Women IN the City: A Dozen Dynamos
When we produced our first Women IN the City issue in April, we asked readers to nominate women for this October section. We heard from dozens and them all to heart. The most notable is Mayor Shirley Franklin, and while we care, of course, about sewers and taxes, we wanted to focus on her as a woman, at home, not at work. Though perhaps not as recognizable, all of the others are compelling in their own worlds, and we think you'll fin them thoughtful, energetic and maybe even inspiring.
-- Susan Soper, Executive Editor
Mayor Shirley Franklin, 61
When Shirley Franklin was a student at Howard University working on a mayoral campaign, no way did she think – or even dream – she’d be a mayor herself one day, much less the first female and first black woman to run a large Southern city. After all, her childhood dream was to be a ballerina, and, as she often says, “I didn’t dream big enough.”
Indeed, since her landslide election in 2001, she was named one of the five best big-city mayors by Time magazine, and she was the first sitting mayor to be awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award by the JFK Library Foundation. “You have to earn it every day,” she says now about that honor.
The five-foot-one-inch blond dynamo’s no-nonsense and truly democratic style – she is supported and respected by Republicans and Democrats of all races and ages – has restored some of our faith in elected officials and a lot of our enthusiasm for the City of Atlanta. Potholes aside, she’s tackled ethics for municipal employees, audits, sewers, sales tax increase, job cuts and an $82 million budget deficit.
She has taught school, served on more than 30 boards and committees, received numerous awards and honors, been Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Chief Administrative Officer and the top-ranking female executive for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. She had a management and consulting firm and was vice chair of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority until she resigned in 2000 to run for mayor.
In most sectors of the city, she has lived up to her campaign promise – “If you make me mayor, I’ll make you proud” – which is why we are proud to have her featured here. She seems to be everywhere, all the time, and often packs more into her schedule than her staff can accommodate.
She recently had a spontaneous, on-stage conversation with former Mayor Andrew Young for the inauguration of Oglethorpe University’s new president and spoke to young girls at a Create Your Dreams Lunch. She generously sat down to answer decidedly unpolitical questions and shared some personal, inspiring insights into her off-duty life.
Now Lives: With my mother, Ruth White, 85, and my younger daughter, Kali, 28, and her three dogs: an Akita, a cocker spaniel and an Akita mix. Every weekend, my 7-year-old grandson, Keson, comes for the weekend, too. I was an only child, so I love living in a multi-generational household now.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Howard University and Masters of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. In May 2002. I was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Howard University.
Describe yourself in three adjectives: Optimistic, Intense (or focused) and free-spirited.
Do you have any daily rituals? I am usually home by 10. And at 10 I’m glued to Anderson Cooper [on CNN] and asleep before midnight.
How do you decompress? I stop moving and stop talking. I listen to Michael Bolton classics, Sam Cooke...and just bought a Bolton-sings-Sinatra CD. Sometimes it’s classical pieces I listen to, but I fall asleep to music every night.
Any fitness routine? Before I was mayor, I walked three-and-a-half to four miles a day. When I trained for the Peachtree Road Race, I walked every day. Now I think about it every day...and actually walk three to five times a month. I do some stretching for five to 10 minutes, not enough.
What’s the best career advice you got? I get good advice every day. Lyle Carter, former attorney, was chancellor of Atlanta University Center. He told me I could have it all, a fulfilling professional life, be active in civic affairs and have a family. No one had ever said that to me — that you can have it all...as a single mother...I do have it all now.
What’s the best advice you give? To put yourself in uncomfortable circumstances, to try new things, experience something you’re neutral about.
How have you learned to balance the demands of office with real life? I developed a sense of humor while running for office. I was always, in my group, the most analytical, serious and intense ...but when I interacted with a larger audience and learned the importance of connecting with an audience, I started making fun of myself.... If you take yourself too seriously or are so self-centered, you don’t see yourself in relation to the rest of the world.... I developed an ability to laugh at myself.
How do you spark your creativity? I got an unsolicited e-mail at the office, from a writer-painter offering a four-day workshop in New York. For four hours a day I painted, I drew, I did things I’ve never done, sitting on the floor with crayons, colored pencils and play things, writing with my eyes closed. We observed people in public places and then wrote about them. We drew pictures of our brains! There was a principal, a banker, a therapist, an art teacher and a secretary. They didn’t care who I was, and I didn’t care who they were.
How do you define your spirituality? I learned early to do the rituals associated with church, as the only child in a household....In my late 50s, I became more spiritual and more comfortable with my spirituality and more free-thinking. I spent a lot of time in churches during the campaign, yes, to meet people.... So there I’d be in churches for five to six hours during services. I loved being a part of a community that was celebrating and worshipping. It was very fulfilling. It fueled me after day after day on the grind and helped me seeing spiritual perspectives.
Do you have an heirloom you treasure? Having my mother move in is one of the best things that has happened to me....It caused me to move out of my bedroom into what was the guestroom, and I found things I never knew I had – my paternal grandmother’s wedding band and ring. I don’t wear it but I’m so delighted to have it.
Three recent books: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, March by Geraldine Brooks, In My Father’s House by Ernest Gaines.
What about life after mayor-hood? Not retirement! I’d like to do something hands on, not necessarily be at the top...maybe in education or mission work – even the Peace Corps.
Sara J. Gonzalez, "A Certain Age"
As president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Sara Gonzalez, a former model and restaurateur, has increased membership from 175 to almost 1,100 members over 10 years. Six years ago, she took her three grown children – two daughters and a son – back to Cuba, which she left in 1960, for a “bittersweet experience.” Gonzalez now lives with two dogs and goes to Miami for her Cuban bread “fix.” Pizza is her favorite take-out.Describe yourself in three adjectives: Loyal, honest and passionate.
Childhood ambition: To marry Prince Charming and live happily ever after.
Best advice from your mother or father: From my father, who taught me how to dance: enjoy life, have a sense of humor.
What do you eat for breakfast? Juice, English muffin and cafČ con leche.
What’s your road not taken? Dancer.
What’s the best career advice you got? Trust yourself.
What are you currently reading? The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.
Ideal vacation: Brazil, Spain and France. Also St. John. Love to travel!
The last CD you bought: Timeless by Sergio Mendes and The Black Eyed Peas.
Is there someone who changed your life? Yes, Gloria Steinem.
What defines your spirituality? My children; they are my precious friends. I am enormously proud of them.
How do you give back to the community? Fortunately, my line of work is all about giving back to the community.
What’s your most treasured heirloom or piece of art? I couldn’t take out any heirloom or pieces of art with me when I left Cuba, so my children are my pieces of art, and the old family photographs.
Ofelia Stromquist, 49
Born in Havana, Ofelia Stromquist is thoroughly at home in Inman Park in a restored 100-year old Victorian with her husband Eric, son Erik, 16; stepdaughter, Britt, 17, and Pepper, a Boston terrier. Stromquist’s Dance 101, launched in 2004, offers classes in everything from Broadway to hip-hop and belly dancing. What she loves most about the studio is the people around her – including her daughter, Paulina, 22 – and giving back through her work: “Dance is the best therapy in the world,” she said. “It requires you to get out of your head and into your heart and into your body.... And on top of all that, dancing makes you emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy.”
Three adjectives to describe yourself: Passionate, happy, loyal.
Childhood ambition: When I was 8 I wanted to be a cashier in a supermarket. At 10 I wanted to be a taxi driver. At 15 I wanted to be a professional dancer. At 20, all I wanted was to survive.
Favorite accessory: A cross around my neck.
Best advise from my mother: When life hands you lemons, make mojitos.
What do you eat for breakfast: Elementals Protein shake and a handful of vitamins.
What’s your favorite slang word: Snap!
Best career advise I give: Make peace with fear. If you don’t, it will always get in the way of you pursuing your dreams.
How I unwind: I rearrange the furniture and buy lamps. Interior decorating is my hobby.... My idea of heaven is a checkbook, a pair of sneakers, a van and a day at Lakewood Flea Market.
Pet peeve: Self-centered, self-interested, self-motivitated people. People who are takers, whose only criteria is what’s in it for them. Motorists who cut in line.
Favorite local restaurant: Rathbun’s.
Ideal vacation: Italy. Every square inch.
Last CD: Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Event that changed my life: Returning to Cuba in 1998 with my mother, sister and brother. What I saw and experienced there forever changed my outlook on life in many, many ways.
What defines my spirituality: Having discovered that the only purpose of life is to love.
How do I give back to the community: Volunteerism aside, I give back through my work.
All-time favorite movie: The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeline Stowe.
Favorite Book: The Disappearance of the Universe by Gary Renard.
Favorite junk food: Cinabons! I can NEVER eat them, but boy, just the smell of them knocks me over. Oh and those gooey pretzels they sell at the mall....Oh yeah and chocolate cake. But coconut cake is my favorite. Did I mention Ding Dongs? I love those! OK, need to stop now.
Wilman Sothern, 39
Wilma Sothern is a roux maker hailing from Houma, La., synchronized swimmer who made it to the Olympic finals with her sister and, for more than five years, Vice President of Marketing at Central Atlanta Progress. She’s been in Atlanta since 1989 by way of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and earned a BA in journalism from Georgia State University. She now lives in Inman Park, likes to show off Downtown (pictured above during lunch on Broad) to visitors and eat Thai food.
Describe yourself in three adjectives: Vivacious, witty and loyal.
Childhood ambition? To be the next Jacques Cousteau.
What’s the oldest thing in your closet? A big, fluffy pair of killer whale slippers.
What’s your favorite accessory? Necklaces with cross pendants.
What or who inspires you? My friends.
Best advice from your mother or father: “First, you make a roux....” A coffee-colored paste made from browning flour and oil, the roux is the foundation for almost every Cajun dish, from gumbo to etouffee....Making a good roux is a necessity.
What do you eat for breakfast? Oatmeal and fruit.
Do you have a morning ritual? I brew a single cup of my favorite coffee.
What’s your road not taken? Parenting.
What are three jobs you’ve had: Swimming instructor in St. Thomas, special events director, and a publicist at a fine art museum.
What do you love most about your current job? The five-minute commute....Seriously, I love being part of the Downtown revitalization effort.
What’s the best career advice you got? Don’t take things personally; stay objective.
What’s the best career advice you give? Strive to learn something new each day.
What are you currently reading? The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.
How do you unwind? Exercise.... A combination of cardio and weight lifting. I also squeeze in Pilates and kickboxing when possible.
Do you have a pet peeve? Cell phone abuse.
Ideal vacation: Spring-time snowboarding in Aspen, Colo., with my boyfriend.
The last CD you bought: Voice of the Wetlands, a compilation of songs by Louisiana musicians.
Is there someone that changed your life? From as early as I can remember, my sister, Melinda Sothern, has always taken care of me. She was 11 years old when I was born, so I became her real-live baby doll and self-imposed responsibility.... She even took on the role as my coach for a 12-year competitive synchronized swimming career.
Would you bungee jump? Yes.
What defines your spirituality? Compassion.
All-time favorite movie: The one movie that has had the most significant impact on my life is Orca the Killer Whale starring Richard Harris.... Although parts of the movie are a bit far-fetched, the killer whale footage is exquisite and has stayed with me for many years.
What’s your most treasured heirloom? A green ceramic wide-mouthed frog that belonged to my mother.
Favorite junk food? Reese’s peanut butter cups.
Star Lowe, 22
The word mother is a thread in Star Lowe’s conversations and life. Lowe’s mother, Cynthia Leslie, who has multipul sclerosis, is her inspiration and hero. Her mother’s graduation photo from Archer High School is Lowe’s most treasured “heirloom.” Her favorite ice cream is Slap Yo’ Mama, a Jake’s Ice Cream flavor loaded with chocolate, which she enjoys, left, at Urban Grind. Lowe, who was recruited in fourth grade by Create Your Dreams Inc., graduated from Clark Atlanta University in May and returned to CYD, where she is now program specialist, working with kids just like her. She lives in the West End with her mother and her brother, Joseph Hawk, 30.
Describe yourself in three adjectives: Superb, loquacious and gifted.
Favorite accessory or piece of clothing: I am still searching for that icon.
Best advice from your mother: Keep God first in all that you do.
What do you eat for breakfast? Toast and cheese eggs.
Do you have a daily ritual? I pray.
What’s your road not taken? Attending Xavier University majoring in biology.
What do you love most about your current job? I love the people the most! The kids and the staff.
Do you have a pet peeve? People who stick bubble gum on things, on the side of cups...under tables....It is disgusting.
What are you currently reading? The Art of Friendship by Mark Hampton.
Favorite local restaurant: Loca Luna.
The last CD you bought: Kelis Was Here by Kelis.
Where do you take friends from out of town? Church.
What is your workout routine? Two hours, four days a week.
Is there something that changed your life? My trip to Novosibirsk, Russia, in 1999. I was chosen to be a U.S representative for an International Youth Camp through the Boy & Girls Club, where I was a volunteer. This trip introduced me to a different culture and another part of mother Earth. I met new friends and I sort of fell in love with one of the friends I met who was from Poland.
All-time favorite movie: Love Jones.
Frances Miller Wood, 79
Frances Wood transcends generations. She’s as comfortable at high school sports events as she is entertaining friends of her grown children or traveling to India with friends her own age. She’s usually an early bird when it comes to the latest movies and bestsellers but is equally handy with her DVD player to catch up on what she’s missed. She traveled extensively with her late husband, John, and is planning a trip to Tanzania next summer. Originally from Washington, Va., she holds a degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina (after attending Hollins College for two years) and has lived in Brookwood Hills for 48 years in the same house where she raised two children, Jenner Wood and Dudley MacFarland.
Describe yourself in three adjectives: Caring, travel-nut and sports fanatic (especially for the Tar Heel basketball team).
Childhood ambition? To be the best girl basketball player in Virginia. It was my passion.
What’s the oldest – or oddest – thing in your closet? A 40-year old wig – lots of dark brown hair that must have been very unbecoming. Maybe I’ll need it one very bad hair day!
What’s your favorite accessory or piece of clothing? Black tights worn with shorts, tennis skirts and short skirts.
Best advice from your parents: They didn’t believe in bolstering self esteem. It was more important to be respectful and ... obedient. It made for a happy childhood – no conflict!
What do you eat for breakfast? Orange juice, cheese toast or cereal and always coffee to get a jump start.
What’s your favorite slang word? Damn!
What are you currently reading? When Madeline Was Young: A Novel by Jane Hamilton.
Favorite local restaurant: The Varsity for a chili dog and fried onion rings – with my 21-year-old granddaughter, Miller.
Ideal vacation: Linville, N.C., when it’s hot and humid here. And Nantucket, Mass.
The last CD you bought: Josh Groban.
What is your fitness or workout routine? Doubles tennis on Wednesdays and workout in the club gym. I also walk 30 minutes every other day and work in my yard, clipping and sweeping. I’ve been known to dance for 30 minutes to Garth Brooks when it’s too hot to go outside.
Is there a trip that changed your life? My husband took me to Europe in 1976 for the first time...travel was a great joy for us. Perhaps our time in Africa was the most meaningful – we were so happy there – amazing people and scenery.
What defines your spirituality? Morning Prayer at an Episcopal church, here or abroad, starting with early childhood participation.
How do you give back to the community? I deliver Meals on Wheels on Mondays. My granddaughter, Miller, sometimes goes with me, and we really care about the people.
All-time favorite movie: Out of Africa.
Your most treasured heirloom? The Wood family silver service given to me as a wedding gift and our ebony animal figures collected from trips to Africa.
Favorite junk food? Krispy Kreme donuts and beignets.
Ellen Macht, 51
Ellen Macht came north from her hometown of Miami to attend Emory University. After receiving her MBA from the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, she returned to Atlanta for a series of banking and finance jobs, as well as trying her hand in a start-up company. After years of working with and wearing “suits,” in 2003 she became executive director of The Clean Air Campaign and now dresses for her job in jeans, when possible, and loves funky shoes and fun sneakers. She lives in Morningside with her 13-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Peanut.
What’s the oddest thing in your closet? My dog, Peanut, and me....She is very frightened of thunderstorms and heads to my closet when scared. I join her to help keep her calm.
What do you eat for breakfast? Fiber One and blueberries, oh, and of course, non-fat milk.
Road not taken? Marriage and kids. I often wonder if I would have been more fulfilled.
What are you currently reading? Terrorist by John Updike.
The last CD you bought: Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams.
Is there something that changed your life? My 50th birthday trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with several friends that spanned my life from childhood to today. Fabulous!
What defines your spirituality? A deep belief in God and that things happen for a reason. I’m learning to have more faith in humanity.
How do you give back to the community? I have always been good at writing checks, but now I am more committed then ever to our quality of life.
What’s your favorite take-out? Alon’s Bakery.
All-time favorite book: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
What’s your most treasured heirloom? An 1892 silver dollar carried by my father most of his life.
Favorite ice cream: Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.
Sharon Lester, 43
Though laid-back and often laughing, double-A tennis player and tennis facility manager Sharon Lester is serious when it comes to maintenance of the city’s courts in Piedmont Park. Often she is there from sun-up to sun-down six days each week. She’s excited that the city is renovating the tennis center – complete with clubhouse and concessions. The Atlanta native lives with her son, her sister and brother-in-law, a Jack Russell terrier and one goldfish. She loves her morning cup of coffee, her staff, the beaches of Puerto Rico and, most of all, her teenage son Chris and his own set of tennis skills.Describe yourself in three adjectives: Outgoing, optimistic and slightly crazy.
Childhood ambition: To be a lawyer.
Favorite accessory: My shades.
Best advice from your mother or father: Stay in school and get a good education.
Morning ritual? Stretch for 30 minutes.
What’s your road not taken? Pursuing law school.
What do you love most about your current job? I am the tennis facility supervisor at the Piedmont Park Tennis Center. I’ve been playing tennis for 29 years, and here I get to play almost every day. I always enjoy being out of an office and in the fresh air.
What’s the best career advice you got? Do something you love.
What’s the best career advice you give? If you can’t do something you love, do something you like. It’s hard to maintain a balance in life if you hate your job.
How do you unwind? Read and listen to music.
Do you have a pet peeve? People who say “I can’t” without even trying.
What are you currently reading? My Life by Bill Clinton.
Favorite local restaurant: El Azteca on Ponce for chips and margaritas.
The last CD you bought: Gorillaz.
Is there something that changed your life? The death of my mother when I was 11.
How do you give back to the community? By working at the Piedmont Park Tennis Center I enjoy seeing the community come to the courts for exercise and to be outside in the sun and fresh air. It’s so good for you. I get to work with kids from Grady High School. Last year the girls made it to State.
Favorite take-out: Lemon pepper wings.
All-time favorite movie: Imitation of Life.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Praline pecan ice.
Bonnie Speed, 51
Not surprisingly, the director of the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Bonnie Speed, lives a life permeated with art – from the museum pieces that surround her daily to the handmade shawls of unique fabrics and interesting textiles she collects when traveling. But the flip side to this is riding dressage, which she started in 1990. A native of Skowhegan, Maine, Speed has been at the museum for four years. She lives with two aging, but feisty cats and one large horse, Phineus.Describe yourself in three adjectives: Passionate, reflective, up-front.
Childhood ambition? To be a ballerina... but when I hit 5’10” by the age of 16... I knew I’d better start thinking of other pursuits.
What’s the oldest – or oddest – thing in your closet? A 1950s cotton skirt, the fabric similar to thinly quilted dishtowels, that was white with little images of famous paintings scattered haphazardly over the surface. After 35 years, it’s still in my closet. And yes, I do occasionally wear it.
What do you eat for breakfast? Oatmeal with soy milk and blueberries.
Morning ritual: Yoga stretching.
What are three jobs you’ve had: Wedding cake decorator, cocktail waitress, contemporary art curator.
What do you love most about your current job? My dynamic staff, being surrounded by art, and the variety, as well as challenge of the work.
What’s the best career advice you give? Network and don’t burn bridges.
Pet peeve? Drivers who tailgate.
What are you currently reading? The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
Favorite local restaurant: Madras Saravana Bhavan in Decatur.
Ideal vacation: Anything involving the ocean.
Where do you take friends from out of town? Carlos Museum, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Zoo Atlanta.
What is your fitness routine? Yoga daily, walking three to four times a week, and riding my horse three to four times a week.
Is there something that changed your life? Living in China in the late 1980s, studying art and Mandarin, was a transformative experience.
Would you bungee jump? Not even for dinner with Johnny Depp or Colin Firth.
What defines your spirituality? It is an inner journey of finding honesty and compassion...and living it. Studying Buddhism has been inspiring.
How do you give back to the community? My philanthropic and volunteer efforts go mostly toward animal causes, and I love Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah.
All time favorite movie: Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.
Favorite junk food: Love onion rings.
Bamby Ray, 70
Here’s a little known fact about Bamby Ray: her real name is Muriel. The building historian – a principal of a two-woman firm, Ray & Associates, which works with developers renovating historic buildings in obtaining state and federal tax breaks – has an undergraduate and master’s degrees (in American Studies with a concentration in Historic preservation) from Georgetown University. The Fulton Bag & Cotton Mills development project was the largest she’s worked on. She also worked on the Glenn Hotel project, where she is pictured above. She and her husband, Bill, live in a 1912 house in Midtown with their two dogs, Buddy and Bonny. None of their three grown children live in town.
Childhood ambition? To be an artist.
Who inspires you? My husband pushes me, which is a form of inspiration.
Best advice from your mother or father: They never encouraged/forced me to follow the crowd.
Morning ritual? I try to stretch for 15-20 minutes.
What’s your road not taken? Architect.
What do you love most about your current job? You never do the same thing twice.
How do you dress for work? Good chinos are considered dressy. When we moved to Atlanta I said I could live here if I didn’t have to wear stockings in the summer, and I don’t.
What’s the best career advice you got? Don’t get your degree in historic preservation. There’s no job market. It just made me determined to do the opposite – which I did.
How do you unwind? Read, play computer games...crossword, Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles.
What are you currently reading? The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
Favorite local restaurant: Babette’s.
Ideal vacation: Skiing or hiking.
Fitness routine? We do a lot of walking.
Is there something that changed your life? When I was barely a teenager, I read an article about people with inferiority complexes. I realized then that I was just shy, something I could overcome.
What defines your spirituality? Honesty.
How do you give back to the community? I do Meals on Wheels once a week, am an Atlanta Preservation Center tour guide, and am currently involved in the Midtown neighborhood and the developmental pressures here.
Favorite take-out? Camelli’s pizza.
Etienne R. LeGrand, 50
We first met Etienne LeGrand, 50, a year ago when our focus on literacy in Atlanta included supporting a program called Books for Babies at the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library. She is on the library foundation board, among others, and her energy, athleticism and wide interests captured our attention. Two years ago, she and her husband, Hal Logan, a Manheim Inc. executive, co-founded The W.E.B. DuBois Society to promote a culture of academic excellence among African-American students that is as enviable as those with athletic success. She received a BS in education from Boston University and an MBA in strategy from the Graduate School of Busiess of Northeastern University.Describe yourself in three adjectives: Fearless, loyal, loving.
Childhood ambition? Play pro basketball.
Best advice from your parents: Get as much education as you can so that you can think for yourself and create a limitless set of options.
What’s for breakfast? Oatmeal with raisins.
What’s your road not taken? Coaching and/or commentating on basketball.
Three jobs you’ve had: Cash manager, assistant to the mayor of San Francisco, marketing consultant.
What do you love most about your current job? The challenge of bringing a new concept to market that’s ahead of its time.
What is your workout routine? Kardio funk class two to three days a week; weight training four days a week, yoga two days a week.
What’s the best career advice you got? Listen before you speak.
What’s the best career advice you give? Arrange to have a mentor.
How do you unwind? Gardening.
What are you currently reading? Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared M. Diamond.
Favorite restaurants: Bachanalia, Woodfire Grill.
Ideal vacation: Paris.
Is there something that changed your life? 1995 trip to Beijing for the World Conference on Women and various trips abroad. Traveling outside the U.S. gives you the opportunity to see that the American way isn’t the only way to be and experrience life...and to see how the world views America.
Eleanor Edmondson, 59
As a child, Eleanor Edmondson wanted to be Brenda Starr, the fearless reporter from the comic pages. Although she calls this one of her “roads not taken,” she is a clever and thoughtful writer, an avid reader and a tirelessly curious traveler. She recently returned from Machu Picchu and is looking forward to Buenos Aires next year. In 1991, the Racine, Wisc., native turned her love of reading into a business called Bas Bleu, a mail-order book catalogue, and she is still there – at least for now. Edmondson lives in a Midtown condo with her husband, Charlie, and Rodeo, a Corgi. www.basbleu.com
Describe yourself in three adjectives: Quick (to catch on, to get the job done, to lose my temper), funny (at least I think so) and steadfast (I never give up...on tasks, on games, on people).
What’s the oldest thing in your closet? My brother Jack sent my mother a Chinese silk jacket pictured on the cover from somewhere in the Far East in the early 1950s, shortly before he was killed in the Korean War. My mother never wore it, but she kept it. Now I have it.
Who inspires you? I am inspired by people who go the distance, who do what matters, even it it’s unpopular or difficult, and who do it without pretense. Little heroes...no famous names. I’m skeptical of big-time heroes.
Best advice from your mother or father: I used to watch my father problem-solve. In his immigrant accent, he’d say, “First ve try this; if that don’t vork, then ve try that.” It’s become a philosophy of life.
What do you eat for breakfast? A cup of black coffee, a banana and a bowl of Mona’s Granola.
How do you unwind? Working crossword puzzles [right] playing computer games, watching stupid TV.
Do you have a pet peeve? Cellphones. I own one, but I don’t walk around in public screaming into it in order to impress strangers with how fabulous my life is. If my cell rings while I’m driving, I pull over. What do all these people have to talk about all the time? [You’ve clearly hit a nerve here.]
What are you currently reading? Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon. Biography is my favorite genre.
Favorite restaurant: La Grotta.
Ideal vacation: To plop down in a new city for a week and pretend I live there.
The last CD you bought: The Battle for Everything by Five for Fighting. I heard the song “100 Years” on a credit card commercial and tracked it down.
Where do you take friends from out of town? It depends on where they’re from. I’d be more likely to take a friend from Switzerland, say, to Home Depot than to Stone Mountain. I like to show people things they might not have seen before.
Would you bungee jump? Only if the alternative was a firing squad.
What defines your spirituality? I’m more likely to be philosophical.
All-time favorite movie: A Thousand Clowns. I quote from it all the time. And my favorite books are Hannah Pakula’s The Last Romantic (a splendid biography of Queen Maris of Roumania) and The Towers of Trebizond, a novel by Rose Macaulay.
Favorite junk food? Tortilla chips and guacamole.