Trudie Musson moved to Washington in the summer of 1965 to work as a college intern in the office of Senator John Sherman Cooper. She never left. In 1975, she returned from her post as Cooper’s secretary when he was serving as the first U.S. Ambassador to East Germany, to continue her career as one of the few free-lance social secretaries working for a number of prominent people in Washington and Georgetown.
Lorraine Cooper worked closely with Trudie for decades and described her as a talented woman, much more than a social secretary, “more like my right hand.” Many of the famous Cooper parties were a collaborative effort between Trudie and Mrs. Cooper. For Ellsworth Bunker and his wife Carol Laise, she worked as a secretary. Ellsworth Bunker, quoted in a news article in 1980, felt that, “So many people come and go in Washington that, it is very valuable to have someone like Trudie who knows the city and the people and the role they play here.” Liz Stevens used Trudie to handle correspondence, to run errands, and to plan and help with parties. Liz Stevens found that Trudie was so good on details and knowing where everything was that she said, “Trudie keeps my life together.”
Trudie has great respect and affection for the people she worked for over the years. In the 70s she recognized the unusual demands that a Washington life placed on many prominent women and she expertly found a vocation in assisting and supporting them. Avis Bohlen told Marguerite Sullivan for an article in the Washington Star, “I totally rely on Trudie. What she says, goes. When I have doubts about anything, I call Trudie. She knows.” Enjoy this interesting interview about Trudie’s days working for some of the most celebrated Georgetown personalities.
Musson, Trudie 9/15/2019 Interviewer: Catherine Farrell
Catherine: I am Catherine Farrell and I’m pleased to be interviewing Trudie Musson in her house at 1316 35th Street. The date is Sunday, September 15, 2019. Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of the CAG Oral History Project.
Trudie: Thank you.
Catherine: You’ve had a very interesting life since you moved to DC. Can you tell us a bit about what brought you initially to this area?
Trudie: I came as a summer intern for Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky. I loved it so much that I begged them to let me stay on. I stayed with him in the Senate until he retired in 1973.
Catherine: What year did you start as a summer intern?
Catherine: Any personal reflections?
Trudie: I got to drive the senator a lot. On the way to work, home later in the day, or to an event, I’d hear what had gone on. I would drive him to the White House for meetings with the president. Curiously enough, he went much more often during Johnson’s time in office than he did in Nixon’s.
I had a Volkswagen bug and he’s a tall man, over six feet. People would be amused seeing us together in that little car. He never had any ID, no driver’s license, because he didn’t drive. We’d go to the White House and go through a long process at the gate, identifying who he was and if he was supposed to be there. Finally, they would let us enter the driveway. I would park and wait in the car for him to come out. Times are different now.
He’d often tease, “Don’t you want to come in?” [laughs] and I would say, “No, sir, I don’t think that would be a good idea.” He did take me in once. On another visit he came out with napkins full of hors d’oeuvres in his pockets for me. [laughs]
I said, “What, you took those!” His reply was, “Well, I don’t think they’re going to miss them.”
Cooper was married to a wonderful woman, Lorraine Rowan. Drew Pearson wrote a really unflattering article about her. She always had a parasol because she didn’t want the sun on her, and she wore white gloves. This was in the 1950’s, and he said, “Oh, I don’t know how the people of Kentucky are going to take to Lorraine coming down with an umbrella and white gloves.”
Of course, it totally backfired on him, because the people of Kentucky loved her. She didn’t change for anybody. She wrote a newsletter every month, published in 120 Kentucky papers. In the newsletter she described all the things that they had been involved with during the past four weeks. She included current legislation before the Senate, visits to the White House, visits to their DC home by Kentucky groups and various constituents from the state. Depending on the size of the group, she entertained many of them in their home. She would invite these groups in and give them cookies and lemonade.
Catherine: Did a lot of the other Senate wives participate this way?
Trudie: Senate wives had a volunteer organization called the Red Cross Wives. They’d roll bandages. That’s when they shared their gossip, exchanged views, built friendships. Many close friendships came from this association with each other.
Catherine: The dinner parties in this time period were legendary. I’ve read they were often on Sunday nights. People did other kinds of entertaining during the week and on the weekends, but Sunday nights were the “Georgetown Dinners.” Were these large groups or smaller more intimate groups gathered on a Sunday evening?
Trudie: For the Coopers, probably max 18, because that’s what the dining room held. If it were a dinner for a purpose, which a lot of them were, more would be invited. For the SALT Treaties, they had a big dinner. They had a lunch for the Panama Canal Treaties. Those would have been bigger. Once during Hurricane Agnes, a dinner was held at the Coopers in the torrential rain and the garden could not be used. It was a wonderful time as everyone was close together in the house, plates on their laps, sitting on the stairs or any space available.
For small dinners they used leather boards which held name of each guest and the table number where the guest was seated. For larger dinners escort cards, tiny envelopes which held a card with the number of the table were used. Place cards and often menus were on each table. Many, many candles made everyone look beautiful.
Mrs. Bruce would have dinners when Ambassador Bruce was alive. Often tables would be placed in the hallway because the dining room was small. That meant the tables were set up after the guests arrived and dismantled before they left. After Ambassador Bruce died, Mrs. Bruce usually had Sunday lunches with trays of food such as quail eggs, smoked salmon on triangles, things that didn’t require a plate. There was a large drawing room downstairs that the Bruce’s added to the house which could accommodate many people. She told me once that she told Mr. Bruce she would marry him if he bought her a house in Georgetown.
Catherine: Did you ever attend these dinners?
Trudie: I was often included at dinners at the Coopers. I sometimes felt a bit intimidated depending on whom I was sitting next to. Most of my dinner partners were charming and kind.
Catherine: Mrs. Cooper and her staff would put these on?
Trudie: Yes. One thing that I think is interesting is there was always in-house staff used at these Georgetown events. These women, for the most part, did not use caterers. They had their own cooks, their own butlers. The Coopers had their own cook, a butler, and upstairs and downstairs maids. Same with Mrs. Bruce’s household.
Catherine: And a driver as well?
Trudie: Not at the Coopers.
Catherine: The Coopers didn’t have a driver?
Trudie: Me. I was his driver!
Catherine: You were the only driver? [laughter]
Trudie: They did have a driver sometimes. A gentleman who worked at the State Department came for specific occasions to drive them in their car, but neither of them drove. Another man named Truman sometimes drove them to evening events. He also worked for the Bruce’s and others.
Catherine: What about Senator Cooper’s ability to be on time?
Trudie: Oh time? “Late Senator Cooper.” No, he was never on time.
Catherine: Never on time?
Trudie: Never. Never. I’d lose him. “Sir, it’s time.” We had a little thing that if somebody came to visit [laughs] and they were in his office for what seemed like hours, I’d buzz him and say, “Do you need me to remind you of something?” Inevitably he’d respond, “no!” So, he’d be late for the next appointment.
Catherine: He served in Germany during WWII. Did he speak German?
Trudie: No, he did not. Mrs. Copper spoke five languages. After he retired, I was supposed to work for another member but I decided I didn’t want to work for anyone else. Mrs. Cooper had been approached to write a book about gardens. She said I could help her and be paid from the advance. That began my career as a free-lance social secretary to many of the people who lived in Georgetown.
One day Mrs. Cooper called and said, “Call Evangeline Bruce right away. She needs help.” Of course, I thought, I just can’t call Evangeline Bruce! Mrs. Cooper would call every day to see if I had talked to Mrs. Bruce. I finally got up my courage. Mrs. Bruce asked if I could come right away, to start that day? So, I began taking dictation, running errands but not knowing what was happening. On the way to the house several days later, it was announced that Ambassador Bruce would be appointed as the first United States Liaison to Peking.
Catherine: To China?
Trudie: To China. That’s what was going on. All errands were run, everything got packed up, and off they went.
Catherine: You essentially got her ready for China in record time!
Trudie: There are some wonderful stories about what she’d write and ask me to send her. She would write for things like butter, lights for her makeup mirror, little things she had trouble finding in Peking.
I had items sent. Once too many small light bulbs arrived and she returned them to me by having Secretary Kissinger bring the extras back to the states on his plane.
Catherine: The butter didn’t melt on the plane?
Trudie: The butter was the best. I don’t remember how I got the butter there.
Catherine: Did you deliver a lot of butter or just a pound?
Trudie: A little more than a pound. After two year I think it was, the Bruces returned to DC. In the meantime, I was lucky to get my name passed around to other people. I worked for Ambassador Charles “Chip” Bohlen who was quite sick at that point, for Liz Stevens who lived across the street from the Coopers, and for a few others.
When the Bruces came back, I kept working for her, doing whatever she needed. Next they went to NATO, to Brussels. That’s when the Coopers were going to East Germany, so I was very busy organizing and packing up both [laughs] families.
Catherine: After Senator Cooper retired, where did his career take him?
Trudie: He was of counsel at Covington and Burling. He was then appointed as our first Ambassador to East Germany, the German Democratic Republic.
Catherine: This would have been during the Cold War years. Who was president at the time?
Trudie: It was Nixon’s idea, but in fact, Ford appointed him. He was sworn in when Ford was President, but he knew he was going prior to that.
Catherine: Did you go with him to Germany?
Trudie: Yes, for a little under two years. In East Germany we lived behind the wall. I remember the frequent sound of guns and dogs.
Catherine: Where was the Embassy at that time, in relationship to the Brandenburg Gate?
Trudie: I’m trying to think of how long it would’ve taken me to get to the gate. We weren’t that far away. I lived on Leipziger Strasse. Buildings just went up in what seemed like days, practically, because so many people needed housing. The Embassy was tiny. It was on one floor in an office building. There were only 15 of us.
The State Department had gotten a residence for the Coopers. The Coopers refused to live there. They were housed in a little, what we called a “Kleenex box.” These were small houses clustered together and were all residences for ambassadors to East Germany.
Catherine: The United States had no diplomatic relations with East Germany until this point? That’s the ’70s, right?
Trudie: ’74. Cooper went in ’74, I went in ’75. Mrs. Cooper made the residence, the “Kleenex box,” fabulous. There was red damask on the drawing room walls and many beautiful crystal candle holders and silver mint julep cups. She arranged to borrow paintings from the National Gallery. For at least one reception all the candles were lit. A guest overheard a high ranking East German mutter, “I thought the Americans were rich but they use candles not electricity.”
The government furniture was fairly ugly so lighting by candles made the room warmer. Lily Guest, one Mrs. Cooper’s best friends, gave them a stereo and I had recordings of Broadway musicals and Frank Sinatra recordings sent to the residence which we played when we didn’t want the bugs to hear our conversation. The Ambassador’s room was done with a bed, chairs and cabinets from a Shaker Village in Pleasantville, Kentucky. The front of the house had a cold gray fence, a walkway, and a pole for the American flag. The back was a nice size garden which Mrs. Cooper planted with whatever she could find. She had ordered a shamiana from Pakistan. It was a large tent with sides that could be open or closed. The exterior was red, white, and blue stripes. The interior was a lovely Pakistani print. This was used for the Bicentennial Dinner. Round tables, covered in white cloths with red and blue sashes down the middle, were finished off with multiple small American flags folded into white napkins.
[Editor’s note: Alsop, Susan Mary. “Tribute to a Gracious Manner: The John Sherman Coopers in Georgetown.” Architectural Digest, February, 1985.
Beale, Betty. “Coopers Ad-libbed the Party.” Lexington Herald, Monday July 7, 1965.”]
Catherine: Mrs. Cooper did speak Russian?
Trudie: Yes, which was fabulous because the Soviet ambassador was very powerful even though Eric Honecker was the East German in charge of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.
The Soviet Ambassador was Pytor Abrassimov. He entertained quite a lot. The Coopers and everyone went to his parties. Once, when Mrs. Cooper had invited Ambassador Abrassimov to come to dinner, I got thrown in. Mrs. Cooper seated me next to him. She said, “If I don’t see you smiling the whole time, I’m going to send you home.” He was amusing and very engaging. He looked at his plate and said to me, “What is this?” I explained that on his plate was a “lamb chop.” He pointed to it and said, exaggeratingly, “Lamb Chop, Lamb Chop.” He made me feel comfortable and was a good dinner guest. I assume he spoke English but he didn’t reveal that.
Catherine: What an interesting time!
Trudie: Really wonderful.
Catherine: Did they entertain other diplomats frequently besides the famous July 4th Bicentennial event?
Trudie: Regularly. There were not a lot of options for places to go to get together. There was a diplomatic club out in the country that I went to once with Mrs. Cooper, but the Coopers didn’t go much.
All the staff at the embassy were obviously the Stasi police. We had wonderful drivers provided by the East German government. We had maybe three or four women who helped translate.
There was one young woman who — I’ve forgotten exactly what she did — but she was particularly nice. She asked if I could come to her apartment one day and I got permission to do so. We normally weren’t supposed to go alone. She had a one room apartment, but her friend who was married with a child had a one-bedroom apartment. They did not have easy lives. Frequently there was no heat and the stove did not always work. Electrical power was interrupted. The telephones were hopeless.
Catherine: I imagine you were fairly closely watched and taken care of at that time.
Catherine: You lived in embassy housing?
Trudie: We lived in a big, new apartment building. Elevators stopped at every other floor. If I’d go to the commissary, had heavy bags, and because I lived on the odd floor where the elevator did not stop, I would have to lug the groceries either up or down. Marines often carried my groceries for me. We had a Marine embassy detachment. They weren’t going to give Cooper one, but he insisted and said, “I want Marines here,” which was very smart and good idea. There was something called a codel, which is a congressional delegation. They all go to different embassies.
Catherine: They come and visit at different times?
Trudie: We had two of those.
Catherine: How many would come to visit? Would there be Congressmen and Senators?
Trudie: Yeah, sometimes. I think Tip O’Neil had a delegation and the other one was made up of members of the Senate. Of course, they wanted to come. They all knew and were fond of Ambassador Cooper.
Catherine: Did everyone have to come through Checkpoint Charlie?
Trudie: Yes. We were instructed never to get out of the car coming back from the West, nor ever to let them take your passport from you. When I arrived, a soldier took my passport. I was afraid but saw Mrs. Cooper waiting for me so felt a bit relieved. Once, when the ambassador and I crossed into the West to pick up Mrs. Coopers niece, on returning to the East there was a problem with documents and they asked her to get out of the car. They were questioning her and Cooper got out of the car to see about their treatment of her and I said, “Sir, you know they’ll shoot you here?” They weren’t supposed to make us get out.
Catherine: Were you allowed to freely come and go across the border?
Trudie: We had a pass.
Catherine: You could go over to West?
Trudie: I spent time every weekend at the Commissary and PX. Which was very lucky for us.
Catherine: You probably wouldn’t have gone not only for the Commissary and PX but for any entertainment or if you had the afternoon off. You would leave and go across the border?
Trudie: Yes, but not often.
Catherine: Did you work long hours, most of the time.
Trudie: Yes. If he went away, Mrs. Cooper was there. She went away, the Ambassador was there.
Catherine: You always were there?
Trudie: Pretty much so. Sadly, I just wanted to come home so I didn’t take advantage of traveling with my diplomatic passport. The weather was grim, cold and damp. Many of the buildings were dingy grey and often still not repaired from the World War II bombings.
It could be depressing. I give the State Department credit. They said, “You’ll be fine there.” They said, “You may have some of the other women resent you because you’ve gone right up to the top being the Ambassador’s Secretary, where as they’re moving up.” They said, “I doubt that’s going to happen to you.” They said, “If you have trouble, it’s going to be when you come back.” That turned out to be very true.
Catherine: That’s the way it was?
Trudie: I got back and would go into the Safeway and listen to people complaining about the slow lines. I had just spent two years looking at people queuing up for a piece of bread in longer lines than Safeway shoppers could imagine.
Catherine: It really was depressing to be there?
Trudie: Depressing, but it was also very interesting. I say, particularly since I am not foreign service, it was probably more difficult for me than for a regular foreign service person because they know what to expect.
Catherine: This is the first and only time you served with Cooper outside the country?
Trudie: I was so lucky. Ambassador and Mrs. Cooper took me many places. They made my stay interesting. When they went to Brussels to visit Ambassador and Mrs. Bruce, they took me with them because I had worked for Mrs. Bruce. They included me at many of the dinners. They had lots of visitors which helped break up the routine. Mrs. Katharine Graham came to visit and so did Liz and George Stevens, Rev. Billy Graham, and Leonard Bernstein. At one point I felt like I had met the entire Yale class of 1923! I was friendly with the daughters of the Pakistani ambassador. The Portuguese Ambassador was wonderful.
Luckily when I came back, none of the Georgetown families I had previously worked for had hired anyone to help them. I could just keep going with jobs I had been doing before I left for Berlin. Several were writing books and needed help. I went on working for Mrs. Cooper, Mrs. Bruce, and for Liz Stevens. Ambassador Bohlen had died by that point, but I worked for his wife who did landscape architecture and gardening. Then someone referred me to Ellsworth Bunker, whose last posting was to South Vietnam. He had served as Ambassador to Argentina, Italy, India, and Nepal previously.
Catherine: Actually, John Sherman Cooper had been in India?
Trudie: Yes, and Bunker replaced him. Isn’t that interesting. I’d go day to day, or whenever they’d want me. They were all retired by this point and I would work from their homes. They would call and ask me to come “now!” They may have been demanding, but they were delightful and I loved the people I worked for with few exceptions.
Catherine: What an interesting career you’ve had.
Trudie: When I came back from Berlin, I found the little house on 27th Street that had been a slave quarter. It had a small living room, kitchen, little patio, bedroom and bath.
Catherine: On 27th and…?
Trudie: Between N and Dumbarton. Across from the Baptist church. The lines are painted on the surface of the church to make them look like bricks.
Trudie: Yes. [laughs]
Catherine: I did not know that. I thought it was brick.
Trudie: I watched them… It’s quite fun being in Georgetown and I could walk to the Coopers. It took me five minutes to get to the Coopers.
Nina Richardson always wants me to tell friends this story. When Senator Cooper would go away, Mrs. Cooper would be here. When she would go away, he’d be here. When one was out of town, I would have the other for dinner.
Catherine: Were you ever intimidated of some of his friends? [laughter]
Trudie: Oh my God, yes. One time, I invited Mrs. Cooper and then he decided he wasn’t going to go to Kentucky. He ended up coming with Mrs. Cooper and this man who covered the Senate for the New York Times, his wife, and the man who had been DCM, Deputy Chief of Mission in Berlin were all invited.
I had planned dinner in the garden but it started to rain. My living room was so small that they would have had to hold plates on their laps and I thought, “I can’t have these people sitting in this tiny living room with plates on their laps.” So, I moved the supper to my bedroom. I called my aunt and I said, “Can you come help me? We’ll move the tables up to the bedroom.”
Catherine: Because the bedroom was so much larger than the little tiny living room?
Trudie: No, the same size, but I figured that people could sit on the bed, which was against the wall, and I would have a table parallel to the bed and chairs on the other side. I did not want them to have to rest their plates on their laps to eat. Some of us sat on the bed and some at the little card table in the corner with chairs. There were several other people; a man who worked at the White House and his wife who was from Kentucky and a man who worked at the State Department. Partway through dinner an argument started.
Catherine: We call this an intimate dinner! Everyone have a good time in the bedroom in spite of the argument?
Trudie: Nina loves this story…the idea of going up to the bedroom for dinner.
Catherine: A heated argument?
Trudie: Not too bad. It was just two women. Mrs. Cooper and the reporter’s wife got into it. [laughter] Then the man from State got cross with the man from the White House. Senator Cooper was very deaf so he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. He was just happy to be fed.
When Mrs. Cooper was planning a garden party, we’d consult the Farmer’s Almanac and study the dates to see when the weather was going to be all right, and I promise you, never once did it rain.
Catherine: Really? She did this over and over again?
Trudie: Yeah. She started out with garden parties in honor of the Republican members of the Senate. Then, she began to invite everyone, both parties, who were in the Senate. At the end, I think the last one was attended by about 400 people. On the afternoon of some, the black clouds would gather, but as people began to arrive, the sun would break through and it would be a wonderful, clear evening.
[Editor’s note: Dorothy McCardle, Washington Post article, August 10, 1972 describes Mrs. Cooper “…whose artistic magic in entertaining is legendary in Washington. After phoning the weather bureau and being told the storm had passed Washington, she set up the party outside.”]
Round tables were set up, dressed often in Indian Sari silk cloths or Porthault linens. One year I made place cards out of Magnolia Leaves and I wrote the guest’s names using white-out…the only thing that would dry and be readable on the polished leaves. Her cook prepared the food. At one of these events, huge bowls filled with strawberries and creme fraise from Lily Guest’s farm were the centerpiece for each table. Often it was one vase with a single flower. Ethel Kennedy admonished Senator Cooper once, because of Cesar Chavez and the workers strike, when grapes were served for dessert. A three-piece combo named Devron played an accordion, bass and maybe a violin. Every party was unique, except for the Kentucky Ham which was often on the menu. Their garden parties were a huge success.
[Editor’s note: Beale, Betty. “Going to a Party,” The Evening Star and the Washington Daily News, Wednesday, June 27, 1973]
At one of the last parties, Elizabeth Taylor, when she was married to Senator John Warner, came to a garden party, and as she walked through the house and entered the yard, it was as if the waters of the sea had divided. She walked slowly down the steps and onto the grass and everybody was overwhelmed and suddenly quieter. Nobody cared about the famous gathered. They were just taken with Liz Taylor. Another evening when the guests had left and the Coopers had gone to bed there was a knock at Mrs. Cooper’s door. The butler announced “Madam, the Secretary of State is here.” “Get the champagne, I’ll be right down,” Mrs. Cooper replied as she dresses to have a nightcap with Henry Kissinger.
When the senate was doing business and a party was scheduled, Senator Mansfield, who was majority leader, always said, “We have to adjourn now because Lorraine will be upset with us if we don’t get to the party on time.” That’s how it was. “No, we can’t vote on that now. We have to go to the garden party.”
Seated dinners at the house were always great fun. One thing I enjoyed was working with Mrs. Cooper on the seating at the table for the dinner. I learned much about relationships between people…who could sit next to whom, and who could not.
Mrs. Cooper would always start with an idea of how she wanted the party to be organized but as we got into the serious planning, she would realize something she had in mind would not work. When serving in East Berlin, she paid no attention to the unwritten custom of not mixing East with West. She invited them all, making it impossible to seat everyone, and the party was a huge success. East and West equally enjoyed themselves and each other. She worked hard with us to do what she wanted but when we said it wouldn’t work, she was alright with it. That made her extremely easy to work for.
When the invites to the Berlin party to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial went out, the East German invitees simply did not respond. One afternoon, standing in the US Embassy office, I said out loud, “It would really be helpful if people would respond to our invitation.” The phones began to ring and acceptances were received!
One year the Coopers entertained the Reagans shortly after the assassination attempt. The whole street was blocked off. There was a SWAT team on the roof. The garage was turned into a command center with a telephone, a doctor, the taster. It was very exciting and so unlike the old days when the Kennedy’s would just stop by. The Kennedys and Coopers were great friends.
At the Reagan dinner, one guest was wearing serious jewelry and she was going to take a taxi back to her hotel. The Cooper’s butler stopped her and told her she could not go alone in the taxi. She insisted so he had her remove her jewels and he put them in a brown paper bag and called a taxi for her. She and the jewels arrived safely back at the hotel. When Ambassador Bruce was to present his credentials to the Queen of England, Mrs. Cooper loaned a beautiful Tiara to Mrs. Bruce for the ceremony. Days later the tiara was missing. It was lost for years and much later was found in a hat box in Mrs. Bruce’s closet and then returned to its greatly relieved owner. A frequent sight in Georgetown years ago was a butler walking down the street to the bank with brown paper bags.
Senator Kennedy was always very solicitous of both Mrs. Cooper and Senator Cooper after they were retired. It was touching. He would call up regularly, and come for tea frequently.
Catherine: It was a close relationship?
Trudie: I thought his respect for them was touching. Same with Mrs. Graham. Mrs. Graham was absolutely fabulous. Mrs. Bruce lost her sight. Mrs. Graham would come and read to her. Mrs. Graham would ask Senator Cooper — after Mrs. Cooper died — to come to lunch downtown, at The Post. These were really wonderful people. They were thoughtful people who respected what others had done and accomplished and maintained their connections.
Catherine: When I lived in Georgetown in the late ’60s into the early ’70s, I was a single woman living with two other girls in a house. I knew my neighbors who were extremely comfortable, interesting people. Herman Wouk sat on his front walk and chatted with us in the evenings in the summer. There was an openness and regard for people. I wonder if that still goes on in the neighborhoods in Georgetown?
Trudie: I think it depends on the block. It’s also knowing each other and seeing each other on the street. You’d walk out onto the sidewalk, and the Coopers would see the Harrimans, Lily Guest, or the Bohlens, the Alsops, the Evans, the Stevens, the Bruces, Ben Bradlee. Senators and Cabinet secretaries lived here as well as Supreme Court Justices. They all swam in the Harriman pool. Mrs. Cooper swam with her parasol.
Catherine: [laughs] No. Really?
Trudie: Yes. I swear.
Catherine: Anything about your personal life in Georgetown? We’ve talked about your professional life. I guess your personal life and your professional life were pretty much one and the same in many respects. Anything we haven’t covered that you would like to make sure is a part of this?
Trudie: One fun thing that has to do with Georgetown is that I told you there was a group of us, and we called ourselves, “The Mafia.” We all were secretaries to journalists, people in government, ambassadors, many individuals who were Georgetowners. Most worked for only one family but I was one of the first free-lance secretaries. We all sent invitations, took RSVP’s, organized events, took dictation, handled correspondence, paid bills, directed staff, bought flowers and gifts, helped with books being written, and anything else we were asked to do.
Our “mafia” included me. Another member of the group was a woman who, after Ambassador Bruce died, worked full time for Mrs. Bruce. I still helped Mrs. Bruce on occasions, but she had somebody there every day. The social secretary of the British Embassy was part of our group as was a friend who worked for Mrs. Harriman, and another friend who worked for Joe Kraft.
We had a great little communication system. We would call each other and ask, “Are yours going there tonight? If so, do you know what time? Who’s supposed to be going? What’s it for?” We shared information and, at end of day, we often got together and we’d laugh about things that had gone on and mistakes we managed to avoid or had to make right.
Catherine: Tell stories?
Trudie: Yes. That was fun. We were all scared of Joe Alsop.
Catherine: Why were you afraid of him?
Trudie: Because he had a very gruff voice and when we called the house he’d say, “Hello!” We’d all hang up. He was very nice but had a very intimidating voice.
Catherine: You said you’d call sometime and ask a question, and he would say, “yes” or “no” and hang up.
Trudie: Liz Pozen, who worked for Joseph Kraft called up and said, “This is Elizabeth Pozen. The Krafts are coming for dinner tonight. Do you know what time?” “Yes,” and he’d hang up.
Catherine: Did she venture a call back?
Trudie: I don’t know what she did. I think she just sent them. “Just go.” I suppose at 7. I don’t know whether I should tell this, but it is funny. Mrs. Reagan, when she first came to Washington as First Lady, went around to many different places and events, which was very smart of her because she got to know everybody rather quickly. People or groups would have lunches for her and have different guests. She went into an event at the British Embassy and she had a pink curler in the back of her head. Nobody would tell her because they were embarrassed. She just stayed at lunch with the pink curler in her hair.
Before the Coopers departure for Germany there were many goodbye parties for them. A newly arrived delegation asked to have a dinner for them. Mrs. Cooper gave me a suggested guest list which I passed on to the Ambassador’s secretary. On the day of the dinner he called me and asked which of the guests I had invited were coming. Horrified, I said, “you didn’t invite anyone?” “No,” he said. It was the opening of the Bolshoi Ballet at the Kennedy Center and no one was available. Mrs. Cooper finally found a couple and the Ambassador’s secretary asked if I would come as a guest. Mrs. Cooper agreed. We all assembled at the front door and were ushered in, the women at one end and the men at the other end of the room. We waited until my date appeared and then sat down to dinner. It was a five-course meal and after the entrée had been presented, a silver tray with cans of Coca Cola was passed. It was a wonderful evening. The newly arrived ambassador, staff, and family were very amusing and jolly. I learned later that the staff had thought that my date was Senator Cooper’s body guard and had taken him aside and, until he cleared up his identity, he was not allowed to join us.
Things like that our little group would laugh about when we would get together. One woman none of us particularly liked always wore the same green dress so we called her “lettuce.” Some listened in on phone conversations. Some clients would blame us for things that went wrong when it wasn’t our mistake but theirs. One lady, after I had given her name as someone I worked for, was furious and said I had ruined her life by telling everyone she had a secretary. The next day she called and asked if I would come back. I declined. Once a client told me to lie on the chaise lounge while taking dictation so I wouldn’t get too tired. Another, on a very hot day, appeared in her petticoat. We’d share these stories with each other with great amusement.
Once, when Mrs. Harriman was in the news because of her Pam PAC, responsible in part for getting President Clinton elected, a publication called me to ask about her, what she was like, etc. I said she took wonderful care of Governor Harriman and made positive statements that I thought were innocuous. A few weeks later I got a message. “Trudie, this is Pamela Harriman. Would you please call me.” As you can imagine, I was terrified that I had been quoted in some unfavorable way. I returned the call quickly and, as it turns out, she just wanted me to come be at the house while she was attending inauguration events. I was greatly relieved.
Catherine: I bet there are lots of those funny little stories.
Catherine: Any household, neighborhood, friends, families, businesses, institutions here that are particular wonderful memories for you or that have brought great pleasure?
Trudie: Dumbarton Pharmacy was just the best. They’d get you anything you’d needed. I think they helped me get the butter that I sent to China.
Trudie: I’m serious. They just took such good care of the Coopers, Ms. Bruce, and everybody. They were wonderful, really wonderful men who worked there. Who else is? I think …Oh, well of course Neams, and Scheele’s, the New York Cleaners, Morgan’s, and Little Caledonia.
Catherine: All fabulous institutions with most generous people.
Trudie: They knew everybody. They all knew each other. Mrs. Cooper would go in and, “What would you like? We can do that for you. Yes.”.
Catherine: Anything about particular events? Were you hear during the Vietnam War…?
Catherine: …the marches and the demonstrations?
Trudie: Very moving, very emotional.
Catherine: Were there a lot of demonstrations in front of the Capitol when you would go back-and-forth to work or anything like that?
Trudie: No. When King died, was assassinated, there were troops all over, federal troops all over DC and Georgetown. I’m sure you remember all that? The troops come up and down the halls of the Capitol offices and asked us to, “Please go home.”
Senator Cooper said to me, “We are safer here than any place else. Don’t worry.” I said, “Sir, don’t worry! The troops would like us to go home.” He just wanted to stay and work.
Catherine: You stayed and worked, I guess, rather than going home.
Trudie: That day was unbelievable. The Kentucky School for the Deaf had come to visit, and all of a sudden everything’s blowing up. You just had to get out with whomever you could. That was such a hard time. Then to have Robert Kennedy right on top of it!
Catherine: A young woman at Georgetown University wrote a wonderful little reflection about striking up a conversation with the older woman she sits next to in class. I believe that would be you. I would love to have a copy of that so that I could include it with the interview.
[Editor’s note: See Chiu, Clara. “Friendship Knows No Age.” The Georgetown Voice, 25 Feb. 2019 https://georgetownvoice.com/2019/02/27/friendship-knows-no-age/ ]
Catherine: That would be very nice. Anything else?
Trudie: I don’t think so. I think that’s all. Thank you.