One of Capitol Hill’s preeminent rosarians, Marie Hertzberg, died peacefully at the Washington Home Hospice on Monday, April 2, 2018. A longtime member of the Capitol Hill Garden Club, Marie could fondly recall the early days of the club in the 1950s. Meetings were held in members’ houses over afternoon tea. Membership, after unanimous consent by existing members, was by invitation only.
Then as now, Marie’s roses at 600 East Capitol Street at the corner of 6th St. SE were a neighborhood highlight. Marie especially enjoyed the frequent praise of passers-by.
As she entered her ninth, and then tenth decade of life in the house she refused to leave, she was lovingly cared for until the end by Tonette Yasay and her husband Oriel Yasay. After reading the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and possibly the New Yorker, she would be helped into the stair lift she claimed would ruin her beautiful stairs (it didn’t) and happily travel by wheel chair to local restaurants and art galleries, ending hot summer days with an ice cream cone from Dunkin Donuts. Her last years were brightened by happy memories.
Marie Lucy Pugliesi was born in New York City, the daughter of Italian immigrants. Her father, a skilled tailor at Bergdorf Goodman, and her mother, a home maker, moved their young son and daughter to Brooklyn to a house with a garden, chickens and pets where Marie grew up. Her street and neighborhood were filled with new immigrants, and her gregarious father was soon escorting them downtown to apply for citizenship. Everyone adored Fiorello LaGuardia, who could speak four languages.
Marie enrolled at Brooklyn College and graduated with a degree in economics. After a short stint on Wall Street, she joined the first cadre of women economists, sixteen in all, to join the federal government in Washington.
Always thinking she would soon return to her beloved Brooklyn, Marie worked hard at the Commerce Department as WWII dawned taking graduate courses at night, and enjoying the ferment of wartime Washington.
After the war, at a social at All Souls Church, Marie met a psychologist named Hertzberg who came from an interesting academic family in Buffalo, NY. When the couple married, they bought the house at 115 Carroll Street, SE. “It was a perfect house,” Marie recalled – “small, yet spacious and elegant, with a dining room and kitchen that gave out onto a back garden. Only one block long between First and Second Streets SE, Carroll Street was the prettiest block on the Hill.”
Two years later in 1958, Carroll Street was expropriated (to accommodate the Library of Congress Madison building). Then realtor Arline Roback told Marie that the large derelict Victorian at 600 East Capitol Street would soon be for sale. Marie could never resist a real bargain. They bought.
There was no garden. Not a problem. The couple took all the soil from Carroll Street to the new house. In addition, each fall they dug in more leaves, until “My soil is like silk,” Marie would boast. The Hertzbergs began years of renovations. Both worked hard at their demanding professions. Years went by.
The garden club began including men. It met in the evenings. It sold Dutch spring-blooming garden bulbs at Eastern Market. The Hertzbergs got divorced. Still with the Commerce Department, Marie was promoted, and promoted again, passing up an offer to be head of Personnel as a career-killer, and rising eventually to work in the Secretary’s Office. “Yes, I was one of just three people in the country to know the top secret – the new Consumer Price Index. “You should have seen the secrecy!” She worked well into her seventh decade.
After eventually retiring, Marie travelled. She took drawing and painting lessons at the Corcoran. She had already filled the home with elegant English antiques. And, one by one over forty years she owned four pure bred dogs, all English or Irish setters. Her roses continued to bloom and they are a delight to all to this day.
Wendy Blair is a long-time member of the Capitol Hill Garden Club.