She can't quite leave Lebanon. Oh, she has an office in the State Department and a nameplate to remind her of the days in India (it spells out her name in Hindi as well as English) and a new job. But Lebanon still rises in her stories, in her mind.
She carries reminders. There is the pendant with the design of the Lebanese cedars. There is the scar etched, almost imperceptibly now, in the curve of the left side of her face from her nose to the corner of her mouth.
Mary Lee McIntyre went to Lebanon in 1981 as the wife of William R. McIntyre, a 20-year veteran of the Agency for International Development. She came back in the spring of 1983 as his widow.
Tomorrow, as a new AID officer, she leaves for Bangladesh.
She would have preferred Indonesia, but above all, she told personnel people, she wanted to go back to Lebanon. No, they said. No way, they meant -- as far as she could tell.
She remembers April 18, 1983, with the clarity of a vision.
Her husband was in the basement cafeteria at the U.S. Embassy. She was in the fifth-floor AID offices and was on her way to meet him downstairs. She stopped to use a washroom.
"I saw the flash and I saw a window disintegrate. I saw the hinge come flying for me and I screamed."
The U.S. Embassy in West Beirut had been devastated by a car bomb.
"I heard an AID driver telling a woman to stop screaming and I realized I was that woman. So I stopped.
"There was a breeze blowing in off the Mediterranean, because the windows were blown out. The curtains were fluttering in the breeze. I remember crunching over the plaster that had fallen on the floor from the ceiling. There were bodies on the floor that had been blown there."
Someone propped a ladder against the side of the building. She climbed part of the way down and, against her wishes, was carried another portion of the way. She was followed down by a man. "I remember saying to him, 'Don't come down so fast, you'll step on my hands.' I was dripping blood on his shoes. My car -- oh, dear -- it had a wall fall on it. It was such a sweet car, a VW Golf. It was such a neat car. Gee, I'd only had it three months."
She had grown accustomed to life in Lebanon. "In many ways it's worse than the London blitz -- you never know where you're going to be hit," she says. "You just try to put that out of your mind and get on with what you're doing. It is tough. Some people crack."
But if she couldn't stay -- and she couldn't -- she could at least do the kind of work that had put her in Lebanon in the first place with her husband.
She joined AID.
She stands in the hallway outside her office, a short, smiling figure in glasses, a sedate blue suit and high-necked blouse.
For the past year, she's been learning the ways of the Asia bureau -- arranging for consultants to go out to different locations, reviewing development strategies in countries, gathering information on issues. "I'm sort of in training status," she says. "Like probation."
There's no doubt she feels comfortable here. She knows these people, whether they've worked with her or her husband. "I thought with the experience I'd had -- even as a spouse -- I really liked that kind of work," she says. "You have a chance to contribute to a lot of people's lives."
She is 51 with three children, all in college -- Julie at the University of Virginia, Andrew at Harvard, and Margaret at Principia College in Elsah, Ill. On the eve of her departure, she spews out mental lists of all the details and hassles that she must attend to before she leaves. The contents of the condominium in McLean must be packed, her children's financial needs must be arranged. "I have a fair amount of reading I must do," she says. "AID is always short-handed, so I know I'll have to hit the ground running. I want to learn the language and learn about the people and I have to decide about servants and how I want my house to be decorated . . ."
Julie McIntyre, 22, says she and her siblings have mixed feelings about their mother's new job. "My brother and sister and I have been talking on the phone all week. We really feel we don't trust the whole overseas living arrangement now."
Mary Lee McIntyre met her husband when she was working as a librarian at Congressional Quarterly and he was a writer for Editorial Research Reports. She was relieving the switchboard operator when he walked into CQ. "I remember thinking, 'Oh, he's too young for me.' I was 24. I thought he was 21. He wasn't."
After joining AID, the McIntyres spent four years in India and six in Pakistan. They had four years in Washington before he was posted to Lebanon to run the AID program. After the Israeli invasion, AID supported reconstruction projects.
Mary Lee McIntyre's own training included a bachelor's degree from Washington College and a master's from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. In Islamabad, Pakistan, she taught social studies to a group of high school students that included the two younger children of then-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In India, she lectured around the country.
The McIntyres were assigned to Lebanon in September 1981. The place intoxicated her. "It was beautiful and scary," she says. "It's one of the most gorgeous pieces of real estate around. From my kitchen window, I could see a snow-capped mountain."
They were evacuated to Cyprus on June 7, 1982, right after Israel invaded. They returned within a few weeks, basically to a life of war. "Lebanon was so defenseless," she recalls. "You don't realize how much power the Israelis have."
She talks matter-of-factly of the artillery that became a familiar part of the landscape. "You could get any kind of weapon you wanted," she says. "M-16s and Kalashnikovs. Kalashnikovs, you see them all the time -- teen-agers have them . . . You got so you recognized the kind of weapon being fired: the automatic fire. The lone rifle shot. The cannon. The big boom of a car bomb."
Her husband moved through the city with a bodyguard. Not she. "Wives were expendable," she says smiling. "I noticed when the ambassador was there, he had a platoon of people. But his wife ? Anyone could have made off with her."
Mary Lee McIntyre taught at a school close to the green line separating East and West Beirut. Because of the fighting, she says, "the AID driver flatly refused to take me. I had to arrange my own transportation. If I was going out, I wanted to do something constructive. I'd made peace with everybody. I wasn't angry at anyone."
She taught at two schools, the American University of Beirut and Haigazia College. "The reason I was teaching was because there were American professors who just didn't show up."
Life was exciting and intense. "There was a great spirit of camaraderie," she says. "You keep each other's spirits up. You live life at a very high level. You let petty differences go. If you had something nice to say to someone you did. If you loved someone," she says softly, "you told them."
The bomb blast that destroyed the U.S. Embassy and killed 63 has left physical scars all over Mary Lee McIntyre. "My hairline is rearranged," she says, sitting at her desk and pushing back the blond hair on the side of her forehead. "My ear, they had to put it back together. It was just sliced." She fingers the lobe that now holds a diamond earring.
"I wear a lot of high-necked things," she says lifting her collar to reveal a little scar on her neck.
"When I saw the glass fly, I raised my left arm," she says, demonstrating what she did to try to shield herself. "I was wearing a wool jacket. It was just sliced to ribbons -- and, of course, quickly soaked in blood."
From the scene of the bombing, she was taken to the American University of Beirut Hospital, where she was treated and "wrapped like a mummy" in bandages. "There was a tuft of hair sticking out," she says laughing. When the bandages came off days later, she would timidly ask the American woman who was at her bedside, keeping her company, "What do I look like?" The woman answered, "Sweetie, you're in living color."
McIntyre, a Christian Scientist, was in no condition to argue about measures being taken to help her. She remembers feeling close to death as she went under an anesthetic.
"I remember waking up and not hearing my heart beat, then I just sank. I think I remember a lot of mad scrambling and then I just saw all of my life and world history pass before my eyes. I guess if you've never had this, you can't know . . . I do remember seeing a biblical figure at the door. Oh, yes, he was real and he looked Semitic. He was wearing something like blue silk. It was a loose robe tied at the waist. He had a headdress on. Wide-set eyes. And he just looked at me."
She pauses in her recollections, still sitting behind her desk. "People ask me if I saw my husband. It never occurred to me he was gone."
Before she went under, she recalls, "I said to the doctor, 'Would you find out what happened to my husband?' When I came out of the anesthesia later, the doctor said, 'I have news for you. Your husband didn't make it.' " Her voice is as hushed and careful as the doctor's must have been. "I said, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Yes, he's been identified. Do you want to be alone?' I said, 'No, not particularly.' "
And from that moment on, what she calls "a 24-hour open house" began. AID wives and Lebanese friends and students began arriving at her bedside. Her deaf-mute Druze maid who communicated by lipreading French saw the news of the bombing on television and immediately came to the hospital. One Lebanese student came every day. Friends kept her company through sleepless nights. They read to her. Lebanese friends brought her strawberries and cream at 4 o'clock one morning. And when they came, they tried to be lighthearted and good-humored, something she desperately wanted.
"The Lebanese really did themselves proud," she says and adds later, "I told one woman, 'I think you're the most civilized people in the world.' "
Their kindness has made an indelible mark on her. "I didn't expect the Arabs to be so sweet. There's really nothing worse than being American in the Middle East because you're not trusted -- because of our lopsided policy toward Israel. They were very hospitable."
She returned the hospitality: she helped get a Lebanese student -- the one who visited her every day in the hospital -- into the United States. He currently lives in her apartment.
"What I really don't understand is why Arabs get such rotten press," she says. "I think they're perceived as devious, not appreciative of American help. I found most Lebanese appreciative of the American presence. The presence of the Sixth Fleet -- I can't tell you what that looked like. It was very impressive. They gave a jazz concert around Christmas 1982 . The Lebanese ate it up."
She spent seven days in the hospital in Beirut before being flown by medical transport to Wiesbaden, Germany. She missed her husband's memorial service. She also missed the American University's musical revue in which she was to perform. "They postponed it and when they finally held it," she says, "they dedicated it to me. Is it any wonder I want to go back?"
She went to her mother's house outside Philadelphia to recuperate and think. She had to find a place to live. "My real-estate agent kept saying, 'What do you want to do with your life?' I said, 'I don't know.' Most of the time I kept hoping I'd wake up and it would all be a bad dream, and I wouldn't have to make all these decisions."
She applied to AID in September 1983 and started work Dec. 30 of that year.
"I was given a special appointment because of what happened and who I am," she says. "I sort of blasted in. In many ways, I'm too old to be an intern."
In Bangladesh, she will work on "their number one priority: bringing down the birth rate. It's the most densely populated country in the world," she says. "Ninety-seven million people in a country the size of Wisconsin. You'd think they were standing on each other's shoulders."
"She's a very diligent person, hard-working," says David Oot, chief of the population, health and nutrition division in the Asia bureau of AID. She's been with AID for a relatively short time, but she's learned a lot." Oot's first AID supervisor was William McIntyre in Pakistan.
Now, Oot is Mary Lee McIntyre's boss. "People see her as being -- regardless of what happened to Bill -- a person who's interested in other cultures and their problems and someone who would try to do some good wherever she went."
In general, these are difficult times to be an AID officer. "Certainly there is risk involved," says Oot.
"And I think there's more risk involved than 10 years ago. The recent case of the auditors is a good example." Last December, two AID officers were killed by hijackers of a Kuwaiti airliner.
Mary Lee McIntyre went to the memorial service for the murdered auditors. She didn't know them, but, she says, "there were so many people who went to my husband's service. I thought it was time for me to do something in return."
All AID employes are required to attend a special seminar on terrorism, Oot says, "and depending on the particular country there may be special security arrangements made. There may be a special safe place in your home where you would go if there was trouble."
She's not very worried about her safety in Bangladesh, but she does wish she had some basic information: "In some ways, I wish I had some military training. When you hear certain noises what do you do? How do you take cover? What's the best part of a building to run to?"
Julie McIntyre thinks the job will be good for her mother even if the more technical aspects of it -- like statistics -- are a struggle. "She really has to work hard. She's never been mathematically inclined, but she has other things. She has a heart overpouring with love and this job is a good way to manifest that . . . She likes challenges and this is kind of an ultimate challenge."
About her father's death, she says, "I don't blame AID. I think AID has really good intentions. Even if they just make a dent in some of the overall problems, it's good. I was so angry for a while, but it wasn't anger directed at any one agency or people. It was just anger. I don't even blame the terrorists." But she does think the U.S. government "should have had more intensive security. Here they are in a country that had been under siege for 10 years. They should have caught on."
Mary Lee McIntyre worries mostly about knowing enough and settling into the place she will call home for two to four years. "Every now and then I wake up in a cold sweat and think, 'What am I doing?' But the international community is supposed to be very supportive . . . There's a team spirit. You're trying to improve the lot of people who can't do it for themselves."
There is one thing she has done in her mind: she has separated her impressions (so favorable) of the Lebanese from her husband's death.
"AID didn't kill my husband," she says. "It was some deranged person caught up in what he was doing. My husband would understand that. I think he'd want me to go on, for heaven's sake."