I seriously thought about starting this introduction with “In the beginning there was Roberta” but realized the better part of that line had been taken. However, it would still be true in that Howard and Roberta have been a part of The Gathering from the very beginning. It was long before she was on the cover of magazines or asked to give distinguished lectures on art, architecture, culture and beauty. She was candid and outspoken in her many opinions about everything. Some chalked that up to her marrying into wealth that allowed her to say things she might not have said earlier. They were wrong. She’s always said what she thought.
But it’s important to know it has been what she thought – and not just what she felt like saying. By the time she had words for it she had spent a very long time thinking and reading about it. Ideas were then and now important to her. Words meant something and she chose them carefully. She was not a fireball but a laser. She cares deeply about quality, beauty and the quest for getting things right. I believe if Roberta had been Joan of Arc she would have asked her tormentors to use bad art and shoddy literature for the fire instead of kindling.
Sometimes she intimidated and often encouraged but it was always colorful and bold and, well, loud.
As you know, Joan Rivers died earlier this month. Peggy Noonan wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal and, forgive me Roberta, what she said reminded me so much of you. “There was nobody like her. Some people are knockoffs or imitations of other, stronger, more vivid figures, but there was never another before her or while she lived. She was a seriously wonderful, self-invented woman.
She was completely open and immediately accessible. She had the warmth of a person who found others keenly and genuinely interesting. It was also the warmth of a person with no boundaries: She wanted to know everything about you and would tell you a great deal about herself, right away. Her intelligence was penetrating and original, her tastes refined. She had no edit function, which in part allowed her gift. She would tell you what she thought.. I think from the beginning life startled her, and she enjoyed startling you. You only asked her advice or opinion if you wanted an honest reply.”
I love Roberta for that. We don’t always agree because she is sometimes wrong. But, over the course of thirty years she and Howard have always been the pioneers, pilgrims and scouts, the prophets and explorers. They could have easily relaxed and simply enjoyed an endowed life. But they have chosen instead to take risks and give of themselves. John Gardner, the author of Self-Renewal said, “Everyone wants to be an interesting person — but the vitalizing thing is to be a person who is interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.”
I could not say it better. Please join me tonight in welcoming one of the most interesting and interested people I know – Roberta Ahmanson.