Sunday, December 18, 2016

Anne Boyle Gilmartin: A Pioneer of Women's Rowing

When she was Anne Boyle 

On a recent night, when I was talking about my book at the new Narberth Book Shop, Anne Boyle Gilmartin turned up. Now in her 80s, she is as enthusiastic about rowing and the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club (PGRC) as she was as a teenager back in the 1950s.

She reminisced with me about those days, when PGRC --the first competitive rowing club in the country -- was still struggling to find women to row against. "I heard about rowing and thought, 'that sounds interesting,' Anne told me as we sat in her Drexel Hill, PA home, sparkling with holiday decorations.

What followed was nothing but fun and laughter. She made friends. She flirted. She got great coaching. And she traveled. "We raced on the Potomac, in Boston, in New Rochelle, N.Y.," she said, showing off her medals.
Anne's medals

And she competed in the first major races that PGRC had against a serious women's team, in 1956 against Florida Southern in Lakeland.

According to the research I did for my book, PGRC raced against a sorority team. A Lakeland, Fla. newspaper called the match-up historic -- the day "women took over man's traditional eight-oared shell and launched intersectional competition."

Anne rowed that day with Ernestine Bayer, widely called the "mother of women's rowing," and a founder of PGRC in 1938. By 1956,  the intrepid Ernie was 47 years old "and not to be dissuaded from racing, despite criticism that she was too old," I wrote in my chapter on women's crew. PGRC lost, but only by a foot.

Anne remembers being coached by Tom Curran, a champion rower of the 1930s who by the 1950s was also leading La Salle College crew to victory. "He was a rogue," she said, laughing, as she remembered "the Bear." But he was tough, too. "If you didn't dance the way he fiddled, you were in trouble," she said.

Eying the photo of Curran coaching a men's eight  on page 116 in my book (a photo I wrote about on my Boathouse Row website), she spied Romeo Boyd and swooned. Sounding like Shakespeare's Juliet, she recalled calling out to him: "Romeo....Oh, Romeo..." 
"He'd take me and throw me in the water. We just had fun."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Shun the phrase "This Stage of Life"

For reasons I don't fully understand, my Columbia University journalism school class has remained close for decades now. Maybe it's because we graduated in an era of "sensitive training," when on our own we organized a three-day weekend to learn to listen to each other. (After all, isn't listening what journalists are supposed to be good at?)
Maybe it's because we've had a list serve run by the same dedicated class member all these years.
Or because, every five years at reunion time, the same lovely couple hosts all of us at their New York apartment and we reconnect.
When one of us lost his health and then his job, the class stepped in to network and find him a new position.  When one of us, author Larry Leamer, announced that he had a play opening in New York based on the life of Rose Kennedy, some 40 of us flocked into the city to go to the opening of Rose.
So, of course, now that I have a book just published, I thought I'd share my good news with my J-School class.
Along with dozens of cheers and congrats --and book purchases (thank you!) -- came this note from a classmate,   Inderjit Badhwar. Indy, as we called him back in the day, has had an illustrious career as editor of the India Times and other international publications. Currently he's editor in chief of India Legal.
I had made the mistake of saying in my class email that it was fun to have a new career "at this stage of life."

Indy was indignant:

"Stage of Life" Dotty? duh! what a defeatist sentiment after you prove that life's the biggest stage on which nothing alive can be 'staged'. It does not age. There is no chronological progression. I've observed this as an editor and a novelist. I saw this most lucidly in the last two months when I met and dined and stayed with Michael March in Prague where he conducts the International Writers Festival featuring Nobel Laureates (this time [John Maxwell] Coetzee."

Indy then went on to remind me of others in our class, all climbing new heights at this so-called "stage," including  Jim and Jill Gabbe, who did a "magnum opus documentary on India/China, "To the Mountaintops." 
To that list, here are a few (not all) other classmates still very much engaged in a stage that doesn't age:  David Gumpert may well be the nation's expert on raw milk, having written three books on the issue of "food rights," and the government's efforts to regulate choice. Connie Bruck continues her award-winning writing in the New Yorker magazine and elsewhere.  And there are so many other who continue to leave their mark on the world...Michele MontasDon Ringe.
Among many others, all still very much on the stage. Thanks, Indy for ribbing me.