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The Mayor of Harrison Street

Every passing prompts sadness and reflection, but also regrets, and so it was last weekend that when I read Joe Holley's obituary of Kathleen Rubar Partridge, I was overwhelmed by my own failure to take the initiative to meet face to face a woman who had a century of experiences and thoughts to share.

Mrs. Partridge, who died last week at the age of 99, lived a block away from me and was known as the "Mayor of Harrison Street." I didn't know that when I first started receiving letters from her a few years ago.

Composed in a clear, elegant hand on her personal stationery, the letters took me to task when I equivocated and praised me generously when I took a clear and persuasive stance. Mrs. Partridge's letters were always polite, always passionate, and always took strong positions. She had no patience for half-measures.

She retained well into her nineties the righteous anger that drives involved and effective citizens and the humor that prevents such citizens from becoming shrill or tiresome.

In the past decade, as email has turned good old letterwriting into a pursuit practiced primarily by prisoners, pensioners and pests, I have come to cherish the occasional handwritten notes from intelligent and thoughtful readers. Mrs. Partridge's thick, creamy envelopes were always a joy to open.

"What terrible times we are living in!" she wrote in 2003. "I, who protested two wars, should not have to see this!

"So much is needed!"

A veteran of civil rights protests and an advocate for the homeless of Northwest Washington, Mrs. Partridge was appalled by the Bush Administration's cartoonish approach to fighting terrorism. But she was not exactly thrilled with the other party's alternatives: "The Dems are wimps," she wrote, and then she buttered me up with this: "If you ran for president, you would not fear to attack. You go to the point."

"No, I don't believe I'm crazy," she concluded one letter. "I'm just angry."

I'm angry that I didn't bestir myself to walk over one block and knock on her door. I wrote to Mrs. Partridge in response to each of her letters, and I told her how much I appreciated her thoughts and her reading the column, but I wish I had paid her a visit, just to let her know that she was not only a valued correspondent, but a neighbor and , yes, the revered Mayor of Harrison Street.

By Marc Fisher |  August 29, 2006; 8:17 AM ET
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Comments

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Come on Marc, I dont see how you let this golden opportunity slip away from you. I love history, but I realized a long time ago that I would never learn history from McGraw-Hill or my oversized H.S history teacher. It's no better history than the stories that the natural historians have to share. You seem like a guy who knows his stuff. I wish I was lucky enough to have someone like that block away from me. I listen to wine-o's (if I can get them to focus) Old women in church. Senior citizens at the mall, it really doesn't matter. I have a passion for the civil rights movement, it's amazing how many people are still around from those years. Proponents or opponents I try to seek them all out. You should try it, you might learn something new.

Posted by: hogboss | August 29, 2006 10:34 AM

I guess no one really cares about history, so maybe I'm wrong, if it's in the past then it should saty there? I don't know. Oh well back to the John Mark Karr stories.

Posted by: hoggboss | August 29, 2006 1:56 PM

Dear Mr. Fisher,
I was delighted to see your insightful tribute to your neighbor, and my grandmother, Kathleen Partridge. She was an amazing woman who will be missed dearly.
Thank you.
Sincerely,
Ann Partridge
ann_partridge@dfci.harvard.edu

Posted by: Ann Partridge | August 29, 2006 1:57 PM

I had the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Partidge for the last seven years and considered her a dear friend. While knowing her did not change my life, losing her did. I mourn her passing, knowing that every visit I had with her was a bonus, for me. There are many memories and lessons (that were never given as such) that will live on for me, but it was her encouraging nature and her daily absorption of information that will truly stay with me. I was not aware of her moniker "Mayor of Harrison Street," but if she ever were on any November ballot, she would have done us all a great service -- not just the lucky ones that found to meet her, like me, while she was tending her garden.

Posted by: sally seppanen | August 29, 2006 2:08 PM

Remarkable contrast, Marc, between this lady's grace, style, and dignity and the little whiner you wrote about yesterday. He could have learned a lot from Mrs. Partridge, and perhaps we all can.

Posted by: KK | August 29, 2006 2:27 PM

My wife and I had the privilege of living next door to Mrs. Partridge for more than 23 years, our 21-year-old daughter for her entire life. Mrs. P truly was one of the most wonderful, remarkable people I have ever known. Right to the end of her 99 years, her mind was alert, she kept up on current events, and she never lacked for a carefully considered and sharply expressed opinion. It doesn't surprise me that she was your correspondent, and I suspect she had others. I could actually hear her voice in the snippets of her letters that you quoted. She spoke exactly as she wrote. Her interests were broad. She loved basketball, followed the Hoyas and repeatedly lamented the futility of the Bullets/Wizards for so many years. She commanded the ears of policemen and politicians. She brought neighbors together. She played an important role in the creation of the Community Council for the Homeless and Friendship Place, and she took special care of an individual homeless man who lived on our streets -- and, for a time, in her basement and garage. She was a wonderful, wonderful friend -- like another mother, my wife said. Her passing leaves an enormous void in our neighborhood, and we will never stop missing her.

Posted by: Tom Price | August 29, 2006 2:32 PM

Mr. Fisher, You have managed to capture the essence of Kathleen Partridge despite having never met. Thank you. Regards from one of her 15 grandchildren.

Posted by: Sheila Partridge, MD | August 29, 2006 2:42 PM

Thank you for your kind words. Nana was a wonderful woman, and an incredible influence on many people. She was knowledgeable on many topics and very fun to debate.

Posted by: Cathy Ware Partridge | August 29, 2006 4:15 PM

Dear Mr. Fisher,

Thank you for your wonderful article about my mother, Kathleen Partridge.

She was conscious and lucid up until four hours before she died and thanked everyone, many by name, for all they had done for her during her life.

Mother read your articles religiously and always had a comment to make.

She will be missed by all of us.

Posted by: Sarah P. Watson | August 29, 2006 4:23 PM

Wow, I wish I had known Mrs. Partridge. I love old folks like her. They are both treasures and relics. Their wisdom could help guide us through these difficult times -- bush administration, terrorism, wars, post-feminism and everything else. I salute her and others like her.

Posted by: nearly 30 | August 29, 2006 5:28 PM

I first meet Mrs. Partridge shortly after I graduated from college when I was a renter in the house across the street. Eight years later my husband and I bought that house and have lived there with our family ever since. Mrs. Partridge was a wonderful neighbor and friend. She had a keen intellect and a generous spirit. Her ability to converse about most any topic always amazed me. Mrs. Partridge embodied the meaning of a good neighbor. She will be terribly missed but always remembered by all of us on Harrison Street.

Posted by: mgannon | August 29, 2006 9:01 PM

Many thanks to all the relatives, friends and neighbors of Mrs. Partridge who have written in today--it gives us all strength to see so many people coming together in the memory of this generous and thoughtful woman.

Posted by: Fisher | August 29, 2006 11:25 PM

Dear Mr. Fisher:

Thank you for your kind words about my grandmother. She is missed. She loved your columns and was a big fan of yours.

Very truly yours,

John Partridge

Posted by: John Partridge | August 29, 2006 11:36 PM

Dear Mr. Fisher,
My mother would have enjoyed the article you wrote about her although she might have taken issue with the "Mayor" moniker.In addition to all the the things said about her above, she was a good listener, and touched the lives of many in many different ways. We shall all miss her.
Sincerely,
Henry S. Partridge MD

Posted by: Henry Partridge | August 30, 2006 8:53 PM

Dear Mr. Fisher:
I have known Mrs. Partridge ever since she allowed me to live in her beautiful house wehen I was a young A.U.-student more than 20 years ago. We became such good friends and kept in touch closely over the years. So I was moved by your piece and I would like to thank you very much for having written it so nicely. You would not believe how often I found Post-clippings in my letter box. She loved to share with others what she found to be well worth reading. For me, your article about Mrs. Partridge will always be a wonderful memory of a friend I will deeply miss.Sincerely, Bernie Walker

Posted by: Bernie Walker from Berlin, Germany | September 3, 2006 7:09 AM

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