Sarah McKee Returns Arlington Library Book 30 Years Later

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 11, 2009

On March 16, 1978, with Jimmy Carter in the White House, Dick Cavett on late night TV and hi-fis on sale at Hecht's, Sarah McKee walked into the Arlington Central Library and borrowed a book.

She was 39, a single mother of three and had just become a lawyer. She lived in a three-bedroom apartment in Fairlington that already was filled with books. But she was a literary "omnivore," and on this day her eye fell on Alvin M. Josephy's "The Patriot Chiefs," about great Indian leaders.

It was due back April 5.

This month -- three decades, one career, five presidents, three relocations, seven grandchildren and thousands of books later -- McKee happened to open "The Patriot Chiefs," spotted the library card in the pocket and thought: "Drat."

And so May 5 -- 31 years and one month overdue -- it arrived back at Arlington Library with a note of apology and a check for $25.

"To my great embarrassment," the note said, "I recently opened this book and discovered it is yours -- not mine. My apologies for my tardiness."

A library spokesman, Peter Golkin, said it might be the longest overdue return in library memory.

As for a fine, he said, "It's always great to get the books back, as opposed to any kind of income from fines or replacement fees."

McKee, now 70 and retired in Amherst, Mass., said the problem was that after the passage of so much time, she thought the book was hers.

She said she has long been plagued by a poor memory, noting in a telephone interview that she once bought a book on how to have a perfect memory only to discover that she already owned the title.

As for the Arlington book, "I never would have schlepped it around all these years had I not thought it was mine," she said.

McKee, a lifelong bibliophile and once the owner of about 4,000 books, said she had moved with her children from Ohio to Virginia to take the D.C. bar exam and become a lawyer here. She said she had just passed the exam when she borrowed the book.

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