Photo by John Shore

Neal and Janice Gregory

Neal Gregory arrived in DC in 1963, and in 1970 Janice Maxwell came to work for Texas Congressman Jake Pickle. They met when Neal came to Pickle's office to interview him, and they married the next year.

When the Gregorys were interviewed by Jim McMahon in 2018, the conversation ranged over all aspects of their lives on Capitol Hill since those early days. They discuss balancing jobs and raising city children, choosing schools, their community involvement with St. Mark's Church, Friends of the Southeast Library, and the Texas State Society. In 1978, they collaborated to write "When Elvis Died," a book about the world's reaction to the death of Elvis Presley, a subject of special interest to Tupelo, MS, native Neal. They share other memories of local restaurants, the riots of 1968, and the chaos of 9/11.

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Interview Date
August 10, 2018
James McMahon
David MacKinnon

Full Directory

[Interview with Janice and Neal Gregory
Interview Date: August 10, 2018
Interviewer: James McMahon
Transcriber: David MacKinnon

photo by John Shore

This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

MCMAHON: Good morning Neal and Janice. Thank you for submitting to interview. For the record we are at the home of Neal and Janice Gregory at 151 North Carolina Avenue SE, Washington DC. The date is August 10, 2018, and the time is 10:05 am. The Overbeck Project as you know is an oral history project involving the Capitol Hill neighborhood. You folks are prime candidates because of the length of time you’ve been here. I know you have a lot of good stories to tell us. In addition to that, we would like your biographies to start off with. The important thing is to give us your roots to start off. I know, like many people in Washington DC, you’re from somewhere else. Even though you’ve been here for 50 years, you’re from somewhere else. Neal, you were the first one to come here. Introduce yourself and tell us something.
NEAL GREGORY: I was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. Went to Ole Miss where I got degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Then went to work for a newspaper in Memphis, The Commercial Appeal. I was there in 1963 when I got a fellowship from the American Political Science Association to spend a year in Washington. That’s how I got here, arriving two weeks before the Kennedy assassination. I learned at the time that if you act with authority, Washington people assumed that you had it. I went into the rotunda when Kennedy was lying in state by showing a visitor’s gallery pass from my congressman. Some Marine corporal there that was controlling traffic just looked at it and waved me in.
The fellowship included working for a congressman from Atlanta, a New South congressman [Charles Weltner]. And then Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee who I stayed with for the rest of that year because his press secretary resigned. He called my editor in Memphis and asked if he’d hire me, and I wasn’t ready to go back yet anyway. But I must say there was the most boring experience of my life. He was a very prominent senator, but he was a loner. The staff was not really aware of what he was doing all of the time. I got to meet all the heavy national press corps who’d call me and ask for a copy of the senator’s speech and I would say, “What speech?” “The speech he’s giving on the floor right now.” “What’s the subject of the speech.” “He’s denouncing the DuPont family.” Well, we didn’t know anything about it. Later he would be giving an interview to New York Times and I would catch hell from the Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga papers for not knowing what he was saying and for not letting them in on it. Former submariner as a reform candidate was selected in Memphis in 1964, name was George Grider. He served one term, but I moved over to the House as his legislative director. That was kind of unusual to go from the Senate to the House. It was a very exciting two years there. He got gerrymandered out of his seat. Then I was detailed over to … I got a job at HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development).
MCMAHON: Could you give the years for these?
NEAL GREGORY: This was 1964 that he was elected. Defeated in ’66. And I moved over to HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] as a speech writer in their press office with the first black secretary, Bob Weaver. Then was detailed to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. So, I was in the organization called the President’s Council on Youth Opportunity which Humphrey chaired. A cabinet level agency. We basically got ready for all the unrest in the nation’s cities that were coming up in those years of ’67/’68. Then I went full time with Humphrey’s presidential campaign. I was in more than 25 states doing advance work for him. I had said if Nixon was elected, I was leaving the country. He was, and I did. One of the interesting things about … I was advancing a trip to San Antonio, Texas. Had a huge crowd and Humphrey was late. He was over in Austin. There was a woman named Janice Maxwell who was a student at the University Texas who was at that rally; that’s a very good way to pass it off to Janice for a minute and get her bio.
JANICE GREGORY: I was just going to suggest that during that time you moved to the Hill at least once because you were down in the …
NEAL GREGORY: Well yeah. I was living at the other end of North Carolina Avenue, 101 North Carolina, which is the old convent for Providence Hospital, which was at the time a rental property. It’s now condos. I actually had what amounts to the Mother Superior’s quarters which was a townhouse next to the complex there. I think it was $135 a month and had a fireplace and they furnished the firewood. They turned that into three apartments, one on each floor. So that’s where I was living at the time.
MCMAHON: How old were you at this time?
JANICE GREGORY: That was part of his charm. I never dated anybody who lived in a Mother Superior’s quarters. But how we met, he was working for the National Journal which was doing an article on this unknown person, Bob Strauss, who had just taken over as treasurer of the DNC [Democratic National Committee]. Bob Strauss was, as you know, a good Texan. He came in to interview my boss, Jake Pickle. That is how we met because he had some theater tickets and was looking for somebody to go to the theater with him. So off we went.
MCMAHON: How old were you at this time Janice?
JANICE GREGORY: This would have been ’70, so I’d have been 24. How did I get here?
MCMAHON: How did you arrive in Washington DC?
JANICE GREGORY: I was born on April 13, 1946 in Corpus Christi, Texas, which is about half way between Houston and the Mexican border. I lived there until I went off to college which was in Austin. University of Texas. The main campus of the University of Texas [UT]. Studied under a program called Plan II which was one of the oldest honors programs in the country. That was a really great place to be and I got to meet a lot of good folks. One of whom gave me a job at the UT News and Information Service. Part time job because I was still a student.
MCMAHON: What did you major in when you were in college?
JANICE GREGORY: Plan II. People used to joke because is was a broad liberal arts deal. They say “Plan II” and people would say “Plan to what?” A lot of pre-med and pre-law were in it and I was neither of those. I was just there for the education. I was working at the UT News. By then I was in graduate school studying history. I had a job at the UT News and Information Service and came in one day at there was a note on my desk to go see the big boss which absolutely terrified me. I thought I’m losing my job. I can’t pay my rent and so forth and so on. I walked in his office, he said, “How would you like to go to Washington?” I didn’t know if that was a proposition or what. So I said, “I don’t know, what do you have in mind?” The next thing I knew I was signed up for an interview with Jake Pickle, the local congressman at 9:00 am the next morning. Woke up in the middle of the night and said, “I’ve got to have a resume.” So I was banging away on old timey typewriter. At 7:30 called Walt Rostow who’d been one of our professors and asked if I could use his name. He said, “Yes.” So at 9 o’clock I was interviewing with Jake Pickle. Two o’clock that afternoon they called and offered me a job and I accepted. That was in like some time of like February/March of 1970. But I didn’t come to Washington actually until June. Started work in June. Came up in June of 1970. A friend got me an apartment over around Dupont Circle. I was first there but I was working on the Hill. It’s interesting because I could look out my office window; we were in the Cannon Building. I could look out my window and I could see what is now is the place where the Madison Library of Congress building became that later but when I went there first I looked out and there was this gigantic flat empty lot. All the old houses had already been taken away but they hadn’t built the building yet. I met Neal, one thing sort of let to another and we got married in August of ’71. We lived in a little house over on Fourth Street.
MCMAHON: Where did you get married?
JANICE GREGORY: We went back to Texas. To Austin, got married in Austin, came back up and got us a little apartment over on the top floor. I can’t remember the house number, but it was between A Street and Pennsylvania [Avenue] SE on Fourth Street.
NEAL GREGORY: As she said, as I’d said earlier, she was a student at UT when I was advancing for Humphrey. The irony of that, looking back of that occasion. I had said if Nixon was elected I was leaving the country. And I did. So, prior to coming back to Washington I bought a round-the-world ticket on Pan Am. Did some free-lance writing and had the prospects of a job in Rome and three months to get there. So, I went the long way around and worked for an Italian movie company—starring Marlon Brando—doing press writing. Making a lot of money and no place to spend it. I came back to Washington in late —in December of ’69. I had subleased my apartment at 101 North Carolina. I got a job with the National Journal, which was just starting a weekly magazine about government affairs. As Janice said, that was when I was the first political editor of that publication. The story I was doing was about the shakeup at the Democratic National Committee. They brought Larry O’Brien back as the chair after the defeat in ’68. Bob Strauss was this Texan who was the treasurer. So that was the story I was doing. Interviewed Jake Pickle. I’d known him and some of his staff, and she was the new staff member. So that’s how we got together. She said we were married there in Texas. Ironically Janice became one of the first women on Capitol Hill to get maternity leave.
JANICE GREGORY: I don’t know if I was the first, but I was certainly a test case. It was interesting. Poor Pickle looked all over the House, all over the Senate, even lowered himself to talk to the Senate and see if they had any—anybody had maternity leave policies. Nobody had any. So basically it wound up, I sat down, he sat down at his desk and I sat down across, and he says, “What do you want?” I outlined what I wanted. He sat there for a second. He said, “That sounds reasonable.” That was our negotiation. From that day—our youngest child was born in ’76, and it was like about ’80 or ’81 when I got the last phone call.
NEAL GREGORY: ’72, you said ’76. Oh the youngest, I’m sorry.
JANICE GREGORY: The youngest was born in ’76 and it was about 1980 when I called the last phone call. It was always the same thing. It was a woman who I’d never heard of before. She was working on the Hill. She was going to have a baby and the question was, “What did you get?”
MCMAHON: Had you worked for Jake Pickle all during this time?
JANICE GREGORY: All during this time. I worked there for just shy of 15 years.
NEAL GREGORY: We wound up with three children in four and a half years. Living this close to the Hill she was able to work part time and then go back full time, then part time again. Bringing work home.
JANICE GREGORY: I think a main theme in our lives is that the link; there’s always some link between what I call the two Capitol Hills. The Capitol Hill where you live and your neighbors have jobs and stuff like that. And there’s kids our kids could play with and so forth. And the whole Capitol Hill community scene. And that other Capitol Hill: the political scene. I think we’re a good example of how those two worlds keep …
MCMAHON: It’s a nice way of putting it. Everybody understands that type of description.
NEAL GREGORY: I had a rather checkered career in Washington. The National Journal had prestigious awards, but nobody had heard of it. I moved over to marketing for a year. Didn’t particularly enjoy it but got it established on the Hill by negotiating with the chairman of the House Administration Committee to let members charge their subscriptions, which was $450 a year, to their stationery account, which let them subscribe to the National Journal. Then I moved over to—with a job with the American Federation of State, County Municipal Employees. A guy named Jerry Worth who was the president was called Labor’s Last Angry Man. He moved the headquarters to Washington, and I worked there for a little over two years doing political and publicity work for them. That was kind of awkward because I was on the road all the time. I was gone almost every weekend and here we were with young babies at home, Janice having to handle that.
MCMAHON: Janice, how did you manage with a husband who was on the road all time?
NEAL GREGORY: The weekends.
JANICE GREGORY: The weekends. Well at some point I said, “You’re not doing that job anymore because you’re not doing any more weekends away.” Before leading up the that, we were very fortunate in that we had very good daycare. The first major—we had a couple of nurse types and what not, but the first real one was …
NEAL GREGORY: Senora Gamboa.
JANICE GREGORY: Senora Gamboa. She lived right around the corner at the Folger apartments on Second Street.
NEAL GREGORY: Her husband was the custodian.
JANICE GREGORY: … of the apartments. She came over. She was a grandmother of eight. So I didn’t have to—she’d been through it all. She was a good babysitter. She knew very little English. So I had to dredge up my high school and college Spanish. We communicated. We got along. And the kids were learning as then learned how to talk, they learned how to talk in two languages, which was great but it didn’t last very long.
MCMAHON: So you had no relatives nearby?
NEAL GREGORY: No. Janice’s mother’s in Texas, mine in Mississippi. So nobody around.
JANICE GREGORY: I have some cousins.
NEAL GREGORY: But then we had the tragedy. Senora Gamboa one day announced she had received a scholarship from the Labor Department to learn English. They were going to pay her more than we were paying. And she was leaving. But she brought in a fabulous replacement.
JANICE GREGORY: Maria, at that point it was Maria Fong. I came home the first day that Maria had been here. She not only had kept the kids busy but she had cleaned the house and made dinner. I thought, well this is new. [laughs] So Maria wound up being part of our family.
MCMAHON: That’s wonderful.
JANICE GREGORY: The kids still see her. They’re retired to Arizona. She joined us at Christmas a couple of years ago when we went down and stayed in Tucson where my brother was. And she was just right here all the way through high school—everything. Went to their weddings and so forth and so on. I called her the other mother. It was expensive. There was at least one year where basically I broke even. But I loved the work I was doing as long as I wasn’t losing money. Then I started making money. I worked so-called part time because I got up and left every day at three o’clock.
MCMAHON: In the am?
JANICE GREGORY: No, no, no, no. I went home at three o’clock in the afternoon. I’d gather up my kids and sometimes kids from the Richey family or there was another family, the Wilsons that lived over on E Street. The whole bunch of us would go off to what at that time was called Turtle Park. The park that’s across from the police station [Marion Park, on E Street SE between Fourth and Sixth Streets]. That turned out to be an interesting thing when Watergate came along, because I would go home, pick up the kids and go to the park. Remember, we didn’t have cell phones and that stuff back then. I had a little radio I took with me. They seemed to make announcements every day at four o’clock. So, I’d be over in the park with the kids and the announcement would come through and I’d run across the street to a pay phone and call Pickle. They knew to shoot me right in to him and I could tell him what the announcement was which gave him about five minutes to figure out what he was going to say when the Austin paper called. So that’s … you know, so back and forth, back and forth. Living here really made a huge difference in my being able to work and juggle work and family, because in the critical years when the kids were small, he [Neal] was also on the Hill. If somebody got sick or needed something special or something, one or the other of us could usually zoom out and take care of it and get back. Living here on the Hill …
MCMAHON: Location is important.
JANICE GREGORY: … location was important. Even today, I guess, what do we have, we have a 2004 car which 70,000 miles on it because we don’t drive anywhere. We walk.
NEAL GREGORY: We don’t drive. We can walk and take the Metro.
MCMAHON: You’re right. That’s one of the great conveniences of the Hill.
NEAL GREGORY: One of the big events at the same time: we were looking for a church home and we would up at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church back of the Library of Congress there. And I have three children that were baptized there. Janice was much more active than I was. She served on the vestry and was senior warden. She can tell some stories about that part of our lives.
JANICE GREGORY: From ’91 to ’93.
MCMAHON: That St. Mark’s is an institution up here that has done so much good for the Hill, and you were a part of it.
JANICE GREGORY: Well, thank you. At the time I became active which would be the late 80s, kids were a little more grown up. We had to put a phone line in which was known as the church line because with three teenagers or near teenagers in the house, getting a phone was quite an ordeal. So I just put my own line in.
NEAL GREGORY: To do church business.
JANICE GREGORY: Known as the church phone. After I retired from being senior warden we took it back out. It was an interesting time to be there because one of the things we did was completely revamp the inside of the church. The nave stayed the same. That work had been done in the 50s when they took out all the pews and made it a church in the round and so forth. When I came along what we did was we redid the parish hall and we put rooms in the undercroft, under the nave. That was just kind of junk space. We had a couple of rooms down there including a pub where—old English tradition—where the local church was in charge of the local beer. You can find those traditions out there.
MCMAHON: [laughs] Local traditions still exist.
JANICE GREGORY: Yeah. We had sent out rector off on a sabbatical. He went to England. He came back with two things, a pub and warden’s wands, which is stick with a little cross at the top and you lead the procession in. I suppose, I guess, you were supposed to bop somebody that was misbehaving. We never did that, we just did the procession thing.
MCMAHON: A lot of fundraisers have been conducted at St. Mark’s and the community thanks you for that.
JANICE GREGORY: Yep. Well you’re welcome.
NEAL GREGORY: You can tell the story about Jenny and Sonia.
JANICE GREGORY: Before I was on the vestry and so forth, one of the things about St. Mark’s, they have a dance studio, still there. So Jenny, our oldest, was three at the time and Sonia Richey was four, the friend from over on E Street. And her parents went to St. Mark’s too. We were having a big fundraiser Saturday morning and they’d been to dance class. So they had their blue leotard things on. We looked around and neither of them was to be found. We were having a big sale out in the yard. Nobody saw them. So Neal and Sonia’s parents took off and I stayed at St. Mark’s with our baby Kate and the Richey’s baby Theresa. I was sort of home plate. The three of them fanned out through the neighborhood and stopped every drunk and every bum sitting on a park bench and anybody …
MCMAHON: You must have been terrified.
JANICE GREGORY: Oh yes, we were absolutely terrified. And had they seen these two girls in these blue leotards. You were the one that found them.
NEAL GREGORY: We came back. They were in the front yard.
JANICE GREGORY: They got bored and went home to play.
NEAL GREGORY: They went home. So we asked, “How did you get across Pennsylvania Avenue?” “I watched the lights.”
JANICE GREGORY: She looked at us like we were the dumbest people she’d ever seen and said, “I watched the lights.” Like, what you’ve been pounding into my head for all three years of my life.
MCMAHON: What a great story.
NEAL GREGORY: Well the whole concept of rearing children on Capitol Hill back in those days—you’d have to remember this was the early 70s and you had—this was not the safest part of town and it didn’t go all the way through. The schools, we now have Brent School right across the park which is a top tier, but it was not at the time. Our children went over to Peabody School over in Northeast, but it only went through the fourth grade eventually, but they kept changing it. It would be part time. They would have the first grade two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That made it almost impossible to try to work out you know what you were going to do.
JANICE GREGORY: But they kept moving it to other schools. They moved part of it to Watkins and other places around which changed the dynamics.
NEAL GREGORY: Jenny was over at St. Peter’s which is also across the park. Kate went to St. Peter’s, and Chuck at the age of nine got on the Metro and went up to public school John Eaton in Northwest, which is a very good school. Of course, the Metro was relatively new and there was a kid a year older that went to John Eaton that was over on South Carolina Avenue, Alex Krughoff. The two of them would get on the Metro and go up to get off at Cleveland Park, the Cleveland Park station, and walk a block up the hill. We discovered they found out they could go a block further, transfer …
JANICE GREGORY: No, no, no, less, less.
NEAL GREGORY: A block shorter, transfer to a bus which would let them off right at the school. They didn’t have to walk up that block to the hill. Chuck got intrigued with the Metro. His colleagues called him the Metro Kid. We discovered one time he was late …
JANICE GREGORY: Yeah, he was late getting home and Alex—Jenny saw Alex and says, “Where’s Chuck?” He says, “I think he was headed to New Carrollton.”
NEAL GREGORY: The end of the line.
JANICE GREGORY: And now all of a sudden everything fell because he had this stack of transfer tickets up in his—he’d go in an grab a paper transfer ticket if you were going from the Metro to the bus.
NEAL GREGORY: He was collecting billings from each station …
JANICE GREGORY: He was collecting transfer tickets from each station. So that’s how …
NEAL GREGORY: because he had the name on it and never using them. You just picked up a transfer ticket.
JANICE GREGORY: You’d got to say, New Carrollton, get off the train, get the ticket, get back on the train then come home.
MCMAHON: Very good, way to save some money.
JANICE GREGORY: But he wasn’t riding the buses. He just go on the train, get the transfer ticket and come back.
NEAL GREGORY: So, anyway. This whole idea of rearing children on the Hill, you had to deal with things. Then tell him about …
MCMAHON: For the record, could you tell me who [noise] is the second and third child?
JANICE GREGORY: Jennifer’s the first. She was born in 1972. Kate if the second. She was born in 1974. And Chuck was the third. He was born in 1976.
NEAL GREGORY: Our bi-centennial baby.
JANICE GREGORY: But Jenny and Kate were really two and a half years apart. And Kate and Chuck were 15 months apart. Very close. The all three are still very close. They all live in California, but they are very close.
NEAL GREGORY: Back with this travel. The way they learned to get around. We were never really concerned. We would put them on the Metro if we knew where they were getting off. Kate and couple of friends from the Hill were taking tumbling lessons …
JANICE GREGORY: No, that was Jenny. Jenny and Rebecca MacKinnon and the third one’s escaping me right now.
NEAL GREGORY: They were getting on the Metro, going down after school to take tumbling lessons.
JANICE GREGORY: At the YWCA downtown.
JANICE GREGORY: So Jenny was the first one to actually ride the subway in the group and it was with those two other girls going to gymnastics class.
NEAL GREGORY: The Metro stop was right there at the YWCA.
JANICE GREGORY: That was early on, but that was a precursor to how things operate with kids on the Hill, I think because they had friends when they got into high school, so they had friends all over the place. They’d get there on Metro.
MCMAHON: It’s amazing how Metro has changed this town. Make it more amenable for families to live and navigate without using a car.
NEAL GREGORY: Yup. All this time with three teenagers growing up and the two of us, we had one car all the time.
JANICE GREGORY: We have a lot of interesting conversations about who really needed the car the most. We still just have one car.
NEAL GREGORY: As I said, my checkered career … I came back to work on the Hill after all that traveling at AFSCME [American Federation of State, County Municipal Employees]. They set up a computer policy committee within House Administration. This is when the computers were being introduced to Capitol Hill. I didn’t know anything about computers, but I knew some of the policy. The idea of word processing and all that, you still had members of Congress with the secretaries with green eyeshades and the manual typewriters. But we started that. Janice moved to the Ways and Means Committee, which Jake Pickle chaired.
JANICE GREGORY: No, he didn’t chair the Ways and Means Committee.
NEAL GREGORY: I’m sorry, the Social Security Sub-Committee. So, she evolved into one of the top experts in the country on employment security.
JANICE GREGORY: No, no, no, on social security at that point.
NEAL GREGORY: Yeah, but about retirement policy and social security and learning that. While we were both working there on the Hill, in 1977 Elvis Presley died and we were over at the beach I guess at Ocean City. When the news broke, well I had—Elvis was from Tupelo, Mississippi and Memphis where I had been before. Janice of course was a historian. That was a major study of hers. This was a rather phenomenal event and I was curious to see the newspaper from Memphis. How they covered the story. It was the biggest thing to happen in Memphis in years. So, I called the doorkeeper of the House and—ironically the House of Representatives gets every daily newspaper in the country, one from every congressman’s district. So that’s 435 daily newspapers or more. And the House was in recess. It was in August of ’77. I said, “Have you got last week’s Commercial Appeal there?” He said, “We’ve got all the papers here.” They were going to throw them out because the members of Congress weren’t there, and they didn’t need those papers in the speaker’s lobby. My mother was visiting us, so she kept the kids and Janice and I went over to the speaker’s lobby off the floor and looked through the newspapers. We found the Memphis papers, but also the most incredible front pages from all over the country that Elvis Presley had died. We weren’t necessarily fans but anybody, particularly growing up in Texas and the South during that era had to be impacted by Elvis’ music. So, our youngest, Chuck, was born on January the eighth which was Elvis’ birthday. They were throwing the papers out. They said we could have them. So, we took about 50 of the more interesting looking front pages. There was a color cutout of Elvis on the entire front page. There was a black border around the paper in Cincinnati. The San Antonio paper had in red ink, “The King is Dead” above the title of the paper on the front page. Photo layouts in the Boston Globe. They were just fascinating front pages. So I said, “Who else is going to have 50 front pages from the day Elvis died? This will pay for Chuck’s college education.”
So, we took those papers. Put them in a bag and stuck it under the bed and basically forgot about it. About six months later, a friend of mine from Ole Miss who was living here over in Arlington, invited us to party with his sister from Nashville. Somehow Elvis came up in the conversation, the fact that he had never made it at the Grand Ole Opry. We mentioned having those papers, and a perfect stranger whirled around and said, “That’d make a great book.” This was a woman named Mary Louise Halloway who ran a small press out of Dupont Circle called Communications Press. They were mostly dealing with broadband and issues like that. At any rate, out of that evolved a book called, “When Elvis Died.” We supplemented those papers by going over the Library of Congress …
JANICE GREGORY: Two blocks away.
NEAL GREGORY: … and going through other papers, including the foreign press and got friends to translate the Swedish, the French. The idea totally jelled when I had to give a speech in London at the International Computer Society. We were there just as tourists as well. It turned out the British Library had a larger collection of stuff on Elvis Presley that the Library of Congress. We went to the American Church and they had a church service at which the Elvis Presley fan club there was taking up a collection for guide dogs for the blind. The top show at the West End was a multi musical on Elvis. Everything kind of jelled and we came back. Started doing research, and at night writing. We never took leave from our work.
JANICE GREGORY: Here’s where the Capitol Hill connection comes in because I laid down one rule at the front of this enterprise, no babysitters. We were gone from the kids enough with our jobs without tacking on something else. So basically, what would happen is one of us would stay here each evening taking care of doing the dinner, bath and bed thing, and other would go over to the Library of Congress and find a quiet place and work for the evening. You’d do that for about two weeks and then you were tired. So, then we’d swap off.
MCMAHON: How thoughtful and caring. Yeah, that’s nice.
JANICE GREGORY: That enabled us to get …
NEAL GREGORY: But the book stayed in print for oh 25 or 30 years. We didn’t quit our day job. It finally sold 10,000 copies in hardcover. [The book is no longer in print but is available via and other book outlets.]
MCMAHON: What was the copyright deal?
NEAL GREGORY: 1978. In hindsight we probably should have quit our jobs and got that book out earlier. This was a small publisher without any marketing capabilities. But we had a lot of fun with it and it was our, as we said, [way of] dealing with the real world outside the beltway. We interviewed a lot of people by telephone and we would go to visit my mother is Tupelo and talk with people there that had known Elvis. We basically interviewed all the media that covered the story. I’d call them on the phone and they’d say, “I can’t talk about this on the phone. Come on, let’s have a drink [and talk] about the chaos that happened when Elvis died.” It was the biggest media story of the time. Janice was able to go down to the White House. Jimmy Carter issued a statement when Elvis died. That’s the first time a president had issued a statement on a show business figure on the death. They showed her the entire file and the rejected statements.
JANICE GREGORY: I had the statement that he rejected. Then there was another speechwriter working for Carter and he was not assigned the job, but he knew that this was something that Carter needed to say something about. He drafted a very, very good statement that involved the New Yorker, what had been published in the New Yorker and so forth. I went in and they gave me this file that had the original bad statement, the good statement and Carter’s handwritten changes to that and they just handed me the file. I think it’s still up there somewhere.
NEAL GREGORY: That was a chapter in the book about the president himself getting involved in Elvis’ death.
MCMAHON: Wonderful. Listen, I am an Elvis fan and I thank you for doing such a great job. [Neal laughs] Really that’s wonderful, honestly, so.
JANICE GREGORY: I want to go back a little bit to paint kind of a picture. When we bought this house the end of ’71. I can’t remember if it was December ’71 or January ’72.
MCMAHON: For the record you definitely want to find out what prompted you to expand to the next house and combine the two? That’s important.
JANICE GREGORY At this point we just had 151 [North Carolina Avenue SE], OK. Just this part of the house. What was it like here and then I’ll get to your point. The nice beautiful green expanse that’s across the street here called X Park or Providence Park …
NEAL GREGORY: Where Providence Hospital was.
JANICE GREGORY: … was a huge dirt pile when we moved here.
JANICE GREGORY: It had been horrible; you could go up there and it had, there were needles everywhere and all of that kind of stuff and people walked there dogs, and of course it was absolutely forbidden for the kids to go near it and all that stuff. It was a very mixed neighborhood at the that time. Much more than it is now. In 153 there was a brother and a sister named Sullivan. She, the sister, got her law degree from GW [George Washington University] in 1921 if my memory is correct. He was a retired military lawyer.
NEAL GREGORY: Navy lawyer and had run the Carnegie Foundation office here.
JANICE GREGORY: Our only regret is that we didn’t know them when they were younger. On the other side over here was a retired sheet metal worker that had helped put the roof on the Pentagon when the Pentagon was built. He could fix anything. He charged parts and a cake. [Jim laughs] And he also mowed the lawns of every elderly person on the …
NEAL GREGORY: He was the neighborhood handyman.
JANICE GREGORY: He was the neighborhood handyman. There were a couple of black families that lived on the—this street was basically white, but there were a couple of black families. That was sort of, that was the way it was.
NEAL GREGORY: Including a black congressman, Gus Hawkins from California, who lived down the street.
MCMAHON: It was a good mix here.
JANICE GREGORY: Then Senator Enzi is still down there.
NEAL GREGORY: That was much later that he bought that house. Nina Totenberg had married a senator and they had a house down the street. She was with NPR [National Public Radio].
JANICE GREGORY: The main thing here is that there were very few children on this particular block, so the kids wound up with friends all over the Hill. They would get together. You couldn’t just throw them out the front door like happened to me in south Texas. You had to keep better control on what was going on. (ringing bells in background)
The safe streets was basically out to about out to Sixth Street on this side. Eighth Street was at that point fairly much a disaster. In the Northeast side, you really didn’t walk much beyond Third Street. That was the universe that we lived in. We weren’t exactly pioneers. We were in the 100 block. Still we were pioneers in a way. Just not as pioneering as many others.
MCMAHON: What year was this again?
JANICE GREGORY: This would be ’70—the end of ’71, and the beginning of ’72. We still had the two little Safeways on Seventh Street. There was a little Safeway across from Eastern Market. And there was a Safeway where the Mormon Church now is. We’d go to them for this or that or the other thing but we went, to go grocery shopping, we went across the river to Anacostia and there was a big Giant out there. We would go into that Giant. A lot of times we were the only white people in the whole store. It was definitely not as wealthy as what we have here now. We just moved around. We never had any particular trouble. You never left anything in your yard that wasn’t chained down because it was gone immediately.
MCMAHON: Bicycles for instance.
JANICE GREGORY: Bicycles were very popular. That’s sort of where we, you know, we started and then it’s just been a gradual development. Now we have some of the best restaurants in the whole country right here on Eighth Street.
MCMAHON: Rose’s Luxury, right.
JANICE GREGORY: I do not remember exactly when it happened, but there was one thing that I think made a big difference because the redoing of houses and people changing, the neighborhood changing was underway but was still very hesitant.
JANICE GREGORY: Dicey. Some commandant, the Marine Commandant. You know there’s a new one ever four years. I don’t know the guy’s name who did it, but one of the commandants came in and instead of having the Marines do their daily run around the track inside the compound, he turned them out on the street. You’d be walking, maybe going to the store or something and here comes six Marines going hump, hump, hump, hump in formation jogging down the sidewalk. There was a radical drop in crime just by that one little motion. So, I always thought I needed to go back and find out which commandant actually did that and thank him, because it made a huge difference.
Another thing is we started, got a little bit into it, but I think the schools stuff is important. Before the kids started, because they didn’t go to Brent which was not a good school back then. You had Capitol Hill Day, which you had to pay money, and you had St. Peter’s where you had to pay money but less money. Before they got into the school thing, and I’ll detail that in a little bit, but there was something called Wee Care. Neal was head of that organization one year. But all our kids went through that. I think you had to be 18 months.
NEAL GREGORY: Something like that. There were five different chapters of Wee Care meeting in church basements basically so, we had to find …
JANICE GREGORY: The day care that’s here now is an outgrowth of Wee Care.
NEAL GREGORY: I look back on that and you wonder why we weren’t all in jail because the restrictions and requirements they have today about whether its electrical sockets have to be covered, the training of the care takers. But we would have no more than five or six in each group with a good care taker. It was really tough finding the people to care for these children. It worked until they were ready to go to kindergarten.
MCMAHON: Were you also members of the Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op at all?
NEAL GREGORY: They didn’t have that at the time.
JANICE GREGORY: When they got it, no we never did join that.
MCMAHON: By the way there was something earlier you touched upon. The decision to buy the next house and have both of them.
MCMAHON: Yeah, go ahead.
NEAL GREGORY: I was going to tell you we, I guess, I’m trying to remember the time frame of when we both left the Hill for jobs. You know we worked in the Congress. I went to Hill+Knowlton, the largest public relations firm in the world at the time, as director of government relations, and Janice moved downtown with the ERISA Industry Committee which represented the Fortune 100 companies employees …
JANICE GREGORY: Benefit programs.
NEAL GREGORY: Benefit programs. As I said she became one of the top people.
JANICE GREGORY: I switched in 1984.
NEAL GREGORY: So, that was about the time we both moved to jobs downtown. We had these children becoming teenagers, three of them in this relatively small house. We just had two and a half bedrooms. I guess three bedrooms if you counted an interior one.
JANICE GREGORY: It was three.
NEAL GREGORY: So, we had remodeled this house. We joined with the house next door. The Sullivans died with—in fact I got a call from her, the sister [who] was an invalid, lived on the first floor. She hadn’t heard from her husband.
JANICE GREGORY: Her brother.
NEAL GREGORY: Excuse me, her brother. I went over and found him dead in the bathtub. They had a third cousin over in Alexandria. No relatives or anything else. So, I called the priest and he came over. And the police came. This cousin was very reluctant to come over, but he finally did and he inherited the house. Looking at the back yard here, that house ell-shapes around the corner to Second Street. For Capitol Hill a very large back yard. We would like to have that for the children among other things. So, we wound up buying the house next door. It was rented out as a group house, which paid the mortgage on it. At the point where we decided we had to have more space. We looked all over the Washington area, in the burbs and everywhere else.
JANICE GREGORY: Basically spent well over a year looking everywhere. And everywhere I went I said, “I can do better where I am, I can do better where I am.”
NEAL GREGORY: Janice was very reluctant. She said, “I’m not going to be across the river from my children.”
JANICE GREGORY: No matter what happened, as long I was on this side of the river I could walk home and did on certain occasions including 9/11.
NEAL GREGORY: Snowy days.
JANICE GREGORY: Another time a big snow storm. I could always walk home. If I go across the river and something happens, how do I get to my kids. So, that was a big factor in us staying here and deciding to go through …
NEAL GREGORY: So, we bought the house before it really before it got on the market. Had it rented out. So, we joined the two houses. Went through all the hoops with the DC government regulations and historic preservation. Nothing was done to the front. Cut through on the first and second floor. I can show you how we actually had a stairs, like a bridge, from one house to the other because it was one brick difference. So, everything is to code. We did that. In the basement of 153 North Carolina where the Sullivans lived was just a, like a coal cellar. I mean, the floor wasn’t paved. So, we created an apartment there, a rental unit. That of course paid the mortgage for the second acquisition along with renting it out. Then that gave us what amounted to the children’s wing upstairs. The other living room became our library. We’re both quite the bibliophile. We wound up collecting first editions of William Faulkner among other things, because …
MCMAHON: Mississippi, sure.
NEAL GREGORY: Found several at yard sales. And then acquired others. That was quite an investment and also a very important part of our lives. So, we have a nice library. With that interest in books, I was active in the Friends of Southeast Library, which a woman named Margaret Hollister had operated. Margaret was getting up in years; in fact, she just turned 101. She has moved away to a retirement community. So I became president of that organization. Among the changes we made, instead of having an annual book sale, we have sales every month, because this literary neighborhood of Capitol Hill keeps donating books to the library. It’s one of the smallest libraries in the system, and there’s no space to store the books and sort the books. So, we put everything out and we’re making a lot more money each month than they used to make on an annual sale. That goes back into supporting the library.
MCMAHON: Well, Neal, your reputation precedes you as far as running that. It’s just become an institution. Everybody looks forward to monthly sales. Meeting friends, looking at books, having discussions. You have an army working for you which is fabulous. Even I and my wife use it all the time. We look forward to going down there. We say, “What will happen if Neal stops?”
JANICE GREGORY: And Janice is in three different book clubs starting, with one of them out of St. Mark’s with a group of women that had been together, for how many years?
JANICE GREGORY: Oh we formed in 1991.
MCMAHON: That’s a lot of books.
JANICE GREGORY: That’s a lot of books. Then I’m in another one that’s up out of the Cathedral actually and it’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim women. There are about 30 of us in that particular group. We read a Jewish book, a Christian book and then a Muslim book. One book a month. Then we get together and we talk. It’s really incredible.
MCMAHON: That is fabulous. I was totally unaware of that.
JANICE GREGORY: I wanted to do something after 9/11 and that’s one of the things I wound up doing was going and just meeting with people and learning about them. I’d like to do just a quick rundown because if you’re a parent with kids on the Hill you very well know, schooling is important and it also something that is somewhat chaotic, and you just cobble together as best you can.
MCMAHON: Especially with three children you do that.
JANICE GREGORY: So, we started off with Wee Care. Then Jenny—Brent just wasn’t any good, but we got her into the Pre-K at Peabody over at Fifth and C NE. Once she was there you could do the CSMP math program and that would keep her there in future years. So, she started there and basically stayed with Peabody, she was able to stay through the fifth or sixth grade. Then she did St. Peter’s sixth, seventh and eighth, she did St. Peter’s and then she got the scholarship to Visitation where she was one of the few Protestants there.
NEAL GREGORY: There are two Protestant girls at Visitation, two from the Hill that came up there.
JANICE GREGORY: Two from the Hill.
MCMAHON: Plus a scholarship. Yeah.
JANICE GREGORY: Then came Kate. So she was in Wee Care and then she went to Peabody. She switched over …
NEAL GREGORY: She was at St. Peter’s too briefly.
JANICE GREGORY: Fourth and fifth grades she was there. They were each at St. Peter’s two years. Then she went to the Field School from sixth grade on. That was interesting because it was up near the Hilton up Connecticut Avenue [NW]. She had to get there. We dropped her off or she went by Metro with a big long hike at the end, but that’s the way you did things. Chuck went through Peabody and he came up on fourth grade which they had moved over to Watkins. That was when Hine Junior High was not a safe place before Princess [Whitfield] came in as the principal there. I had visions of Chuck getting beat up on his walk home from Watkins. So, that’s when we put him on the subway to go to John Eaton. It was kind of a funny story because we signed him up and he was on the wait list to go to John Eaton. But then we never heard anything. Neal had already spent one night sleeping on the sidewalk to get him signed up.
NEAL GREGORY: We had open enrollment in DC but you had to get on a list and I literally went up to the school district [headquarters] and slept on the sidewalk overnight with a bunch of other parents who were trying to get their kids in certain schools.
MCMAHON: The things we do for education, yeah.
NEAL GREGORY: Janice came at eight o’clock the next morning to relieve me. They opened at 10 and we got Chuck, he was number seven on the waiting list for John Eaton school.
JANICE GREGORY: Come that fall, I also had him signed up at St. Peter’s, but I knew that was going to be a disaster for him. He just wasn’t the right person to go to that particular school. But we heard nothing, so the first day that the public schools opened, fortunately was a day before St. Peter’s opened. So, Neal just took Chuck and drove him up to John Eaton school and walked into the principal’s office and said that he had been on the waiting list but hadn’t heard anything one way or the other. She took one look at him; the next thing I know I get a phone call from Chuck saying he’s sitting in a fourth grade classroom but they need his file, at which point I jumped up from my desk, went over to Peabody, said, “Chuck’s at John Eaton and they need his file.” They turned around and pulled out his file and handed it to me. [laughter] So, I drove madly back across town trying to read the file at the stop lights and walked into the principal’s office at John Eaton and said, “I believe my son’s here and that you need his file.” I handed the file the to principal there and she says, “It’s so nice to work with people who know what they’re doing.” [laughter]
MCMAHON: It’s so true. It really is. Boy, you worked hard and the efforts paid off. They really did.
JANICE GREGORY: He was there fourth, fifth and sixth and then he went to St. Anselm’s seventh, eighth and ninth and then that was enough all boys for him and then he finished of 10, 11 and 12 at Edmond Burke. You just sort of cobbled all this stuff to get …
MCMAHON: Right. It works out, it works out.
JANICE GREGORY: Yeah. Very important. The other thing is, you know you couldn’t just toss your kid out the front door in the morning. So, where did they get their freedom? One of my theories is a big part of their freedom came because they did sleepovers. Sleepovers started very early. I remember at least one of them four, kid four years old going to sleepover at a friend’s house. The first time he did it always failed. I mean the kid would be so excited and they’d go through dinner and all that and then it was, “You mean I have to sleep here?” [McMahon laughs] And the parents would have to come over and pick them up and take them home. But the second time it usually worked and there were tons of sleepovers going at any time. That’s what these kids do. And then as they got older they were reaching out further out around in the metro area. But that’s what they did.
MCMAHON: And that you formed fast friends. The fact that families know other families. Kind of important, sure.
NEAL GREGORY: Well as I mentioned, we both left working in the Congress and went, became lobbyists for all practical purposes. I was at Hill+Knowlton and she was at the ERISA Industry Committee. But the contacts on the Hill were so helpful because our kids were in Soccer on the Hill for instance. And there were other parents there including a United States senator, the Chief of Staff of the Speaker of the House and you got to know them as fellow parents and therefore you needed to call that congressional office for lobbying purposes, you had somebody you could talk with and who knew you. You could make the appointment a lot easier. That worked out. We were also active with our school alumni groups and the state societies. Janice was very active with—they had the Texas Breakfast Club which anybody who’s from Texas—or who wishes they were—could go over once a month, and they met over at the Rayburn Building, and they’d have a big speaker from Texas. That included people like Walter Cronkite and others. Vice President Bush at the time was a Texan and you’d hear a speaker and meet other Texans. Same thing for Mississippi, not quite as extensive. Janice became treasurer of the Texas State Society. She can tell you an interesting story about …
JANICE GREGORY: The Texas State Society every four years throws this party called Black Tie and Boots.
NEAL GREGORY: For the inaugural.
JANICE GREGORY: For the inauguration. Doesn’t matter who’s the president. They throw a party for about 10-11,000 people. It shows up at one of the big hotels. So now—
NEAL GREGORY: It’s at the Gaylord.
JANICE GREGORY: The Gaylord. This wasn’t at the Gaylord, but one of the early ones. I was on the board then I wound up at treasurer for the Texas State Society. So, they threw this Black Tie and Boots. The people in charge of planning the party had failed to reserve the room in the hotel safe for money. So, Texans being Texans came in and peeled off $100 bills and whatnot to pay for their tickets when they went into the party.
NEAL GREGORY: $150 a couple and they were paying in cash.
JANICE GREGORY: Paying in cash. I made the mistake of walking by the registration desk and they said, “Oh my God, you’re the treasurer .” and they handed me this pile of money. So, I was like, “What are we going to do.” So, I was stuffing it in his tux all over the place.
NEAL GREGORY: She had a strapless gown. [laughter].
JANICE GREGORY: I got an evening bag and a gown not suited for carrying large amounts of money. So we went down and hid it in the car under the spare tire.
NEAL GREGORY: In the garage of the hotel we put the money back in …
JANICE GREGORY: And came home. So, here it is somewhere around three AM when we got home. We come in here and I looked at Neal and I said, “If this house burns down tonight I won’t even know how much to report was lost.” So, at four o’clock in the morning we closed all the blinds here at this kitchen table.
NEAL GREGORY: At the kitchen table counting money like bank robbers.
JANICE GREGORY: Like bank robbers sat up here. It was over $100,000.
MCMAHON: Amazing, that’s amazing. Right here in this house?
NEAL GREGORY: So, then Monday morning; this was Saturday night when the ball was, so all day Sunday the money was here. Monday morning, she goes to the bank with the briefcase strapped over her arm to get to the bank to deposit that money. But, as I said, those were very interesting associations. They were centered around the Capitol Hill staff of Congress in the main. One of the events—they had prizes, you know, door prizes.
JANICE GREGORY: That’s the Texas Breakfast Club.
NEAL GREGORY: The Texas Breakfast Club.
JANICE GREGORY: They’re different organizations.
NEAL GREGORY: The state societies had them too I think.
JANICE GREGORY: No, we got the tickets from the Texas Breakfast Club.
NEAL GREGORY: One time you’d won a case of Pearl beer from Texas, but we won the big prize one year [that] was two first class air tickets to anywhere in Latin America from Continental Airlines which was headquartered in Texas.
MCMAHON: Where did you go?
NEAL GREGORY: We went to Lima, Peru, and Machu Picchu. That was part of the traveling. We did a good bit of traveling. Another big event that happened is I had a heart attack and heart surgery. It’s 22 years ago, 1996. After that took up bicycling among other things which I thought—
JANICE GREGORY: Which is wonderful to do. You want bicycle anywhere you want to go, this is a good place to start, because from here you can go down the Mall and then you can get on the Mt. Vernon trail and go all the way out that way. You can go up Rock Creek Park clear to Rockville. I mean you can’t get a better …
MCMAHON: It’s a great bicycle town.
JANICE GREGORY: And this is a good place to start because you don’t have to go anywhere to get on a not on the street thing. I think Neal’s talked about this somewhat, the easy links between the government Capitol Hill and the neighborhood Capitol Hill. John Boehner used to live across the street in a basement.
MCMAHON: Speaker of the House, right?
NEAL GREGORY: Became the Speaker of the House.
JANICE GREGORY: So I would be out there in the front yard and he’d be out there in the front yard and we’d hidey and sometimes we’d chat and he’d ask me about some group or something like that. Shortly after I retired, which was in 2006, we were walking down Eighth Street [SE] and we …
NEAL GREGORY: On a Friday night. We’d had dinner over there.
JANICE GREGORY: On a Friday night and this big black car pulls up in front of the Italian restaurant Trattoria de Franco [Trattoria Alberto]
JANICE GREGORY: So, we do what you do in Washington when a big black car stops. You just stand where you are and see who the heck it is.
MCMAHON: Who’d step out, right.
[short interruption for telephone call]
JANICE GREGORY: Out steps John Boehner. He spies me standing there and comes over and gives me this—I am a life long Democrat, you understand—he comes over and gives me this big bear hug and says, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you around.” I said, “Well, I retired.” He looked at me with the most woebegone expression I’d ever seen [McMahon laughs] It was like, “Oh my gosh.”
NEAL GREGORY: It sounds wonderful. Of course, this was on a Friday night and they were working, they couldn’t get a quorum or a majority of what they were doing. A few weeks later from that he retires.
MCMAHON: That’s his favorite restaurant from what I understand.
NEAL GREGORY: Yes it was.
NEAL GREGORY: He was going in there.
JANICE GREGORY: He was going in there. Some of these old restaurants—we had Jimmy’s Café, which was where Justice Douglas ate lunch at three o’clock every afternoon. And they had meatball sandwiches.
MCMAHON: Is this the one on East Capitol Street?
NEAL GREGORY: Yeah, yeah.
MCMAHON: Jimmy T’s?
JANICE GREGORY: No, no, no, not Jimmy T’s. This is Jimmy’s Café was over here on the 300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue [SE]. Up this way from; then you had Sherrill’s Bakery. Each of us when we were teaching Sunday school at St. Mark’s, we each took a stint doing that, and we’d take our class over to Sherrill’s.
NEAL GREGORY: To get doughnuts.
JANICE GREGORY: To get doughnuts. The other thing with Sherrill’s is—I was walking over toward St. Mark’s for one of the many jobs that I was doing over the years, and there were these two elderly ladies, and we’d had snow and ice the night before, and they were standing in Third Street looking at this hump of ice that they were somehow going to have to get over to get to Sherrill’s Bakery.
NEAL GREGORY: They were waitresses there.
JANICE GREGORY: No that’s not right. So, I stopped and offered and said, “Do you need some help?” They said, “Yes we do.” So, I took one and guided her over and then I went back and took the other and guided; it was owners of Sherrill’s Bakery. I had a standing offer for free breakfast at Sherrill’s Bakery anytime I wanted it. [laughter]
MCMAHON: That was real luck. I loved Sherrill’s Bakery. I was sorry to see it go. But these stories are neat.
JANICE GREGORY: Me too. Going down the street [Pennsylvania Avenue SE] you get to the Tune Inn. They had a waitress there named Jenny who you did not cross. Also, we went up there, some other staffers and I went up there and the first person orders a Dr Pepper or something like that. The second person orders iced tea. The third person orders, God forbid, water. It came around to me, “Well, I guess somebody had to do this, I’ll have a beer.” Jenny says, “I’m glad somebody knows this is a bar.” [laughter]
So, we decided we’d take Pickle [Congressman Jake Pickle] up there. He was old style. He grew up in Big Spring, Texas, all that kind of stuff, so, we took him up there. There was a line to get in. So, he’s standing in line, and they’re playing this old country western stuff on the juke box and he starts singing all of the tunes, all of the words. He knew every verse of every song that was being played on that. We’re kind of looking around at the ceiling like, “Who’s that guy? Never saw him before.” [laughter]
There you didn’t ask what the special of the day was unless you intended to order it. You were already committed as soon as you asked. Also the other big thing you had to know was if you wanted mayonnaise on your hamburger, you told them when you ordered the hamburger, because otherwise they’d have to make an extra trip back to the kitchen to get the mayonnaise. That was another rule. So, we took him in there. He came out and he looked at his watch and he says, “Hum, I can see why you come here for lunch.” Because we got out in good time to get back to be at work. We got a few fancy places, 209 ? and the Broker. It was a very, very different food scene.
NEAL GREGORY: The Neptune Grill. I think we’ve covered about everything. There are other extracurricular activities after my heart surgery.
MCMAHON: Where did you have your heart surgery? What hospital?
NEAL GREGORY: It was ’96, GW [George Washington University] Hospital. I joined an organization called Mended Hearts which were those people who’d been through the procedure. We visit the heart patients. I go Tuesdays down to GW and Wednesdays over to the Hospital Center and visit the heart patients. So much of heart surgery is in the mind. You’re wondering what can you do and when can you do it again. So here’s a patient that’s wondering if they’re going to make it through the week. I say, “I had that surgery 20 years ago.” We bring them a little hope and whatever. I was head of that organization for a while and we went to many of their conventions around the country. It’s a national group and it’s very satisfying.
JANICE GREGORY: One thing I want—partly so maybe somebody will do something about this. One of the great pleasures of living here this close to the Capitol is that whenever we had house guests we’d walk over and walk over to the west front of the Capitol, the side that looks down the Mall, and sit there and watch the sun go down.
MCMAHON: Fabulous, yeah. What a wonderful experience, sure.
JANICE GREGORY: But you can’t do that now, because the 9/11. I keep looking for a way to do that.
MCMAHON: Thanks for bringing that up. One of things we like to ask people is, “What were you doing for 9/11 and how did it affect [you]?” It affected everybody.
NEAL GREGORY: Janice had a major incident. I’ll tell mine real quick. I was over at the gym across the street here, which I do on a regular basis, and saw it on TV. The first plane had hit and I figured it was just an accident. And then a second plane hit. So I said, “I’d better get home.” So, I came home. I needed a shower after the gym, so I got a quick shower and I’m peering around the corner at the TV set and the Pentagon was hit. You could literally hear it here, the crash at the Pentagon. So, I decided to go down to GW where I volunteer, if they were going to bring in any of the wounded there. And then I thought how stupid I was to get on the Metro after that event. But Janice had an even better story.
JANICE GREGORY: I was downtown at Covington and Burling. They were our lawyers when I worked for the ERISA Industry Committee. We had a committee meeting, so I had roughly 30 executives from major companies in a room together. Somebody, our lawyer’s secretary, came in and handed me a note and told me about the first plane going in. I excused myself and said, “I’ve got to go and check on something.”
[telephone rings in background]
So, I went in this other room that happened to be, because I was looking for a telephone, happened to have a telephone in there, but also windows looking toward the Pentagon. So, I actually saw the plane dive into the Pentagon. Big black smoke and all that stuff. So, I went back into where my people were meeting and I told them what I’d seen and what I was hearing. I said, “Every one of you get out of town now, anyway you can. The airports are closed, but get on the train, rent a car, do something, get out of here or you’re not going to be able to get home for a long time.”
The best group, the group of five I think it was, four or five of them, managed to snag a limousine. They all lived up somewhere in New Jersey fairly close to each other. The guy charged them $800 and drove them home. We only had one of the 30 who hesitated and didn’t get out of town before everything shut down. We had to put him up in Annapolis. We got all of our people out of town, which is basically got them out of town.
MCMAHON: What about the riots of 1968? Tell us about your feeling—
NEAL GREGORY: Well, I was here.
JANICE GREGORY: He was here, I wasn’t.
NEAL GREGORY: I was with the President’s Council on Youth Opportunity which was chaired by Vice President Humphrey at the time. The offices were down at 19th and Pennsylvania [NW]. I came into the airport. I was on some trip to one of their—dealing with all the mayors. I think I was in Pittsburgh and flew in. Everybody was chattering at National Airport. I took a cab into 19th and Penn. Had to go around all kinds of areas. This was the day after. Things were rather tense, so the office was closing, and I walked home from 19th and Penn NW. I never will forget walking on Pennsylvania Avenue and seeing the people looting DJ Kaufman’s which was a store there on Pennsylvania Avenue. Some of the mothers egging the kids on to bring out the fancy suits and all that. The Justice Department lawyers at the Justice Department there, standing on the balcony watching this. I got up to walk up the Hill to come home here, and there were sandbags there on the corner of the Capitol with machine guns there. Seeing that, you know, and just coming and hunkering down [at home]. That’s what I remember from that. Wondering what was going to happen, etc. and so. But I figured here on the Hill was about as safe as I could get with the Capitol.
MCMAHON: Let me ask you this also. We covered the past. The future. Tell us about for one, the future of the library and then what are you guys going to do as you’re getting older and still living here. How about you Janice, what do you feel looking to the future? You seem like responsible individuals, thinking ahead.
JANICE GREGORY: We may think ahead. Getting it done ahead is a different matter. I think the first thing we’re going to do is investigate the Capitol Hill Village.
NEAL GREGORY: We’re not members yet.
JANICE GREGORY: Because we’re not members yet, but I think this is part of our community duty. As long as we’re here we probably should sign up. But see what all they have to offer and so forth. We’ll be trying to clean some of the stuff out of 47 years of accumulation out of this house. We’re engaged in that but that’s hard. Personally I’d really like to stay on the Hill. I don’t know anywhere else I could go that I can walk to the Post Office. I can walk to the drug store. I can walk to get my hair done. I can walk to get a pedicure. I can walk—just about everything I want to do I can walk to or it’s a short subway ride down to—most of my doctors are down in the GW Hospital area. So that’s a very short subway ride. That’s hard to give up. Every place else is really tied in some way to a car. Eventually we get old enough we don’t want to drive. I don’t know when that comes up. I have a good friend who lived over in Southwest who’s still driving. She’s 97. She doesn’t do the freeways any more. I’ll never forget she got her driver’s license renewed at the age of 92 and she came out of the room, she was just cracked up laughing. I said, “What is so funny?” She said, “Look at the expiration date is for eight years. I’ll be 100 when this thing expires.”
NEAL GREGORY: When the driver’s license expires.
JANICE GREGORY: She’s an unusual person. I’d really like to stay if not in this house, I like to see them have some condos or some kind of something that large enough for people who have some stuff.
NEAL GREGORY: All of the apartments they seem to be building are for single yuppies or whatever and there aren’t large apartments that one can afford. I mean, you’ve got the things over at Eastern Market, the Hine complex. That’s rather pricey. Particularly with stairs. We’d like to have a place—you can’t really walk in to the first floor of very few houses here and you’re going to have stairs. So, we’re committed to staying here because the church is here. Our community’s here. We been here that long. We’re just taking it step by step, year by year as far as that goes.
Now you ask about the library. In two months, October the 1st, there’s $22 million in the capital budget for the Southeast Library. But it’s an historic building and what can they do? They can’t change the façade and there’s not a very big footprint to expand that library. So, it’ll probably go down and in fact there’s going to be community meetings next month about what people want. I think what we want is more space, because the place is jus—there’s Story Hours three every morning five days a week. I joke that we have a bouncer to turn the kids away because there’s too many there. That’s what’s happening in this neighborhood. The library is clearly committed. It’s an original Carnegie library. So it will be there. If they have to go underground or whatever we’ll see. The interesting thing is the money is there for this library system and to do that.
MCMAHON: Thank you so much.
JANICE GREGORY: Can I say one last thing?
MCMAHON: Sure, please.
JANICE GREGORY: It’s my experience knowing our kids and the kids who’ve been their friends. Raising a kid on Capitol Hill produced kids who are confident. Kids who are not afraid to go and do stuff. You get so many of these youngsters, I worry about, who can’t cross the street without their momma.
MCMAHON: Also kids that are tolerant.
MCMAHON: Kids that accept other individuals.
JANICE GREGORY: I always should tell one story.
MCMAHON: Please, yes.
JANICE GREGORY: When Chuck first started up at John Eaton he got a whole new batch of friends and stuff. One was this little black fellow named Cherokee. Cherokee—I spent a lot of time with other mothers, mothers from the John Eaton school telling them that is really was okay for their kid to get on the Metro and come home with Chuck and spend the night and do that kind of stuff. So Cherokee came. Cherokee came to spend the night and he walks in the front door. Black child. He’s been raised in Northwest Washington. He walks in, looks at Neal and says , “Can we go to Anacostia?” He knew it was his only chance ever to see the town across the river.
NEAL GREGORY: Because he’d heard about this neighborhood always and he wanted to see it.
JANICE GREGORY: He says, “Sure.”
NEAL GREGORY: I drove him over there and I was very unafraid to drive through Anacostia in the broad daylight. I’m just kidding. Again dealing with things like the riots and whole Civil Rights movement that we all lived through and everything else. It’s interesting to watch—well I can give a personal example of southerners who aren’t afraid of Washington like some other people are because we grew up with black people in Mississippi and Tennessee. Kate comes home from school and says, “Talking about Black History and these black children. We don’t have any black children, They’re all brown.” [laughter] So, you have these—the way they’re raised. They had mostly black teachers at Peabody School who were first rate. That was a great school.
JANICE GREGORY: Lois Kaufman would be the prime …
NEAL GREGORY: One of the few white teachers. Lois Kaufman was the first grade.
JANICE GREGORY: Pre-Kindergarten. But Jenny had Mrs. Young for both first and second grade. She was worried to have her twice and I said, “Worried? I’m not worried about her having you twice. I’ll be really sad when it comes third grade and she has to go someplace else.”
MCMAHON: Wonderful interview. I greatly appreciate it. The time is 11:31.