Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Force of habit, my reading of the candid new memoir by bold-face broadcaster Katie Couric homed in on things Arlington.

In her multi-media rollout of “Going There” launched Oct. 26, the hometown girl who became “America’s sweetheart” justifiably name-drops personages from her famed, if hyped, journalism career.

You get insider looks at ABC News, CNN, “The Today Show,” CBS News, “60 Minutes”, Yahoo News, and now Katie Couric Media, sprinkled with honest accounts of her career milestones and intimate family moments.

She describes her “wholesome hometown” of Arlington as a “postwar suburban dream: hilly streets teeming with kids riding bikes and playing capture the flag, roving house to house on Halloween dressed up as cowboys and witches. Striving middle-class families who’d moved there for the good schools.”

Katie periodically returns to Arlington to behold the homestead on N. 40th St., though she didn’t have time during her Oct. 30 appearance at D.C.’s Anthem. Back in 2004, when I helped induct her (and her late older sister, state Sen. Emily Couric) in the Yorktown High School Hall of Fame and Inspiration, she bowed out due to news obligations. But her parents John and Elinor, and brother John, attended. Weeks later she brought a Today Show crew to interview Yorktown students about stress. And in 2006, she addressed the Arlington Kiwanis.

That Couric home she describes as a “tidy four-bedroom brick colonial” bought for $30,500 in 1957. “Our house exuded a modest solidity that also described my family,” she observes, remembering watching older sister Kiki “rush off to a football game in her cheerleading uniform, tossing her pom-poms and megaphone in the back of our Dad’s Sunbeam Alpine convertible.”

Arlingtonian brother John, “the nicest person in our family,” she writes, after graduating from UVA rented a renovated room in their parents’ basement. (John assures me he continued mowing the lawn, and his parents later reimbursed him.)

Couric credits her father for mentoring and giving up a reporting career for a higher-paying PR job. Her mother, a homemaker who also worked at Lord &Taylor, once retrieved a teen Katie when she was making out with an older boy in a basement she had ridden to on her Schwinn. Though not wealthy enough to join a swim club, the family was “well taken-care-of—new shoes from Hahn’s in Clarendon every September, good winter coats from Woodies.”

Among school memories at Jamestown Elementary: Chris Foley tripping her on the blacktop, a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and her youngster’s news story on the 1967 deaths of three astronauts. At Yorktown, she wrote for the Sentry, cheerleaded, and scooped ice cream at Giffords, where a rude boy quizzed her on breast size.
The Yorktown connection via siblings helped her nab her first news job. Katie returned to Arlington when she covered the Pentagon, her first husband Jay proposed marriage here, and they planned a birth at Arlington Hospital. Famed interviewer Larry King’s attempt to seduce her was at his Rosslyn apartment.

I asked Katie why she didn’t include more school details, like favorite teachers. “It was so hard to fit everything,” she said. Originally there was “more about running for office in 5th and 6th grade,” and influential Yorktown teachers Alan Holt, Paul Belair and Max Smith. “Maybe I will write volume 2 and call it Not Going There!”

Just days before the wrecking ball was set to raze the Victorian-era Fellows-McGrath house at 6404 Washington Blvd., the history buffs swarmed in.

With permission from the owner—who is planning two modern homes—and his demolition crew, members of the Arlington Historical Society and interested neighbors claimed artifacts and architectural elements from the three-story home (designed by John Wells) characterized by gingerbread wood motifs.

Preserved objects include signs labeling “the Memory House” (a onetime bed-and-breakfast), wall graffiti with signed caricatures of original workmen, cresting and a Newel post from a staircase. All will be considered for display at the Arlington Historical Museum.