I got word today that the most wonderful woman I never met passed away. Adele Lebowitz was a philanthropist, a visionary, and the grandmother of a very dear friend.
Mrs. Lebowitz was the widow of Mortimer Lebowitz, the founder and owner of Morton’s Department Store in Washington, DC. ( http://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/morton-s-department-store-site-african-american-heritage-trail#.VHOWNyhZGZM ) Mortimer Lebowitz cared about his community, about the disadvantaged, and about others. His department store was geared towards the black community in DC when others were more concerned about sharing a water fountain with someone of another race. Adele Lebowitz was definitely his soulmate, and in her later years did something that to so many would be unimaginable.
Mrs. Lebowitz and her husband lived in McLean, VA in an adorable little yellow house in the middle of 18 acres of what eventually became prime real estate. After Mr. Lebowitz’ death, it would have been so easy for her to sell – the area had become HOT in the real estate market, and I’m certain developers salivated at the idea of turning yet another property into a crammed, overdeveloped nightmare much like what happened to the Evans Farm Inn. (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.245845335555496.1073741826.213533815453315&type=3 )
But Adele Lebowitz said no. No to millions of dollars. No to sprawl. No to buildings that were pushing the boundaries of their lots and that were so large they required their own zip code.
She said “yes” to children. Mrs. Lebowitz sold the property to Fairfax County Parks and Recreation for the price of one measly dollar. No, that’s not a misprint. The land she sold became Clemyjontri Park, named after her four children, and probably the most used facility in the history of the FCPA. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/03/AR2006120301113_2.html )
On the property, in sight of the porch where Mrs. Lebowitz would sit, and where the DiploBoys always strained their necks over the fence to see if today was the day they would finally see her, the Best Playground on the Entire Planet was built. It was a multiuse playground, with activities for all children, from the smallest to the tallest, for differently-abled children, and for those with the full use of their little chubby bodies.
I count myself incredibly fortunate to be able to count Mrs. Lebowitz’ granddaughter among my friends. S is an amazing mom, friend, and confidante. I met her several times during our last posting in DC, and the DiploBoys played with her children. I saw her at the playground every time she visited her grandmother. The first time I met her there, she was pregnant with her daughter, L. The last time I saw her, the DiploBoys were toddling after L in a Le Pain Quotidian as she shrieked with joy. Tempus Fugit.
Through S, I feel that I met Mrs. Lebowitz. S, I imagine is much like her – caring, loving, and interested in the fate and lives of others. S visited her grandmother often, and I know from her that Mrs. Lebowitz was most engaged and happy when with her grandchildren.
Everyone is interested in his or her children. And in his or her grandchildren. That’s really not unusual. But to be interested in other people’s children and to give joy across generations and for perpetuity takes a very special person like Mrs. Lebowitz.
Clemyjontri was a place the DiploBoys loved. DiploBoy2 had his fourth birthday party there. We walked the DiploDog there after I picked DB2 up from school and had a few hours to kill before I had to go pick up DB1. We met friends there. We went in summer, fall, winter, and spring. We gathered leaves in the fall, flowers in the spring, and mosquito bites in the summer. Sundays, when we dared to brave the overflowing parking lot and try to find a space, I watched as the DiploBoys ran into the massive crowd to climb on the play structures, run races on the racecourse, swing on the swings, or get “lost” in the maze. They made hour-long friendships with kids from all over. Even when DB1 asserted that he was “too old for playgrounds”, he made an exception for Clemyjontri.
Third Culture Kids, mobile kids like mine, hold places in special regard, because they always have to reference events with a place. Some, however, stand out. Clemyjontri is one of those places that my kids mention often. It will hold a special place in my heart for the joy it has given my children, for the opportunity to meet there with special friends at a place where our children – all of them – can play safely and have fun. To me, it also is concrete evidence that sometimes love and compassion wins out over greed and money, and that there are people who care what type of mark they leave in this world and who act on it for the good of others and the community.
Thank you, Mrs. Lebowitz. May you rest in peace. The world is a better place because you were in it. God will surely give you a lovely porch to sit on in Heaven, where you can see Clemyjontri and all the joy you have created.