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Red Hat Calendar Girls

Friday, October 22, 2004; Page WE31

Red Hatters typically do a lot of volunteer and charitable work -- just not under the auspices of the Red Hat Society, which, says Exalted Queen Mother Sue Ellen Cooper, is "into fun-raising, not fundraising." Occasionally, however, an individual chapter finds a way to use its spirit of playfulness to benefit a worthy cause.

Shirley Jackson -- a consummate Red Hatter -- had just returned from a Red Hat convention in April when some surprising information jolted her from her post-event euphoria: She learned that 700 women in Fairfax County are homeless and that funding to help them usually proves inadequate. As queen mother of a large, active chapter -- Totally Eccentric Adventurous (TEA) Red Hatters of Vienna -- Jackson starting thinking about how her gals might help their less fortunate sisters.

An idea began to jell as she recalled the group's recent outing to see "Calendar Girls," a movie about a prim and proper group of British women who pose for a risque calendar. Why not create a Red Hat-themed calendar to raise money to benefit those needy women? Before approaching the chapter, Jackson did all the preparatory legwork, including scouting out dozens of prospective settings for photo shoots and thoroughly researching the costs involved.

"My main goal was to make it fun, but nothing I'd be ashamed to show my grandsons," she says.

With all her ducks in a row, Jackson approached the chapter and persuaded members to go for it.

"I was a real drill sergeant," she says of her role in spearheading "Women for All Seasons," the 2005 wall calendar available through the chapter and at local businesses. She lined up Vienna-based C&E Printing to publish the calendar, friend Lynne Mohr to take high-quality digital photos and, of course, willing models -- 22 women (including herself) culled from her own and several other Northern Virginia Red Hat chapters.

"I tried to pick people that were the whole gamut," she says, including tall, short, skinny, "fluffy," Pink Hatters and ladies as old as 88. "We wanted people to know that right now, we love ourselves the way we are."

While some of the calendar girls appear on the verge of indecent exposure, Jackson points out that nobody disrobed. Photo sessions took place in homes, around a backyard pool, at a kitchen design showroom, in a floral shop and at a Vienna historical site, with models posing behind or alongside such props as big red hats, a parasol, Harley-Davidsons and a red Corvette. Each monthly photo features a different theme. A smiling woman wearing a red hat and purple apron tosses salad in a January photo captioned "Lettuce Entertain You." A pair of eighty-somethings seated on a white wicker loveseat are "Never Too Late for Tea" in May's picture.

The group literally stopped traffic in Vienna when folks slowed down to gape at the sight of two smiling, bare-shouldered Red Hatters posing behind a large American flag at the rear of a red caboose for the July "Independent Ladies" photo.

In her "Queen of Swing" calendar portrait, a beaming Jackson lounges on a white porch swing, covered by a royal red plush throw and donning a tiara and lots of big jewelry. When her ex-husband saw the photo he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, is that you?"

"Yeah, on one of my bad days!" she responded.

Jackson financed the project herself by taking out a loan, naturally donning purple and red for her bank outing. All profits from the $13 calendars -- expected to run $10,000 to $12,000 -- will benefit the Northwest Center for Community Mental Health, which assists homeless women through its Homeless Outreach Services and Women's Shelter programs. The chapter already presented the center with a check for $3,000 to buy 150 much-needed heavy-duty sleeping bags.

"The stories and the thank-yous and the e-mails I get -- I don't care what it costs, it's worth the whole thing!" Jackson says. She has also used the experience to explain the problem of homelessness to her grandchildren, who listened with wide-eyed concern.

Calendars sold so far have found their way to more than 10 states, thanks to families and friends of TEA members. Jackson also took copies to England, where she visited this month to headline the country's very first Red Hat convention.

"Women for All Seasons" is available for $13 or two for $25, plus $2.50 for shipping and handling. Make a check or money order payable to TEA/Calendar and send to TEA/Calendar, care of Pat Peacock, 905 Shady Dr. SE, Vienna, Va. 22180. Allow three to four weeks for delivery.

-- Mary Jane Solomon


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