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First Person

I GREW UP in the city of Riviere-du-Loup on the South Shore of the St. Lawrence River in the Province of Québec, Canada. I was in Washington, D.C., visiting two friends from Québec when I became quite ill and was admitted to the hospital with what appeared to be the Asiatic flu. I shared a hospital room with a woman who was suffering from cancer; her husband, Herbert Rice, was a member of The University Club of Washington, DC, and would come to visit her every day. As we became acquainted, Mr. Rice suggested that I look into employment with the club. His enthusiasm certainly piqued my interest, and after a short visit back to Québec, I decided to relocate to the U.S. capital. I have always had a great sense of adventure.

I started working at the club on May 3, 1960. My first day was a memorable one; I recall hosting a reception for retiring Senator Theodore Francis Greene of Rhode Island that was attended by several members of congress and Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who was campaigning for president at the time.

I have met so many interesting people over the years. Some include many of Washington’s major players, from Supreme Court justices and members of Congress, to presidents and ambassadors. I have even had the pleasure of meeting several cardinals of the Catholic Church. I distinctly recall the occasion when Chief Justice Earl Warren brought his entire family to the Taft Dining Room for lunch after the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on Jan. 20, 1961, and when James E. Webb, director of NASA, dined in the Taft with a group of astronauts that included Neil Armstrong and John Glenn. Longtime politician Tip O’Neill used to come to the club on Friday nights to play cards with then Vice President Richard Nixon. I remember Mrs. Gwendolyn Cafritz, who was often referred to as Washington’s “hostess with the mostest” throwing a party for President Johnson on the second floor. And I especially enjoyed visits from Congressman Bill Boner of Tennessee, who frequently dined at the club, and watching members such as Past President and current Foundation Board President Scott Beck grow up. I have fond memories of Mr. Beck coming here to celebrate occasions with his father, Past President John Beck, and his family; particularly of a birthday party when he was very young.

In my role as hostess and manager of The Taft Dining Room, I have been responsible for planning many of the club’s most memorable occasions. I have enjoyed so many things, but the Tea Dances were probably my favorite events. They would take place on the first Saturday of the month; members would gather in the library to dance and they were always such festive occasions. “The Bowlers” were also a fun group; they would get together on Friday nights and would participate in a piano sing-along. My favorite song to sing was “La Vie en rose”; in fact, longtime club pianist Art Carchedi asked me why I didn’t make it over to the Pershing Grille to sing that song during my celebration, but there were just so many people to greet that I wasn’t able to.

Working at the club has been good for me. I have served as hostess and manager of The Taft Dining Room through the terms of 12 U.S. presidents, 37 club presidents, and five general managers. I have been honored periodically throughout the years, and I am always very grateful to club membership for allowing me to play a small part in their memories. I can sum things up with the words I spoke in 1992, when more than 70 “frequent Taft diners” honored me by presenting me with my portrait, by artist Vits Knuble, which now hangs in the Miss Laurence Room: “I am so very proud to be a part of your club family.”

First person is a column written by club members, directors and employees about what makes clubs special. Send your 600-word submissions and photos to Cindy Vizza at [email protected].