“He always called me CHEE-ILE,” Ada DeFranceaux said. The youngest of 12 children, she was referring to one of her older brothers who, at the time, was working in Washington. “When you finish college come to Washington and I will give you a job,” he promised. The then 19-year-old Ada, who had just completed one year of college in her native LaFayette, La., where she was born and raised, replied instantaneously, “I have just finished!”
It was 1932. Ada Moss DeFranceaux, who celebrated her 100th birthday on March 1, arrived in D.C. and took a job as her brother’s secretary and bookkeeper. She never looked back.
Two years later she met her future husband, George, who worked “downstairs in the bank.” She explained how she loved to play tennis and a group from the building would have daily games at lunch time. “I had never formally been introduced to him when he called one day to ask for a date. I refused.”
“He called every night for a week, and days later at parties where there were Paul Jones dances, the red head George somehow always appeared in front of me,” she marveled. Due to his persistence, after several weeks, he got his first date and finally the girl. Their marriage, two years later, took place at Sacred Heart Church, Washington. It lasted for 62 years until George’s death in 1997.
Prior to moving to Potomac in 1948, Ada and George had four children, Jeff, Don, Diane and Kay. “At first we lived in Chevy Chase but the children wanted horses. I finally agreed to move on one condition. I will name the place. It will be ‘Sans Souci,’ without a care.”
From Chevy Chase to Potomac they went and found the joy of horses, fox hunting, comradeship and tranquility. For all of that she said, “I endured carpooling. The children went to Stone Ridge and Georgetown Prep.” There were no regrets.
Shortly after the move the family resumed the Christmas Day parties a tradition they started in Chevy Chase and continued for years. They also had many fundraisers for various organizations including Montgomery County Crippled Children, Christ Child Society, Our Lady of Mercy, the Stone Ridge School Horse Show and St. Francis House Tour at their River Road home.
“Back then everyone helped and cared for each other,“ she reminisced. She fondly told the story about when the Potomac Methodist Church needed a minister. “All the members decided to have a church supper so they could raise funds to hire a minister. The late Marjorie Hendricks owned Normandie Farm and she let the church borrow the restaurant for the supper. “Everyone helped. All denominations got together and both men and women helped,” she recalled. Subsequently, the Rev. Gloyd Allis was called to the ministry and stayed for many years.
On her 100th birthday Ada enjoyed recalling old Potomac friends and the good times they shared. She particularly enjoyed telling about one Christmas Day when there was so much snow on the ground there was no place for their guests to park for the party. “Frank Counselman, a neighbor, called me at 7 a.m. and asked if I would like for him to come over and scrape the front field so cars could park.” That was the nicest thing that ever happened to me in Potomac,” she said, adding, “That was Potomac in those days.”
“Those days” were also before Mitch and Bill’s, (that location was formerly Hitchcock’s beer parlor) and Benny Counselman’s grocery store, now Hunter’s Inn. Across River Road, now the BP station, was the baseball field. Ada remembers it all.
Moving on from the history lesson Ada regaled a reporter with memories of her old friends and the fun they had. She recalled, “The last time I had a big party was for my 90th birthday. I invited the Kiplingers. Kip took the message, said they would be there. They arrived the day after the party.” She still laughs about it.
She mentioned Ray and Jalma Norton, after whom Norton Road is named, and their home there. That was the site of many Potomac Hunt meets. Down River Road, pass the Village, an area now called, “Belle Terre” was Jocelyn and Pete (Dr.) Moran’s River Road home, also a gathering for Potomac Hunt meets. Yes, there was fox hunting in that area then. Charlie Carrico’s horses and hounds were across from the DeFranceaux’s 9124 River Road. Ada remembers it well.
She also considered Anita and Sam Bogley among her closest friends. He was one of the original owners of Potomac Place (Safeway) Shopping center. Anita Bogley and Lyn Carroll were original owners of The Surrey, a Potomac institution for 56 years before moving to Darnestown. She included Margo and Mike McConihe, he was among those who started the first shopping center, and Jane and Joe Kreeger, and their son, Jake. “It was Jake who named me ‘Ada Potato’ and when Jane heard him she scolded him. I told her not to dare let him stop. I loved it.”
The annual Christmas Santa Claus, Charlie Paine, and his wife, Eva, were also favorites. They lived on Persimmon Tree Road, next door to Jane Read, another of Ada’s special friends. Every Christmas morning Charlie would get in his Santa suit, saddle his gray horse and deliver Christmas presents, riding miles, often as far as Travilah Road. She has forgotten nothing about the “good old days.”
The Leonards who lived nearby, bought their place in 1949. Jack Leonard, Sr., Jack, Jr. and Jack, III all lived there at one time or another. Jack, III, married Kay DeFranceaux in 1983. “We knew each other as kids,” he said. The couple, who with their daughter, Carolyn, flew from their home in Kauai, Hawaii, to celebrate the birthday.
Although March 1 marked Ada’s centennial, the big celebration was March 2 at Congressional Country Club where 96 guests gathered for a luncheon. She greeted everyone with hugs and kisses. When time came for her to address the gathering, Ada, who loves to sing, told her guests: “They are very few words, but very meaningful and from an old song. Three little words and eight little letters, ‘I love you.’ Thank you for coming to an old gal’s last hurrah.”
The party went on for several hours with the hostess in fine fettle. Guests had as many recollections to impart as Ada did. One former neighbor, Jake Kreeger, told the story about his father’s 60th birthday. “My step mother announced that she was having a party to celebrate the occasion. Dad told her emphatically that he did not want it and would not come. Two hundred people came that evening. When Dad came home and saw all the cars he kept on going.”
Alan Lord remembered days in Potomac when his dad, The Rev. Martin Lord was the first rector (1955-’58) at St. Francis Episcopal Church. He said after his mother died his dad (now deceased) moved back to County Cork, Ireland, for 10 years. He subsequently remarried. Alan, who has an appraisal and real estate company in Alexandria, and his wife, Tena, have two daughters and three grandchildren.
There were dozens at the party from Maplewood, the Bethesda retirement community where Ada now lives. Also there were her four children, Jeff (from LaFayette), Diane Grog (from California), Kay and Jack Leonard (Hawaii) and Don and his wife, Peggy DeFranceaux, of Washington. Don and Peggy, due to their proximity, were the chief luncheon planners. “We also had quite a party at our house last night,” Don confessed, “and another planned for tonight. I’m going in hiding next week,” he added.
Counting Ada’s four children, nine grandchildren and 14 great- grandchildren, many of whom were at the luncheon, there was no end of memories and nostalgia. Barbara Kinney deFranceaux, Ada’s sister-in-law, was there with her son and daughter-in-law, Clark and Joannie. Barbara is the widow of Howard deFranceaux, George’s brother. Yes, it is the lower case spelling of deFranceaux. “They were educated in different areas and that was how they were taught,” Barbara explained.
Lisa and Rick Arrowsmith with her mother, Sue Monahan; Elie and Ted Cain, Leonard Proctor who can relate almost as many Potomac stories as Ada; and Lindy Boggs, former ambassador to the Vatican and former congresswoman, with her son, Tommy, were all there. Boggs’ daughter, media correspondent Cokie Roberts, was in Rome covering the papal election.
However, the honoree herself had the best story. When asked, “How is your health?” She replied, “Don’t make me brag. I have two pills I take every day. One is a vitamin!”