The death this week of Letitia Baldrige at 86 brought back a warm memory to Erin Fogarty Owen of Omaha — a long lunch in Washington, D.C.
Baldrige, who grew up in Omaha and became social secretary to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, as well as an author, entrepreneur and etiquette columnist, agreed to lunch seven years ago today because Owen, whom she never had met, graciously asked her.
Erin, a photographer, had hoped to get permission to take her portrait, which didn't happen. But Baldrige was good-humored, saying: “I look like the Scarecrow from 'The Wizard of Oz.'”
In their lunch conversation at La Tomate restaurant, she talked about the importance of humor in a successful caree, and of not being timid. “I never would have gotten to the positions I got without speaking my mind.”
Owen, a producer for NBC's “Meet the Press” at the time, is now director of marketing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Six months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Baldrige left the White House. She was having lunch in Chicago when she learned of the assassination, and flew that night to Washington, where people “walked around like ghosts,” not speaking. But she recalled a dazed Jackie Kennedy saying, “It's real bad, Tish. It's real bad.”
In 1995, Baldrige returned to Omaha for the 100th anniversary of the philanthropic Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben. In an interview, she told me the old Blackstone Hotel at 36th and Farnam Streets had been the center of her Omaha social life, gathering with friends on Friday nights for burgers, French fries and marshmallow Cokes.
As for all the heads of state and American leaders she had met, she said: “I've had the most fantastic catbird seat on history.”
At her 2005 lunch with Erin, she spoke of death: “I don't believe in celebrating the body, or headstones. When people die, they should just waft away. The soul is everything, and the body is nothing. That's why I will be cremated. ... Three months later, there should be a big party with alcohol.”
The memorable lunch ended with a stop at a drugstore. Erin said: “I was shopping with Letitia Baldrige at a Rite-Aid! I even picked out her new electric toothbrush.”
About 500 people attended services in Tekamah, Neb., for Andrew Lorenz Goll, who drowned Oct. 20 at age 30.
He had lived and worked in Des Moines the past four years, but he grew up in Tekamah and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
“He had a smile that was contagious and infectious,” said his brother Ben Goll of Omaha. “He just had that personality. If Andrew walked in somewhere, he'd know everybody in about five minutes. He was just a genuine, good person.”
Andrew was at Lake Okoboji in Iowa, where he had vacationed for many summers, helping to winterize the family's cabin. He was on the dock, Ben said, taking down boat bumpers and electrical cords.
It's not known exactly what happened, and an autopsy report hasn't been completed. Andrew was found in the water.
At birth, he had a twin, Christopher, who suffered immediate health problems and died at 6 months.
Andrew is survived by his parents, James and Susan Goll of Omaha, and brothers Ben Goll and James “J.B.” Goll of Lexington, Ky.
His grandfathers were Jim Goll, who was a Nebraska state senator, and Vic Bartlett, a longtime mayor of Goehner, Neb.
Sadie Bankston, director of the grief support group PULSE, said the recent shooting deaths of Omaha teenagers are discouraging and senseless, and the reasons for the violence are varied.
“It's just (gang) initiation, stupidity, drugs — all of it,” she said. “It's a combination.”
PULSE will hold a meeting from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Omaha Public Schools' Teacher Administrative Center, 3215 Cuming St., Room 5072. Professional grief counselors will attend.
Bankston's son, Wendell Grixby, was shot and killed in 1989. PULSE was formed in 1991 and offers “comprehensive long-term support for secondary victims of homicide.”
Those secondary victims are relatives and close friends. PULSE members know the pain, she said, “because we are the parents, relatives, friends and neighbors who have felt the devastation firsthand.”
PULSE grief support meetings are held the first and last Tuesdays of each month. For more information, write to Pulseomaha@aol.com or call 402-898-6053.
Dr. Jay Graves of Omaha observed a milestone on Thursday: a 75-year affiliation with the Boy Scouts.
He grew up in Madison, Neb., and made Eagle Scout, and he continued through the years as Scout master, Explorer adviser, Cub master and commissioner.
“Just about everything but den mother, I guess,” he said.
A retired optometrist who practiced in Central City, Beatrice, Grand Island and Omaha, he turns 87 on Nov. 19. He is proud that a daughter earned the top award in Girl Scouts (now called the Gold Award) and that three sons and two grandsons made Eagle Scout.