“Did you see them?! Did you see how they came?!”
- Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard (1950)
1) This afternoon was my farewell party - or “retirement” party, depending on how official you want to get - back at ye Instytytte. My last day in the office was actually last week, but for a lot of different reasons, this worked out to be the best day. And that was perfect, because having a couple days out of the office sharpened my pleasure at seeing everyone.
2) I was really deeply uncomfortable knowing anything about the arrangements - if people are taking the trouble to honor you, it’s best to be grateful, not particular or fussy (though I have sometimes been known to be fussy) - but I did suggest holding it in the Bush Room since I used to manage it 300 years ago, and they did. And they arranged it beautifully.
2a) They used a caterer I use frequently for this affair, and they included my VERY FAVORITE hors d’oeuvres they do: smoked salmon macarons!
2b) “And champagne, my dear.”
3) Someone cc:d me on the invitation, the work of a young colleague, all seersucker and champagne, “A Perfectly Proper Farewell.” And they used it for the sign outside the room, too!
4) Long age in the late 1990s one of the executive secretaries retired and her very large party was held at Walker Memorial. What impressed me most about that party was not its size or venue, but that the guest of honor stood near the door and greeted everyone personally - a receiving line of one. And I was determined to do that, to thank everyone personally for coming.
4a) And I did, and it was wonderful.
5) As Dmitri Weissman said in Follies, “So many of you came! I am astounded.” Current colleagues, former colleagues, old friends (“Vera, my old, old, OLD friend!”), allies from other departments, and representatives of the Most Wanted Class. There may have been a hundred or so people there.
6) The invitation said to wear seersucker, bow ties, and hats, and several people did, which was a delight! I love a good dress code! I, of course, wore my full canonicals for summer: seersucker suit, bow tie (given to me last year by a beloved volunteer), new white bucks (and they are killing me!) with blue laces, and a white panama edged in blue and gray. And I remembered to accessorize with my my 25-year pin and my RBD/MIT silver cufflinks from when I left the first time 20 years ago.
7) Eventually they called me to the front of the room so that the speaking could start. They had a chair for me at a table with the CEO (as I said, my shoes were killing me, so I was SO grateful), and then we heard from Original Boss, who remembered our early years together a bit differently from the way I did ;-) ; Most Recent Boss, Dear Friend Former Boss, and Office Wife, who made a beautiful presentation; and the CEO, who said that it was so appropriate that I started my MIT career in Room 10-110, because so often I had been a perfect 10 for the Association. (I very nearly lost my composure that this point.)
8) And then I was called to the microphone myself, and it was clear that the audience had been set up to anticipate something special. Now that it’s all over, I’m trying not to obsess about whose name I might have left out! Yes, this was a chance to be funny, to be candid, but more to be grateful. I felt shaky - had to take my glasses off to read my notes - missed some bits, allowed myself to improv elsewhere. This was no small thing after so many years. “Always leave ‘em laughing” is the old showbiz advice, and I think I did.
8a) I fully expected to end up full-on weeping - I even brought two handkerchiefs! - but nary a tear somehow. I came close, though, a couple times.
8b) As planned, I closed quoting Hattie McDaniel at the 1939 Oscars - because of course! “My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you, and God bless you.”
9) After all that speaking, this party wound down like so many others: jokes, hugs, fond final farewells, and lots of good wishes. And I left with a big bag full of gifts, a scrapbook of photos and personal greetings (which I read as soon as I got earlier - so very touching), a special message on a black piano key - and the sign!
10) My dear friend Davide came (he’s actually an alumnus), and he spirited me off to a diner de luxe afterward, where we got to catch up.
11) At the end of the day, I can hardly believe that this thing I have anticipated so much for no little time has come to pass. “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!” as Rudyard Kipling used to say. I can hardly believe so many people were there! I can absolutely believe how beautifully it was done, because my colleagues do wonderful work.
11a) And I can believe all too well that I’m leaving for England tomorrow and haven’t started packing!