The internship formed an important part of the teenager’s year in America and would ultimately furnish an only-in-Washington coincidence: The congressman-and-future U.S. defense secretary was passing off scut work to the future head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.
“Everyone was writing to the congressman, saying, ‘Impeach Nixon.’ ‘Don’t impeach Nixon.’ So I was introduced to the art of dealing with constituent members,” Lagarde, 55, recalls with a laugh. “During that year, at Holton-Arms, with my host family and interning in Washington, I learned more, and it mattered more to me, probably, than any year of my life.”
To most Americans, Lagarde might be an unfamiliar face that burst into the news as the successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF managing director charged with the attempted rape of a New York hotel maid. To politicians and economists, Lagarde is the former French finance minister, who, as the new IMF chief, is overseeing the financial bailouts of three Western European countries.
But to a group of women from the Holton-Arms Class of 1974 and to the family that hosted her here, Lagarde was Christine Lallouette. She was the girl who already had graduated from a high school in France but had chosen to spend a year at Holton-Arms as an American Field Service exchange student. She was the girl who liked putting chamomile in her shampoo to make her hair more blond.
She smoked. She was a bit daring.
And she was the chosen confidante of a small clique of girls who didn’t mesh well with the preppier scene. Even today, they recall her impact on their lives as the slightly older, more worldly friend who managed to look fashionable even in the school’s requisite plaid skirt. For them, Lagarde’s appointment summons a time of life that often shapes personalities and is somehow never left behind. It was that way for Christine Lagarde, too.
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To the five-bedroom, split-level house on Michaels Drive in Bethesda, she brought a habit of European independence. She left behind her family in northern France, where her father, an English college professor, had just died, and she entered a more controlled American world, joining the family of Bill Atkins, an executive with the Touche Ross & Co. consulting firm, and his wife, Marion Guion Atkins, an accountant.
The Atkinses had a son, Michael, in middle school, and two daughters: Laura, also a Holton-Arms senior; and Elizabeth, a Holton-Arms sophomore.
“At first, we were like, ‘Christine’s nuts to do one more year of school,’” recalls the now 54-year-old Laura Poisson, a George Mason University clerk, who is married and lives in Rosslyn. “I immediately thought, ‘Wow, she’s a lot more mature than I am, but also, ‘I am going to click with this person.’ ”