Groucho MarX didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member, but after the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that said women must be allowed to join the Rotary Club, I said yes when asked.
At Saratoga Rotary luncheons at Joe Collin’s restaurant (avoid the meatloaf, pasta was safe), I often sat with the older men, who would occasionally ask George Pierce, an insurance agent, about his son. George never mentioned his son was David Hyde Pierce, the Emmy-winning actor on Frasier. These men didn’t boast (though George kindly arranged an interview for me with his son at their Fifth Avenue home).
Drawn by his wry wit and smile, I also lunched with Sam Aldrich at Rotary. He always surprised me. One day Sam mentioned he had marched with Dr. King. His cousin, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (another surprise), had asked Sam to be his civil rights envoy. In 1965, Sam was one of 13 whites to march with Martin Luther King Jr. for the entire 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery.
In jest, I once told Sam he probably danced with the queen. He replied that at 25, when his dad was ambassador to Great Britain, he had danced with Queen Elizabeth II in the embassy’s new ballroom and met a taciturn Winston Churchill, too. When Rockefeller appointed Sam as state commissioner of parks and recreation, he and wife Phyllis moved upstate to a 250-acre farm with 50 cattle in Greenfield Center. Sam died in July at 89.
Another Sam with Saratoga ties passed away in July — Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, actor and director. I saw Shepard waiting in line at the snack bar one night at the Fasig-Tipton sales, and a nondescript woman with outdated glasses sat with two children at a picnic table nearby. I recognized Jessica Lange and asked if I could take her photo, knowing what the answer would be. Theirs was a 27-year romance. Shephard was 73 when he died at his Kentucky home.
Oprah Winfrey came to Saratoga in May to receive an honorary doctorate from Skidmore College and celebrate the graduation of her “daughter girl,” Felicia Mohau Mazibuko, one of the first class of graduates from Oprah’s Academy for Girls in South Africa. Saratoga Living’s Terri-Lynn Pellegri captured the moment.
“Every decision I’ve ever made that led me to the right space and place in my life, I got there because I relied on that inner voice, the truth of me,” Oprah told graduates. “It’s a hard world out there, but you’re ready for it, because there is nothing more powerful than you using your personality to serve the calling of your soul.”
Graduate Abude Al-Asaad, who was born in a refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, spoke last: “When crisis appears at its darkest, humanity must shine its brightest.” True words.