AUGUST 11, 1961
NEW YORK—A very great American public servant has passed away—Gen. Walter Bedell Smith. His long career as a soldier, diplomat and public servant has been set forth at length in our daily newspapers.
Few men have been at the heart of so many difficult problems; few men have dealt with so many touchy situations and yet have kept their serenity; few have so evidently been men of integrity that no one would dare to impugn their motives. General Smith was one of the few.
I remember well when the general came home during World War II—sent by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander-in-chief in the European theatre—to report to my husband on the conduct of the war. My husband took him up to the cottage on top of the hill at Hyde Park, where he always took people to whom he wanted to talk thoughtfully and quietly and without danger of interruption or of any outside eavesdropping. I brought lunch to them and I stayed absolutely silent on a corner of the sofa as the commander-in-chief of all the United States armies listened to the report. Then the two men discussed the world situation as a whole.
It was a remarkable opportunity to listen, and from that time on I had the deepest admiration for General Smith. One might say I knew him only very slightly, but sometimes on short acquaintance we get the measure of men. There was courage and firmness and intelligence, and with it all a gentleness and a certain personal modesty that could not help but impress one. Before you knew it you had developed not only a deep respect for the human being you were listening to and watching but an affectionate feeling and a sense of deep confidence.
My husband admired him tremendously and I shared in that admiration, and for the country I am deeply sorry at the news of the death of this great public servant.
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Early this week it seemed certain that we were really not going to have an opera season in New York City this coming fall and winter. It seemed to me unthinkable that this gateway to the American continent should not offer its inhabitants and its visitors the opera as part of the city's cultural program. Mayor Robert F. Wagner seemed to have had much the same reaction, so both at City Hall and in Washington the differences between the musicians and the Metropolitan Opera became a matter of concern. So, on Thursday the picture appeared a little brighter, for Mr. Wagner announced that negotiations between the officers of the musicians' union and the managers of the Metropolitan would resume.
It would be unfortunate to have a whole season go by without an opera in New York City. It would be unfortunate both for our standing in the world as well as for our own pleasure to lose what has been one of the most important cultural assets to our city. Artists have wanted, above everything else, to appear at the Metropolitan Opera House. Now, if the 1961-62 season must be cancelled some of them will make their appearances in other opera houses in other countries and we will have lost the opportunity of hearing some of the world's greatest singers.
If the salaries of musicians are too low, then perhaps we should find some new sources of income for the Metropolitan. Foundations could be contacted. There has always been a big deficit which people interested in music have been asked to subsidize, but perhaps in the interest of the musicians something should be done to get a permanently better income for the support of the Metropolitan.
Certainly, this city, to which people from all over the world come for long periods of time, should not be without a season of opera.