by Pamela Myer Sackett
This post was originally a comment on our February 2016 blog post, another tribute to B. A. on her birthday. We felt it was so wonderful that it should be its own blog this year.
B. A. Rudolph cared whole heartedly about each one of her diverse group of friends. I am certain that many of us felt as if we were her “best” or “longest known,” because she had such an uncanny way of making you feel at once so special and loved and as you remembered, challenged and pushed to be more.
I first met her in 1976, when we both traveled to London for our Junior Year Abroad. There we celebrated her 21st birthday with friends at a Mexican restaurant in a city we both grew to love. We cast our very first Presidential ballots from abroad and stayed up into the early morning hours watching television in the common room of the boarding house where we lived, desperate for returns. We shared a passion for politics for which we had traveled to London to study. But we were — and remained during the course of her lifetime — on opposite sides of the fence. Needless to say, besides the fact that I was also a Yankee, this made for some interesting “conversation” over the thirty five years we were friends.
Although we were roommates that first year in London and would be again for a few months when she first came to Washington, our lives charted parallel courses in separate universes, as I continued to work for Republicans, married, raised five children and moved to the suburbs. I like to think we sometimes lived vicariously through each other, politics aside, of course! When we did coordinate our busy schedules to meet, we together, were truly representative of women who collectively had it all!
What was so quintessentially and uniquely amazing about B.A., if you were someone she loved, whatever accomplishments you had in your life were always, without prejudice, celebrated in hers. B.A. was smart enough to know that no matter how successful she was in her professional career, you always needed a good friend in Washington on the “other” side. I take pride in the fact that I was a trusted “pocket” friend. We both traded professionally on our friendship over the years as the Administrations changed in Washington. Although we often passionately argued about issues, since the day we first sat next to each other on the plane to London, we accepted each other first as friends and never let anything – or any point of view — come between us.
We shared personal experiences of deep meaning in a woman’s life. She was present at my wedding shower, stayed with me to calm my nerves the night before I got married and listened to hours and hours of bitch sessions as girlfriends do, as we tried to juggle all the balls we had in the air. B.A. was the only friend I allowed in my hospital room less than 24 hours after breast cancer surgery. She was there for me when I lost my father, mother and sister to cancer. I travelled to Arkansas, met Governor Clinton, dined in her family home in Fayetteville and I knew her family. She invited my kids to D.C. for what my older children termed a “grilled dinner,” questions upon questions about where they were going in the future. They fondly recall getting their picture taken with that huge cardboard image of President Clinton she had in her living room for quite some time!
One of the last events we enjoyed together was a Springsteen concert at Verizon Center, general admission, where we, two broads over 50, stood for over six hours and rocked in the mosh pit! It was there, while waiting for the show to begin, that I learned she had cancer. She said it was one of the toughest conversations she ever had to have with me because I had hounded her as long as I knew her about her smoking. At the time, my own husband was battling lung cancer. She knew I knew the score.
Nonetheless, we celebrated the remaining time we had together. When I could take time away from my husband, I came into D.C. on several weekends to help her as she endured intense chemo. Because I had been so intimately involved in caring for loved ones with cancer in my own life, I think that gave her some freedom to just be in the moment without having to put up a brave front. We watched old movies, shopped at a garden center, went to the National Art Gallery, picnicked on her patio and talked into the wee hours of the morning. She tried to get me to select books she thought I would want from her shelves.
But in the end, she executed the greatest act of love she could have towards me. I was privileged to spend a weekend with her about two weeks before she passed away. My husband had died three months before. We talked and talked as we had so many times over the years. She had that wonderfully Southern way of carrying on endlessly carefree conversation. She would jump right into a story telling you about all these people you had never met, sharing as if you DID know them intimately, but you as the listener always felt that you had just walked into the middle of the room and missed something, yet by the end of her story, you felt you had known these folks your entire life.
B.A. was ever weaving those she loved together, the treasured characters of her life, from her English professor father, Dr. Rudolph, who used to send her back her handwritten letters to him from London with red grammar corrections on them, to her beloved Mama and stories of Arkansas to her many, many friends from all over the world, sharing with me the roots that strengthened her, all the while trying to shelter me from what we both knew was ahead. I would have done anything for her and she knew that. Her last generous gift of friendship and love to me was that I was not to be there when she passed. She knew, more than my own good intentions that I could not handle that part of our friendship without her. It has taken me all these years, since she’s been gone to understand that she loved me that much.
Unselfishly, knowing what I personally been through with my loved ones who had succumbed to cancer, she instead allowed us to part with that hopeful goodbye that people who love each other sometimes say, but know within their shared hearts that will never happen, “I will see you soon.” Such was the poetry of a decades long friendship.
Since our days in London, we often dreamed, joked and occasionally over the years, planned two things. First, we were going to go back to Europe and travel in style – 4 star hotels at the least, wining and dining across the continent – trumping our first trek which included shared peanut butter sandwiches (we bought the peanut butter at Harrods as they did not sell it in regular food stores in London at the time) and a shared top of a bunk bed keeping each other warm in an unheated (but cheap) garage youth hostel in Nuremburg over Christmas break. Second, we were going to retire together and rock in rocking chairs on the front porch of a grand old house and reminisce. Sadly our plans never came to fruition.
B.A.’s undying love was the most endearing, empowering friendship I have ever, or will ever experience. I often think of B.A. as I still work in politics, now negotiating the world as a widow, Mom and Grammy, rocking on my balcony having now downsized my own life, planning my trip of a lifetime next summer. I will return to London to see a mutual friend, luggage packed with tiara and boa and then, eventually retire with an impassioned heart full of purpose, precious memories and my wand. BA made me believe I can still save the world.
The B.A. Rudolph Foundation and its mission to help young women is the embodiment of the power of all of the unique friendships B.A. enjoyed. It’s the epitome of the love and support which B.A. extended to each of us on a daily basis to encourage us in our own way to better our world. Because of the gifts she continues to give and the young women who will be empowered by her scholarships her legacy will shine brighter than her tiara.
Pamela Myer Sackett celebrated her 39th year working in politics for elected officials from the White House, Congress and today, in local government. Now widowed, she is most proud of being a loving wife, a working woman and mother to five college educated, independent individuals all now following their own dreams. Although Pam continues to volunteer in her community and fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a writer, being Grammy beats it all.