1. The right person will come along
By Sally Pym
Shortly after I became assistant director of the Tufts European Center in Talloires, Charlotte MacJannet asked me to organize a concert for a young pianist and singer in MacJannet Hall at the Prieuré. In those days— the early 1990s— the director came to Talloires for only two weeks every summer, so the responsibility for Charlotte’s request fell entirely on my shoulders as the Prieuré’s de facto on-site manager.
The date Charlotte specified was a Sunday— normally my only day off. The program would require me not only to set up the hall that morning but also to publicize the event beforehand in Talloires and the nearby villages. But declining this task was not an option. Charlotte at this point was well into her 90s, the living soul of the Prieuré; she had been unfailingly gracious to me since my arrival; and in any case, Mrs. Mac was not someone you could reasonably refuse any request.
The morning of the concert, as the staff and I set up the chairs and the piano in MacJannet Hall under Charlotte’s watchful eye, the pianist phoned to inform me that an emergency had come up and he would have to cancel his appearance. It was 11 a.m.; the concert was scheduled for 2 p.m. I was beside myself. In just three hours, the audience would arrive— an audience I had personally drummed up. As I saw it, my credibility as the Prieuré’s new assistant director was on the line.
To my surprise, Charlotte seemed not the least bit perturbed. “It’s all right, my dear,” she said serenely. “Come with me.” She led me outside, walked me halfway down the front steps of the Prieuré— she was pretty agile even in her 90s— and bade me sit down beside her on the steps. Here she reassuringly put her hand on my knee. “Sally,” she explained, “if we wait here, the right person will come along.” She was aware of my stress but seemed oblivious to the gravity of our quandary. We sat there quietly together until, to my astonishment, about 15 minutes later, a stranger walked down the Prieuré driveway. Together, Mrs. Mac and I descended the steps to greet him. In the process of making our introductions, we asked him almost flippantly if by any chance he was a pianist. When he answered affirmatively, Charlotte invited him to come upstairs and perform at our concert that afternoon. And so he did.
That was a wonderful lesson for me as an administrator: If things don’t turn out exactly as you planned, have faith that the unknown alternative might turn out to be just as good or even better. Ever since that day, whenever a colleague panics over some unexpected change in plans, I find myself echoing Charlotte: “The right person will come along.” I subsequently became the Prieuré’s full-time director in 1995. Charlotte died in 1999 at the age of 98. Not long after that, my assistant director informed me that she would be leaving. At first I was devastated. Then I channeled Charlotte and reminded myself: “The right person will come along.” And so she did. The replacement I hired was Gabriella Goldstein, who succeeded me in 2002 and has run the Prieuré for Tufts skillfully and humanely ever since.
Sally Pym was assistant director of the Tufts University European Center from 1991 to 1995 and served as director until 2002. She now lives in Venice, Florida.
2. Trust Mother Nature
By Dan Rottenberg
In the summer of 1974, my wife and I flew from Philadelphia to Talloires for a reunion in honor of Donald MacJannet’s 80th birthday. It was Barbara’s first visit to France, and my first since my final summer as a MacJannet camper 19 years earlier. In the interim, Donald and Charlotte had purchased the thousand-year old Prieuré in Talloires and transformed it from an ancient ruin into a uniquely gracious conference center. Charlotte was naturally eager to show off this marvelously restored property to her visitors— especially those who, like us, were marinated in an urban American sensibility.
As she led us through the Prieuré’s nooks and crannies, Barbara was astonished to notice that the building’s many windows all lacked screens. “But how do you keep out the flies?” Barbara asked. “My dear,” Charlotte replied, “when nature is in the balance, Mother Nature takes care of the flies.” It was a concept that simply had never occurred to us. (Nearly half a century later, the Prieuré continues to function blissfully without screens on its windows. In fact, says director Gabriella Goldstein, “I don’t believe I have ever seen screens on any windows in Talloires. I think it is very much an American thing.”)
Journalist Dan Rottenberg is editor of Les Entretiens and a MacJannet Foundation trustee. He lives in Philadelphia.
3. Leave time for tea
By Mary Van Bibber Harris
In 1970-71, when I was a master’s degree candidate at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, I spent the school year studying at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs in Geneva. In that capacity, I was a direct beneficiary of the exchange program inspired and partially funded by Donald and Charlotte MacJannet. Out of gratitude for this opportunity, I offered to help Mr. Mac with some of his voluminous correspondence.
Each week I made my way to their apartment building in Geneva’s Old Town, climbed the three wide, worn flights, and rang the buzzer. Either Mr. or Mrs. Mac would greet me, and for the next several hours they engaged in a friendly tug of egos to see which of them would capture more of my time. Mr. Mac often did have correspondence that needed typing, since the MacJannet Foundation was in its infancy and he was eager to plant its seeds. But Mrs. Mac had other priorities, or so it seemed. She felt strongly that more might be gained by the three of us talking together. Consequently, quite soon, her head would pop around the corner of Mr. Mac’s narrow study and exclaim, “It’s time for tea.” At this point I would put aside Mr. Mac’s letters for my next visit, and the three of us would engage in conversations ranging far and wide.
In this manner, I came to know this extraordinary couple in both a professional capacity (through Mr. Mac’s letters) and a personal capacity (through Mrs. Mac’s tea). Only in retrospect do I appreciate Mrs. Mac’s indirect method: Over tea, we might not accomplish any work; but on the other hand, we might discover some much more important purpose that hadn’t previously occurred to us. When I left Geneva to return to Fletcher as an administrator, part of my job involved nurturing the Macs’ Fletcher-Geneva exchange program, so my yearly visits to Geneva also included time at their apartment. On one of those visits, we were having tea when Jean Mayer, then president of Tufts, arrived. He had come to learn more about the Prieuré in Talloires, which the Macs had acquired in 1968 as a ruin, then restored, and then offered to Tufts as a gift. Mrs. Mac, naturally, invited Mayer to join us for tea. Next thing I knew, I was in a car with the three of them, driving to Talloires— a 45-minute trip consumed entirely by the MacJannets’ enthusiastic descriptions of the restoration work they had already accomplished at the Prieuré.
There is little doubt in my mind that President Mayer decided then and there to accept the Macs’ offer to donate the building to Tufts— which he did in 1978. Not many years later, President Mayer asked me to take over the directorship of that property, which had become the Tufts European Center. The lesson learned? Always take time for tea.
Mary Harris was director of the Tufts University European Center from 1982 to 1989 as well as a longtime trustee of the MacJannet Foundation. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.
4. Life is like a book
By Caren Black Deardorf
I worked at Le Prieuré from 1986 to 1992 as staff and assistant director, living in Talloires every year from March through October. And in 1991, in preparation for the 1992 Winter Olympics at Albertville, I stayed on through the winter because the Prieuré had been designated as headquarters for the U.S. Olympic team. During those winter months, I also volunteered with the Quakers at the United Nations in Geneva. Charlotte MacJannet, who was 90 at the time, had kindly offered to have me stay one night a week at her lovely apartment in Geneva’s Old Town.
One afternoon over tea, I was ruminating about my future, with all the anxiety of a 25-year-old who has no idea what to do with her life. Mrs. Mac, always the good listener, nodded and smiled without interrupting. When I finally paused, she firmly took my hand. “You know, Caren,” she said, “you worry too much about your future. You are where you are supposed to be right now, and each new door will open at the right time. Look at my life. “In my 20’s, I was living in the Nordics, where I started a dance school for Eurythmics. “In my 30s, I met and married Mr. Mac and we grew and ran the American school near Paris and the MacJannet camp on Lake Annecy. “In my 40s, due to the war, we lived in Sun Valley [Idaho] and adapted our school and camp there while still raising funds for orphans in France. “In my 50s, we were back in France and purchased the Priory in Talloires. We put all our passion and the energy of many volunteers into renovating the building so that we could host artists, musicians, dignitaries and all who were interested in cross-cultural exchange.”
And so she continued through each decade of her life, in each of which she had lived out an entire book’s worth of adventure and impact on the world. “So, my dear, “she concluded, “just take the next step, focus on how you are going to change the world, and the rest will come.”
I have followed this advice often in my life and also passed it on to many of the people I’ve been blessed to mentor. If we are lucky, our lives will unfold like Charlotte’s— as a series of chapters in a book, each offering unexpected opportunities to expand our lives while changing the world.
Caren Black Deardorf, a MacJannet Foundation trustee, is chief commercial officer at Ohana Biosciences Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. She lives in nearby Lexington.
5. What really matters
By Dan Rottenberg
After the MacJannet Foundation’s annual meeting in June of 1991, Barbara and I arranged to stay on in Talloires for an additional week of sunshine and relaxation. Charlotte MacJannet, learning of our plans, asked if we could give her a ride to the opening of an art exhibit in Annecy the following Saturday. Since we had no specific plans for the week, and since this event would interrupt only one of our seven days in Talloires— and since, in any case, it was impossible to say no to Charlotte, especially in her tenth decade— I readily consented.
As bad luck would have it, the weather in Talloires that week was miserable— cold and rainy from Monday through Friday. Not until Saturday— our last full day in Talloires— were we finally blessed with the hot sunny weather we had yearned for. Yet this was the day we had committed to drive Charlotte to a formal indoor event in Annecy. I was beside myself. The thought of spending my last full day on Lake Annecy in a coat and tie and trousers was more than I could bear. So I compromised by donning a knit sport shirt, shorts and sandals— all neat and fashionable, to be sure. But still….
When we picked up Charlotte in our rental car, she was elegantly dressed in suit, hat, and gloves. She slid into the front seat (Barbara had deferentially moved to the rear). As we drove toward Annecy, it was impossible for me to ignore the contrast between Charlotte’s attire and my own. “Gee,” I said dubiously, fishing for reassurance, “do you think I’m dressed appropriately?” “No, you’re not,” Charlotte replied without hesitation. “But the important thing is that you’re here, and you’re interested.” She did not mince words; neither did she insult my intelligence by contriving some diplomatic but dishonest reply. In two succinct sentences, she answered my question but also cut to the heart of the matter. In the process, she demonstrated the virtue of an uncluttered mind.
I think of this incident often. For example, at a recent dinner for MacJannet Fletcher Fellows at Tufts in Medford, Mass., one of the Fellows apologized to the group for showing up in T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Echoing Mrs. Mac, I told him: “The important thing is that you’re here, and you’re interested.”
6/9/2021 12:00:03 am
Thank you for these wonderful stories. Mrs. Mac was a gem---insightful, honest ("blunt" to many Americans) and visionary. She understood the heart and soul of people---often more clearly than they did themselves.
11/3/2021 08:43:57 pm
I'm very proud of my grandaunt Charlotte and always enjoy reading about her.
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