From Mary Burgan. Email her at mary[AT]borderstan.com.
Iris Molotsky is one of the mothers of Borderstan. She has two daughters. Dr. Ellen Carpenter (PhD) who lives in Norfolk with her husband and three children and is Associate Dean for General Studies at South University (a for-profit school).
Iris’s other daughter, Michele, began a career in municipal service by becoming an indispensable aide to a member of the City Council in Oakland, California, 20 years ago. But she returned to the District after losing her husband to cancer in 2001. Before long, Michele became Jack Evans’ “go to” constituent services person. If a member of the Borderstan community wondered what had happened to her income tax refund — it being four months since her April 15 filing — a call to Michele would bring action. Those who worried about the decay of Stead Park on P Street would take heart when Michele began to oversee the project. Now the playground can be used by toddlers as well as towering basketball players. They don’t risk running each other down.
The service to society of both the Molotsky girls raises the question: How did such a mother raise such daughters? That’s what we asked Iris and Michele when we interviewed them together for this Sunday’s Mother’s Day profile.
Iris told us that she and Irv Molotsky moved to T Street 28 years ago. Irv was drawn to the area because he loved the pizza at the old Trio’s take-out, proclaiming it to be the “best pizza in the District.”
As an historian, Iris was fascinated to discover that their T Street home was in the historic “Striver’s District” where African-American inhabitants at the turn of the 19th Century were skilled laborers, striving to move up in Washington’s black social order. The name of the area matched a name in New York’s Harlem, and so did its developing reputation as a home for DC’s version of the Harlem Renaissance. Since then the street has transitioned from black to white. The diminishment of the black population in the neighborhood worries Iris greatly.
The houses in Striver’s were often constructed to accommodate more than one family, and Iris and Irv found that the house they bought in the mid 1980s was really two houses — built as mirror images of one another, one on top of the other. The Molotskys remodeled the house themselves, but Iris also found time to become involved in cleaning up two small parks where New Hampshire and T intersect.
These parks are known by some long-term neighborhood residents as the “Molotsky parks” because Iris led the effort to clear them out and make them available for neighborhood use. The small T Street Park and the large S Street Dog Park have benefitted from grant money Iris helped to raise, as well as her patience through endless meetings with conflicting views about their use. The results have not been simple successes but a gradual accommodation of conflicting interests.
In 2001 Irv took early retirement from the Times and became a summer editor for the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and Iris retired from her position with the American Association of University Professors as well. As a result, the Molotskys acquired a Paris apartment and became Americans in Paris during the summers. They now divide their time between France and the United States, recently adding China and Italy to the mix as well. The Paris apartment is open to their children, of course. Actually, Michele and Ellen ran the Paris Marathon together on April 15!
Despite maintaining Maison Molotsky in the Marais district of Paris, Iris continues to call the Borderstan neighborhood home. She is president-elect of the DuPont Circle Village, a “neighborhood organization that connects aging residents to services and cultural/social activities so that they can stay in their homes rather than moving to some group facility for the elderly. As leader of this group, Iris has sponsored silent auctions, lectures, and events like cooking demonstrations — all designed to strengthen the community of older people in Borderstan.
Meanwhile Michele has moved on to a new job in the city’s bureaucracy. She is a “Civilian Analyst for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD),” working closely with its “Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit.” That means that she defends the uses of video to enforce traffic and speeding laws.
Yes, Michele admits, “People are either angry or happy” with the new cameras, depending on how recently they have gotten a ticket. But they have to realize that statistics surrounding crash data show that Washington has the highest number of traffic fatalities per 100,000 among the nation’s major cities. Using statistics to save lives is what keeps Michele at the job.
Surveying all the good works performed by the Molotskys we asked Iris and Michele why they, and the absent Ellen, were such perfect illustrations of “like Mother, like Daughter” ? They tried out several answers:
- That they shared the same progressive political views.
- That they had been products of the Women’s and the Civil Rights Movements; “Those times demanded doing.”
- That each had had important men behind them — fathers or spouses, though both recognized the failure of some men to mentor the gifted women who serve them.
- They even thought back to “Grandma” from Philadelphia as the source of their drive to do good.
But finally, and most convincingly, Iris and Michele Molotsky agreed that they had helped and inspired each other without the imposition of maternal power or filial duty. They had become, simply, sisters.
“And,” they agreed, “We like each other!”