Journal of the
              Lecture Series

 Volume 3, Issue 2
In This Issue
Though I am usually-- and delightfully-- surprised by how the drier-sounding lectures can be absolutely fascinating, I am never disappointed by the history-focused speakers. I think back to recent first-hand accounts of major historical events, such as Paul Leeper (the Watergate break-in, volume 2 issue 1) or Sid Davis (Kennedy assassination, volume 1 issue 2, and marvel at our good fortune. Biography is a frequent historical conduit, either of a person or event, and one I especially enjoy. All forms provide for a compelling hour!

In this issue you will find three history-based recaps, including both a first-hand account (Tom Glenn and the fall of Saigon) and biography (Pierre Larroque and the Marquis de Lafayette). The third recap may be a first (though don't quote me, because WMG has been around a long time)--a biographical history of a cartoon a picture book! Marc Nobleman gave an absolutely riveting presentation about his quest to right an historical wrong, by writing the history of the birth of Batman by Bill Finger. 

A note: our own Lisa Charles was most happily married last summer! Her new byline is Lisa Forte. Congrats Lisa!

Adrienne Athanas

All of Us Citizen Scientists
Stephanie Devaney--October 24, 2018

Stephanie Devaney
Photo by Diane Baker
In 2018, the NIH launched the All of Us research program, a nationwide project to recruit volunteers to share aspects of their lifestyle, environment, medical history, and biological makeup to inform the budding field of personalized medicine. Personalized medicine aims to improve healthcare outcomes by tailoring therapies to each individual patient. Dr Stephanie Devaney's career path has taken her from a young scientist chasing genes to the White House chasing bureaucrats, and now to deputy director of the landmark All of Us program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Devaney knows how the U.S.
The All of Us Research Program aims to engage a diverse community of participants, especially those who have been underrepresented in research in the past. Photo from NIH
biomedical sausage is made and,
as she explained to the WMG group, the time is right for some new recipes that can lead to medical breakthroughs and cures. Devaney  helps lead the NIH effort to move us from one-size-fits-all health care to a model that is individualized to our genetics and environmental exposures.
Stephanie's science journey began when she completed her PhD at George Washington University in
molecular genetics. Her next steps were to the Genetics and Public Policy Center think tank at Johns Hopkins University, the Office of the White House Chief of Staff, where she worked on the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), and finally to NIH. Devaney explained how the All of Us program will collect, anonymize, protect, and analyze health information from Americans of many different ethnic backgrounds so that researchers can develop custom-tailored treatments.

Recap by Andrea Mones
Wicked smart, funny, and a calm problem solver, she is perfectly placed to generate interest in and help oversee the program--which  at the end of the day requires one million "citizen scientists" to volunteer in order to be successful.  
NIH has an extremely user-friendly website dedicated to this program. To learn more about the initiative, or to sign-up to participate, visit

Invited by Diane Baker

The Secret Boy Wonder
Marc Nobleman--October 31, 2018
Marc Nobleman
Photo from

For Halloween, Brenda Bachman arranged an extraordinary speaker immersed in the world of comic books. Marc Tyler Nobleman researched a real- life battle of good versus evil, so to speak, to create his cartoon-inspired nonfiction, Bill, the Boy Wonder.

His journey started when he came across an interview from the 1960s with a man named Bill Finger, revealing his fundamental contributions to the creation of Batman. 
Nobleman was surprised to hear that Bob Kane--who always claimed to be the sole creator of the character--did not write Batman's original story. Though the original idea was his, he did not create the characters Robin, Cat Woman, Joker, or Commissioner Gordon (to name a few); they were all the products of Finger's imagination. Nor were the first images of Batman his solo effort; Finger gave generous advice to Kane about the color, design, and drawing of the first images of Batman himself. 
Bill the Boy Wonder by Marc Nobleman, Photo by Toby Linden
While Bob Kane may have set up agreements typical for the 1940s, using ghost writers and artists to produce the text and drawings, even he admitted the scope of Finger's contribution to the creation of a beloved superhero deserved more than a few lines in Kane's autobiography, saying he was sorry he didn't do more to give Bill credit. In fact, Finger practically disappeared from the public record.
Thus began Nobleman's quest to right a wrong that had persisted for 75+ years. With incredible perseverance and some plain luck, he discovered Finger's second wife, learned of the passing of Finger's son, and, eventually discovered Finger's granddaughter, Athena--a math professor who knew of her grandfather's creation, but assumed one person could do little to convince a powerful corporation to give credit where it was due. 
Recap by
Lizzie Bowlin
Nobleman wrote a nonfiction comic book, Bill the Boy Wonder, began speaking around the world, and gained the support of fans who wanted their superhero's co-creator given a much-deserved byline. His work not only gave some shape to the life of this incredibly creative man, but it also led to the renaming of a street in the Bronx to "Bill Finger Way," and the eventual commitment from Time Warner (who produces Batman comics, movies, etc.) to include "created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger" on Batman productions after 2016.
Nobleman encouraged the audience to pursue the truth, assume one person can make a difference, and always ask for what you want--since you may never get the chance again. May we all be that kind of superhero! 
To learn more about this amazing story, check out the Hulu documentary Batman & Bill.

Invited by Brenda Bachmann

Memories of the Fall of Saigon
Tom Glenn--November 7, 2018

Tom Glenn
Photo from the Gaithersburg Book Festival
The room was hushed as Tom Glenn, a former National Security Agency (NSA) operative, described his experiences in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975. Tom, a multi-talented man, described his life in Vietnam in a quiet way, with the pain of those memories bringing tears to his eyes and ours.
Tom served as a cryptologist and linguist, working on clandestine signals intelligence, speaking Chinese, Vietnamese, and French, the languages in South Vietnam at the time. In 1975, he had 43 men working for him, and they all had their families with them in Saigon. Meanwhile, North Vietnam was on the move and from the messages he intercepted, Tom knew the Americans and many of the South Vietnamese needed to evacuate. After the successful evacuation of the soldiers and families, two soldiers remained behind to support Tom as he continued his work. They lived in their office (the complex was so large it was called "Pentagon East") for weeks on end with hardly any food, water, or sanitation. By April 28, Pentagon East was in shambles and bombs were being dropped all around them. Tom and the two soldiers who stayed with him were finally evacuated by helicopter in the dark and rainy weather and taken to the Seventh Fleet, stationed nearby in the South China Sea.
Last of the Annamese was authored by Tom Glenn. Photo by Toby Linden.
By the time Tom returned to the United States, he was seriously ill. He had dysentery and pneumonia caused by a lack of clean water and food. After he recovered physically, he was left with PTSD, which he still suffers from today. He was not able to get professional help for PTSD for years due to his high security clearance. 
One of the hardest things for Tom after leaving Vietnam was coming back to the United States and having people spit on him and call him a "baby killer." That was heartbreaking for him, and we were all moved by his dignity and courage. He worked on his grief by writing 17 short stories and 4 books. As a talented musician, he has found peace in playing the piano. Notably, he also serves as a caregiver to the seriously ill, and his book, No-Accounts, is based on his experiences as a caregiver to people dying from AIDS.
Recap by Bonnie Harkness
Tom Glenn 's combat history was declassified within the last years, which has enabled him to speak about his experiences--and he takes full advantage of the opportunities to share this important, and largely hidden, history. Among others, he has authored No-Accounts, Last of the Annamese, Friendly Casualties, and The Trion Syndrome.To learn more about Tom, and his various activities, visit

Invited by Emily Hoffman
An Auctioneer's Advice: Collect What You Love
Stephanie Kenyon--November 14, 2018

Stephanie Kenyon
Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post
Stephanie Kenyon, a Washington appraiser and auctioneer with over 40 years of accumulated experience, has been president of Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers since 2003. From childhood she has been drawn to antiques and collectibles, going to flea markets and digging up old patent medicine bottles at Bethany Beach. As a teenager she interned at the Smithsonian, where she was directed to an enormous room of old American furniture and asked to inventory and catalog it all, looking up information in the library to figure out styles, periods, regions of origin, and wood types. After concentrating in American Studies and American Art at Smith College, she was hired at Sloans, an auction house established in 1853, and went to work in their historic building in downtown DC.
During her training, she became a certified gemologist, expanded her understanding of fine art, fine jewelry, and fine furniture, and studied market trends. She considers herself a generalist; federal, state, and county courts consider her an expert witness. In 1981, she became an auctioneer, a first for women in the DC area.
The antiques market exploded in the 1980s as the public's awareness of the value of historical pieces grew and the price of precious metals skyrocketed. Stephanie branched out on her own and was an independent appraiser for 10 years. When the Sloans company was put on the market, she purchased it, renaming it Sloans & Kenyon. She offers estimates and appraisals, places items under $300 on consignment, and enters more expensive items in local and international auctions. Their inventory comes from multiple sources including estates, museums, and individuals. They have several specialists on staff to investigate and appraise all sorts of items.
Stephanie pointed out the changes in the market: when the recession hit in 2008, the antiques market plummeted. She listed several other reasons for the state of today's market: people's lifestyles are less formal; Millennials are less interested in "brown wood" furniture, sterling silver, crystal, and anything that needs repair; no one wants old dining room sets or display cases. Interior design is much more minimalist. As fewer people currently want old furniture, restorer and repair experts have left the business. 
There are regional variations: silver service sets are more in demand in DC due to the number of embassies and consulates.  Antique jewelry remains stable: people appreciate the old, unique workmanship that is nearly impossible to reproduce these days since the guild system no longer exists; jewelry is also portable, and has intrinsic as well as sentimental value to its owners.

Antiques from the international market, especially those created before the tourist trade influenced indigenous cultures, are rare and remain valuable since there are now international laws to protect those cultures and their artifacts.
Fine art has also weathered the market trends. The Sloans & Kenyon staff looks for several clues to appraise fine art: signature, quality of the canvas, age of the canvas and materials, history of wear and tear, reputation of the artist and, perhaps most important of all, provenance (the history of ownership).  As forgers employ more and more technical expertise, appraisers need to stay abreast of new techniques to detect fraud.
Items owned by famous people continue to fascinate the public and command surprisingly high prices at auction. The risk, however, is that if the celebrity's fame wanes, so may the value of the items. 
Sloans & Kenyon will offer free appraisals for smaller items brought in to their office; appraisers will also suggest what repairs might be done and estimate the potential value once an item is restored. 
Recap by Beth Curren
In answer to the question, "Why is art so expensive?", Stephanie countered with the suggestion that there is a lot of good and very affordable art available at local studios and galleries. Stephanie advises that the best investment is to purchase art and items that you like and want to live with, that will continue to give you pleasure, regardless of its market value.
Sloans & Kenyon, 7034 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.  To make an appointment for appraisal service, telephone 301-634-2330. A visit may be the best way to view their current collection, but to find out more information about their inventory and services, and to place a bid in their live auctions, visit .

Invited by Harri j. Kramer
The Marquis de Lafayette and the Birth of America
Pierre Larroque--November 21, 2018

Pierre Larroque
Photo courtesy of Larroque 
Pierre Larroque, husband of WMG member Debbie, and an enthusiastic admirer of the Marquis de Lafayette, gave a fascinating portrayal of the man who arguably did as much as any other to secure the future of the United States of America. An active member of the American Friends of Lafayette, Larroque proved an estimable advocate.
Major General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, 1757 -1834, was an ardent fan and promoter of democracy. He used both his military expertise and vast fortune to help America win its independence from Great Britain.
Lafayette was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family in Chavaniac, a small town in central France. Lafayette's father, following in the footsteps of his ancestors, served in the military but died in battle when Lafayette was 2. His mother moved to Paris and Lafayette was sent to live with his grandmother and his cousins, also in Paris. Upon his mother's death when Lafayette was 14, he inherited his father's title and the family's immense wealth. At 17, after a two-year courtship, he married Adrienne de Noailles, wealthy daughter of the influential duc d'Ayen. Lafayette was now the third richest man in France; he joined the court of King Louis XVI.

 Lafayette and James at Yorktown
 James acted as a spy on behalf of Lafayette.
Painting by Jean Baptiste le Paon 
Graphic courtesy of Larroque

Bored with court life, he decided to go to America, hoping to win glory as a soldier in the Revolutionary War. A brash and adventuresome young man, Lafayette bought a ship, hired a crew and soldiers and sailed for America. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1777, a little over two years after the War had started. When he first approached Washington to offer his support he was turned away, only to be accepted later due to advice from Ben Franklin. Franklin's letter pointed out that Lafayette was not only close to the King and thus a good source of more aid for the colonies, but that Lafayette would not only pay for himself and his troops but, also important to Washington, he was a Free Mason. 
Lafayette was courageous in battle. At Brandywine Creek, a major battle in the war, Lord Charles Cornwallis maneuvered behind Washington's troops. Washington was rescued by Lafayette who raced on his white horse toward the British, rallying the American troops and stalling their retreat. When Washington learned that Lafayette had been wounded, he sent a physician accompanied by James Monroe, who spoke French, to care for him. In the skirmish of Barren Hill in 1778, Lafayette and his forces were surrounded by the British but were able to retreat on a road unknown to the enemy.
Lafayette returned to France the following year and worked with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to persuade Louis XVI to send more troops and aid to help the colonists. Upon Lafayette's return to America in 1780, he brought news that 6,000 infantry and 6 ships would arrive from France under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau.
Lafayette was given command of an army in Virginia and with von Steuben and "Mad" Anthony Wayne. They harassed Cornwallis' army across Virginia with hit and run attacks, finally trapping him at Yorktown in late July. They were joined by more American armies and the French fleet, which blockaded Cornwallis' escape by sea, leading to Cornwallis' surrender. 
Still championing democracy, Lafayette returned to France and tried to deal with the unrest there but to no avail. The Bastille was burned and he was imprisoned. He was freed by Napoleon, but refused to join Napoleon's government. After a revolution in 1830, he refused the offer to become dictator. 
Lafayette retired to his restored properties. Still wealthy, he sent engineers to help build the infrastructure for the Erie Canal. Having faith in America and democracy, he championed America's purchase of Florida and Louisiana and its adoption of the Monroe Doctrine. 
Lafayette was invited by the government to return to America for a year-long tour of all 24 states. He was welcomed as a hero everywhere with parades and banners and crowds of prominent and ordinary citizens. He visited George Washington's grave, spent time with John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson; he dedicated memorials and libraries.
Recap by Linda Dean
When Lafayette died in 1834, President John Quincy Adams gave a 3-hour eulogy. Lafayette was buried in France under soil from Bunker Hill. He is one of only 8 honorary citizens of the United States. Today there are 35 cities, 18 counties, 2 colleges, and 2 parks named after him.
To find our more about the American Friends of Lafayette, visit

Invited by Debbie Larroque

Prompt: Silver Girl
Leslie Pietrzyk--November 28, 2018

Leslie Pietrzyk
Photo by Lisa Forte
Our speaker, Leslie Pietrzyk, is the author of three novels: Silver GirlPears on a Willow Tree, and A Year and a Day, as well as a collection of linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest. This book won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and the stories are somewhat autobiographical--addressing the death of her first husband at age 35. 

Leslie has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Northwestern University, and a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from American University. She teaches in the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University.  

Leslie's presentation at the Wednesday Morning Group was about her most recent book, Silver Girl. This book has been described by Publishers Weekly as "profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing." The narrator, who is nameless throughout the novel, leaves her working class family in rural Iowa to attend a prestigious university in Chicago. She develops a close friendship with a young woman of privilege.  Set in the early 80s against the backdrop of a city terrorized by the Tylenol Killer--a local psychopath rumored to be stuffing cyanide into drugstore meds--Silver Girl is a deftly psychological account of the nuances of sisterhood.
Silver Girl, by Leslie Pietrzyk Photo from Publisher's Weekly

The story addresses issues related to female friendship, power struggles, and the reasons we are drawn to certain people, even when we know they are dangerous for us. The novel also addresses the issue of what you should do if your family of origin is dangerous to you. How do you escape your family--and should you? At what cost?  Contrasting obsession and longing, need versus desire, Leslie delves into the ways class and trauma are often enmeshed to dictate one's sense of self, and how a single relationship can sometimes lead to redemption.

Leslie drew on her own life as an 18-year-old college student from rural Iowa who moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University. She shared that when she showed up at Northwestern, it was a shock to her. Her life had been shaped by her frugal, middle class family, and she didn't realize there was so much more to the world than she knew.

Like the narrator in the novel, Leslie had an intense college friendship that dramatically affected her. To jog her memory of the time, Leslie read journals she kept throughout her teen/college/young adult years. She shared that she was riveted by her own journals, and was struck by the fact that at the core, she is the same as she was 35+ years ago. And so, too ,with the narrator of the novel--who wants to be different, but is unable to change.
Recap by Judy Rogers

When asked about her writing process, Leslie stated that several years ago, she started a "prompt" writing group in her neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. Each month, the group writes for 15 minutes in response to two separate, simple prompts that could be a single word or phrase. From these prompts, amazing things have been written, and not just by her. Leslie used the Prompt Group to develop the story line for Silver Girl. From the prompt, she wrote freely, and the characters took on a life of their own; she wrote until even she was surprised by their actions. The process, and the pressure, encourage creativity.  

To learn more about Leslie's work, visit her website:

Invited by Joan Wolf
The WMG meets most Wednesdays, September to June, at the
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church,  9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda, MD

Laura Forman

Adrienne Athanas

Kirstie Saltsman
Adrienne Athanas
Pat Cascio
Karen Deasy
Harri j. Kramer
Cathryn Meurer
Melinda Robbins
Kirstie Saltsman

Lisa Forte