M.F.A. in Creative Writing Alumna Welcomes Launch Of Debut Novel “Leda and the Swan”

Anna Caritj M.F.A ’16 never imagined that the manuscript she started years ago while earning her master’s degree at Hollins would sell, once finished, within just a couple of days. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Now, two weeks shy of the virtual launch of her debut novel Leda and the Swan, Caritj is still getting used to a new life as a published author. 

“It all happened very fast,” said Caritj. “My agent started shopping the book around and within 48 hours we had an offer from Riverhead Books. It was a whirlwind, not at all what I was expecting.”

Leda and the Swan is a kind of mash-up: a collegiate coming-of-age tale mixed with classic suspense and, of course, some references to Greek mythology. The novel opens at a raucous, on-campus Halloween party and follows the titular character Leda who believes herself to be the last person to have seen her classmate Charlotte (dressed in a swan costume) before her disappearance on Halloween night. Waking up hung-over the following morning, Leda soon feels that she must solve the mystery of what happened to Charlotte as well as piece together the memories from the blacked-out night that she spent with her crush (and Charlotte’s ex), Ian Gray.

Even though she finished a first draft while earning her M.F.A. in creative writing at Hollins, and spent another two years polishing and editing the manuscript, the core idea of Leda and the Swan actually cameLeda and the Swan Book Cover to Caritj during her time as an undergraduate studying Spanish and English literature at the University of Virginia in her hometown of Charlottesville. Specifically, it was a massive mural by famed artist Lincoln Perry called “The Student’s Progress” that first gave Caritj inspiration to write about her own college experience. “[Perry] was working on the mural while I was a student, and I was always passing it on my way to choir rehearsals,” recalled Caritj. “It’s her whole life painted on the wall there, and the thing I liked about that mural is that it doesn’t sugar-coat the college experience. It touches on the complexity of it. We don’t just sort of track this woman’s academic progress. We also see her emotional development—we see her in wild and vulnerable moments. So I wanted to capture that in the same way that Perry did in his painting.”

Skip ahead to grad school and during her first year at Hollins’ Jackson Center for Creative Writing, Caritj started developing a rough version of the novel, then called Let Her Drop, taken from the last words of a W. B. Yeats poem also entitled “Leda and the Swan.” However, it wasn’t until her second-year tutorial with poet, essayist, and Hollins Professor of English Richard Dillard that Caritj got a better feel for the work-in-progress. “Richard’s such a great teacher,” said Caritj. “He’s able to get a sense for what kind of a novel you want to be writing as opposed to the kind of novel he wants to be reading, and that’s a very difficult thing to separate.”

Caritj’s time at Hollins (and Dillard’s sharp readerly eye) clearly paid off. Leda and the Swan was released on May 4 to high praise—TIME called the debut an “affecting narrative about consent, power and loneliness”—and Caritj is currently preparing for the book’s official virtual launch on May 27 with One More Page Books in Arlington. Over the summer, Caritj will participate in a spread of virtual events (a kind of online “book tour”). As if this weren’t enough to keep her busy, Caritj has already finished a rough draft for a completely different second project about a group of female friends reckoning with adolescence.

However, Caritj’s not letting all of the sudden success go to her head. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she said. “It’s important to be proud of your work and to stand behind what you’ve created. But, at the same time, if you’re not willing to dismantle your creation—to shake things up, to try something new, to push yourself into uncharted territory—you’ll never make any progress. Out of all the young writers I’ve known, the ones that make the most progress are the ones willing to take a sledgehammer to their work.”

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.

 

 


Hollins Alumna’s Debut Book Gives Hope, Resources for Children with Hearing Loss

Valerie James Abbott ’93 panicked when she learned that her two-year-old daughter Bridget mysteriously lost her hearing. More than ten years later, she is out with a new book about her experience with the aim of supporting families on a similar journey.

Published by KWE Publishing on May 4, Padapillo is an illustrated children’s storybook, offering hope and information to families experiencing early childhood hearing loss. “I understand first-hand what happens to children if their hearing loss goes unidentified,” Abbott said. “We didn’t notice the signs and now I am passionate about helping other parents in a similar situation. As a parent-champion for early hearing detection and intervention, I have talked to many families who are desperate for answers, advice, information, and emotional support just like I was.”

Children who acquire hearing loss after birth are at risk of developmental delays. As most parents, Abbott wanted to do everything she could for her child, but found it very difficult to navigate the situation and locate the right information and resources. As her daughter grew up, her needs also changed. Abbott continuously learned about hearing loss, language acquisition and choices, and disability rights, and connected with other families.

“I wrote the book with all these things in mind. I want parents to have a relatable story to help them see that their questions, doubts, and worries are normal, including feelings of guilt, grieving, acceptance, and joy. I also wanted to create a starting place of practical resources, so there’s an index of organizations and agencies at the back of the book.”

Padapillo is named after one of the many words Abbott’s daughter invented before her hearing loss was identified and before she received hearing aids. It was a speech delay that prompted their daughter’sPadapillo Book Cover preschool teacher to suspect something was going on.

“I wrote Padapillo hoping that audiologists could have a stack in their drawers and hand it out to families along with the final audiogram results,” Abbott explained. “This would open up communication and at the same time provide a story of hope and a resource tool.”

Bridget is now 15 and thriving. The two years following her identification were challenging, as she worked hard to catch up developmentally to her peers, but having received a correct diagnosis, early intervention support, and focused support from her family, she’s done well in a mainstream classroom setting and in daily life.

“My message to everyone who is going through the same experience as I did is that there is hope. Your child is capable of amazing things. Whatever your feelings are, they are valid and it’s okay to be pushy to get the information and support you need,” Abbott said.

Padapillo is written through the lens of Valerie’s oldest child Mary Clare, who was in kindergarten when her little sister received her first pair of hearing aids. In the book, the older sibling sees and hears everything that is going on with Bridget – much more so than the parents.

“The book is fictional, but based on our true story of how we discovered and came to terms with Bridget’s situation and our feelings about it,” Abbott stated. “Every single nugget and situation in there is true, from how I started ‘testing’ Bridget’s hearing after the hearing test to see if this was really true, to watching her reactions as she started hearing the new sounds around her for the first time.”

Abbott has served on the board of Virginia Hands & Voices, is the first parent co-chair of the Virginia EHDI Advisory Committee, and has received the Governor’s Award for Civilian Excellence for Virginia Fire Safety, spearheading special programming for families of children who are deaf and hard of hearing. She is a guest blogger for the Center for Family Involvement and has published several articles online and in print about raising a child with a disability that have gained nationwide attention. Padapillo is her first book.

On Thursday, May 20, Hollins’ alumnae chapter in Richmond, Virginia, will present a virtual reading and conversation with Abbott at 7 p.m. EDT. Register for this event.

 


Princeton Review: Hollins Is Among Nation’s Top Colleges for Alumni Networking, Internships, Value

Hollins University nationally has the #5 Best Alumni Network (Private Schools) and is 12th among the Best Schools for Internships (Private Schools), according to The Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges for 2021.

The Best Alumni Network rankings are based on students’ ratings of alumni activity and visibility on campus, while the Best Schools for Internships are determined by students’ ratings of accessibility of internship placement at their school.

The education services company also selected Hollins as one of the nation’s top 200 colleges “for students seeking a superb education at an affordable price.”

The Princeton Review chose its Best Value Colleges for 2021 based on data the company collected from its surveys of administrators at more than 650 colleges in 2019-20. The company also factored in data from its surveys of students attending the schools as well as PayScale.com surveys of alumni of the schools about their starting and mid-career salaries and job satisfaction figures.

In all, The Princeton Review crunched more than 40 data points to tally ROI (Return on Investment) ratings of the colleges that determined its selection of the 200 schools for the 2021 project. Topics covered everything from academics, cost, and financial aid to graduation rates, student debt, alumni salaries, and job satisfaction.

“The schools we name as our Best Value Colleges for 2021 comprise only just over one percent of the nation’s four-year colleges,” noted Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief. “They are distinctive in their programs, size, region, and type, yet they are similar in three areas. Every school we selected offers outstanding academics, generous financial aid and/or a relative low cost of attendance, and stellar career services. We salute Hollins University for these exceptional offerings and recommend it highly to college applicants and parents.”


Art History Senior Symposium and Tribute to Professor Kathleen Nolan, April 24

Hollins will observe the 25th anniversary of the Art History Senior Symposium and pay tribute to retiring Professor of Art History Kathleen Nolan during two virtual events on Saturday, April 24.

The annual Art History Senior Symposium, the capstone experience for art history majors, will take place from 10 a.m. – noon EDT. Four members of the class of 2021 will present their original research through a series of 20-minute talks. Email knolan@hollins.edu for the Zoom link and more details.

From 1 – 3 p.m. EDT, art history alumnae will come together for a reunion to honor Nolan and her distinguished 35-year academic career at Hollins. Nolan shaped the art history department into a multi-faceted program and taught majors, minors, and non-majors the skills to perceptively and thoughtfully interpret images from the past and present alike. She has taught medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art history, and her scholarly interests include the history of women in the Middle Ages, and the works of art commissioned by women to tell their stories. She co-edited Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals: Studies on Architecture, Stained Glass and Sculpture in Honor of Anne Prache. Her book, Queens in Stone and Silver: The Creation of a Visual Identity of Queenship in Capetian France (Palgrave 2009), looked at queens’ personal seals and effigy tombs. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Art Bulletin, the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Studies in Iconography, and Gesta.

Christine Holt Fix ’97, Zirwat Chowdhury ’05, Gwen Fernandez ’06, Sarita Herman ’08, and Rory Keeley ’17 will deliver brief reflections on how their experiences studying with Nolan shaped their career paths. Through short videos, many other alumnae will also offer greetings and share their recollections. The celebration will also include opportunities to catch up with classmates, provide updates, and make new connections. Preregister for the Zoom link, or contact Amy Torbert ’05 at amy.torbert@gmail.com to learn more about the reunion event or to contribute your own memories.


“Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 Shortlisted for Carnegie Medals for Excellence

The American Library Association (ALA) has announced that Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 is one of six finalists for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction.

The awards recognize the previous year’s best fiction and nonfiction books written for adult readers and published in the United States, and are intended to serve as a guide to help adults select quality reading material. The two medal winners will be recognized at the Reference and User Services Association’s Book and Media Awards event, which will be held online on February 4, 2021. Winners will each receive $5,000. All finalists will be honored during a celebratory event in the summer of 2021 during the ALA Annual Conference.

The ALA calls Memorial Drive “a work of exquisitely distilled anguish and elegiac drama. Trethewey confronts the horror of her mother’s murder through finely honed, evermore harrowing memories, dreams, visions, and musings. She writes, ‘To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it.’ And tell her tragic story she does in this lyrical, courageous, and resounding remembrance.”

Established in 2012, the Carnegie Medals for Excellence are the first single-book awards for adult books presented by the ALA and reflect the judgment and insight of library professionals and booksellers who work closely with adult readers. Made possible in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Medals are co-sponsored by Booklist, the ALA’s book review magazine.

 

 

 


“Prelude to C3: A Virtual Conference” Connects Students With the Green And Gold Network

Mindful of COVID-19 protocols, Hollins alumnae/i this fall are employing a different way of conveying the lifelong power of a liberal arts education to current students.

In conjunction with Hollins Alumnae Relations and the Center for Career Development and Life Design, Hollins grads are taking the annual Career Connection Conference (C3) online with Prelude to C3: A Virtual Conference, September 28 – October 3.


Above Photo: Networking at the 2019 C3 conference

 

“Students will be able to hear some of our most accomplished alumnae/i share their insights on navigating life after Hollins,” said Director of Alumnae Relations Lauren Walker. “Since most jobs don’t come from postings but through personal and professional connections, students can maximize their future opportunities by interacting throughout the week with the Green and Gold network at C3.”

This year’s C3 will include Zoom sessions covering a wide array of topics and interests:

Monday, September 28
Healing and Healthcare
The paths that led professionals in health-related fields to their current roles and the ways in which one can make a difference in improving the well-being of others.

Life After Hollins
Tried-and-true strategies on relocating to a new city, finding housing, managing finances, finding a mentor and new social network, and overcoming transitional challenges.

Tuesday, September 29
Aiming for Advanced Study
When is a graduate degree a ticket to upward mobility and when might it carry unacceptable costs or debt?

Wednesday, September 30
Curating Culture
Finding ways in different roles and work/life configurations to keep the arts and humanities alive for oneself and others.

Brand Yourself: Monitor Your Media Image
What are employers looking for in one’s online presence and social media profiles? How does one use media most effectively for networking and job hunting?

Thursday, October 1
Innovative Endeavors
The innovative mindset required to stay agile and find new business opportunities in a rapidly changing world.

Friday, October 2
What Can I Do with a Science and Math Degree?
Representing business, data analytics, scientific research, and environmental compliance, alumnae/i in this session will discuss pioneering into fields where women have been historically unrepresented.

Life After Hollins
(See description above)

The final day of Prelude to C3: A Virtual Conference on Saturday, October 3, will feature a morning keynote address by Aheri Stanford-Asiyo ’05, a software engineer at Microsoft working to create next-generation holographic computing solutions for the workplace. Prior to joining Microsoft’s Mixed Reality team, she served as a senior JavaScript engineer at the Accenture Liquid Studio, a rapid-prototyping facility in Silicon Valley.

The afternoon will be devoted to one-on-one Zoom sessions between students and alumnae/i for the purpose of career mentoring through general networking and informational interviews.

“Whether you are a first-year student or a senior, a double major or undecided, career-ambitious or career-confused, there is a place for you at C3,” said Walker.

 

 

 


Accessing Our Network: One of Hollins’ Greatest Strengths

My Hollins University experience began differently than most students. Growing up on the campus had a significant impact on my early development. I was able to witness intelligent, strong, and creative students that went on to do amazing things. My mother, Jeri Suarez (Hollins’ associate dean of cultural and community engagement), and all of her students became the best role models a girl could ask for during her formative years. I was surrounded by love and empowering figures from an early age, and that continued to grow as I did. I have seen what Hollins can do for its students, firsthand, and when it came time for me to pick a school, I couldn’t think of a better fit for me.

The opportunities that I have had over the last four years have been unique and rewarding. Had I gone to another institution, I may not have received the tremendous mentoring, opportunities to develop strong research skills, or traveled the world as I did. At Hollins, helping students succeed and reach their fullest potential is the norm, not the exception.

I found my love of research at the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, which provided the outlet to conduct psychological experiments and examine the real-world implications. I fell in love with the process, the emotional rollercoaster that is caring about something enough to dig deeper. Going into my first year at Hollins, I knew that I wanted to conduct research that would be impactful. Over the last four years, I had many opportunities to conduct my own research and assist in many others. In the psychology department, there are options to conduct research through classes but also working closely with professors on their research projects. At the end of my first year, I was given the chance to work in the child development laboratory with Associate Professor of Psychology Tiffany Pempek. This invaluable time in her laboratory strengthened my research abilities, interpersonal skills and confidence. The course I took on research statistics with Professor of Psychology Bonnie Bowers is something I access daily in my current position.

Each year, the Career Center and the Office of Alumnae Relations host the Career Connection Conference (C3), a wonderful event for current students to talk with alumnae and to hear their career advice. During my second year, I met Lauren Staley ’11. She worked at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Lauren spoke about her time at Hollins and the experiences she had working with the non-profit organization. I knew that was a path I wanted to pursue. She gave me her contact information and said that I could stay in touch as I explored my career path.

The summer between my junior and senior years, I received a research internship at the Addiction Recovery Research Center (Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC), while working on my senior honors thesis. It was time to explore my future plans. My goal was to gain additional work experience, conducting research at a professional level, before entering graduate school. I wrote to Lauren Staley in the fall of my senior year to ask for her advice about applying to work for AIR. She connected me to a former colleague who helped me immensely in the application process.

Applying for a job becomes more daunting in the face of a global pandemic. But, by accessing the Hollins network, as well as my college preparation, I had the confidence to pursue a position with AIR. I was offered an interview with the organization. Due to COVID-19, the process was a 2.5-hour interview over Skype with multiple researchers. Although it felt intimidating at times, I was well prepared and confident in my abilities and able to showcase them.

I have been working at AIR for two months now. I split my time between two departments: the Annual Reports – Digest of Education Statistics team and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. These two divisions are committed to increasing the effectiveness of education at every level through research, analysis, training, and assistance in the technical field. AIR’s commitment to research and evaluation provides important insight for policy makers and practitioners with which to guide implementation of certain programs, techniques, and funding. I have since gained new skills in programming, data checking, writing research proposals, and website design. I am honored to be working at this incredible organization.

Hollins helped me develop my skill set and confidence to take chances and to dream bigger. At 19 years old, I did not realize that a 15-minute conversation with an alumna would lead to my first professional position. I thank everyone who helped me on this journey.

 

 


New Memoir by Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91 Earns Praise and Inspires Dialogue

“To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it,” writes Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91.

In her new book, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, the Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time U.S. Poet Laureate courageously and compellingly faces, after more than three decades, the shooting death of her mother by her second husband and Trethewey’s former stepfather. The murder followed years of domestic abuse.

“The reason that I am a writer is that tremendous loss from when I was 19,” Trethewey relates in an interview with Esquire magazine. But, as her public profile grew during her terms as poet laureate, PBS NewsHour Chief Arts Correspondent Jeffrey Brown notes that the author “saw articles written about her make her mother’s killing almost kind of a footnote.”

Trethewey tells Brown, “And I thought, if that was going to continue to happen, that I needed to be the one to tell her story, so that she could be put in her proper context….”

Esquire calls this summer’s publication of Memorial Drive “a second alignment of the stars” for Trethewey in that it “confronts the murder of her mother as well as our nation’s fraught racial legacy.”

“Not only is it that all of these [race-based topics] are coming to a head right now,” she says, “but also, the pandemic has increased the number of cases of domestic violence. People are sheltering in place often with their abusers because they have no choice. So, to see these things intersecting in such a powerful and traumatic way is difficult, but it also suggests that maybe we’ll be able to have a conversation and a reckoning with it that we haven’t quite had before.”

The memoir has resounded with journalists and critics at a number of major media outlets. Along with the profiles in Esquire (which has already named Memorial Drive one of its Best Books of 2020) and on PBS NewsHour, Trethewey has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and The Atlantic, and heard on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. People magazine named Memorial Drive its Book of the Week (while also citing Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle M.A. ’81 in the same issue as one of the week’s Best New Books), while the New York Post included it among its Best Books of the Week for the first week of August.

Memorial Drive has also garnered enthusiastic acclaim, both nationally and internationally:

  • “Trethewey’s masterpiece.” – The New York Times
  • “Trethewey has delivered the kind of book that can only come from a writer at the height of her powers, a human at the height of her wisdom and pathos.” – Chicago magazine
  • “An enduring work, beautiful and horrific.” – The Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
  • “Trethewey excavates her mother’s life, transforming her from tragic victim to luminous human being. She is a living, breathing dynamo, coming of age in the Jim Crow South, breaking out of the restrictions imposed on her.” – The Washington Post
  • “An exquisitely written, elegiac memoir. Memorial Drive is Trethewey’s gorgeous exploration of all the wounds that never heal: her mother’s, her own, and the wounds of slavery and racism on the soul of a troubled nation.” – USA Today
  • “Stunning….As Trethewey revisits her past, she again turns on a light in the darkest of corners, piecing together the memories of her childhood and her mother’s death as the hands of her stepfather. Her pain still feels primal, but the poet confronts shadows to reveal, as she writes, ‘the story I tell myself to survive.’” – Garden & Gun
  • “Three decades ago that masterly American writer Tobias Wolff published This Boy’s Life, his classic memoir of a troubled childhood and a bullying, unpredictably violent stepfather. It’s no exaggeration to say that Natasha Trethewey’s book belongs in the same exalted company.” – The Times (London)

When asked during her Esquire interview what has to happen in publishing so that “stories that hit a variety of identities get to be told on an equally grand scale as those that come from white authors with white characters,” Trethewey shares the story of a young, white college student from South Carolina who was initially dismissive when her professor assigned her class to read the author’s first collection of poems, Domestic Work, which explores the working lives of African-Americans in the pre-civil rights era of the 20th century. But, Trethewey says, after reading the book, “She saw her own family in my family.”

Trethewey concludes, “We need to understand that Black writers, or other writers of color, are telling stories that relate to all of us. They’re not just stories that are only about that select group of people. Humanity is the thing that we all have in common.”

 


Casey Mahan ’20 Prepares to Fulfill Her Dream of Becoming an Optometrist

Casey Mahan ’20 has wanted to become an optometrist since high school, and throughout her time at Hollins she gained a wide range of valuable experience in the field.

“My desire to practice optometry really solidified during my sophomore year when I traveled to North Dakota to work with a nonprofit organization called OneSight, which provides eye exams and glasses to children and adults who can’t afford them,” she says. “The following year I spent J-term working with Dr. Vin Dang, an optometrist in Bakersfield, California. I was able to shadow him as well as other optometrists and ophthalmologists, and view surgeries. As a senior I interned at a small optometry practice and loved every aspect of it, especially the relationship between doctor and patient.”

The biology major/chemistry minor from Virginia Beach says she began researching schools of optometry when she entered Hollins, and from the moment she talked with the Salus University Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), “I knew it was where I wanted to go, especially because of the early clinical experience they offer. I was also impressed with PCO graduates and what they had to say about the school. Obviously grades and coursework are a top priority for admission, but there’s also a heavy emphasis on getting to know students at the personal level during interviews. Optometry school is rigorous: It takes four years, including three summers, and they need to ensure students are well-prepared as undergraduates.”

Mahan is confident she is ready for the challenges ahead, thanks to both the “student” and “athlete” experiences she has enjoyed. “The biology department played an integral role in my acceptance to PCO, especially Associate Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson. When he became my advisor, he discussed with me the exact coursework I needed to take, when to take it, and how it could make my application stronger. He was always realistic with me about my goals. My friends at larger universities didn’t get the same personal connections with all their professors that I had, and I am forever grateful to Hollins for that.”

As captain of the Hollins volleyball team, which set the program record for victories in a season last year, Mahan believes she “became a better person, leader, and mentor, and better able to adapt to my surroundings. I learned valuable lessons about team dynamics and how they differ from year to year.”


Hollins Alumna Recalls First Job With Rep. John Lewis

As we remember Congressman John Lewis and his incredible life devoted to social justice and equality, Mary Kate Vick Fuller ’88 remembers the civil rights icon as her first boss and the unforgettable lessons he taught her.

I worked for Mr. Lewis for my first job out of Hollins in Washington, D.C. I had completed a short-term internship with Sen. Sam Nunn in January 1988. After graduation in May 1988, there was an opening in John Lewis’ office. I knew I wanted to work on Capitol Hill and didn’t care if it was for a Republican or Democrat. I just wanted to stay with Georgia representation, since I was born and raised in Rome.

Mr. Lewis was a great boss and always took the time to teach me about the Civil Rights Movement and how he led the Selma march with Martin Luther King. He was very humble and quiet, but when the words flowed, it was amazing. He considered himself a minister and talked to me about how we were all in “one house,” as he called it, under God. He was passionate about teaching young people the history of [race in] our country and how he wanted to make changes so our children’s children would live in a great country.

He had a wall of photos in his office and loved telling me about his 40-plus arrests. He would point to each photo and tell the story. The one I really remember is of him getting beaten and pushed into a car. I can still see the photo. What courage he had. It was just incredible.

I was in charge of all the tours, opening mail, and dispersing it to legislation [department for the office]. He hated it when constituents came to his office and wanted to tour the Capitol, but the tours were already booked. I asked him if I could memorize the guided tour and give tours myself. He agreed, and we never had to turn people away. I had really turned my receptionist’s job into something more, and he appreciated it.

When there were dinners in D.C. and he was in Atlanta, he often chose me to represent him. He said, “I like how you shake hands and look people in the eye.” I loved representing him to constituents.

I read an article about him the other week where he talked about looking people in the eye when you shook their hand. I remembered having a conversation about that with Mr. Lewis. He listened intently to people and talked about how important it was to hear what people have to say. My dad always said that you treat the president of the company and the janitor the same, and that was the kind of man Mr. Lewis was.

I was also in charge of answering the phones for the office. When the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 was being voted on – [the law prohibits manufacturing, importing, selling, etc. firearms undetectable to metal detectors] – the phones were ringing off the hook. That same day, Barbara Bush had invited all the secretaries on the House of Representatives’ side to the White House for tea and cookies and to see her dog Millie’s puppies.

When Mr. Lewis came from the floor from voting, he asked me why I wasn’t at the White House meeting Barbara Bush. I said the office was too busy to leave and that I had stayed to answer all the calls. He replied, “Mary Kate, this is a chance of a lifetime, and I don’t want you to miss it. Forward your phone to my office, and I will personally answer your calls myself while you are gone. I hugged him and ran out the door to the White House. He was right. It was the chance of a lifetime.

At that time, I knew Mr. Lewis was important and had shaped our country, but I really didn’t know how big his role was until later. When I was an elementary school teacher in Rome years later, I taught my students about him.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lewis, and thank you for all you taught me.

Mary Kate Vick Fuller ’88 lives in Rome, Ga.