ABOUT MY OWN LIFE by Letitia Baldrige (Tish) as voiced to ALINDA LEWRIS during many picnic-lunches they shared in her Massachusetts Avenue Washington DC residence.
I have had a fantastic, lucky, wonderful life. All of the following have contributed to it, and allow me, in my senior years, to ruminate, feel wise, and think I've been there and done that.
TO BEGIN WITH, FAMILY
My mother was revered for her good-heartedness and volunteer work, particularly during WW II. She was a titian-haired beauty. It was tough being her daughter in that respect, because I disappointed those who expected a copy of my mother when they met me.
My father was a big, lovable teddy bear of a man who was a star on his football teams at Andover (1914) and Yale (class of 1918, which left to go to war in 1917). He was also captain of Yale's wrestling team, and a decorated hero in both WWI and II. A Republican Congressman from Nebraska, he was a celebrated lawyer who was busy helping people all his life.
My two older brothers, Mac (Malcolm Baldrige Jr.) and Bob, were the bane of my existence while we were growing up, and I, the baby of the family and the only girl, was certainly the bane of theirs. We all grew into adolescence, fortunately, and became best friends. Like our father, they were decorated WW II heroes. I have counted on them all through my life, and miss them every day. They married wonderful women, Midge Murray from Pittsburgh and Nancy Bierwirth from Lawrence, Long Island. Those marriages produced four beautiful daughters who in turn produced a flock of boys and girls.
I was the tardy one in the family to get married, but finally I did, in my mid-thirties, to a wonderful man named Robert Hollensteiner. We proceeded to produce a girl, Clare, named after Clare Luce, and a son, Malcolm Baldrige, named after about seven Malcolm Baldrige’s in our family. Clare grew up and married a great young doctor, Jim Smyth, whose parents came over from Ireland. They have had four children and live in Bronxville, NY. They tragically lost their only daughter to brain cancer at the age of eight. Malcolm married Carey Shoemaker, from Virginia Beach, and they had four children in short order, and live in Bethesda, Md. Malcolm is a mortgage broker. We have been blessed by all of this.
Through much of my life, I attended the very best schools on scholarships. My parents were hard hit by the Great Depression, but they put in our minds the fact that we would go nowhere in life without working for it. I had a strict education, beginning with the Convent of the Sacred Heart (one of my classes was taught in Latin), and the nuns knew just how to rein in my ebullience (---if only the nuns were around today for our grandchildren)!
I graduated from Miss Porter's School, Farmington, Connecticut, a strict, wonderful all-girl boarding school. A beautiful fellow-Washingtonian and friend, Jacqueline Bouvier, followed three years behind me, as well as to Vassar College (in those days all-female students). Vassar had a splendid English program, and since I had visions of becoming a writer, a Vassar degree in English was a logical, desirable aspiration. Instead, because of an enormous personality conflict, my professor banished me from the English Department. It was a momentous rejection. I dried my tears (parental orders), switched my major to Psychology, and later took enormous delight in sending my English professor all of my published books, hot off the press, until the day she died, probably grateful not to have to put up with me any more.
Then came graduate school in psychology at L'Université de Genève, Switzerland, and my life took a 300 degree turn. It was 1947, Europe was licking its wounds from the Great War, and I was just awestruck to be in the middle of it.
FIRST JOB: AMERICAN EMBASSY, PARIS (1948-1951)
Four glorious years, I worked for Ambassador and Mrs. David Bruce, learning about official U.S. protocol, about entertaining with grace and panache, whether it involved hordes of people, or small, intimate dinners. It seemed that all of the important figures of world history in postwar Europe passed through Paris, meeting at our embassy residence, from U.S. presidents and their cabinets to all the great generals of the war, as well as the heads of state from around the world. The embassy in Paris was the center of the world stage during those years. And I was there.
AMERICAN EMBASSY: ROME (1953-1956)
Home from Paris, I could hardly wait to get back to Europe. After a short stint with the CIA in Washington, I was off to Rome, to work with one of the most charismatic, fascinating women in the world: Clare Boothe Luce, and her even more famous husband, Time-Life publisher Henry R. Luce. I got the job because I spoke Italian and French by now, and I had been trained in Paris by the greatest: Evangeline Bruce. Again, it was the time to be in Rome. I was learning, learning. World events were unfolding, including the escalation of the cold war. It was mind-boggling being privy to the workings of the mind of Clare Luce, who taught me so much - including the fact that "no good deed goes unpunished," and "anyone can write a book who knows how to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."
THE WHITE HOUSE (1963-1965)
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy asked me to head up her White House staff because by now I had more experience in the diplomatic staff duties than anyone else, I spoke foreign languages, and most important of all, the new First Lady and I were friends of long standing. There have been so many books written on these years, the entire period is documented brilliantly for anyone who is in the slightest way interested. The sad fact is that probably 60% of these books and articles are sheer made-up nonsense, if not outright trash.
THE BUSINESS WORLD
In-between my foreign service career and White House days, I was Tiffany & Co's first woman executive, and organized their first publicity and public relations department (1956-1962). I had the toughest, meanest boss imaginable: Walter Hoving. He was also the most brilliant merchant there ever was. A demanding teacher, he humbled me constantly. I obviously needed it, but whether I did or not, I am grateful to him for everything he taught me and forced me to do, in order to better myself. (A typical Hoving gesture: I wrote Tiffany's first table setting book, beginning a whole business of interior design books that married Tiffany's merchandise to the history of the decorative arts. When the book was published, (spectacular-looking - if I do say so myself) my name was nowhere to be seen as author. "The name Tiffany is what counts," Hoving explained. He had removed my name as author. It wasn't as if he put his own name as author. He explained, “No person has any importance, only the name of the company."
I opened my own PR and marketing company, Letitia Baldrige Enterprises, Inc. in 1964. I began with a small but very respectable list of clients, including Tiffany & Co., Quaker Oats, Elizabeth Arden, the Northern Trust Bank, and the Merchandise Mart. I have been lecturing professionally now since 1948. I have been the first woman corporate director on several boards. I continue to serve on boards in the non-profit sector. The one that means a great deal to me is the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards, " for excellence in business" and named for my brother Mac, former Secretary of Commerce.
My first book was "Roman Candle", which was written in three months in 1956, and published by Houghton Mifflin in the period between my return home from my Italy and my April 1 starting date at Tiffany's. To my great surprise, it was a success in the elite world of publishing. There has been a long list of books ever since, all written on the side while I was doing other things.
BOOKS BY LETITIA BALDRIGE
~ Taste, Acquiring What Money Can't Buy (2007)
This book is part exposition of the nature of taste, part history of its development, part description of the role it plays in the average person's life, part reminder of the tasteful choices that famous people have made in the past, and part memoir of the great examples of taste that Baldrige has been fortunate enough to witness during her unusual life. The author also claims that her book is a humble call-to-arms to today’s generation of young people to bring taste into a vulgar, materialistic world.
~ The Kennedy Mystique, Creating Camelot – Featuring Commentary by Hugh Sidey, Letitia Baldrige, Barbara Baker Burrows, and Robert Dallek (2006)
~ Letitia Baldrige’s New Manners for New Times: A Complete Guide to Etiquette (2003)
~ A Lady, First: My Life in the White House and the American Embassies of Paris and Rome (2001)
~ Legendary Brides: From the Most Romantic Weddings Ever, Inspired Ides for Today's Bride (2000)
~ In the Kennedy Style (1998)
~ More Than Manners, Raising Today’s Kids to Have Kind Manners and Good Hearts (1997)
~ Letitia Baldrige’s Complete Guide to Executive Manners (1993)
~ Public Affairs, Private Relations (1990)
~ Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to the New Manners for the '90s (1990)
~ Letitia Baldrige’s Guide to a Great Social Life (1987)
~ Letitia Baldrige’s Complete Guide to Executive Manners (1985)
~ Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette (1979)
~ Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette (1978)
~ Juggling (1976)
~ Home (1972)
~ Of Diamonds and Diplomats (1968)
~ Tiffany Table Settings (1958)
~ Roman Candle (1956)
~ George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation: Introduction by America's etiquette expert, Letitia Baldrige