Sunday, October 24, 2010

Search for a Lost Friend

On a recent trip to Washington D.C. I got to thinking about a woman who had been a friend of mine during my years working in the nation’s capitol. She was Judy Mann, a woman who wrote about women in a column for the Washington Post.

When I looked her up on the Internet, I found my search was several years too late. She died of cancer in 2005 at the young age of 61.

It made me feel sad: not only because we had lost touch, as friends sometimes do. But because I had let it happen.

We met because my husband, Phil, had worked with Judy and her husband Jack at the Washington Daily News, long years before, when Phil was a student and Jack was a friend and mentor.

At left, a book Judy wrote about raising her daughter.

Judy was a delightful person to be around: pretty, slender, blonde, very feminine, and witty, with the the tough edge of a woman who had spent her life around newsrooms filled with cigar-chewing editors. She had a child by her first marriage (to the strange Phillip Abbott Luce). And she and Jack had a long marriage and children of their own. Jack had a previous marriage too, and children of his own: so their blended family was pretty large.

She was a decade older than I, and I marveled that she could keep so many things going at once. Her home in McLean was really lovely and charming.

By the time I met them, Jack had lost his job when the Washington Star folded and had not yet found his next gig. He was twenty years older than Judy, which made him a generation older than I. In addition to the differences in our ages and experience, he had what I now recognize as a common characteristic of long-time sports reporters: a chronic sense of the foolishness of mankind, which expressed itself in a very dark world view and a sense of humor that could only be called gallows.

When he finally took a sports writing job with a Baltimore paper, Judy and Jack split up. Judy and I remained friends. Though the world of television news and the world of the Washington Post were, in those days, very far apart, we were still women in a man’s world. And I liked her. She had fascinating friends like Nora Ephron (who at one time was married to Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post) and Sally Quinn (married to Post editor Ben Bradlee) and I loved hearing her stories. We would meet for lunch and talk about our careers and our lives. I would tell her what was up with Phil and she would tell me about her latest romances.

The most important of these was with a man she wouldn’t name because she said he was prominent and married. Looking back, I realize our talks were like several scenes in the movie When Harry Met Sally: the scenes in which Carrie Fisher’s character is talking about her married boyfriend and Sally is looking at her in dismay. At which point Carrie says something like: “He’s never going to leave is wife. Is he? I know that.” Come to think of it, since Ephron was a friend of Judy’s too, maybe she heard the same stories from her I did. (Not that this was, alas, a unique case.)

When my own husband took up with another woman, I remember having a stunned lunch with Judy. I told her he wanted a divorce. I was clearly in shock. After she comforted me, she turned inward for a minute and said out loud, as if talking to herself: “I wonder how she did it? I wonder how she got him to leave you?”

I walked away from that lunch horrified. How could she say something like that? She wasn’t thinking about me! She is the “other woman”--I said to myself--and that is all she was thinking about today! I was really hurt and angry. Why didn't I just tell her, and move on from there?

I don’t think I ever saw her again. I didn’t want to see her. Looking back, I have to ask myself: what had she done? She had been human. She had thought about herself. She was in the middle of her own drama and could not see the depth of my own.

I read that she married again. I read that Jack died in 2000 at the age of 74, survived by his eight children: five from his first marriage, two from his marriage to Judy, and one he had adopted from Judy’s first marriage. Complicated? A bit. But the life they lived was was definitely full and rich.

Judy lived just five years beyond Jack. Her obituary said she was survived by her husband of fifteen years. I don’t know if he was one of the men in her life she told me about or not. But, a marriage that lasts from age 46 until one’s death at age 61, must be counted a success.

By the 1990s, her Barnard-bred, left wing feminism had begun to seem old-fashioned in some circles, and the Post tried to encourage her to quit by moving her column about women to the comic section of the paper. Her many fans were such that the Post couldn’t touch her and she stayed on until 2001. Maybe when Jack died, she glimpsed her own mortality--as we often do when we lose someone who is always in our heart--as, I’ve come to realize, old loves are.

So, in 2001, she retired after thirty years with the Post, taking her pension and splitting her time between a home in Palm Springs and a farm she bought in the Shenandoah Valley. It was the farm that intrigued me. I could just picture the way she would decorate it. I don’t know if it was as idyllic as it sounds, but, since idealism is my strength as well as one of my great weaknesses, I like to think those last four years were lovely and happy in a gorgeous place with changing leaves, and chilly nights by the fire. Surrounded, as she was, by her beautiful things and a husband she loved.

She never stopped being Judy. She called the place “Gender Gap.”

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Don Meuler said...

Your description of her - "a delightful person to be around: pretty, slender, blonde, very feminine, and witty" - sounds a lot like you. No wonder you were friends.
I was looking for an old friend awhile back on the internet and found she had died about 15 years earlier. I almost wish I hadn't looked at all.

Robin Chapman said...

We didn't look alike. I looked like the tall, naive, rangy Westerner that I am, and she was the petite, hard-drinking sophisticate, from Ban-the-Bomb demonstrations at Barnard. Anyway she was so different from anyone I had met up to that point: totally idealistic in print and an absolute pragmatist in person. I could have learned a little bit of that, but never did.

Florida Beach Basics said...

nicely told - I can picture her and see the conversations.

Robin Chapman said...

Yeah, but that one time I really wanted to hit her!!!

Robin Chapman said...

Oh and here is the link to her obit and a picture of her when I knew her: