Tyler turning 80? No way. But, here we were, at a birthday party featuring everything but a performing horse, although there were plenty in the pastures, and there he was, Tyler wearing a cap with the number 80 and the letters WFM — had to be a radio station. No, said Tyler, the initials were Walter F. Mondale’s and the year was 1980 and the cap was a gift. But, never mind, today was Tyler Abell’s day to celebrate 80 with another gift: friends from close by and as far away as Arizona and Florida who celebrated this Saturday afternoon with him, his wife Bess and their family.
Tyler and Bess Abell, who were married in 1955, (they eloped back then), are Potomac stalwarts who have lived a life immersed in politics and a passion for their farm. He is a lawyer and former Chief of Protocol serving under President Lyndon Johnson from 1968-69; and she, a former White House social secretary to Lady Bird Johnson. He is stepson of nationally syndicated columnist, Drew Pearson; and she, the daughter of Earle Clements, former congressman, governor of Kentucky and U. S. senator.
Their farm overlooking the Potomac River, where the party took place, is called Merry-Go-Round farm and has been in Tyler’s family since the ‘30s. It was the spot where Drew Pearson went to escape Washington and who later turned it into a farm, which he named after his syndicated column: “Washington Merry-Go-Round.”
Tyler grew up here, rode horses here, raised a family here, and created a community here when he developed this 210-acre piece of Eden. Around 79 unique home sites now meander unobtrusively throughout the farm, which has over 30 horses, an indoor riding ring and miles of trails — a perfect place for a party.
On the invitation, they called it a Mini-Fair and it was that and much more. I walked into yesterday when I walked down the lane towards the party where sounds of the ‘60s wafted out on the guitar beat of Santana. His rhythmic vibe vied with the calling out of Bingo numbers announcing their winners; kids were swinging with a hula-hoop while some brave folks sat to have their caricature created. We paused at the popcorn stand just like old times and it brought back memories of another moment, our younger selves maybe.
It was a convergence of the old and the new. Friends from the early years mingled with the residents of today’s Merry-Go-Round community, just as “a younger than that” Potomac crowd began to show through, those who only know the older Tyler and Bess and probably have no idea about that ‘60s Capitol Hill crowd and what a swish young couple Tyler and Bess were.
When we bought our farm here in the ‘70s, we discovered Tyler. He had already staked out our pastures, his cattle lowing in the early morning. The previous owner had failed to tell us that he rented out our fields. So there we sat facing a fully-stocked farm and a farmer who didn’t look the part and suggested martinis were the right way to end the day. Back then we were the newbies and soon discovered there was much to learn about Tyler and Bess.
But, today, the folks from “old Potomac” prevailed and lingered over lunch to exchange war stories of obstreperous steers and broken fences and the Potomac Hunt back when they rode the hills around here.
It was a splendid afternoon spent with all those who came to celebrate Tyler’s 80 remarkable years. And, scattered around the party among the mementos of his life we found a gift for us, the guests: a young Tyler, smiling, looking oh so Robert Redfordish, artfully emblazoned on a souvenir cookie.
I took one home but haven’t the heart to eat it.
Happy Birthday, Tyler.