Laura Mae Goldsmith, "the mayor of Barry Farms," is retiring. The 72-year-old widow was dubbed "the mayor" of the public housing complex in Southeast Washington by community residents because of her work as president of the Barry Farms Resident Council during the past 25 years.
Goldsmith said she is retiring because she is tired and wants to spend more time at home. She also wants to step down "but not back" from her job as president.
"I have always had a pick up the ball when other presidents have dropped it. I know I may have to do it again, but I am tired. These feet are tired from walking to meetings," she said.
The mother of 10, grandmother of 20 and great-grandmother of 10 more, Goldsmith worked as a housekeeper in the Washington area and has been retired for about 20 years.
Plaques and certificates honoring her for her volunteer work line the walls of her living room in Barry Farms.
When basements flood, windows break and stoves don't work, Goldsmith has been able to reach the resident manager our project custodian and convince them to quickly solve residents' problems.
Goldsmith said she can be both friendly and beligerent in trying to get things done. She added though, "When they (the custodians) hear my voice, they know I will deal with them like human beings and not cuss them out."
Goldsmith responds to at least one or two calls a week from tenants who have problems and don't know where to turn.
Dorothy Greene, who has known Goldsmith for more than 30 years, said Goldsmith has been instrumental in improving the community.
"She just won't give up. She will stick to anything she gets involved in," said Greene.
Goldsmith said her aggressive style has permitted her to lobby both former mayor Walter Washington and Mayor Marion Barry for a shopping list of necessities and amenities for restidents of the 432-unit Barry Farms project at 1230 Summer Rd. SE.
When city officials do not perform as she expects them to, she does not forget. She said she is still angry at Mayor Barry because he did not show up during the last Barry Farms crisis in July, when new gas lines were installed and residents went without hot water and cooking gas for two weeks. The mayor did, however, provide food and hot plates to Barry Farms residents, she said.
Goldsmith include among her successful projects at Barry Farms the installation of a basketball court, landscaping, new gas lines and new kitchen cabinets.
Ironically, it was what Goldsmith called her own misbehavior as a child that motivated her to volunteer at Barry Farms. "I was very mean to other children when I was a child," she said. As and example, Goldsmith said she would rather throw a candy bar away than share it.
Her lingering guilt, she said, is a continuing prod for her community work. "Now, when I look out my door and see other children give my grandchildren candy, I feel so bad I have to go back inside and sit."
When she is not helping Barry Farms residents, Goldsmith cares for six grandchildren. One grandchild lives with her in her four-bedrom home.
Last Halloween, Goldsmith -- who lives on her Social Security and retirement pay -- donated $175 for a Halloween Disco for Barry Farms children and provided hotdogs and trick-or-treat bags.
Goldsmith has been volunteering since World War II when she served as a manager for young blacks trained as messengers. Since the war, most of her acitivity has centered around the Barry Farms tenant council, but she has also participated in the police neighborhood advistory council, the local recreation center and the Far Southeast Community Organization.
Goldsmith, who seems uncomfortable when she is praised for her work, summed up her volunteer efforts this way: "Someone had to do it."