Friends

Gregoria Korologos: 87 years was not enough of you

One of my best friends in the world died Monday morning, and even though she was 87 years old, lived the fullest, most fascinating life of anyone I know, and was completely physically worn out, I still feel like she died too soon.

Even 41 years of friendship with the one-and-only Gregoria Korologos wasn’t enough.

I was a young professional on Capitol Hill working for U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah when I met the legendary Greg — the proudest Greek, truest American, and most loyal friend I’ve ever known.

Wearing a Kelly green linen suit with matching espadrilles, she was a striking presence with her then- jet black hair, deeply tanned Mediterranean skin, and signature fuchsia lipstick.

She was a powerful, intimidating woman with her booming voice, big personality, style, sophistication, and unmatched humor. My friend MaryJane called her a supernova — an apt description for a woman who was a rare, bright star.

Greg had just been hired as the senator’s new office manager. She wasn’t technically my boss but.. well, she thought she was everyone’s boss. She was older, wiser, and more politically savvy than most everyone else, and she believed we all worked for her.

As the assistant press secretary at the time, I was rushing to finish a press release for some reporters who were waiting in the hall when I heard a loud, long, repeated buzz on the office intercom. (Remember this was in 1980!)

I knew it was Greg because she was the only one who “buzzed” with that kind of drop-everything-and pick-up-the-phone-NOW urgency.

“Hello,” I said hesitantly.

“Get you’re a*# back her NOW,” she ordered.

I walked back to her office, wondering what could be that important.

When I entered her office, she was pounding away on her typewriter, and without even looking at me, she shoved a dollar bill across her desk and said, “Get my coffee — black.”

I was stunned.

Did she just order me into her office with such urgency so that I would get her coffee?

I wasn’t even sure how to respond, but then, probably stupidly, said, “If you want to ask Curt (the press secretary) if he’d rather have me stop writing this press release so that I can go get your coffee, go ahead.”

Then, I turned and walked out of her office.

When I told Curt what had happened, he said, “Well, you might have just ended your Senate career right there.”

Yes, we all thought she had that much power.

A few weeks went by, my job remained intact, and we steered clear of each other. Then, she buzzed me again on the intercom — with her signature style as if it was a life and death emergency, and when I answered, she said, “Wanna go out for a belt?”

“A belt?”

“You know, a drink — like a Tab or whatever Mormons drink!”

I agreed to go, wondering what kind of evening I had in store. We went to the American Café on Capitol Hill and it was an absolute riot like all interactions with Greg would turn out to be. We chatted and laughed for hours. She regaled me with her endless supplies of hilarious, entertaining stories, and we became fast friends.

After we heard the news on Monday morning that Greg had died, Doug asked me if I could imagine what my life would have been like without her.

The question brought me to tears.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

She has been part of every large and small thing that has happened in my life from the time I was 22-years-old — “a kid,” as she always said.

“Your mom might have raised you through childhood, but I raised you in Washington,” she said. There is so much truth in that statement.

Our Capitol Hill lunch bunch — the official Utah State Society with President Korologos at the helm

So, when I think of her not being part of my life, I am filled with immense sadness but also gargantuan gratitude.

How did I get so lucky to cross paths with her?

After that first annoying “buzzing” on the office phone, I never wanted to miss one of her urgent calls because they were always full of surprises like the time she called me and said, “Pack a bag. We’re going to the World Series!” And off we went to New York City to watch the Yankees and the Dodgers — a memory we always savored.

She had a code phrase for playing hooky at work too. If it was going to be a beautiful, sunny day, she’d call and say, “get your gear!” That meant, Joanne, Greg and I were taking a sick day and heading to Rehoboth, Delaware beach for sunshine, Dolly’s caramel popcorn, and shopping at her favorite stores.

Greg taught me to appreciate a handwritten, personal thank you note, a thoughtful gift, and the importance of always returning a phone call. “You’ll never make it in Washington if you don’t return every call,” she said.

She taught me to be a generous tipper, how to navigate around a congressional reception, how to cook and eat an artichoke, appreciate Greek pastries, festivals, and certain choice Greek words! She introduced me to high-end clothing brands I’d never heard of like St. John, Ferragamo, Gucci, and more. She took me in my first limousine ride and said, “Act normal like you do this every day! Don’t let anybody know you’re from Springville, Utah! and that you’ve never been in a limo!”

We went to White House events, Orioles games with front row seats right behind the dugout (Thanks to the generosity of her brother, Tom), Washington National’s games, birthday luncheons, Christmas dinners, Cherry Blossom Festivals, and more. We went to space shuttle launches, election night parties, Junior League Christmas events, St. Patrick’s Day parades, Kennedy Center productions, and even to a palm reader who shocked us both by how much she knew about us.

Greg ready to get a baseball in case one of the players rolled one across the top of the dugout

One night we were in Georgetown, and we walked past an ATM. She asked what it was, and I told her what it was and explained how it worked. “Are you serious? A machine on the streets that spits out cash?” She tried it over and over just because she couldn’t believe it.

There never has been and never will be anybody like Greg again in this life.

As our Garn office Chief of Staff Jeff Bingham said, “There are just so many things I could say about Greg — all of them superlatives and yet still so inadequate.” So absolutely true. She made an indelible impression on everyone she met.

Oh, how I will miss this one-of-a-kind woman

Rest In Peace, Gregoria, my forever friend. I will look forward to seeing you on the other side which surely has already become a more exciting, fun place now that you’re there lighting up its every corner.

I can picture you now holding court with everyone you know, taking your place as heaven’s most popular, entertaining angel, keeping everyone rolling on the floor laughing in the celestial aisles in the skies.

I can hardly wait to see you again because even at 87, you were too young to die.

If you knew Greg or even just knew of her, I’d love to hear your stories. If you knew her, I know you have stories, and I know they are unforgettable because she sure was…

Change, Friends, Personal

Funeral for a Friend

Yesterday, I was telling Doug about how I spent my day — at a funeral for a friend, Kay Banks Robbins, and then at a luncheon with some of my childhood friends. He said, “That sounds like a blog.”

Thanks for the idea, Doug.

Kay Robbins Banks

Kay was one of the funniest people I ever knew. She was a quiet presence in the room, but with one comment, she had us all in giggle fits. We laughed and cried our way through her beautiful funeral.

There’s something about childhood friends you just can’t replace.

Lisa Whelchel

I remembered Kay performing a hilarious parody of Olympic sportscasters when we were about 12 years old. She was a one-woman comedy act using the funniest voices and accents to announce events like the shot put and synchronized swimming.

The stories of her pranks are legendary. As her sister said, “she was usually close to the center of every prank.” For example, it was so thoughtful of her to place visual aids in the high school library books, like a piece of bologna in the “B” section of the dictionary. 

As we sat reminiscing at lunch at a restaurant on Main Street of our hometown, I thought of a quote from one of my favorite writers.

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be.”

Joan didion

You can’t go to a funeral for an old friend or have lunch with friends you’ve known since elementary or middle school and not think about the person you used to be. Even if you want to forget, they will remind you!

While we told stories about our great friend, Kay, we pulled up old photos that triggered some great memories.

One of the photos I found recently was the one below of our high school Booster Activity Club.

The Booster Activity Club. I’m the third from the right on the middle row

Can you picture this lovely group of formally dressed teenagers wanting to be in this club so much that they would endure a 1970s high school version of hazing?

Yes, we pushed pennies down the middle of Main Street with molasses slathered on our noses to help the pennies stay put.

We wore blindfolds and and swallowed what we thought were goldfish. (They turned out to be slimy peaches, but we didn’t know that until after we swallowed.)

And, we did all of this voluntarily.

As I left our day together, I thought of all these funny Main Street memories, and I thought of how much we will miss Kay, how there will forever be a hole in our group of friends.

We will miss her laughter, stories, friendship and fun, but we will never forget her.

We will remember the stories her children shared at her funeral like how she accidentally used cooking spray for mosquito repellant and how she was known as the Mary Poppins of Utah because she created fun and adventure everywhere she went, and she was practically perfect in every way.

We will remember her as one of our lifelong, forever friends.

When they carried Kay’s casket out of the chapel, one of my friend’s reached over and held my hand as our eyes filled with tears.

I thought about all the years that have passed and all the things that have changed in our lives, yet there we were together as if nothing had changed at all.

At the end of our luncheon, a man came up to our table and said, “I don’t know who you are but I can tell you sure have fun together!”

It reminded me of this meme…

Change, Friends, Home

10 Lessons about moving

I keep a five-year journal , a charming little gem that allows me to write five-line entries for five years.

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Every day, it tells me exactly what I was doing the previous year on the same day.

My daily entries from last year at this time included :

  • Last visit to our home in Virginia. That house is packed with memories. Not sure I can handle any more tears or goodbyes.
  • Signed our closing papers and hit the road for Utah. I can’t believe it.
  • Staying in Missouri.
  • Just outside Denver.
  • Arrived in Utah at our new home. Stood on the deck and marveled at the beauty.
  • Roughing it with a folding table, two lawn chairs and an air mattress until the moving van arrives.

As I read these entries, I thought about everything that has happened and changed in our lives in the last year.

Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned:

  • While moving is a major life decision and a big risk, it turned out to be easier than I expected.
  • At a going away party last year, a wise millennial friend said, “Don’t compare Utah to Virginia/D.C. Just take Utah for what it is.” Best advice ever.  It’s not better or worse. It’s just different. (Thank you Jason McDonald.)
  • There is beauty everywhere. While I love the green, lush world of the East Coast,  I love the spectacular mountains and scenery of Utah.

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  • Being near family is better than I imagined.
  • My Virginia friends are still my friends. I’m grateful for phone calls, texting, social media, and lots of visitors. fullsizeoutput_942

 

  • While I miss the vibrancy and closeness of the Mormon church community in the DC area, I’ve learned there are unique cultural challenges and tests of faith in different places. Again, one place is not better or worse. It is just different.
  • Going to the Outer Banks is still worth it. Even if we have to fly, rent a car, and go less often, it’s definitely still worth it.
  • Making new friends doesn’t mean I’m forgetting my old ones. I can cherish old friends and still make new ones. In fact, it’s essential. We all need friends — near and far.

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Reuniting with old high school friends — “You always go back to the people who were there in the beginning…”

  • Another wise friend who has moved many times in her life told me to give it a year to adjust. She said it takes a year to find doctors, hair stylists, dentists, favorite grocery stores, etc. and to feel comfortable in a new house, new neighborhood, new community. She said not to judge whether I like it until a year passed. She’s right. It requires some patience to rebuild your life in a new place.
  •  Finally, I’ve learned that being happy is a choice. So, I’ve decided over and over to be happy, and guess what? I am.

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Change, Friends, Uncategorized

Old Friends New Friends

One of our friends recently visited from Virginia and said, “I have to admit we’re feeling a little abandoned. It’s like you’re so happy here that you’ve forgotten all of us at home in Virginia.”

Oh, no.

That, my friends, is not true.

Never, ever will we forget you, and never will you be replaced.

While life in Utah is good so far, I’ve definitely been homesick for old friends.

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We’ve been happy to have so many visitors

(If you’ve been a follower of my blog, you’ve read several other posts on how I value my friends. Here, here and here.)

We are making room for new friends because we’re social people, and we love friends.

But new friends and old friends are not the same.

Small talk is the soup du jour when making new friends because we haven’t had time to share experiences and create memories with each other.

So, for now, we are talking a lot about where are are from,  what we do, how many kids we have, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. This is all good.

We are in the land of the friendliest, nicest, most welcoming people in the world.

Utahns are nothing if not nice and friendly.

But being friendly is different that being friends.

Having people be nice to me is different than having friends who know me — friends who know my family, my history, my sense of humor, my interests, and well, my everything.

So, trust me when I say, we miss you. We really miss you.

But, we love being near our families and Utah friends — new and old. That is the real bonus.

These two...
These two daughters..

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this crazy sister…

Last week, I told Doug I felt like it was time to go home to Virginia.

It still feels a little bit like we’re on vacation and it’s almost time to leave.

Being residents here is very different that being visitors.

We are residents now.

We are not on vacation like every other time for the last 30-plus years.

We have Utah driver’s licenses. We’re registered to vote in Utah.

Doug even has Utah license plates on his car. (I’m holding on to my Virginia plates for a little longer.)

We are Utahns.

I never thought I’d be saying that.

Doug had an epiphany the other day and said, “It just hit me — I’m a Utah Mormon!”

Yes, we are both Utah Mormons. And that’s okay.

We used to wonder why people would leave Virginia to live in Utah.

We couldn’t fathom it.

Now we are the people others can’t fathom.

What can we say? Things change. (See this blog on change.)

And, we might be eating a little crow…a little humble pie because after only a month here, we are impressed with Utah.

We’re astounded by the beauty all around us and we’ve met some wonderful people.

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We definitely miss our friends and the familiarity of a place that was home for so many years.

But, change is good — challenging, and a little uncomfortable at times — but good.

Like Mrs. Hughes said in Downton Abbey, “There’s no shame in feeling homesick. It means you came from a good home.”

And there’s no shame in missing old friends. It means they’re good ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends, Religion, Uncategorized

Silent Night, Holy Night

Last night we went with friends to a Christmas sing-along at Wolf Trap, where we sat outside on the lawn, bundled in blankets and coats to sing Christmas carols with thousands of other people who came to kick off the holiday season.

lawn

With all the bad news of the world swirling around us, it was a gift to be in a peaceful place with a massive group of kind, generous people singing songs of joy.

At the end of the evening, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band led us in singing Silent Night by candlelight.

While violence and fear have been pressing down on us, for a couple hours on a Saturday evening, peace and comfort reigned as a crowd of strangers huddled together in groups of families and friends holding candles in the dark sang about a silent, holy night when all was calm and bright.

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I was reminded again today that despite the horrific news and worldly strife, we can find peace when we seek it.

wolf trap

A dear friend, Ann, gave me a beautiful and precious book by Charles Dickens called “The Life of Our Lord” written for his children during the years 1846 to 1849.

This was a personal book that Dickens never wanted published. It was meant as a tender gift for his children to teach them about his love of Jesus Christ.

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His great, great grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens finally decided it needed to be shared with the world in 1934 because it shares his grandfather’s faith, “which was simple and deeply held. And, “Above all else, it tells of his relationship with his family — my family,” he said.

If I I were to write something of singular importance to my family, it too would have to be based on my belief in the reality and power of our true Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Charles Dickens wrote to his children, “I am anxious that that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ.

“For everybody ought to know about him.

“No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable…”

Dickens recounts Christ’s birth, life, miracles, parables, death, resurrection and ultimate hope He embodies and stresses what seems to matter most to him.

While explaining Christ’s miracles, he said, “I wish you would remember that word, [miracle] because I shall use it again, and I would like you to know that it means something which is very wonderful and which could not be done without God’s leave and assistance.”

“For God had given Jesus Christ the power to do such wonders; and He did them that people might know He was not a common man, and might believe what He taught them and also believe that God had sent Him. And, people, hearing this, and hearing that He cured the sick, did begin to believe in Him; and great crowds followed Him in the streets and on the roads, wherever He went.”

He told his children how Christ chose disciples from among the poor so that he could show that “Heaven was made for them as well as for the rich, and that God makes no difference between those who wear good clothes and those who go barefoot and in rags. The most miserable, the most ugly, deformed, wretched creatures that live, will be bright Angels in Heaven if they are good here on earth.”

Never forget this when you are grown up,” he urged them.

Never be proud or unkind, my dears, to any poor man, woman, or child. If they are bad, think they would have been better if they had had kind friends, and good homes, and had been better taught. So, always try to make them better by kind persuading words; and always try to teach them and relieve them if you can. And when people speak ill of the poor and the miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them, and taught them, and thought them worthy of His care. And always pity them yourselves, and think as well of them as you can.”

Let us never forget,” he wrote, “what the poor widow did.” In other words, give all you can even if it means you have to sacrifice something for yourself.

Remember! — It is Christianity TO DO GOOD, always — even to those who do evil to us.”

As we enjoy the Christmas season, I hope as we can follow Dickens’ personal pleas to his family to Never Forget and Remember Jesus Christ — our true gift .