Any person who would take pride on being on a President's "Enemies List" would have to be strong. Catherine Winkler Herman was that, and so much more.
"She was very dignified and conservative in her outward appearance and dress, but she was very, very smart in whatever issue she was speaking about. She did not hold back," said Randy Kell, the former CEO of the Mark Winkler Company, about Winkler Herman; a staunch Democrat and human rights activist. Kell said, Winkler Herman believed she was on the "Enemy List" of President Richard Nixon for her support of Adlai Stevenson and her membership in groups Nixon would have found "questionable." None of this bothered Winkler Herman in the least, nor swayed her from helping causes she was passionate about. "She was very strong and never complained," said her daughter, Tori Thomas.
Winkler Harmon, who died on June 7 at age 93 after a short illness, is widely known throughout the Alexandria/DC area for her charity work, particularly Alexandria's Winkler Botanical Preserve, which she founded in memory of her late husband Mark.
"She planted the seeds of many flowers here, but I'd like to say they are seeds of compassion too," said Jodie Smolik, who is Executive Director of the Winkler Botanical Preserve. "She was so caring. She cared about people, she cared about plants and animals in nature," Smolik said.
Caring was indeed a large part of Winkler's Herman's life, both personally and professionally. The Montana native spent many years working as a psychiatric social worker for the Jewish Social Service Agency of Washington D.C., primarily counseling young women who were single parents. Seeing these women and getting to know them on a personal level, led Winkler Harmon to endow several scholarship programs that sent single mothers across the country to colleges and universities.
Winkler Harmon, herself, received a higher education experience, something rare for many other women of her generation. She was a graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle, and later earned a Masters Degree in social work from Howard University in Washington D.C.
As she earned her degrees, Winkler Herman also started a family. She married Mark Winkler in 1942, and together they had three daughters: Tori Thomas of McLean, Kathleen Wennesland of Longmont, Colorado, and Margaret Hecht of Kula Hawaii. She was married to Winkler until his death in 1970.
In 1981, Winkler Herman attended her 50th high school reunion, probably not expecting to find romantic love there as well. Yet, she did. At the reunion she rekindled a former friendship with Dean Herman, a former classmate. They were wed the following year, and stayed married until Herman died in 1996. Though Winkler Herman was now a widow for the second time, Thomas said her mother "just kept going, always."
Despite having spent most of her life married, Winkler Herman was very much an independent woman, especially in regard to her unwavering support of the causes most close to her heart. In addition the scholarships she endowed to single mothers, Winkler Herman was also behind the Mark and Catherine Winkler Foundation which has been in existence over the past 25 years, long past Mark Winkler’s death. The foundation supports low-income daycare projects throughout the Washington D.C. area. This foundation was behind the Healthy Families Program in Alexandria and Fairfax County and many other local projects and foundations.
Despite the many gifts Winkler Herman was able to give, her friends insist that she always preferred to remain behind the scenes. "She did not seek recognition and she would not allow it," said Kell.
Winkler Herman was also involved with many health/medical-related causes, providing financial support to not only hospitals, but doctors and their patients, as well. One of Winkler Herman's most significant acts involving healthcare was her partnership with Georgetown University to provide funding to send fourth year medical students to third world countries to provide medical care. She most recently endowed two professors at Harvard University's School of Public Health to address issues concerning human health and the environment.
Perhaps protecting the environment was the cause that Winkler Herman championed the most.
"She kind of found beauty in everything, but especially the outdoors," said Smolik, who said Winkler Herman visited The Winkler Botanical Preserve on a regular basis, even toward the end of her life when she toured the grounds in a golf cart. The preserve currently provides science, environment, and nature education programs for students in the Northern Virginia area.
Smolik believe that it is because of Winkler Herman, herself, that the program will not suffer after her death.
"She's planted the seeds to continue. The preserve will be here forever, thanks to her and her children," said Smolik
In addition to her three daughters, she is survived by eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. According to Thomas, Winkler Herman was a role model to them all, especially because her ‘can-do’ attitude. Thomas described this attribute of her mother’s saying, "she was very strong and always so moral……I have talked to a lot of women with mothers from that World War II era, and they just don’t make them like that anymore. The world will be a lesser place without that generation."