OrdmanNet Home
Back to Story Index
e-mail author (edward@ordman.net)
Author Info

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 stage/backstage facilities.
         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.

Back to Story Index