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Evelyn vs. The National Bureau of Standards
(C) 2000 Edward T. Ordman
In about 1964 the National Bureau
of Standards (later it became the National Institute of Standards and Technology)
moved from the campus it had occupied for many years at the corner of Connecticut
Avenue and Van Ness streets in the District of Columbia [this campus was
largely rebuilt, as the campus of the University of the District of Columbia]
to a new building complex in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I (Edward Ordman)
was working at NBS summers while a student, and reported to my mother Evelyn
Ordman that NBS had two gorgeous auditoriums that appeared to have spectacular
Evelyn was working
for the Montgomery County, Maryland, Board of Education as "Coordinator
of Community Resources". It was her job to recruit volunteers, solve problems,
figure out how to do things that were illegal or not in the budget -- I
often described her as the "in-house influence peddler". She checked
and was also very impressed by the large auditorium at NBS. Her thought:
If she could use it to put on theatrical performances for schoolchildren,
it would be conveniently located to the poorer (northern) end of the county
and many children's theater groups would perform cheaply or free to get
a chance to use the spectacular stage facilities and be filmed or photographed
in the well equipped and plush surroundings.
She called NBS, "Absolutely
not", was the contact man's reply. We have enough troubles already without
500 elementary school students tromping through every Wednesday."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll try to find a way," said Evelyn sweetly. "Do let me
know when you figure out how to make it work."
Who could she influence?
Lyndon Johnson was President, and his Secretary of Commerce (the department
where NBS is located) was "C. R. Smith", such an obscure figure in Washington
that no one even seemed to know what the C. R. stood for. But as she asked
around among friends. Someone asked if the Department of Labor had anything
to do with it. No, it didn't, but she did have friends in the Department
of Labor. In fact, one of the Assistant Secretaries (Undersecretaries?)
there, Millard Cass, had been head of the County PTA (Parents and Teachers
Association) when Evelyn had been secretary (and, we kids understood, power
behind the throne).
A few inquiries got her
in touch with another high-ranking assistant in the Department of Labor,
a black man with an interest in African music and folklore. And he was
owed a favor by an Undersecretary of Commerce. And -that- undersecretary
had an interest in African music and Folklore. Well, my mother discovered,
it seems a school program in African Music and Folklore was -just- what
the Montgomery County Schools needed this year. And a request had to go
to the Secretary of Labor to get some released time with pay for that Undersecretary
so that he could be the expert consultant in setting up the program in
African Music and Folklore. I believe he did a good job, too.
But, to get back to the main story.
As I was saying, someone high up in the Department of Commerce owed the
Undersecretary of Labor a favor.
So about six weeks after the contact man at
NBS had given Evelyn his final "Absolutely No",
he called her back. "Mrs. Ordman. I don't know what you did, but how
soon do you want to start
using the Auditorium for children's theater?"
The programs there were a booming
success and went on for many years.
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