Aspirational Chat with Beverly White-Seals
Beverly White-Seals is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Howard County, an organization that inspires lifelong giving and connecting people, places and organizations to worthy causes across Howard County. Beverly is an amazing story-teller with more than a few great stories to share. We met at her home, which has the most amazing back yard views, and she graciously shared story after story as we walked and talked.
Find out how she went from pianist and Russian interpreter in college to practicing law and the great story that led to that path. She’s a coffee lover (Dunkin Donuts, please), adores her family and has served on a just a few non-profit boards (around 30!). This is a story you won’t want to miss!
AFP: You have a lovely home with amazing views of your expansive back yard. What’s your favorite room in the house?
BWS: My favorite space is the family room.
AFP: What's your favorite season to look at from your floor to ceiling windows?
BWS: I'd say every season. The winter is spectacular when it snows. The fall, with all the colors are just beautiful. The spring, we aren't quite far enough in, but all of these flowers are blooming and it is gorgeous. And the summer, it's usually people! I have always had people over swimming or barbecuing.
AFP: I love that in the summer the people are your favorite view!
Let’s talk about the house and your favorite items. You have a great fireplace in the dining room, flanked by bookcases and with a beautiful piece of art over it. Tell me about your favorite treasures or pieces that mean something to you.
BWS: On the bookcases I have Pre-Colombian pottery, thousand-year old kind of pottery. My dad worked for the Organization of American States and traveled extensively in South America and someone gave this to him.
And this photo of my dad has a story. My dad was in an elevator with this man and turned around and told him about me. "You know I've got this really smart daughter.” My dad was a little proud. "And she would love to visit your country." And so the man said yes, and I went to his country. And when my dad came home and told my mom, my mom said, “Isn’t he the president of Ecuador?” So I spent a month in Ecuador. I was on my own for about a week or two. And then I spent another couple of weeks with his daughter and son at their hacienda, which I think was 30,000 acres in the mountains of Ecuador.
AFP: So this picture holds a lot of memories for you.
BWS: That is my dad with Presidente Galo Plaza. I had the opportunity because my dad, the shipping clerk, asked him. And that was the time when African American men generally didn't make a lot of eye contact with white males and much less the president of a country.
AFP: The large still life painting over the fireplace is very striking.
BWS: I love still lifes. It's so peaceful, but it makes you feel like you want to pick up a pear.
And there are some framed snapshots, but these are the most important. These are my family, my cousins. We are each others' best friends.
AFP: How amazing. And I love that they're simply snapshots in frames.
BWS: Just snapshots in cheap frames.
AFP: And right next to the dining space is your kitchen. It’s nicely-designed. Do you cook a lot?
BWS: A lot.
AFP: What is your favorite thing to cook?
BWS: I make a great marinated beef tenderloin with a Madeira sauce. And I make a really good salmon bisque.
AFP: You have a great, large living room with a beautiful piano. Do you play?
BWS: I was a pianist. That's what I wanted to go to college for, and loved to play the piano, but life and children got in the way. And every once in a while I'll sit down, but I don't have the skill anymore, which is sad. And I keep saying,"you outta just take some lessons and start to practice!"
AFP: What about the art in the living room - what’s your favorite piece?
BWS: This one is by an artist, Pritchard, who I really like. When we looked at that one it was the height of my daughter’s dance days and that one just spoke to me. I loved the colors.
AFP: And I love your huge entry. It's open, spacious and really pretty. I love all of wood paneling on the ceiling was that here when you moved in?
BWS: It was all here when we moved in.
AFP: What drew you to this house?
BWS: The backyard. It was absolutely the view. My husband was born in rural Mississippi where he lived until the age of around 10 and I was a D.C. native. Our whole adult lives have been in big cities so we absolutely love the expansive view of nature.
AFP: What's your favorite chair in the house?
BWS: A recliner in my office. It’s all torn and ripped, and I keep looking at it saying I need to fix this thing. But I love sitting here and watching TV and drinking a cup of tea.
AFP: How would you say that this home reflects you?
BWS: It’s very people-oriented. I'd say openness. I'm a pretty open person, I don't have a lot of secrets. I am very open about my life. I'm open to all kinds of people. I think this is about as open as you can get and have a roof. I love that.
AFP: What is your favorite color is? You have a lot of great rich colors around here.
BWS: My favorite color is probably green .
AFP: That’s a trick question because there are so many greens. I love that you're wearing green as you say that to me.
BWS: And that was totally coincidental.
AFP: I often say people's wardrobes reflect what they love and what they look good in, and it kind of carries over to their home a little bit. We’ve looked at a lot of great things, what's your most treasured possession in your home?
BWS: I can't think of a thing. I think if my house caught on fire, what would I want to save? It would be my pictures of family. I didn't realize growing up that our family was so unusual in terms of our closeness and I thought everybody's family was like that. High school or college and I said to my best friend who came to every single one of my family events since she was in 3rd grade – she's still my best friend – and I said to her, "You know, I'm a little bit hurt because you come to every wedding, every funeral, every Christmas, every New Year's, every Memorial Day." I said, "But I don't get invited to yours." And she said, "You think what you do is normal. It's not. Other families don't get together like you do. I didn't go to school with my cousins and church with my cousins and have an expectation we were all required to get together. You just don't know what you have and that's too bad for you." But then I got it.
AFP: What does Aspirational Living look like and mean to you?
BWS: I wanted a home that looked nice but was ultimately comfortable and that anybody at any station in life could come into. I don't want you to have to take your shoes off. I want you to realize when you walk in and there's a ball on the floor from a kid, that you just laugh and you pick it up and move it. I didn't want to have to go scour everything as my kids were growing up, although I expected them to keep the place neat.
AFP: That describes your life when you had young kids running around. How would you describe where you are now? Your aspirational life or how you aspire to live in your home?
BWS: First of all, I want to still live in it. That's number one, because it is a relatively large home. I use most of the rooms. I spend time in the family room, I'm always cooking in the kitchen and I'm always having company. I can entertain in a more formal way, but I can also entertaining on the decks. I love my yard. Being able to plant a tree or move of flower.
And having an environment where my daughter and her husband and their friends want to come still. We even spent several New Year’s Eves together. My daughter and her best friends would sit here and eat New Year's dinner, then they would sit on the deck with the firepit and laugh, drink wine, and then spend the night. One of them said, "It's so weird. We're still having sleepovers at Kia's mom's house and we're in our 30's, and they all laughed. They said, "Yeah, this is our house, too. She can’t move."
AFP: That must mean so much to you.
BWS: The fact that my daughter's friends, who are in their thirties, still regard this as their home. That's perfect. I couldn't have asked for more.
AFP: That's amazing. That's really a testament to the home you created while they were little.
BWS: And it was a, what I called a safe home, when they were teenagers. I didn't want to be my kids' friend. There were rules and as long as they played by the rules, then everybody could come over. And because I had a pool, there were a lot reasons. They could hang out and I wouldn't be up on top of them, but you can see everything that's going on because the back of the house is all glass .
AFP: I'm going to switch gears. You practiced law for many years. Did you always want to be an attorney?
BWS: No. I wanted to be a classical pianist and a Russian interpreter. And then I realized I would've starved with either of those two. But that's what I went to college for, and picked a school that had both classical piano and Russian. I realized I was not good enough at music to make it. With Russian, the market for Russian interpreters who were black in the 1960s was a little dim, and realized I really needed to get a job and support myself. So I decided to go to law school.
AFP: Seems like a wise decision if you want to support yourself.
BWS: I went to Dartmouth for my senior year. I got an A+ on a paper I wrote, and the professor said, "You are a really talented writer. What are you doing? You should get a PhD!" "No, I need to earn a living. I don't want to teach. I'm going to law school." "Where are you going?" And I said, "I'm going to Howard." He said, "Why are you going to Howard?" And I said, "Well, first of all, I'm from DC. Secondly, I know I could get in to Howard." And he said, " You know, you probably can, but I want you to think bigger. I want you to think broader, and I will bet you, that if you apply to the top law schools in this country you'll get into a lot of them." And so he challenged me to do that and only because of that guy, what he said, I ended up at Columbia Law School, which at the time was ranked number two along with Yale.
BWS: But the power of a teacher's voice! I don't remember his name, I just remember my paper was on Woodrow Wilson.
AFP: But it was a boost for you, to push yourself a little bit, said by someone you respected, who saw you in a different way than you were able to see yourself.
BWS: Oh my goodness, changed my life. And I never got into Howard, they lost my application.
AFP: That's a great part of the story!
BWS: Ruth Bader Ginsberg was my teacher. I think she was the first woman to teach in the Ivy league.
AFP: You're full of stories! If you were not at The Community Foundation, what job do you think you'd like to have?
BWS: At this point, I don't see another career choice necessarily. I'd like to serve on corporate boards. I have served on about 30 non-profit boards.
AFP: What's the best advice you've ever received?
BWS: It was from my dad and my mom. My mom used to say, "No matter what the barriers are, be prepared for the opportunities. And so study, work hard, do the right thing." I think that was really big. For my dad, "If you don't ask, you won't receive."
AFP: I love that one.
BWS: An elevator and a president of a country. Are you kidding me? Who does that? That was my dad.
AFP: How do you like to spend your free time, when you're not entertaining and working?
BWS: I like to be with my daughter and my son-in-law. That's my favorite, to be around them. I love being around their friends, I love being around my family. I've become addicted to British TV shows.
AFP: Favorite one?
BWS: Right now it's Peaky Blinders or Poldark.
AFP: What's your favorite vacation spot?
BWS: I love going to my son-in-law's home in the Netherlands. Whenever we go there, we will usually take a side trip to some other country or some other areas. To go to a country where people don't depend on cars and they're riding bicycles. A million bikes in Amsterdam alone.
AFP: So, when you're having a bad day, what helps you feel better? What do you do to get back on track?
BWS: I'm pretty good at just putting things over to the side, so I don't ruminate a lot. Now, I've certainly experienced tragedy in my life and the ability to get over it and move on has held me in good stead. Certainly the loss of my son was devastating. He died seven years ago.
AFP: I'm so sorry. Thank you for sharing that. Let’s move on to some lighter questions. Coffee or tea?
BWS: Morning, coffee, but it has to be Dunkin Donuts. A decaf with extra cream. I love milk!
AFP: Cats or dogs?
BWS: It used to be cats, but now that I have a grandpup. I adore my pup, he is such a sweetie.
AFP: Are you a morning or a night person ?
BWS: Morning. I'm brain dead at night.
AFP: Cake or pie?
AFP: What kind?
BWS: Cherry, but my son-in-law's apple pie is too die for.
AFP: Netflix or movie theater?
AFP: Summer or winter?
BWS: Summer, because I like to get outside and do lots of outdoor things.
AFP: Chocolate or vanilla ice cream?
BWS: Vanilla, vanilla!
AFP: Online shopping for shopping in a store?
BWS: Shopping in the store, I have a PhD in that [laughter]. My daughter and I are the best shoppers.
AFP: Favorite holiday?
BWS: Christmas. Family, again.
AFP: Favorite food.
AFP: Do you have a favorite restaurant?
BWS: Sushi Sono, we've been going there since they opened.
AFP: If you could live in a different state or country, where would it be?
BWS: Europe. Maybe France. I've never been to Italy. And I've been to France and love it. I love the food, I love the pace of the European culture. I love the Netherlands, but it's just too rainy and cold. The weather's not good, but if they could lighten it and heat it up a little bit that would be my spot. I love the country. I love the people.
AFP: That's my last question!
BWS: Well, thank you!
AFP: Thank you! This was really wonderful. I really appreciate it.
BWS: I thoroughly enjoyed this. You made me think about things I hadn't thought about in a while.
I hope that you enjoyed learning more about Beverly as much as I did. I could talk to her for hours! After all, it's not every day one conversation includes Presidente Galo Plaza, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dunkin Donuts and tales of travels to the Netherlands! I left her home dreaming of summer fun around the pool. Please let me know what you think in the comments. What was your favorite thing you learned about Beverly and her life?