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José García

Oral History Interview with José García conducted by telephone on June 24, 2015, by Margaret Vo. At Dumbarton Oaks, José García was a member of the Building and Security Staff (1972–1979), Accounting Clerk (1979), Financial Assistant (1980–1994), and Financial Officer (1994–2004).

MV: Today is June 24, 2015. My name is Margaret Vo, and today, I have the pleasure of conducting a phone interview with José García, who worked in the facilities and finance departments during his years at Dumbarton Oaks. Now, according to our records, you first came to Dumbarton Oaks in 1978, to work on facilities, is that correct?

JG: 1972.

MV: 1972. Oh my god, okay. It goes even further back. Did you work from ­– on facilities from 1972 to ’79?

JG: To ’79, right. At – May ’79, at Dumbarton Oaks financial office.

MV: Right. So, how did you first come to Dum – be involved with Dumbarton Oaks?

JG: Well, I have a friend that work in the garden at that time. And we were talking in a restaurant, and he told me that there was a position that I can fill out in the – as a custodian.  And even if I was graduated from… from Cuba, University of Havana, I was looking for a job because I couldn’t find a job in that – get that position in the financial office, and because always that when I went to some place, they say that I need a background in the United States, and I said I never got it.

MV: Right.

JG: Okay? Then I started working in the, as a houseman, starting in March 16, 1972.

MV: Wow. Okay. And what were your first initial impressions of the institution?

JG: Well, at that time, the institution was more like personal life institution. At that time, the Director of the institution was John Thacher. John Thacher was – I think that Mr. Bliss was his grand – godfather. And of course he was a director because was named it in his will that he have to be Director of Dumbarton Oaks. And that was a time that even Harvard doesn’t have too much to do with that. Okay?

MV: Mm hm.

JG: And –

MV: How was the relationship between Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks at the time?

JG: At that time, it’s what I said, Dumbarton Oaks was no too much controlled by Harvard, because at that time, they cannot do anything about the will. And they have to accept that the director was named by Mr. Bliss. And at that time was – most of the personnel that were there was putted by Mr. Thacher.

MV: Ah. Okay.

JG: Then after Mr. Thacher came in another director. I don’t remember who… what was his name.

MV: Giles Constable?

JG: No. Before Constable was another director that was named by – also was a godson of Mr. Bliss. I don’t remember now but it was before Mr. Constable. Okay? And that was that – most of the people that worked, you know, in the director office was people that came in because he was an ambassador in some place, and he was bringing all the people that work for the United States government that worked with him in – at that time, to work in Dumbarton Oaks, because they were retired from the, from that service in the government of the United States. Okay? And most of the people I said was put by the director of Dumbarton Oaks at that time. I don’t remember the name of – he was a nice guy, but I don’t remember the name. It was after Mr. Thacher. Maybe Mr. Carder know about that – who was the name.

MV: Yeah. I’m sorry, it’s also skipping my mind right now, too. I’ll remember at some point, probably.

JG: Okay.

MV: So, when you arrived here, who mentored you?

JG: Who – excuse me, I can’t get the question.

MV: Who mentored you? Who basically showed you the place and –

JG: Okay. At that time was – Mike Dziedzic was the Director of Facilities, was the man that was in charge of all the facilities. Mike Dziedzic was my first boss in the – as a member of Dumbarton Oaks – and he was a nice person, and a pretty – a person that handled pretty good or take care pretty good of the crew that worked with him.

MV: And did you also work with Alex De Boeck?

JG: Alex De Boeck was the assistant of Mike Dziedzic at that time.

MV: How was he to work with?

JG: Well, Alex De Boeck was a nice person, was a person that – he was more edu – prepared in the matter of education than was Mike Dziedzic. He was more in charge of all the correspondence that the mail department at that time and get the – was the assistant of Mike Dziedzic at that time.

MV: Ah. Okay. And how were the facilities maintained at the time?

JG: At that time, you have that – Mr. Dziedzic at that time was the one that hired the people, not only for housemen, but also for guard. And most of the people that came into Dumbarton Oaks as a guard were people that were soldiers, and live in the soldier home. Except me, that I started as a houseman, and then I asked to be moved as a guard from four to twelve, because I was taking classes in the Maryland University, and I want to continue that, and I asked him to give me the position from four to twelve, and I studied during the day. And when I worked as a guard, we made the round, and one hour we sitting at the front, watching that any alarm is gone, and you take time – I take time at that time to do my homework for the university. Then the – all was controlled by Mike Dziedzic. I mean, he hired, he controlled all the housemen. And like, I think that is now, you – we were cleaning floors from the time that we start at eight o’clock to one o’clock. At that – to one o’clock, we have an hour for eating, I mean, our lunch, and prepare and change our clothes to be a guard from two to five at the museum.

MV: Wow. And what university did you say this was?

JG: Well, at that time the Harvard University – I mean, that I went to? What university?

MV: Yes.

JG: Maryland University.

MV: Ah. Okay. And did that last all the way until you stopped being part of facilities in 1979?

JG: In 1979 I stopped, and then because was – Ms. Baglia was at that time the bookkeeper, because at that time, they don’t have an accountant. It was a bookkeeper. And at that time, there was a girl that was – the name was Tova Kaplan – that was working in that department, just with the book. That is what he – at that time, all the accounting was making in writing, was no computer system at that time. And Tova just take a book that was a index of all the register for the account receivable and account payable, and I started working with Ms. Baglia at that time.

MV: And back then –

JG: And I worked with Ms. Baglia – I worked with Ms. Baglia from 1979 to 1980, February. I started in May 1979 and Ms. Baglia, until Ms. Baglia get mad with the – oh, they have a fight between Judy Siggins, that was the assistant director at that time for Dumbarton Oaks, when Constable time, and she get fight with Judy Siggins. And she quit. And at that time, when she quit, came in – came Barney, that was the other bookkeeper that come in. And I worked with him from February 1980 to February – no, June, 1980 to February, 1981. Then came in Marlene Chazan. That was my boss from 1981 until I retire.

MV: And how was Marlene to work with?

JG: Oh, Marlene was a beautiful person, the – was the most – well, we were like friends and like family, okay? And I remember when my wife passed away two years before Marlene passed away, she went to the funeral, and I said, “That was my boss.” And she said, “No, I am not – I was not your boss. I was your friend.” And that was true, because we deal like friends; we don’t deal like she was my boss. And I, of course, I always take her orders, and I accomplish all the order that she gave me. But there was no like, “Give you an order.” She was so pleasant to – when they ask you to do something, she always say, “José, you can do this for me?” And I say, “Well” – for example, if Angeliki Laiou said, “I want this by tomorrow.” Marlene coming to me and say, “José, you can do this for me for tomorrow?, because Angeliki need it.” I say, “Marlene, you see, I have to prepare payroll for ten o’clock in the morning.” I say, “Oh boy.” Then I say, “You know that I have to pay the people. If not, we going to have a problem.” She said, “Well, see what you can do it.” You know? And we worked sometimes until nine o’clock at night in order to accomplish what we have to accomplish. But with her, oh, it was so easy to work, because she – if she – if I work for most of the time, fifty hours per week instead of thirty-five, she work fifty hours like me. She was no the kind of boss that say, “Oh, you work and I don’t do anything.” No, no, no. She always there for me, and anytime that you needed, she was there. And all the people that know her, know that she was the most friendly people that we can have. And every people love Marlene.

MV: That sounds wonderful.

JG: That was wonderful, yeah, at that time. Yeah.

MV: And where was the financial office located? Where did you work?

JG: Well, we were in the – first, in the left side that – of the – when you come into Dumbarton Oaks, that you pass what there was – I don’t know if it’s still there, the mail room at the right side – was – on the other side of the mail room was an entrance. That was a small office over there that, at that time, was the office – the office that you worked, the people worked. But later on, they renovate all the, that part, and they take to the right, after you pass the mail room, and that was, at that time that I was working there, the – when you went on the first door, was the financial department, because there was not now the bookkeeping department. It was the financial department. And after the financial department, coming the assistant director office, that Judy Siggins at the time was, and then coming the secretarial office, and then after the secretarial office, coming the director office. That was where we worked at that time.

MV: Wow. So, you’ve been here through the renovations as well?

JG: Yeah, when was the first renovation there, I was there. Later on, they coming another renovation that I was – I worked there until 2004.

MV: Right. And did a lot change during renovations that you can remember?

JG: Well, the – they changed also the part that was the Byzantine. And the entrance that was – that was like a patio there, and they made the Byzantine part over there. And they do also the Landscape Architecture. They put it to the right and then the Byzantine to the left when you come in from the front entrance of Dumbarton Oaks.

MV: I see. So, if you don’t mind, I would like to move back to the time you were on facilities? In the 1970s. Could you basically describe a day in your life at Dumbarton Oaks back then? What did you do on the facilities team?

JG: Well, this is what I told.

MV: Right.

JG: We start at eight o’clock. I said, “Silvio Luciani, you want that clean the… the office of the Director and Assistant Director.” The directors of – that start at eight o’clock in the morning. And everyone have assigned an area. For example, I was – all the time that I worked as a houseman, was assigned the area of Pre-Columbian. Then the – all the office for Pre-Columbian and the Pre-Columbian museum was the charge of me and another partner that worked with me. We were two people assigned to that area. And I worked from eight to twelve thirty in that area. At that time, we have to go lunch. After lunch, you have to shave yourself, you know, wash your hands and your face and everything, and get dressed. And you have to use a suit that sometimes was a coat that Dumbarton Oaks gave to you. Okay? And then you have to be in the area that belong to you, or that you work as a houseman. For example, I was in the area of Pre-Columbian, and then when the people come in to visit the exhibition, we were rounded, make the rounds over there, that nobody do something wrong with the exhibition, that you don’t – you know, you don’t touch the exhibition that was on there, a case. That was controlled, at that time, for Mr. Moore, that was the carpenter. And all the exhibition were there, and they don’t allow people to touch the – you know, because they put your hand – you put your hand there and get greasy or whatever, dirty. And they don’t want that you to tough it and watch that other people doesn’t do anything wrong while they were visiting the exhibition. And, like me, well, the people that work in the Byzantine area, and these people have to make the guard the Byzantine area, and the other people that live in – that work in the Landscape Architecture area, they have to be the watchmen or the ones, the guards that they take care of that area. And everybody have his own area assigned for cleaning, and be the guard, at that time. Then after five o’clock, they close, and then you know, the guards have to be in guard. At six o’clock, they close the door, that nobody can come or go out unless you allow them to come. After I was a guard, I have to take care of that, that you know – and you have to write down everybody that going out or into the area. Professors and students and whoever come in, they have to pass through that desk and let them know what they coming for.

MV: And do you remember how and where the Fellows and the staff were housed, where did they eat?

JG: Well, the Fellows and the staff were in the Fellows Building that later on, after I left, they remodeling all – but they make a new facility in the Fellows Building. But at that time, was an old building, that they stay there, the Fellows. I don’t remember how many Fellows were at that time. And also they have rented a apartment in – if I don’t remember is wrong ­– was 2702 Wisconsin Avenue. And these people live in Wisconsin Avenue because we rented that apartment for the people that coming, and they eat in the Fellows Building. They have lunch in the Fellows Building, and they have breakfast in the Fellows Building. And also, there are some professors that also come into the Fellows Building and ate in the Fellows Building. And then they have lunch that also the staff can go to that lunch, paying an amount of, a payment, a fee, to eat over there. And that was, at that time, was, if you were at the front door of Dumbarton Oaks, it was to the right side of Dumbarton Oaks, in the – they call the Fellows Building. That is where they stay and where they eat, at the Fellows Building.

MV: And what about you? Where did you end up eating and spending your down time, if you had any?

JG: Where I have to eat?

MV: Yes.

JG: Well, we – we going downstairs. That is also one thing that is so amazing about Angeliki Laiou. We eat downstairs. They have a big table – there was a room that had a big table, and they have all the facilities for the housemen. They have – it was a kitchen with a big table. The kitchen have a – you know, a range, a refrigerator, everything that you need in the kitchen. There are too many professors eating – there are some professors that come in and eat over there. And when Angeliki come in, of course, I was working in the financial office, and because I was a houseman, Mike Dziedzic, at the time that he was there, he allowed me to have a closet that I could put my things over there. And he allowed me to keep that closet closed, that place until I was a member of the office, not the facilities. And Angeliki sometimes appear over there and eat lunch with us, and I say “with us,” because even if I was part of the office, I eat downstairs with the housemen, because it was a better facility than the one that they had upstairs. And also, you feel more comfortable eating over there. And sometimes, Angeliki came in and sit over there and eat with all the people, all the housemen, because she was so popular, was no – she doesn’t act sometimes – when she have to act as a Director, she act as a Director, but when she have to deal with the people, she deal with the people like other people, like she was part of the housemen, like the other people. She was so amazing that, for me, was the best Director of Dumbarton Oaks. She was amazing.

MV: Yeah, I had the pleasure of transcribing Abbrial Seagle’s interview, and she also speaks a lot about how amazing Angeliki was.

JG: Mmm hmm, mmm hmm. Well, I remember when Angeliki came in, and I asked Abbrial – when you see Abbrial, you ask her and say, “Do you remember what you told José when Angeliki come in?” Abbrial told me, “José, what – how we call Angeliki? Dr. Laiou or Angeliki?” I say, “Abbrial, just wait until she talk to us. If she tell you ‘Abbrial’ and me ‘José,’ I said, ‘Angeliki.’ If she said, ‘Ms. Seagle’ or ‘Mr. García,’ I say, ‘Dr. Laiou.’ Because she is the one that is going to give you the way that you have to treat her.” And she always was like this; she always say, “José, Abbrial, Marlene.” She always was like this. And she never said, “Tell me Dr. Laiou.” Always said, “Call me Angeliki.”

MV: That’s wonderful.

JG: Mmm hmm. It was wonderful at that time, yeah. I don’t know how they are now, but at that time, it was wonderful.

MV: Yeah, you’ve actually gone through a lot of various directors of Dumbarton Oaks. Can you tell me a bit about how Dumbarton Oaks has changed under them? Under Giles Constable or Robert Thomson, Angeliki…

JG: Well, I tell you, there – it’s what I said. Thacher was the first, and he was acting like he was the owner of Dumbarton Oaks, okay? Came in Constable. When came in after Thacher, and I don’t remember the other director. That was nice, too, but there was the – as I – the godfather – Mr. Bliss was his godfather. After that, come in Mr. Constable. Mr. Constable was the first director appointed by Harvard. And then it start to change, that – from a personal director, a director that was no named by Harvard, to be the Harvard Director that was, in a way, controlled by Harvard. In a way, that director have to sit over – prove to Harvard that he was doing the work the way that Harvard expected. That was – Mr. Constable was the first one. Of course, if you compare – Mr. Constable was more a person that was too – not was too much – I can’t say – like professor. He was like, “I am the director.” Okay? And was not that kind of person. Then come in Mr. Thomson. Mr. Thomson was more popular than Mr. Constable, because even he invited all of the people that were in the office to eat in his house with him sometimes. Okay? And he was a nice person, even that is – it doesn’t happen with another one. With Mr. Thomson, sometimes we get two raises during the – one in July and one in December. He was a nice person, a person that was having two young children that were working also in the gardens sometimes. And he was more – more to the people. Okay? Then after Mr. Thomson, that was a nice director, come in Angeliki. And Angeliki was the perfect person to make the director of Dumbarton Oaks, because it’s what Abbrial told you. For – with her, was like talking with somebody else. It was not that “I am the director and you can no talk to me” or “I am now” – no, she was pleasant to everybody. Of course, you have to ta – to see that she was the director and respect her as a director, but she was so nice that nobody can say anything about Angeliki, but the good word about the way that she was controlling Dumbarton Oaks. For me, it was the director in the time that I was in Dumbarton Oaks.

MV: Mmm. And then after Angeliki also came Edward Keenan. How was he?

JG: You – well, after Keenan. Keenan was a classic professor. He was no person that was too – he only take care of his own business. In other words, he was no – he was no – when he have to ask something, he ask something, but as a classic professor that sometime was no too involved in things. He always was with Marlene, for example, or with the assistant director. He was the one that more talk with the people like she was talking with the people. I mean, Angeliki was different. Angeliki was a person that – Marlene left on vacation, okay? And she call me and say, “José, Marlene is on vacation. You can do this for me?” And I said, “Angeliki, normally that’s done by Marlene.” “José, you’re – I need it in two hours. You can do – normally Marlene. You can do that for me?” I said, “Okay, Angeliki. I do for you.” Okay? Then I do it, and she said like, “Oh thank you, José, you made me a big favor.” And when Marlene came in, I say, “Okay, you see, I have to do this for Angeliki, and so I didn’t call you.” Marlene say, “It’s okay,” because Marlene was so easy also, to work with her. And she say, “It's okay. If you did it, you did it.” Okay? But Angeliki doesn’t treat you like – you know, “I am the director, and you have to do that for me.” What’s different – Mr. Keenan was more that – he asked Marlene, and Marlene have to do it. In other words, if Marlene was no there, that I never call her when she was on vacation. I have to call her and say, “Mr. Keenan asked me. You think that I can do it, and I say that you order me, or that you like that I do it.” And Marlene have to talk with him. With Angeliki, it was not like this. It was like, Angeliki was the one that said to Marlene – doesn't ask me to call Marlene or call Marlene directly to do things. She was coming to me and say, “José, you can do this for me?” And in that way, I think that she thought of me that I can do the work. That was the difference. And then Mr. Keenan have to talk with the assistant director or call – or with Marlene in order to do the work.

MV: Right.

JG: That was Mr. Keenan. I don't have that much of talking to him too much. It was more Marlene and the assistant director that talk with Mr. Keenan.

MV: Mmm. And did Dumbarton Oaks itself change a lot under them? The activities, the daily routines?

JG: Yeah, of course. Every director have his own way to see the things, and every director – I don’t know if that order’s coming from Harvard, but every director – for example, Mr. Constable doesn’t do too much of improvement of Dumbarton Oaks as a facility. But coming after Thomson, coming Angeliki. With Angeliki, there was a lot of change in the facility. And everyone – of course, I don’t know if they all were ordered by the Harvard, by Harvard to do such things over there. But every director was different in some way, in the way that they control Dumbarton Oaks. Someone was not doing too much, but the classic board with the professor, you know, that have to do the – the people that coming to do the work, like fellowships in Dumbarton Oaks, that do the projects that they coming for, and all things have to be in that way, with the director office colleagues. At the same time, they are all that was more in the administration, and that this was the thing of Angeliki, and Angeliki was more as a professor, but was as an administrator, too. That she can work for Dumbarton Oaks in a better way that – other than – in the four directors that I was, or five directors that I was with.

MV: Mm. I also read from Abbrial Seagle’s interview that, under Angeliki, there were Christmas and holiday parties. Did you ever go to any of those?

JG: Yeah. With Angeliki, you have the Christmas holiday parties, and was a nice – she was always there. She was nice with the people. She – it’s what I said. She always was dealing with everybody, from the houseman or the gardener to the professor, and it was a beautiful, beautiful holiday that we have with Angeliki. And yes, I did – even I have diabetes from the time that I started in Dumbarton Oaks, even I – the facilities, the people that work in the facilities, they always prepare food for me that I – I don’t want to eat any kind of food that can go make my blood sugar going up. They always worked with me on that. And Angeliki give all the facilities that the people feel comfortable. And it was nice place to be when they have the Christmas party. We were like a big family. That was.

MV: That’s great. Under the other directors, were there ever efforts made to interact between the departments at all? To bring them all together?

JG: Well, I think that they – it’s what I said. During the two godsons of the Blisses, they were most the – they have the Christmas party, but the Christmas party was no like, after today. It was a Christmas party that the people that work in the office – was a differentiation between the people that work in the office and the people that work as a houseman and gardener. And they were like the lower part of Dumbarton Oaks. They don’t want to mess with them. You know, they were – you see? And I remember that there was a houseman, Juan Gómez, that was from Guatemala. Juan Gómez get a little bit drunk, and Mrs. Ostermeier was the assistant director at that time. And he give a kiss on the cheek to Ostermeier, and that was something that, you know – she looked to me like, “I am going to kiss you – kill you, because you did that.” And anybody can’t go beside these people. And even the bookkeeper – that was Mrs. Hammack at that time – you can no even talk a little bit louder at the office, because she was complaining. And it was like a tense place when I worked as a houseman with these people. It was too difficult to work with these people, and the housemen – they behave of the housemen like they were servants for these people. And I remembered when I was one day – I was – you see, I never was accustomed at that kind of situation, because I came in from Cuba at the beginning of Fidel Castro. And when I came in, I was accustomed that I like to be free. It’s what I – I never was – never do the houseman work, okay? And when I came in, I was thinking that I’m going to be a custodian. I don’t have to – no express myself in a way that the people doesn’t like it. And one day, I was talking with the other housemen near the bookkeeper office, and the houseman, the other houseman said, “Okay, just speak a little bit not high, because it’s going to bother the bookkeeper.” I said, “Is she sleeping?” Then she – “Oh, what you saying? You cannot say that!” I say, “Well, you know, we are talking. We are not shouting. We are talking, and if she doesn’t like that we talk, I mean, what we can do?” And you can no – was a guy that is still alive that is Portuguese, and he always – he is going to buy a house, and when he ask him for, you know, a copy of the W-2, the copy of the W-2 and so on in order to buy his house, he said, “I don’t think that you going to buy a house, because you are not going to be able to buy a house.” And he said, “What is wrong with that?” Because he was thinking that because you were a housekeeper, a custodian, you don’t have money to buy house.

MV: Mmm.

JG: This is the way that it was at that time when there was these people. Then when Constable came in, that was a differentiation. That was more a public place, in other words. It was not a private place, but a public place, and that was the difference. Of course, Abbrial came in after that, because Abbrial – when Abbrial came in, she was came in because we need somebody to – to be replacing somebody that was resigned or was on vacation, and we need somebody, and we ask Marlene that there’s somebody. And then Abbrial came in, and Marlene asked me, “What you think?” I said, “Why you don’t give the position to her?” Because she’s a nice person.

MV: Mmm.

JG: And then it was ­– Abbrial started working with us. And Abbrial – I love Abbrial. Abbrial is a beautiful woman, you know, and I love her.

MV: She speaks very fondly of you.

JG: Yeah, because we were like family. It’s the way that we behave.

MV: Do you still keep in contact with them now?

JG: With Abbrial? For a long time, I don’t get in contact with her, because she – she went to – when my wife passed away, she went to the funeral, and after that, I left for Miami. About six months later, I left for Miami. And I live – now, I still live in my home that I have in Maryland, on February of this year, and – you know, I was solitary in Washington. I’d always been in Miami, you know. And then I don’t have – but you tell her – when you talk with her, if you talk with her, say – give my phone number to her. You know my phone number now. Give the phone number to her and say, “José said that call her – him, when you have a chance.” That I want to talk with her – “He want to talk with you.” Okay?

MV: Yes.

JG: And if she – I’m going to talk with her to offer my home here. If she like to come to Miami, it’s okay. She can come to Miami. I love Abbrial.

MV: Yeah. She also loves to travel, so that’d be great.

JG: Yeah, yeah. I am going to tell her to feel that she can come over here anytime that she wants.

MV: That’s wonderful. I also heard from her interview that you actually have a few ghost stories from working at facilities and over your years here?

JG: Yeah. When I was a guard, you know? And I worked in the – you know, we have to make the rounds. And I worked with two people: one that I bring to there, that was a Cuban like me, and I bring to him. And Mr. Wise. Mr. Wise was a soldier that he retired from, of course, from the army. And he lived in the soldier home. And this Cuban guy, that the name – he passed away also, Roberto Hernandez – he said one time, when he was by the second floor, was – is the library, that he feel a goose-pimple, that something like some ghost were there. I said, “Well, I never see a ghost, and I never see anything.” But he even left Dumbarton Oaks because he was thinking that was a ghost in the second floor. And then Mr. Wise said one day that he was on the second floor, and he saw Mrs. Bliss in the second floor, and he follow him. And he coming to me and say, “José, you never see something like that?” I say, “No, Mr. Wise. I never saw something. I never feel anything.” And I – we have to go from the third floor to the basement, and I never see anything like that. But they were complaining that there were ghosts in the second floor.

MV: Mm. And was that the only time you ever heard about ghosts at Dumbarton Oaks?

JG: Right. It’s the only time that I hear about that kind of thing.

MV: Wow. So, in 1979, how did you make the transition over to the finance department from facilities?

JG: Well, in 1979, it’s what I said. When Tova Kaplan left Dumbarton Oaks, Ms. Baglia know that I know accounting, and I have taken my degree in accounting at the Maryland University. And she said, “We have a small position over here, but do you want to fill out the position? I mean, I’m going to talk with Judy Siggins”­ ­­– that was the assistant director at that time – “she – to see if you can get the position, because I need somebody, and I know that you can fit that position easy.” I said, “Okay.” You know, I was looking for something to start in accounting, in order to go to someplace else. I didn’t think to start in Dumbart – to finish in Dumbarton Oaks my days of ­ to retirement. I was thinking to starting something to have some background and go to some place else. Then when Judy Siggins, asked – when she, Judy Siggins, made the interview to me, of course as a houseman, we worked forty hours. As a – in the office, they worked only thirty-five. Then Judy Siggins said to me, “José, you going to be in the office, because Ms. Baglia want you in the office, but because you going from forty to thirty-five, we are not going to give you any raise this year. And you going to be in the office for one year without a raise. And also, if you don’t want to be the office later on or we – you don’t fit in that position because we don’t think that you fit in that position, you going to be out of Dumbarton Oaks, because you are not going to have the position back as a houseman, and you are not going to have any position. You have to leave Dumbarton Oaks.” I said, “That’s okay. I’m going to take it. I know that I am going to fill the position, and I need the position.” And that was the way that I get that position.

MV: Mm. And what exactly were your duties as an accounting – in accounting and as a financial assistant, financial officer?

JG: Well, when I was – it’s what I said. When I was accounting clerk, I only do the – one book that was – two books. That was the register for the income, and the register for the expenses. And I didn’t know anything about anything else, okay? When Ms. Baglia left in –  in February – in February 1980, Mrs. Seagle told me that they – Mrs. Siggins told me that they need somebody to fill out. Meanwhile they find another person to fill out the position. And I said, “Okay.” I said to her, “Well, you know, I don’t know anything about nothing. I don’t know anything about payroll. I don’t know anything about budget. I don’t know anything about nothing here because I only have taking care of two books, and I didn’t know.” She said, “Well, meanwhile I need that you fill out, because I cannot bring somebody that – to fill out.” Meanwhile, come in the next people that are going to take the – as a bookkeeper. Of course, because I have the background from Cuba.

MV: Mmm hmm.

JG: I was graduated in the Havana University. I know everything about accounting. The only thing that I have to do – do the work in Maryland University to get the diploma here in the United States. Then I start seeing what she was doing, and my wife told me, “They were taking advantage of you.” Because I was working – sometimes I went in to the office at seven o’clock in the morning, and I worked at night. And I worked Saturday and Sunday, because, you know, I had to put to the – up to date in what day, into whatever they were doing, and how to pay the peoples. And I didn’t know what they were doing! And then I have to learn all of this.

MV: Mmm hmm.

JG: When Ken Barnes came in, he told me, “You – how much you making?” I say, at that time, I make ten thousand dollars. And he said, “That is nothing.” We are talking about 1980. That was nothing. And he said, “I’m going to ask for increase in your salary.” And he increased my salary to thirteen thousand dollars because was – he need me to help him on the – because he didn’t know anything about how to handle everything. He’s coming from outside and he didn’t know how it worked, everything there. And then I have to give all the information to him and help him to manage things. And he said, “Without you, I cannot function. You – I need you.” Then I start to be in – in that way, I was more inside of what was Dumbarton Oaks. I was doing all the work I was doing in Dumbarton Oaks in Dumbarton Oaks by itself. And six months, almost six months after it happened – because at that time, Judy gave me a bonus of two thousand dollars and – because of the work that I was doing. But at that time, in nine – in – when I came – I went on vacation for one week, and when I came back, Ken Barnes said to me, “You know, I got into a fight with Judy, I am going to leave.” And I said, “Again?” Now it’s – but now, at that time, was not a problem for me, because I know everything. Then Judy asked me, “You take over.” I said, “Uh uh. I don’t take over that way. You have to give me eighteen thousand dollars.”

MV: Hmm.

JG: Then she said, “I am going to talk to Mr. Constable, but no way that you going to get that.” And I said, “Well, if you don’t get – if I don’t get an increase, you have to look for somebody to do it. I’m going to quit.” Then she came in the day after and said sixteen five hundred. I said, “Well, it’s three thousand five hundred more.” Then I said, “Okay, I’m going to get it.” Then when Marlene came in, Marlene was doing – was – was – instead of being the accountant, Marlene was making later on Director of Finance Office. And then she made me the, an officer, and put me as her assistant. I was – but at that time, I was doing budget, I was doing all the relation with Harvard, I was doing all the changes in the benefit operation. Everything. I know everything. I worked with Mr. – Professor Kazhdan in the book that they, he did for the Dictionaries of Byzantium. And if you see the, in the – when you going in the first page, that has Marlene’s name and my name there. That means that I worked with the grant for him, and because he was – when he came in from Russia and he was doing that kind of edit work for the Dictionary of Byzantium, and I was involved in too many – I was like the right hand of Marlene. Marlene cannot work at that time without me, because I was her main – and I – she trust me like I was her main. It’s what I – the way that I was up in Dumbarton Oaks, in the accounting department.

MV: Mm. How was Dr. Kazhdan to work with?

JG: Who?

MV: Dr. Kazhdan?

JG: Dr. Kazhdan was – you see, this is another thing that happened in my life. You know, I am a Cuban, and you know the Cuba – Cuba was under the Russia boot all the time.

MV: Yes.

JG: And I hate the Russians. The Russian – I cannot see the Russians. [Laughter] When Mr. Kazhdan came in, he started sending for Russia all these books, I said that come in from Russia, that Russia, that I don’t like them. You know? And I have friends that was a professor at that time that was – one was from Yugoslavia, and was from – the another was from Hungary. And all the time they say, “Why you trust the Russia?” I say, “No, I don’t trust them.” They say, “No, I don't trust either.” Then – because we coming from countries that were under the direct of the, of Russia. And when Mr. Kazhdan came in, I can no – I was so scared to talk too much with him, because I said, well, that kind of person, I don’t know who is, you know? But one day he came into Marlene and said to Marlene, “You know who can do my taxes?” Marlene said to him, “José doing taxes for people. You can – you can talk with José. And he talked to me. And when I said, “Well, I do my – the taxes in my office that is in Maryland.” And he said, “Well, I cannot go to Maryland.” He said, “You can go to my home? Come to my home?” And he had a home near, inside Dumbarton Oaks in one of the houses. And I came into his home. Then I learned who was Mr. Kazhdan. Professor Kazhdan was a patriarch in his home. His wife – I don’t remember now the name, but she was – whatever she said was – every person follow whatever he said. And I eat sometimes with Professor Kazdhan, his wife, and his children. And then I changed my attitude to the Russians. He changed my attitude to the Russians that I said, “Oh no, all the Russians are not the same.” You know? And that was Professor Kazhdan. Professor Kazhdan, I have also that one day, we’re talking in one of these parties that make in Dumbarton Oaks. And there was Professor Loerke, Professor Kazhdan – I don’t remember who other professor. And they say, “José, come here and sit with us over here.” And I said, “Professor Kazhdan, you work so hard that you have to take some time for yourself.” “José” – and he said, “José, when you get my age, you going to see that you don’t have time. I have to finish this book, and I have to work – whatev – out what I need to work, because I have to finish that book.” And that was one of the things that I learned from him, that when you have to work, no matter what age you have, you have to do the work that you have to do.

MV: Right. Are there some other memorable people you met during your years here, aside from the ones we’ve already mentioned?

JG: Well, yeah, it’s what I said. Professor Loerke was a – he was the Director of Byzantine Studies when I in came in to – and was so respectful to the people, because [they] were professors, but they – he was a nice person also. And even he was a professor that was – he have a charge, he always was so nice with the people like that. There are too many people that I met there. Professor Brown – Professor Browning. Professor Browning. Professor Browning was from England, and he was such a nice person that he came in one day and was calling Professor Grierson, that there was also from England. Professor Grierson always was complaining about the breakfast. And Professor Grierson was – they come in to buy the ticket for the, for lunch there. And Professor Grierson was complaining about that they don’t have a cereal that have some kind of mixture. And he said, “What you complaining for? I mean, you can do this. You can take this and yogurt with this one, and you can make your own breakfast. What you complaining for?” And Professor Browning was a person that I remember so well. He speak about five or six languages, and was a person that was like – it wasn’t – it was the classic professor that he was not, because “I know this. I am a professor,” such. He was so nice with everybody, and he – when he have somebody that can speak Spanish, he just speak Spanish like he was part of these people that speak Spanish at that time. And that was one of the person that I remember always, and he passed away a long time ago. But always have in my mind, Professor Browning, because she was – he was a nice person.

MV: Did you also get to know Elizabeth Boone at all?

JG: Elizabeth Boone? Yeah. I work for Elizabeth Boone as a custodian until I passed to the – I was transferred to the office. And Elizabeth Boone is a nice person too. She never complained about anything. She never complained on how you clean the office. She always was so nice that she was the director of the department also, and she always with me was like another person. She always treat me like I was not the custodian. Later on, when I passed to the office, she always – we, she and me, we are always in a friend mode all the time, because she was a friendly person.

MV: That’s great. And another person who speaks fondly of you is Natalia Teteriatnikov, who is the reason I actually got your phone number in the first place. And did – how was she?

JG: Well, Natalia – oh, well, she’s from Russia. But when I met Natalia, I already know Professor Kazhdan, and we make a good relationship, Natalia and me. And through the years, we talk to each other. And I doing her taxes. I still doing her taxes from Miami. She live in Washington and I live – I do her taxes every – year after year. Natalia –

MV: You still do it now?

JG: Eh?

MV: You still do them now?

JG: Yeah.

MV: That’s great.

JG: Yeah. Yeah. Natalia and me, we were like friends. And we sometimes – when she call me, I ask her about Dumbarton Oaks, and I ask her about Abbrial and about everybody, because she is there and she going to the parties. And she’s always telling me about – when Marlene was sick, she was – I ask her all that happened, and I couldn’t go to the Marlene funeral, but I – through her, I gave my sympathy to Mark, that was Marlene’s husband. You know, she is a good friend. I – John Nesbitt? Professor Nesbitt.

MV: Yes.

JG: I still doing taxes for Professor Nesbitt. We talk about Dumbarton Oaks from time to time also.

MV: How was he to work with back then at Dumbarton Oaks?

JG: Who, Natalia?

MV: No. John Nesbitt.

JG: John Nesbitt was – at that time, he was with Professor Grierson in the Byzantine coins.

MV: Yes.

JG: And Nesbitt is a – a good person. But he is not too much to talk, you know? Even now, he – we talk from time to time, but he no too express. He doesn’t like to talk too much, in other words. He – I talk to him from time to time, but he’s – he’s a nice person, but he’s not too much talking. You know what I’m meaning?

MV: Mmm hmm.

JG: He’s a… He’s a person that is more inside himself.

MV: Mmm hmm. So, I remember you made one comment about how you were handling payroll and all this stuff by the time you became a financial officer. Do you – can you tell me a bit about how the relationship between Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard University changed over the years, because you had to deal with them a lot as well?

JG: Well, you see, when I started in the office, was the head of the payroll department in Harvard was Howard Dickerman. Howard Dickerman was a person that was – I never met him – but was an old person, a person that was almost for retirement. He retired about two or three year after that. And from these people that I work with when I started working with Harvard – all these people help me a lot, from Harvard, to introduce me in the Harvard system. After that, they came in, the new peoples. The new people that came in to Harvard was more – they pick the work that they do it in different peoples. In other words, one person, when I start, control too many situations in Harvard, too many – payroll and taxes and too many things. Then later on came in that you have one person for each categories, and they were more to deal with more people. And each people behave in different ways, in the way that they have. There were people that were nice people in Harvard that you work with him or with them all the time. And they were so helpful, you know, like Victoria. I don’t remember what was the last name, but Victoria was the head of the accounting in Harvard. Well, she was a nice person, and Julie, that was a Chilean woman, she was her assistant, and they were nice person to work. And with that – I cannot mention too many names. That doesn’t come to my mind now. But there were too many people that were working in Harvard that they were so nice with deal with them, and so nice to – the way that they behave in the way that, in the – inside the work that we have to do it, that they know what they were doing, and they were so nice to – that any time that you call Harvard, they try to deal with you in a way that they supposed to be deal. And it changed – it’s what I said – from what was one person or two person or three person in Harvard, that was the Director of Finance that I talk – I don’t – Victor – I don’t remember the last name. At that time, there was the Director of Finance. I talk with him. But it was more a person that “I am the director.” You know? When – later on, when the situation changed, the thing that changed in Dumbarton Oaks, changed in Harvard, that the people were – because we’re two different – too many people doing different job that was controllable by one person, was more a public place that was – in other words, when I start with, in the office.

MV: Mmm hmm. Were there ever any financial tensions between Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks that you can remember? Not between the people, but institutionally.

JG: Well, yeah. Harvard – sometimes they take. They take things that Marlene sometimes said, “You know, Harvard want this in this way.” And Marlene decided with that. But because the Harvard was the one that control, even if they have that tension, we have to do whatever they want that we do it, because we cannot say no. Sometimes Marlene complaining that was not the way, and sometimes we tried to change some of the situation because it was, it make some kind of problem to us. And sometimes they give that to us, but most of the time, they say, “No. You should do it this way.” And there were the tension. Not with me, but with my boss that have to control the department.

MV: Do you remember any specifics?

JG: No, I cannot say because she – you know, it’s a long time, right?

MV: Right.

JG: I can no keep in mind all these things, you know? Because Marlene passed away. I mean, I was more to talk with Marlene about things. But because she passed away, you know, I – you know, I separated from the way that Dumbarton Oaks is, was working. I don’t have any comment to do, because I don’t have anybody to comment with.

MV: Yes. Aside from the holiday parties and stuff, did you ever attend any of the other programs that Dumbarton Oaks had? Any concerts, any symposiums?

JG: No, the symposiums are for the professors. We don’t go to the symposiums. When I was a guard, we have to take care of things. And when I was a houseman for the symposium, that put the – assembling the chairs and do these things. When I was in the office, I mean, I only worked with the financial matters for that kind of symposium. But never we have to involve with the symposium, because the symposium, it was a Byzantine symposium. It was for the people of the Byzantine. What was for Landscape was for Landscape. What was for Pre-Columbian was for Pre-Columbian professors and Fellows. We don’t have to do anything with that.

MV: Okay. And did departments interact at all back in the 1970s, 1980s?

JG: Interact with the symposium?

MV: No, the departments interact with each other.

JG: Oh yeah, you know, all the department have to do with the – in – reviewing the different stories. Byzantine, Landscape, and Pre-Columbian, they interact in, among themselves. But I don’t have anything to do with that, but at the same time, they have their own system and their own symposium, and every – you know, their own study. And with us, they have to interact, because we have to do all the financial – money for all the symposium and for the – for these people. And they have to come to us to interact with us. And meanwhile, they interact between them for the different symposium and the different studies. But it’s what I said. I cannot say what they, how they interact, but I know that they interact between things themselves. And of course, they have to interact with the administration, because the director is the one that have to set up everything for the different studies.

MV: Did the interactions between the Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Landscape Garden Departments with the Finance Department change over the years? Did you interact more at different events, or just for financial purposes only?

JG: No, for financial purpose only. We don’t interact. And also, if there are some books that they have to make the publication, like we do it with the Dictionaries of Byzantium. That I remember because we get the grant for them and we have to control the grant. And like this, too many of these publications have to come through Glenn Ruby – that was the head of the publication office. And at that time that he passed away – I think that happened the year after the – oh, one year after I left Dumbarton Oaks. And he have to bring all of these with the professor or the person that was doing the book, and the publication office, to us, and then we have to take care of that. I mean, they talk with Marlene, and Marlene give the order to us, how to deal with these kind of situations.

MV: Could you quickly tell me a bit about Glenn Ruby, if you remember a bit about him?

JG: Glenn Ruby was a nice person, also. A person that, even if he was the head of the publication office, and he have in his hand all the publications that were in Dumbarton Oaks, and he have to assist all the publications to all the professors that do the publication, and he have that responsibility, also he was a really – person that he was no having his position like “I am the head of the department.” Glenn Ruby was a person who deal with everybody. His own department loved him, and the people loved him. And even the housemen loved him, because I said to him sometimes, to Glenn, “Glenn, why you transport all these books from one place to another instead of calling one houseman to do that?” He said, “José, they are busy with another things, and I can do it myself.” And he removed his necktie, and he take all the books and move it from that place to another. Glenn Ruby was a nice person and my friend also. Any time that he have to do some kind of financial things with his – money, you know, his sister money, when his father passed away, he come to my office to see what he can do with that money. Glenn Ruby was a nice, nice person, a really hard worker, and he know his job.

MV: That’s great. Wow. And, I guess, reflecting on the years that you spent here, can you characterize some of the major changes you’ve observed at Dumbarton Oaks as a whole?

JG: What you meaning?

MV: Some big changes at Dumbarton Oaks since you started in 1978. It’s a very different place now than it was then.

JG: All they say now, the people that are there – I have a friend that I bring to Dumbarton Oaks as a houseman, and he says, my friend – and he was doing my garden in my home. Meanwhile I was here in Miami until I saw the – and I do his taxes and his wife that have a business. And he have to resign, take the – his retirement from Dumbarton Oaks, because he said that it’s impossible to work in Dumbarton Oaks, that the situation there changed a lot from the time that I left to now, that – he said that Dumbarton Oaks Is not the easy way to work. I don’t know what they have to do, but people were complaining that they are not the same, the same way. I – it’s why I’d like to talk to Abbrial to see what Abbrial thinking about, because she’s doing the part-time job, and see what it’s all about. Because Abbrial and me, we were talking all the time when she was working with the – in the financial office.

MV: I think she just retired.

JG: She retired? She’s not working anymore?

MV: Just this year.

JG: Ah. This year. Oh. Because she, Abbrial born exactly 19 – 32. Then Abbrial is now 83 years old. Then it’s time for retirement, but Abbrial was – she was working the part time. But she was retired from Dumbarton Oaks by the time that I was there. She retired. She already retired, but she was working as a part time in the Fellows Building.

MV: Right. She’s retired multiple times and come back.

JG: Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm.

MV: I will be sure to give her your phone number.

JG: Okay.

MV: Do you know much about Dumbarton Oaks’ relationship with the public over the years?

JG: Well, no. With the public, I don't know. I only – when I was the guard in the collection – with the public, I don’t know what is the relation between Dumbarton Oaks and the public.

MV: All right. And so you’re retired to Florida now?

JG: Yeah, I retire and I live in Florida. I – after my wife passed away, I decided to – we were thinking to move to Florida before she passed away, and after she passed away, I decided to move to Florida. Even my children live in the Washington area, but I decide to move to Florida, because I – I don’t want to see more winter in my life. [Laughter]

MV: A lot of snow, for sure.

JG: Yeah. Yeah. That’s it.

MV: Right. And I’m assuming you miss the times you were at Dumbarton Oaks? You speak of it very fondly.

JG: Oh yeah, yeah. I miss the times, and sometimes I think that the time that I was working there and the people that were working with me first as a houseman that still I have some – it’s what I said – some relation with the – some of the housemen that was working at that time, and with the people that work with me, that I miss all these time. But as life is going on, you cannot go back. You have to continue going.

MV: Right.

JG: You know? But I miss the time. I miss the people. And now, not most of the people are there that I know, because most of the people retired or passed away, or, you know, are gone in some way. I don’t think that most of the people that when I was working there, one of them is there, you know, because most of them were gone. I don’t know even in the Landscape Architecture, when I left, was Linda Lott. I don’t know if you know if Linda Lott is still there in the –

MV: She’s still here.

JG: Eh?

MV: She’s still here.

JG: She’s still there. You see, Linda Lott – when you talk to her, you say, “You know, José talk about you.” And she, also – if she – you want to give the phone to her, I like to talk to Linda.

MV: Okay.

JG: Linda was a nice person also.

MV: Right. I will.

JG: You know. But it’s what I said. The time that I was there was like we were a big family. We were – it was not a place that I worked. It was a place that you feel like a family with everybody, because everybody was so friendly, and we behaved like a big family. And I miss that. You know, but this is life.

MV: Right.

JG: Life change.

MV: If I may ask, how old are you?

JG: I am?

MV: Yes.

JG: I am now seventy-five.

MV: Wow. Incredible.

JG: I am seventy-five but I still behave like fifty. Because I went to a party that is my girlfriend family, and I still can swim the pool, under the water.

MV: Wow.

JG: At seventy-five. Okay? And I can dance one hour without resting, okay?

MV: That’s better than I can dance. [Laughter]

JG: Then I can dance a Latin dance. That is more difficult because you have to move a lot. But I still can do it, yeah. Still with my seventy-five years old, I can do that. And I can walk forty blocks without any problem.

MV: That’s amazing.

JG: I’m with diabetes for forty-seven years, forty-eight years, that is amazing, yeah. But you see –

MV: Congratulations.

JG: Thank you. I never smoke. That is one of the things that I never did. I never smoke. I don’t drink. I can drink a glass of wine, but I don’t drink. But this is my way that I behave, and I still feel like I am a young person.

MV: Yes. Do you have any specifically particular memories that stand out to you from your time at Dumbarton Oaks? Interesting stories or anecdotes?

JG: No, I tell you most of the anecdote that I was thinking. Maybe I have someone, but you see, with the time, those things are gone. And sometimes, I don’t want to remember things that make me sad, in many ways. Because it was a beautiful time that I spent there, and sometimes, when it’s coming to me, I don’t want to feel like… things. Like when my boss passed away, that my friend call me ­– the one that made my garden home there in Maryland – and he said, “You know that Marlene passed away?” I was entering in the place that my girlfriend worked. And I have to stop and I started crying, because she was not my boss. She was my friend. And you feel sad that – I no like to go to Dumbarton Oaks. Sometimes I going to Maryland to see my children and my grandchildren, but I don’t want to go to Dumbarton Oaks because there are too many things that going to make me sad. If Marlene was still there –I went to Dumbarton Oaks to see her, because she was – but because, you know, all these people – you see, Abbrial is retired, because she’s 83, and most of the people – the only one that is still there to be is Hector, in the Fellows Building.

MV: Yes.

JG: You know that – when Hector – ask Hector. When Hector start working in the Fellows Building, who helped him to be the manager in a way that he doesn’t know anything about budget and anything. And I helped him to learn everything about budgeting and everything that he can get the position. And when you talk to him, say, “José is giving greeting to you.” And ask him, “José said that he helped you when you start with, as a manager of the Fellows Building.” And he’s going to tell you, “Yeah. He helped me to be the manager of the Fellows Building.” In a way that he doesn’t know anything about budgeting and anything, and I helped, the way that I helped, too, many peoples. Any time that I can help – it’s what I said. We were a big family, and we behaved like a big family at that time.

MV: Yes, I can see that. Is there anything I’ve left out that you would like to add?

JG: No. No, I think that I tell you all that I have in my heart and my mind.

MV: Yeah, it’s been incredible just listening to you.

JG: Okay?

MV: Thank you so –

JG: And if you doing something that you can send me some of the things that you are doing that I look for other people comments and everything, if you going to make a – or a book that you’re going to write. What you going to do with all these memories?

MV: I’m going to write, basically, the transcription of this audio, and then it’s going up on the website in the Oral History Project.

JG: Okay.

MV: So, we’re interviewing everyone. We’ve interviewed Abbrial. We’re interviewing basically anyone we can that’s been at Dumbarton Oaks. So, I could send you definitely the link to Abbrial’s interview when it comes up.

JG: Okay. Any people that I know that I remember that you interview, if you can send it to me to see what they were telling you about Dumbarton Oaks.

MV: I will.

JG: Okay?

MV: I will. Thank you so much for your time.

JG: You’re welcome.