Apparently, Historic Colonial Williamsburg and Lake Placid, the site of two Olympic Winter Games and a resort town that attracts visitors from around the world, are places where serendipity, "fortuitous happenstance," frequently occurs.
I can testify to it.
It was Veterans Day, and I was taking my usual daily walk in the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg.
Suddenly, President George Washington, in full regalia, (interpreted by Colonial Williamsburg's Ron Carnegie) came up to me and in an 18th century official tone said: "Sir, I would like to thank you for your wartime services."
Stunned, I replied, "But I did not serve in the War of Independence." Washington, without missing a beat, said: "No, no, I am referring to the Second World War and your service in the resistance, against the Nazis."
Still confused, I asked him, "How did you learn about my activities during the Second World War?"
"I read The Virginia Gazette, and I am well informed," Washington said.- - -
My wife and I were having coffee at the sidewalk cafe, in front of the William & Mary Bookstore on Merchant's Square. We were talking Czech. A lady, sitting at the next table, came over and asked what language we were using. When she learned that it was Czech, she said, "I thought it was Hungarian. My parents came to America from there."
A conversation ensued, and she told us his father was Jewish and her mother, a Roman Catholic. They survived the Second World War in Budapest. He became a shoemaker, specializing in making riding boots.
"He crafted riding boots for high-ranking SS officers, and they protected him from being deported to an extermination camp," she said.
In 1956, during the short-lived Hungarian uprising against the Soviet occupation, her family managed to escape and made their way to the United States. I asked whether her father continued to make riding boots in America.
"Oh, no. Here he became a professor of library sciences at Wayne State University in Michigan. But he remained connected to his Hungarian roots. He served for years as a columnist for the Hungarian-language newspaper, Szabadsag, in Cleveland, Ohio."
I remembered his name. As the foreign news editor of that paper, I edited his columns.
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This time, it was a coffee klatch that served as a platform for establishing a connection between Williamsburg and Chestertown, Md.
Elisabeth, the wife of Mitchell Reiss, former vice provost for International Affairs at the College of William & Mary, now serving as president of the prestigious Washington College in Chestertown, Md., was back in town.
We talked about her role as "first lady" at Washington College. It apparently reaches well beyond the campus. She is deeply engaged in promoting cultural programs at local schools that would enrich the learning experience. While we were conversing, Thomas and Alice Lindsay, a local couple passed by our table. We introduced them to Elisabeth.
The Lindsays, both eminent violinists, co-founded the St. Bede Orchestra School after they retired in Williamsburg. It was "established for the purpose of providing training for string students of all levels," and they turned out to be the ideal source of information on how to launch a community-based summer training program.
Adding to the string of unexpected happenstances, the give-and-take between them revealed that Alice Lindsay's nephew is a member of the Washington College faculty.
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In a recent column, I wrote about the role the Olympic People-for-People Program played during the 1980 Winter Olympics, in helping Edward Lozansky, a nuclear physicist, in exile from the Soviet Union, to bring his wife and young daughter to America.
After the collapse of Communism, Lozansky, returned to Russia, became the founder and president of the American University in Moscow and is recognized as a vital bridge between American and Russian institutions of higher education.
Because of the Lake Placid link, Lozansky is now in the process of establishing a relationship between the College of William & Mary and the prestigious Russian Nuclear Research University. A Skype-conducted lecture series is in the work to explore how U.S.Russia rapprochement can be achieved through military, science and technology cooperation.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette.