Millicent Adams Vesper
December 18, 1933 – November 15, 2020
Millicent Adams Vesper died on November 15, 2020 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 86.
Born on December 18, 1933 at Washington D.C.’s Columbia Hospital for Women, she was the daughter of Dorothy Jean Roberts and Ralph Karr Benner.
Millicent was especially proud of her Washington, D.C. roots as a fourth-generation resident. Her great-grandfather, Jacob Karr, was an inventor and U.S. Patent holder for several watch and clock improvements. Karr owned the second largest jewelry store in Washington, D.C., located on Pennsylvania Avenue, throughout the late 1800s. He was a charter member of the Washington Sangerbund, a German singing group that sang at President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. Her great-great grandfather, Henry C. Benner, was a copper engraver and printer for the United States Coast Survey and the designer in 1851 of a 3-cent U.S. postage stamp of President George Washington.
Millicent’s early childhood years were spent in Alexandria, Virginia. Her beloved grandmother, Esther Cavallin Roberts (Nana), cared for her while her wonderful mother Dorothy, a single parent, worked downtown to make ends meet for the Agriculture and State Departments. Millicent especially loved her mother’s brother, Uncle Billy, who visited from Milwaukee, and her best friend, Barrie Greenland Dowell, whose kind family often invited her on vacations or over for dinner.
Millicent moved to Washington, D.C. as a teenager, first attending Central High School, and then Woodrow Wilson High School. She went to the University of Maryland’s School of Journalism. In 1955, a year before her graduation, Millicent was hired as a “copy girl” at the Washington Post when Phillip Graham was the publisher. Her new job required attending classes during the day and sometimes laying out a page of the paper late into the night at the Post’s original 15th Street location. It was a job she adored.
Millicent was later promoted to general assignment reporter working for the indomitable Marie Sauer, a mentor whose regard for Millicent was often hidden by a tough and critical façade. (Ms. Sauer is memorably profiled in publisher Katherine Graham’s autobiography, Personal History).
Millicent’s articles appeared in the “For and About Women” section, the precursor to “Style.” She covered the Eisenhower and Nixon families, the Washington social scene, and cultural events, including museums and plays. She wrote a column called “Big Wheel on Campus” that highlighted accomplished female college students. The Post’s chief photographer, Arthur Ellis, would often accompany her on assignment, as did award-winning photographer Harry Naltchayan, whose portraits of U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to George H. W. Bush often gave her stories better placement “above the fold.”
Millicent interviewed a variety of American luminaries, including Shirley Booth, Joan Crawford, Ethel Kennedy, Rock Hudson, and Marjorie Merriweather Post. Looking for a scoop one day, she rang Vice President Richard Nixon’s doorbell at his Spring Valley, Washington, D.C. home. It was cold outside, and Pat Nixon warmly invited her inside for a glass of water. In the end Millicent was too gracious to press Mrs. Nixon for an answer to whether Nixon would run for President in 1956 (speculation after Eisenhower’s massive heart attack in 1955).
In later life, Millicent worked with memoirist, Andrew Szanton, to help get her memories of working at the Post down on paper. Andrew recounted what he learned from Millicent: She helped me to understand that those glittering DC parties were crucial to getting government business done -- they were a place for powerful people from both political parties to meet each other in a relaxed setting, as colleagues and as friends. She typed her stories for the Post on paper which had two sheets of carbon paper behind it. One of the three copies Millicent placed on a little spike on her desk, one copy went to her boss and the third copy Millicent rolled up in a tight cylinder and sent off by pneumatic tube. She made for me the musical little "poof" sound of the copy being sucked into the tube and sent, by compressed air, down one floor to the linotype operator in the Post's composing room.
On a tennis court in Georgetown Millicent’s life changed when she met the love of her life, William (Bill) Rule Adams, Jr. They were married in October 1958 at Christ Church, Georgetown where Bill had been a Sunday School teacher. Bill worked for forty years as a Vice President and financial advisor for Merrill Lynch. They had three children, Elizabeth, then “Lizzie,” Caroline, and Bill Adams. In 1964 she lost a child in childbirth, Scott Karr Adams.
A family devoted to competitive swimming, Millicent could be found timing behind a Kenwood Country Club swimming block, counting laps with Bill, or driving her children to Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) swimming practices. Diehard Washington Redskins football fans, the Adams family attended many RFK Stadium home games after Vince Lombardi began coaching the team in 1969.
In this era of tabloid television, Millicent’s old-fashioned emphasis on good writing was distinctive and her tough-minded attention to grammar and writing was useful to her three children. The podcast “Grammar Girl” would have been her favorite.
In 1979 Millicent returned to work as a production associate at CBS’s “Face the Nation,” working for Joan Shorenstein Barone and Lesley Stahl. After she lost her husband Bill in 1996, Millicent married Gerald Wallace Vesper in 2000. He taught her to play golf on the greens of the Congressional Country Club. Golf would become a passion of hers in later years. She especially enjoyed attending exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art. After Gerry’s death, Millicent traveled with the Stanford Alumni program to Alaska, the Aegean Sea, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland, St. Petersburg, and Southeast Asia (her favorite).
When recounting life’s simple pleasures Millicent revealed her love of falling asleep on sleeping cars on trains, grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches, the smells at Schuman’s Bakery in Alexandria, trains rumbling into Union Station, shoe store X-ray machines that showed you all the little bones in your feet, listening to Washington Senators baseball games on the radio, purchasing a newsstand copy of Photoplay movie magazine, and seeing the elegant gowns in the center window at Garfinkel’s 14th and F Street department store.
The family is especially grateful for the care Millicent received in her later years at the Cottage at Curry Manor and Larmax Homes. The family feels special gratitude towards Mary Petrizzo and Vicki Hulcher of Compassionate Care for Seniors (www.compassionatecareforseniors.com) and to the Jewish Social Services Agency, and Dr. Nicholas Schor, for their attentive care of Millicent, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millicent is survived by her daughters Elizabeth W. Adams and her husband Cliff Lasser (Cambridge, MA); Caroline Adams Miller and her husband Haywood Miller (Bethesda, MD), and her son William (Bill) A. Adams and his wife Liz (Bethesda, MD). She is also survived by nine grandchildren: Maxwell, Rebecca, and Miles Lasser; Haywood, Samantha and Bayard Miller; and Addison, Christine (Kiki) and Molly Adams. A future memorial get-together is planned. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org).
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Millicent Adams Vesper
November 24, 2020
One of my most vivid memories of Millicent was at Edith Boehler's house at our class brunch at reunion in 2013. She was as lively a presence as ever that day, and we loved having her and the other moms come together again. Andrew met her for the first time that day, and was taken by her strong and sociable presence at our class brunch, so may year after graduation.
Lizzy, you have been a wonderful daughter, and an example to us all. Lucky to have had you as our friend and classmate since 7th grade. We will all think of your mother whenever we come together again as an NCS class, which hopefully will be many times to come.