We are writing about the stories, in the Berkshire Eagle, our stories: from theater to ministry to politics, to math, even war

The Berkshire Eagle
July 24, 2021
‘DIRECTOR Q&A’

UBU Theater director Ann Gallo on giving voice to Tyringham’s women with new oral history theater project

Women of Tyringham Rehearsal
Tyringham community members gather for a rehearsal of “Women of Tyringham,” a community-based oral history theater project produced by UBU Theater in Tyringham.

In 2017, Tyringham community members performed Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” under the direction of Ann Gallo, UBU Theater founder and director. It was a hit. Kerry Clark Sullivan, who grew up in Tyringham, but no longer lives there, said she was “blown away” by seeing it. Right away, people were talking about doing another play.

But which one?

One day, Gallo saw a stack of cassette tapes while at a meeting in the former schoolhouse. She asked what they were. She started to transcribe them and was amazed that of the 60 oral history recordings, only six were of women. The next play was inspired by that discovery. But, this time, in addition to producing and directing the play, she would write it, too.

So, she interviewed 32 women, and together with Rachel Urquhart, also of Tyringham, wrote a play using those conversations. Clark Sullivan is now running lines with her husband every night: She has become part of a new tradition. She said she is hearing for the first time the sorrows and joys of women in town, sometimes around events that may have been generally known — like a big fire — but were dealt with privately.

We interviewed Ann Gallo to ask her about the process.

Q: Ann, what is community-based theater?

A: It’s not community theater. I would define it as curating a community and engaging the community in a very slow trust-building process. The project I did, “Our Town,” back in 2017, took about a year for folks to kind of come around and trust me, because you’re vulnerable if you’re going onstage or you’re doing something for the first time. When it works, and people become engaged, it’s an incredible thing, and I’m already seeing it with this project.

Q: You had experience with community-based theater?

A: After my kids started leaving the house and going off to school, I got a master’s in theater education. So, that gave me the tools and the courage to do it.

After “Our Town,” everyone was psyched. We did a play; let’s do another one. There’s this little town in Italy, Monticchiello; every August they write their own play, and they’ve been doing this since the 1960s. One of their first plays was about World War II, and I showed that film at the church. I said, “Someday, we’re going to do something just like this.”

Q: So, you interviewed these women. You have 32 interviews. You have interview transcriptions; a lot of pages of talk. What did you do next?

A: Then Rachel Urquhart and I read through everything. We had two copies of all the transcripts, and we would circle if it was a line, if it was a character description, if it was a full-fledged story. Then, we would read them to each other, because you have to hear them out loud.

We started making piles. This entire living room: this was the farming pile, this was the character pile, this was the funny-line pile. That was the mother pile. That was the father pile. That was the farming pile. That was the death pile. That was the community pile.

Q: You circled parts of the transcripts, cut those pieces out, and put them in piles?

A: Yes. We spent hours in there every day for probably a month just piecing it together.

I had just gone to London, the British Library, to do a workshop on how to take text to script. In the middle of it, the guy goes, “All right, I’m going to hand out these transcripts, and you have a half-an-hour to write a scene based on this stuff.” This was handwritten, no laptops. Then, we all read each other’s scenes.

So that was just a fish-or-cut-bait moment. I said [to Rachel], “Okay, stop. We have to stop making piles. We now have to start writing. You and I are going to go in that kitchen and we’re going to sit down. Here’s a piece for you, and here’s a piece for me, and we have a half-an-hour, and we’re just going to start writing a scene.” Both of those scenes are still in the play.

Q: At then some point, you knew it was a script. It was a thing.

A: It was a thing, and it ended up being the categories, mothers and relationships with mothers and fathers, and marriage, and going to school. We refer to them as those categories still, the scenes.

Q: Can you talk about the setting?

A: The third act of “Our Town” took place in the field behind the Union Church. There is this corner with a beautiful perfectly round tree ,where you can see the schoolhouse. You can see the hills. You can see a farm up here, and then you can see the Cobble. The center of town is that Cobble right there [pointing to her window].

I’ve made a thrust stage, thanks to Corinna May (Shakespeare & Company). She recommended it for non-actors, who are not used to throwing their voices. Typically, if you have a thrust, the audience is around three sides. There’s a beautiful split-rail fence. It’s just iconic of the town and the agricultural history here.

There are some scenes, there are some monologues, 20 characters, so there’s a lot of actors crisscrossing.

Q: You mentioned many people had favorite places. What was a favorite place?

A: There was Baldy, which is no longer Baldy, and I went to the dump Wednesday with my stage manager, Francis Bandy, to talk with Tom and Hoppy to go ask them: “Where’s Baldy?” It was a hill full of blueberry bushes, and everyone picked blueberries up there. Everybody remembers, but no one can find it anymore, because it’s completely overgrown with trees, so no one knows where Baldy is anymore, because it’s not bald. Finally, Hoppy goes, “When you’re standing on your stage, it’s kind of just in this general area over here.”

Q: How do the men feel about being left out of your play?

A: Well, there are three male actors who play multiple roles. Some of them are not so nice parts. Some of them are nice parts.

These guys, totally get it. Kim [Bradley], the other day, we did the end of a scene, and he was weeping, too. He’s a cancer survivor, and it’s about one of the women’s husbands. She was married 20 years, and then he died of cancer. It’s a monologue that we’ve created a scene for.

They had two Belgian horses and a big hay wagon, and they went down Main Road, all the way to Ashintully with her husband in a lawn chair, because he was so ill. On the back of this wooden wagon, pulled by these two huge horses, and then his brother was dying of cancer, but not quite at that stage that her husband was. She just describes how the brother was able to take them up to the end of the road, but she had to bring them back, because he was so tired. It was such a picture. I hope it works.

Q: Do you try to make pictures?

A: They’re tableau. It’s movement. You don’t freeze. A lot of these are just images, especially when you’re outdoors. You have this environment. You don’t have to worry about lights. You don’t have to worry about stages. It’s just so pure. It doesn’t get simpler. Other than rain.

Listen to Ann Gallo talk about her project:   This conversation with Ann Gallo of UBU Theater is also part of a podcast, which is posted on the Eagle and Oral History Center sites.

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By Judith Monachina, The Berkshire Eagle, Feb 24, 2021
Julie McCarthy, photographer

Charles Pratt is pastor of the Victory Temple Church of God in Christ, in Pittsfield, and an evangelist, with invitations to speak from coast to coast. To meet him, you might think he was born to do it, and it may be true, even if it was not always clear to him.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” The quote is attributed to philosopher Martin Buber. And if the traveler is Reverend Pratt, he might mention the magnificent mysteries of life. He might say that he worked with great scientists, even Nobel laureates, and he could have followed that path. He would talk to you in a baritone voice, with a ready laugh. He certainly would say he did not expect to be where he is today, in a city he had not heard of, as head of a church, with his wife, Evelyn Pratt, as co-pastor. But that is what happened: He came to Pittsfield in 1980, for a week, and stayed.

Charles Pratt’s father was a Tuskegee Airman, the first black aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. As Charles was growing up, his father worked in weather stations. At Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, now Rickenbacker International Airport, “He would take me up to the tower to watch the planes take off and land.”

The family usually chose to live off base. Of the Azores, an archipelago 870 miles off the coast of Portugal, he recalls the beaches and bull fights. “They tell me I cheered for the bull.” “They” might be his five sisters.

In Idaho, he fished with his father on the famous Snake River. Life on base in Champaign, Ill., involved a lot of saluting.

When he was 14 years old, and his mother was the church secretary in Columbus, he started “making little speeches,” at Christmas and Easter.

Soon, he met Evelyn Judy Gammon. They both worked at the Lazarus Department Store’s Colonial Tea Room. One day, on the bus after work, she recognized the young man who worked at the restaurant. He was getting off the bus at her church. “Someone else who has got church on his mind after working all day,” Evelyn thought, “is interesting to me.”

Charles Pratt might say the mysteries of traveling through life often come from the people we meet. Later in high school, he worked in a veterinarian’s office. Then, when he went to Ohio State University on an academic scholarship, that veterinarian’s son was working on his Ph.D. there, and he found a job for Charles in the School of Veterinary Medicine. Charles was fascinated by the intelligence of the animals he cared for, especially rhesus monkeys. He looked through an electron microscope and marveled at the structures of life.

After graduation, he worked at Battelle Memorial Institute, a science and technology company that developed everything from an alloy used in Elgin watches, to photovoltaic cells.

There, Charles assisted scientists on cancer chemotherapy toxicity studies and in the artificial heart program.

Evelyn and Charles married. Still working, he travelled to give talks on weekends, and not the little talks like when he was 14. He had become a guest evangelist.

“An evangelist is expected to come in with a more powerful speech than the average person. They’re looking for a five-star performance. They want you to sing, and they want you to preach,” he said.

Evelyn worked as pianist/organist closer to home, and sometimes went to meet him. They had four children. The nonstop work began to wear.

Then, Charles was offered a promotion at Battelle. He came home with the news, and the couple conferred. “We agreed this [ministry] was what he needed to do,” Evelyn says. He resigned and traveled as guest evangelist: to places like Detroit, Northern Canada and Jamaica.

Evelyn contributed to his ministry with her piano and organ. The entire family performed music.

A call from Pittsfield

“While speaking in Toronto, I met people from New Haven [Conn.]. They said, ‘You’ve got to come to our church.’” In New Haven, he got a call from a preacher in Columbus: “’My brother is in Springfield; that’s close. They want you to go there for three days.’”

In Springfield, the bishop asked Charles to lead the Pittsfield church. He thought, “I don’t know where it is, and I am not taking over a church. Anyway, I did come for a week.”

As Evelyn tells it, he called and asked if she wanted to move to Pittsfield. “I said, ‘Where is that?’ He said it was near Albany.”

“So, I told my little girls, and my Chuckie, 4 1/2, took them out to lunch. And I said, ‘Sure, we’ll go. Something new, something different.’ And I guess the rest is history.”

The Victory Church of God in Christ, Charles explains, is a predominantly African American church affiliated with the Church of God in Christ, which has congregations in 112 countries.

“I think the role of the church is multifaceted,” he says. “We teach and we preach Christianity, our doctrine and so forth. But then I believe the church should be socially involved, help the helpless at any cost and measure that we can. I think if a child is in need, they don’t have clothes, they don’t have shoes, we ought to provide that. We ought to reach out to people in any way that we can to make life more comfortable. We have to come out of the building and go into the community.”

In the community, he also serves on the board of the Berkshire Athenaeum, where Executive Director Alex Reczkowski refers to him as “a ballast, very calm.”

The pandemic has been stressful, and the church has followed CDC protocols about masks and distancing. But there also is “a blessing in disguise.” Some Sunday services now — a small group in the building, masked and socially distant — have 1,000 participants viewing online.

Black Lives Matter

“Racism is a snake we can almost ignore,” he says, “until it starts to hiss and rattle. I have talked about it in sermons, but it is not the main topic.” Young people, he says, “have no idea” what those in his generation have been through. “Now, Americans have been shaken out of our lethargy.”

As recently as 2012, he experienced old Jim Crow attitudes in Louisiana. On a morning walk, he went into a restaurant. “I got wild stares. The owner came out and said, ‘You can come back here and eat with me.’” In the back, which was his house, the owner explained that he too was from Ohio, but local clientele would not go for having a black man eat in the restaurant. When Charles returned to his colleague’s house, his host, another pastor, said, “We can’t eat there!”

Everywhere, as a younger man, including on back roads from Westfield to the Berkshires, he was stopped and asked for his license and registration, apparently for driving a car that did not fit a stereotype.

But he sees good signs. “My daughter, Terry, was elected class president at Taconic. Then her husband, Maurice, an attorney now, he was class president after Terry, at an overwhelmingly white school. I don’t see that as prejudice.”

When Barack Obama was elected president, “I was just elated. I never thought I’d see a black president in my lifetime.” Obama invited the surviving Tuskegee airmen to his inauguration. His own career in public service, he said, “was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee airmen blazed.” When those aviators flew over Europe and North Africa, they had no idea whose journeys those flights might inspire.

Judith Monachina is director of Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center at Berkshire Community College. This interview was conducted as a part of the NAACP Oral History Project in collaboration with the Oral History Center. A podcast of this interview will be posted on the Eagle and OHC sites, and the entire interview is online with the University of Massachusetts Libraries Special Collections. This article is part of a series about people and their work.



May 2021

Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center

Recalling, and healing from, the memories of war

Photo:  Son-in-law Jeff Gerth and daughter Kim Resnik pose with Dave and Liz Resnik on the rooftop terrace of a friend’s home in Rome, during the family’s trip in 2000. The family visited the sites where Dave Resnik fought while serving in World War II in Italy.  

 

It may be that making raspberry shrug from backyard berries and drinking it down on a hot summer day; or writing poems; or even revisiting the sites of memory with loved ones helps with healing.

Whatever the consolations, World War II veteran Dave Resnik, of Stockbridge, at 100 years old, retains some vivid memories of war and of healing, too. We interviewed him twice, once in 2016, and then in May, 2021. Over the years, he lent books, shared maps and told us his story.

“It was quite a war,” Resnik said to then Berkshire Community College student, David Wasielewski, in 2016. It was a war of foxholes and trench foot; a cold, wet winter, including one battle that nearly resulted in retreat back to the sea; searching for mines, removing boxes of TNT left beneath bridges or in piles of downed trees across roadways. As part of the 36th Engineer Combat Regiment, Resnik participated in five landings: in North Africa, Italy, and France. Near Anzio, Italy, the second of the two Italian landings, the Combat Engineers were often on the line as infantry, once for 47 straight days. The Imperial War Museum estimates the invading forces at Anzio sustained 29,200 combat casualties — 4,400 dead, 18,000 wounded and 6,800 missing or captured.

It was quite a war, all right.

David Resnik was born in England. At 11 years old, his family moved from Liverpool to New York, and then to Ramsey, N.J.

“They couldn’t understand me,” Resnik said, referring to his accent and his classmates. After high school, he went to work on a turret lathe in a nearby machine shop. Because it was war-related work, he might have been exempt from military service, but he enlisted.

“I believed in the war,” he said. “My cousins lived in England and we got news about Hitler from them. England was being bombed.”

He could have enlisted in either army, but chose the American, with advice from his father, who had fought in World War I. Equipment and food would be better, his father said. After training, Resnik shipped out, first to Algiers, North Africa, (where he contracted malaria and became a U.S. citizen), and then to southern Italy.

The first landing near Salerno, Italy, happened the day after the Italian armistice. Soldiers on his ship made bets on what an armistice would mean on the ground. They soon learned: Germans occupied much of the country. From Beachhead News: “The roads were literally lousy with mines: Paestum, Battipaglia and Eboli were rubble heaps that had to be cleared, and there were more blown bridges than Heinz has pickles.” Movement up the peninsula was slow.

“You have never seen as devastated a city,” Resnik said of Naples. “Germans left a lot of delayed action mines; one in the post office went off a week later. Everything was booby-trapped. The harbor was full of sunken ships.” Resnik’s group was soon making its way to Rome. And then, they were off to their next landing, in southern France.

After the war, his sister encouraged him to go to Black Mountain College, in North Carolina, paid for by the G.I. Bill. It was a lively, experimental place. Best of all, at Black Mountain, Resnik met his future wife, Elizabeth Gelhorn. The natural beauty and creative atmosphere were healing. “I used it to recover from the war.”

Later, he finished his degree at the New School for Social Research in New York, while working in a retail clothing shop, and then went to work with veterans at the NYC Welfare Department. The family — now with three children — moved to the Berkshires for his job at the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth, in Canaan, N.Y.

His employer supported his master of social work degree studies. His mentor at Berkshire Farm also talked with Resnik about the war. It was important to be in an environment in which healing was the goal. In fact, he introduced an approach called milieu therapy, in which all parts of the boys’ lives were part of the treatment.

Trying to survive for so long makes a soldier angry and upset, he said. Many years later, on vacation at Cape Cod, when a plane passed overhead, he fell flat to the sand. It took time and much effort to heal.

Liz's drawing
Liz Resnik’s drawings from the family’s trip to Italy. 

Then, in 2000, he took a trip to Italy, this time with his family, including one granddaughter.

From Liz Resnik’s holiday letter that year: “We toured the shorelines of the Second World War, touched memorials, scanned signs establishing the route of battle, became reflective in the Anzio museum that contains relics of the war, a conspicuous past for Dave … We walked on either side of time.”

In Paestum, Dave Resnik saw the “beaches filled with bathers and children.” The image did not fit, he said, so “I turned around, looked at the mountains and the Greek ruins and I knew it was the right beach.” At the Anzio Beachhead Museum, a man shook his hand and said he had helped the Allies. He remembered partisans helping as interpreters and with reading maps.

Writing, he said, helped him take control of life. He writes poetry, and also wrote a book, “War Days: Melancholy Lessons toward Living.”

The act of interviewing a veteran for his wartime story comes with responsibility. Locally, Paul O’Brien has engaged many students at Mount Everett Regional High School in interviews with veterans. Those interviews become part of Veterans Project of the U.S. Library of Congress. David Resnik’s interview 2016 was sent there, and O’Brien advised the BCC student interviewer on Library of Congress protocols.

Owen Rogers, liaison specialist there, said, in an email: “Interviewers conduct the background research that shapes their interview questions, and also ask if there are prohibited questions or areas that may make the interviewee feel unsafe.”

He added: “We recommend that interviewers record the narrator’s story in an environment where they feel safe. This can be their favorite chair in the living room. Before the recording begins, establish a visual cue that indicates that the veteran is uncomfortable and would like to stop the recording.

“For every recording, please bring water and tissues to help the narrator through uncomfortable moments.”

One of those interviewed by O’Brien’s students is Alan Romeo, of Sheffield. A Vietnam veteran, he said it is comforting when an interviewer has done research and can ask relevant questions.

Romeo’s own healing included therapy. His wife is a professional singer and he is good at organizing events, and so they put on shows and donate the proceeds to veterans. He is on the Sheffield Historical Society board and mounted an exhibit about his experiences.

“Moving here [to Sheffield] saved me,” he said.

After Vietnam, he had returned to eastern Long Island, but suffered acutely from post-traumatic stress, always looking out the window for the enemy. He and his family moved to Sheffield 10 years ago, and there they met O’Brien. “I went to my first Memorial Day parade. It was a blessing. The whole town went there. I was in tears. This whole community cares about veterans.”

Dave Resnik spent his 100th birthday with his daughter, Kim, and her husband, Jeff Gerth, with whom he now lives. He lost his wife in 2008, and lost two children before her death and one since.

Kim helped her father with both recent interviews, supplying some missing pieces, encouragement and support.

She recently arranged for birthday cards to come from friends and family, and as they arrived, he opened them, stretching the 100th birthday into many days. Kim was the one who reminded him of that raspberry shrug — “such an old-fashioned drink” — and picking highbush blueberries in Great Barrington. Such care may be the greatest consolation.

Judith Monachina is the director of the Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center at Berkshire Community College. This interview was conducted under the auspices of the center, at Community Television for the Southern Berkshires, in Lee.

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BY JUDITH MONACHINA

January, 2021

As Kit Dobelle sees news during the early days of President Joe Biden’s term, the Pittsfield resident will notice people we do not see, recognize customs we do not know are being followed. She will look back at 1977, when she and her husband Evan walked into the White House, shortly after Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. They both served as Chief of Protocol.

Kit was 32 years old when she found herself on the world’s political stage. She was there when the U.S. was normalizing relations with China and during the Camp David Accords.

“I was grateful to have a front row in history,” she said.

You might say it started with a casual remark at a party.

Kit grew up in Hampden, Conn. (then the former Edith Huntington Jones), on a piece of land gardened to be more natural than her conservationist father found it. After graduating from Colby Junior College, she worked at First National Bank of Boston.

“I told someone at a cocktail party that the one thing I’d always wanted to do was work in politics. I don’t know who he was or why I said it, but he said, ‘Well, if you’re serious, we’re helping somebody in a special election for state representative.’ Once you’ve said that’s the thing you’ve always wanted to do, it’s hard to say, ‘Well, I’m busy.’” She worked on Maurice Frye’s campaign. “He was successful. Helping in that campaign, I met my husband, Evan Dobelle,” she said.

The young couple seemed to draw a double helix with their careers. He worked on Ed Brooke’s senatorial campaign, she on Governor John Volpe’s; they both worked in Volpe’s office. She went to the University of Massachusetts, and later he did graduate work there. They married in 1970.

They had worked in Washington, California and Boston, when they decided to move to Pittsfield. Evan had grown up there and in Florida. He ran for mayor and won.

During Evan’s second term, in January, 1976, Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter visited Pittsfield.

CHANGING PARTIES

“After Carter’s talk at the Pittsfield Hilton,” Kit said, “we were both really taken by what he said.” They were Republicans, but not for long.

They threw their support behind Carter. They were in New Hampshire when their candidate “went from ‘Jimmy Who’ to the frontrunner.”

Kit worked on his campaign in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Evan worked on convention arrangements in New York. There, Kit worked in the Carter suite. “One morning, heads of all of the labor unions came for coffee. All the candidates for vice president came.”

Kit accompanied the Carter’s daughter-in-law, Caron Carter, on the campaign trail. Ms. Carter was pregnant, and as per doctor’s orders, not allowed to campaign alone. From Labor Day to Election Day, Kit accompanied her to medium-sized cities.

“The campaign had very few resources, and it was the policy that everybody, even Governor Carter and Rosalynn, stayed in private homes. My job was to make sure Caron got sleep and ate well.”

And so, on election night, Kit and Evan were with the Carter family in Atlanta, Ga., when the results came in.

The next day, Evan was offered the job of chief of protocol. President Carter then met with the couple and said he considered it a job for two people. “The President, Rosalynn and Evan all very much encouraged my participation.”

CHIEF OF PROTOCOL

The chief is involved in the international trips of the president and first lady, traveling ahead of the trip and working out the arrangements of the schedule.

“Because Evan had been mayor, I kind of thought he was the mayor of the diplomatic community.” He attended as many as five receptions in one night, going in one door, taking a nonalcoholic beverage, saying hello to a few people, then out another door, and on to the next one.

President Calvin Coolidge created the position in 1928, according to Tiffany H. Cabrera, a U.S. State Department historian.

Some practical details, such as where people sit during official ceremonies, are addressed in the Order of Precedence, created in 1908, “as a means of settling a history of embarrassment, confusion and the miscommunication amongst officials invited to events at the White House,” according to the May 14, 2020, version of the document. Kit noted it is continually updated.

The job requires knowledge of precedence, and a fair amount of instinct. Kit calls it common sense. Eventually, it becomes skill.

ON HER OWN AS CHIEF

When President Carter asked Evan to work as treasurer for the Democratic Party, Kit took over the Office of Protocol.

She was chief when Deng Xiaoping came to normalize relations between China and America. She met the leader in Alaska, and then flew back with him to Washington, and on to Atlanta, Houston and the West Coast.

“In Houston, he went to a rodeo, and the hosts wanted to present him with a 10-gallon hat. I explained to him that he would be given the hat and the opportunity to ride in a stagecoach. When he was presented with the hat, he put it on right away with a big smile and marched out and got into the stagecoach. He waved the hat out of the window.

“I think that picture made Americans comfortable with him. There’d been a huge thing about ‘would people be comfortable with the head of Red China, Communist China?’ but his being so natural in those situations made a huge difference. I was happy that I could tell him ahead of time, because so often, people present you with things you’re not expecting.

CAMP DAVID ACCORDS

Good instincts helped again when President Carter invited Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to work out peace agreements, focusing on a two-week period at Camp David.

In setting it up, everything was considered. “Prime Minister Begin was kosher. President Sadat had spent time in prison, and he had digestive difficulties because of his life experience. The head of the food office suggested that we just do everything kosher.”

But Kit realized if the Egyptians learned meals were planned around kosher food, “they would be upset that we were favoring the Israelis and they might leave.”

 

After Camp David, negotiations continued, with traveling back and forth.

Kit played a role in the diplomatic process, but was unaware of it at the time.

“During one of Prime Minister Begin’s visits, he and his wife were invited for dinner with the Carters, so I escorted them to the White House, and then I waited. Mrs. Begin left early in the evening, so I took her back to Blair House.

Then, I went back to sit in the White House to wait for Prime Minister Begin. I saw that as my role.

“I’d had a request from one of the negotiators in our State Department to ask when the next negotiation session would be held, so that they could plan for it. If I could find that out, that would be very helpful.

“When I escorted Prime Minister Begin back to Blair House, I asked him.

He said, ‘No, it’s all over.

There’s no more negotiation. We’re done.’” Kit conveyed what she had learned to the negotiators, who in turn spent the night coming up with something to present to Begin the next morning to keep the talks going.

Carter biographer Jonathan Alter calls the Camp David Accords “the most durable peace treaty since World War II.”

“There were a whole new set of protocols [Kit] had to write,” Alter said of her role in the talks that weathered several impasses. “Kit Dobelle had to be inventive and sensitive.”

In September, 1979, Rosalynn Carter asked Kit to be her chief of staff. Earlier, Kit had advanced and accompanied her to seven Latin American countries.

As her chief of staff, Kit was in Thailand with Mrs. Carter when the American hostages were taken in Iran.

SOME LESSONS

“I learned how many people in very critical positions are career people in the White House and in the State Department. They are totally loyal to the presidency. The woman who sat outside the Oval Office has been doing that since the Eisenhower administration.

These people made it so much more comfortable and feasible to do the role.”

People were often surprised when they met with the president, she said.

“I would be in the car when they came out of the meeting with President Carter. The international press had talked about a peanut farmer — somebody who wasn’t experienced in Washington…. President Carter was an engineer by training. That’s his style, and he’s extraordinarily well read and would have really studied all of the papers that would be presented to him prior to the discussions.”

When Carter lost his bid for re-election, Kit was with the family when they hosted the Reagans at the White House.

In the Spring of 1981, she and Evan went on to other adventures, including presidencies of universities. Early on, they returned to Pittsfield, where they bought a house.

One day, while mowing their two acres on a tractor, Kit said her husband came running out saying she had a call from journalist Roger Mudd.

“He was calling because the chief of protocol had curtsied to — I think it was Prince Charles. He wanted my opinion. As Americans, we don’t curtsy to foreign royalty, but I chose not to comment. So, then I could go back and get on the tractor and keep mowing the lawn.”

Shortly before the 2021 inauguration, she said, “Without the kind of experience Joe Biden has, things could be so difficult. They will have to focus on specific things. They must get the virus under control, and the economic situation. He is hiring people who know the White House, know the various agencies, who know how to walk in on day one. They can function immediately.”

Kit Dobelle podcast

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This interview was conducted as a part of an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute oral history project in collaboration with the Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center at Berkshire Community College. A podcast of this interview is posted on the Eagle and OHC sites and the entire interview will be placed online with the University of Massachusetts Libraries Special Collections. This article is one in a series about people and their work.

Photo:  Kit Dobelle with President Jimmy Carter, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and First Lady Rosalynn Carter

Written by Judith

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