with housing about trying not to have any black people coming in. But it’s broken down. You could tell, everything was broken down. In fact, you couldn’t go into Garfinkel’s, which was our favorite store, and see a black person until my time. My time they started coming in.
Vivienne: In the 1960s?
Barbara: In the ’60s. Absolutely.
Barbara: In the 1960s, we started our board and it had to be integrated. Pat said everybody…
Vivienne: The board of the symphony?
Barbara: The Board of the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Vivienne: Oh the WPAS.
Barbara: Now the board of the symphony was not well represented by the Afros.
Vivienne: African‑Americans, yes.
Barbara: No, they were not. There was one man and his wife who was on the big board of the symphony. And I was president for two years under that particular board in the ’60s also because it came shortly after the WPAS. And I organized a group up on the hill, and another group somewhere else, I’m not sure. But those were the only black people that were in the thing. And do you know it stayed like that for quite some time after I tried.
Vivienne: After you tried to integrate them.
Barbara: After I tried to integrate them the Washington Performing Arts expanded.
Vivienne: They did.
Barbara: They believed in that, they did it, but anyway.
Vivienne: Did you know any of the other well‑known other women apart from Katherine Graham, like Lorraine Cooper, Evangeline Bruce, or Pamela Harriman?
Barbara: Oh Pamela Harriman was lovely, I knew her pretty well.
Vivienne: You did?
Barbara: Yes, because she was an active Democrat. And so we had several occasions to be in her house and to see her lovely collection of art that she had inherited. And that wonderful, what do I want to call it, lawn, or, behind the house that was so gorgeous, plenty of room for expanding. But she was a very loyal Democrat and a very active one. But who was the other one? Evangeline Bruce, I barely, I knew her a little bit, but not a lot.
Vivienne: Or Lorraine Cooper?
Barbara: I don’t know. What did Lorraine Cooper do?
Vivienne: She was another one who was very active in Georgetown society at a certain point.
Barbara: Oh, I see.
Vivienne: And so did you have any interaction with the Kennedys or their circle or you were just so new or?
Barbara: Oh no, well no. No, I didn’t have any great action with the Kennedys. But I certainly knew about them. And you know they would go the concert in Constitution Hall and several times I was right there when they were walking out and saying hello, that kind of connection. And then, I went to the CAG meeting. I don’t think Mac did, or maybe he did. Came to the CAG meeting when that woman who was a lawyer and went around campaigning to see that [laughs] no black person should come into the Georgetown area.
Vivienne: Now what woman was that?
Barbara: She campaigned so that we would not bring in an extension to the railroad or to the buses because she felt that the black people would be coming in. How shortsighted! Because all the Georgetown people needed maids and [laughs] busboys, and so on.
Vivienne: What was her name? Do you remember?
Barbara: No, I would know it if I heard it. I think it begins with an H because she was very well known, and I’m sure CAG knows exactly who she is.
Vivienne: And was there opposition within CAG to her campaigning?
Barbara: Yeah, there was some debate. But she…
Vivienne: How did you approach it?
Barbara: No, I didn’t do much talking about that.
Vivienne: But you disagreed with…
Barbara: Oh, I disagreed with that because I always have. I grew up in Cuba, and I’m used to black people. And [laughs] I came here to Washington, and I started being very used to black people. So no, I never had any feeling about that. When I went into the Midwest, I got on the trains and things. I was horrified [laughs] when it said “whites” and “blacks” in the bathrooms and the places along the way when you’d be in the train seeing these things. So yeah, I was still in period [laughs] and lived in part of that period, and it was so changing here. It really was remarkable. I think John F. Kennedy had a lot to do with it.
Vivienne: Oh, yes. And then Johnson.
Barbara: And who?
Vivienne: Lyndon Johnson…
Barbara: Oh, yes.
Vivienne: …when he had that bill passed.
Barbara: Yeah, it was quite interesting how that happened, and sort of quietly. It wasn’t too bad, except when Martin Luther King died. And that was a disaster. [laughs]
Vivienne: A disaster. You’ve lived here for almost 50 years. What kind of changes in Georgetown have made the most impression on you?
Barbara: Well, [laughs] it’s hard to say what makes the most impression because Georgetown was always Georgetown. It was always there, and it always had its interesting people coming and going. There were very few black people for a long time lived in Georgetown. There were a few on the periphery, but it wasn’t very much then. But I kept supporting CAG. I was active in CAG, but I didn’t take on any positions because I was involved with these other positions and things in a way. But Georgetown always had a lot of inter‑relationships with different people.
Like I might know you and I like somebody. Then I might have a party and then you have a conglomerate of people not all from Georgetown. So that was the kind of, you might say, the widespread [laughs] connections that one had.
Vivienne: As I look around, Barbara, you have this wonderful…
art collection. I think it’s so interesting that you were, I think it’s true to say, the first person to introduce Fernando Botero to Washington?
Barbara: Oh, yes. I was the first one, and then I had that 100 people. [laughs] That was the first thing that…
Vivienne: You had a party for Fernando Botero?
Barbara: For Fernando in his honor and his second wife.
Vivienne: And that would be about 19…
Barbara: Oh, well. Let’s see. Wait a second. That was ’69 I think I said.
Barbara: Yeah, so then December ’69 was that particular…
Vivienne: When he was virtually unknown in the United States.
Barbara: Yes, and he came down from… I think it was when they had the Hirshhorn exhibit. And he came down, and I had him and his wife stay here with me in the guest room. And they brought down another couple, wherever they stayed, stayed with her friends maybe, because they wanted to have them come, too. And it was a part of the exhibit, too.
Vivienne: The exhibit at the Hirshhorn.
Barbara: Hirshhorn, yes. I’m pretty sure that’s right. I would love to check it. I was at the Hirshhorn either the second or the first time. But if it was the second time, where was it the first time? I’m not too clear about that. And so, I would like to be more clear about that.
Vivienne: But it’s so exciting that someone like Fernando Botero who now is of international stature…
Barbara: Yeah, I know!
Vivienne: And of course we talked about the Abu Ghraib Exhibit at theKatzen Museum that Jack Rasmussen did that – he was so brave. But to be aware of his work at the beginning of his career as you were, how did that come about?
Barbara: Well, when Mac and I came back from Brazil, and came back to Washington and Kennedy was in power then, and we were just getting back into Washington, buying a house, and then we saw in the… I think it was called the Kress Gallery? Some paintings were coming down, where they were against the wall, and that was Botero. They had a show of Botero. And we were from Brazil, and I didn’t have a clue, neither did Mac about exactly who Botero was, but when we looked through the glass of the door of this particular salesperson, I was fascinated with him. I was absolutely… [gasps] . And from there on, I just had a very strong interest in him. Now I can’t say that I like everything he does; there are some things I would not have. But most of the things I’m very fond of. His flowers that are too fat, and the people that are too fat, but well dressed, and so forth.
Vivienne: Well, Barbara, as I look around this apartment, it is full of artifacts, African masks… I know that Mac collected Oriental objects, and you have a large collection of South American art, with a Washington Color School…
Barbara: I have Tom Downing, and I have Gene Davis, and…
Vivienne: And you knew the artists?
Barbara: Oh, yes. I knew all of the artists. I knew Gene and… the black artist, Gene… oh, I’m forgetting his name, again, but he’s one of the few…
Vivienne: Sam Gilliam?
Barbara: Sam Gilliam, thank you, Sam Gilliam. And I had two big ones of Sam Gilliam and of Gene Davis in my house. And from one day to the next, I decided that I wanted a smaller one, and that I wanted the space for my Latin American artists. [laughs] So I got two small ones of Gene Davis, and he was white, and then I got the one of Sam…
Vivienne: You traded in your big ones?
Barbara: Sam Gilliam I traded in, and got a silk screen of his that I have; he did it for Walter Washington’s first time running for mayor of Washington. And I got that one; it’s in the closet in there. [laughs] But then I turned a lot of this area into… no, there are American artists, and there’s a great big one in the hallway of a Tom Downing… and there’s a very interesting one, to me, of a Californian artist that is on top of the Tom Downing, I recall, and it was called East Wind, West Wind. It was done by a California artist. I don’t know. It just hit me.
Vivienne: But art has really been a passion for you and continues to be because you are on the board of the Organization of American States?
Barbara: Yes. On the board of the friends of the Art Museum of the Americas it’s called. Friends of the Art Museum of the Americas. And so we got that going way back about 25 years ago and I helped organize it. And then I was a president for a couple years and then other presidents came along. And then I became president again about three years ago because it was on a down then. So we perked it up again and got it going.
Vivienne: So they came back to you to perk it up.
Barbara: I perked it up. [laughs] I guess that’s what I have to say. I perked it up. But I think I’m not going to last too much longer. I mean, it’s perked up and we’re having the thing I told you about….
Vivienne: The gala.
Barbara: The gala. The 29th. I would be delighted to have you join if you feel like it and you can do it.
Vivienne: Thank you. So you just continue to be passionate about the causes you care about.
Barbara: Yeah. I’m with the WPAS. I have been active ever since the beginning of the WPAS, when I formed the women’s committee with several other people. I think we’ve had 14 presidents. They are two years each of the presidents of the WPAS women’s committee. Two years each. And we’ve done very well. And I think this last year has been particularly good. We celebrated our 40th anniversary with a luncheon at the Hay Adams under the direction of Hans Bulon who we all adore. It was a beautiful luncheon. And it was over 120 or 150 people, I don’t know the exact.
We made a handbook for all the ones who came and then the ones who couldn’t come. We made extra ones so they would have it. So it was sort of a commemorative manual or catalog I should say. It was a catalog. A commemorative catalog of our 40 years.
Vivienne: Barbara we’ve really covered a lot of ground. Do you have any special story about Georgetown or about living in the house? Any fun or special memory?
Barbara: Well no special memories. I have a lot of fun thinking about all the different occasions that I’ve had parties here. One thing you might like to know about is Emilio Cueto, a very famous Cuban. No. Famous to Cubans. To Cubans who live here in Florida and so forth. And he’s a terrific pianist. And you know Mac, my husband, was a great pianist by ear. He played the piano for all my affairs. Whenever we had something important to do or something, why, he would play the piano. And he played the piano for a luncheon that was held by the congressional women to honor the wife of the president.
And so he ended up being asked to do one for Mrs. Bush. Senior Bush. Senior Bush’s wife. And so he agreed. Because the emphasis was going to be on education, and the education of kids. And so the lunch boxes were lunch boxes a‑la, lunch boxes that you had when you go to school?
Barbara: And so he did a song about reading and writing and arithmetic. And it wasn’t an original tune, but it was original words. And he did that. They made copies of all the songs for all the ladies that were at the luncheon. And I wasn’t invited. I thought that was pretty awful. Because they wouldn’t invite anybody that wasn’t a congressional or a Supreme Court Justice or something.
But they loved to have Mac. So I have a picture of Mac shaking hands with Mrs. Bush and so forth. And so it was very interesting. So in a way, we had connections with some political people outside of our area, Georgetown.
Sort of a lot of different things that happened, connected with Kennedy Center, connected with people like that in politics, and the state department people.
And I was a member of the board of this ASFSW for 18 years. I was a member of the board and planned their program once a month. Once a month I had to plan a program, and get it written, and get it OK’d.
So that was a pretty busy time, but I loved it because it was all international. And I am favorably indisposed toward internationalism.
Vivienne: Well, given your background, you are a pretty international person.
Barbara: Yeah. Pretty much. Yeah, I am. And by the way, I don’t know. There are several people I know in the K. But June Lipon lives on P street and she’s been a long time friend of mine. June and Jerry Lipon. And they have a very old house too that belonged to, oh I am going to forget her name but….
Vivienne: Do you know anything about previous owners of your home?
Barbara: You know it was by somebody who was in congress and had a K name. And I used to know it very well. And then he was sent as ambassador to India or something like that. And was in the house, but then went off to be ambassador to India. And then I don’t know what happened to the house. Oh, when we bought it, we bought it from a military man who had been in the military. And he had on the third floor, that half a floor that Mack uses there. He had on the third floor a whole collection of rifles, rifles of all different types. Rifles all the way to the top. So that was a little unusual. Didn’t have art. [laughs]
Vivienne: And so now you’ve switched over and you have the art.
Barbara: Mac brought in some of that art.
Vivienne: Barbara, thank you so much. This has been just a treat to be here and hear your wonderful stories.
Barbara: And you didn’t even ask me about Castro. Fidel Castro.
Vivienne: That I think is another story. [laughs]
Barbara: Yeah, another story. I have a lot of Cuban friends that know that story. And how he dated a friend of mine in the little town I grew up in. And how they ended up getting married, and how they were divorced five years later. And then she remarried another wonderful guy and left for Madrid. Was gone from Cuba ever since.
Vivienne: And he never remarried.
Barbara: Oh yes he did.
Vivienne: He did?
Barbara: Yeah. He finally did. He had several encounters. But he finally married a person. And I didn’t realize it but he was married longer than I thought he was. But he had a lot of kids from extra marital relations. All the things that you could talk about. So, anyway. It’s the way it was. But it was about 17 years I think he’s been married to this one.
Vivienne: Oh it is?
Barbara: Yeah. Something like that.
Vivienne: Well Barbara, thank you again.
Barbara: All right. That was enjoyable.