Dave Del Bene, general manager at Clyde’s of Georgetown, waited on Rose Kearney hundreds of times over the years. When she died this summer, Clyde’s paid for her cremation. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Rose Kearney died alone. But don’t say that she lived alone.

“Having a conversation with Rose wasn’t just small talk,” said Dave Del Bene, general manager at Clyde’s of Georgetown. “It was, ‘What have you read lately? What are you doing with your free time?’ She was a real special person.”

Rose was probably as different from Dave as it’s possible to get. She was a petite African American woman. Dave is a big white man. But they clicked.

Rose seemed to click with everybody who worked at the M Street Clyde’s, including Dave, whose previous job there was as a bartender.

“I waited on her hundreds of times,” Dave said. There was a time when Rose came in three or four times a week.

Rose liked sitting at the corner of the bar, the elbow, where she could see people. She would order a snifter of Grand Marnier — “that was her signature drink,” Dave said — with a large glass of water on the side. Then she’d take her time perusing the menu, asking questions about the specials.


Del Bene started waiting on Kearney in the 1990s. (Dave Del Bene)

They knew Rose at Old Ebbitt Grill. They knew Rose at the Clyde’s in Gallery Place. They knew her at every Clyde’s. She visited them all.

“She could get anywhere — and I mean anywhere — using Metrobus or Metrorail or any kind of public transportation,” Dave said. “All the bus drivers knew her.”

If Rose overheard someone lamenting they didn’t have a car or couldn’t get somewhere, she would chime in with suggestions: Get out at this station. Transfer to that bus.

“She had this really inquisitive nature,” Dave said. “She loved museums. She loved art.”

Rose loved polo, too, and would take the train to Connecticut to watch matches.

“She had this incredibly eclectic taste in lots of different things,” Dave said.

A good bartender knows when to talk and when to listen. With Rose, Dave did more of the former.

“She never really talked much about her career or her background,” Dave said. “The times you did try to talk to her about it, she would always deflect. I was curious, but I figured if she didn’t bring it up, then she probably didn’t want to talk about it.”

Rose never talked about her family or her career. Dave thinks she grew up near Philadelphia. Someone said she might have worked for the D.C. school system.

Rose was an article clipper. She would sit at the bar and take out stories she had clipped from The Post that she thought someone should read. The Clyde’s staff had something for Rose, too: the purple drawstring bags that Crown Royal whisky comes in. Rose used the bags as purses, and Clyde’s would save them for her.

As Rose got older, she came less frequently. She last visited the Georgetown restaurant in mid-June.

“She just wanted to come in and check up on people,” Dave said.

Rose looked frail and used a walker. Dave gave her his cell number and told her to call if she needed anything.

“But she’s too proud for that,” Dave said.

On July 6, a maintenance worker servicing the air conditioning in Rose’s apartment at Fourth and Mellon streets SE found her body.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Rose had died a natural death of hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Among the possessions in Rose’s home was a business card from a person who was another Clyde’s regular. That person told the police no one knew Rose better than her Clyde’s family. And when no next of kin came forward during the 30-day period after her death, Clyde’s claimed her body and paid for it to be cremated.

“She was always so thoughtful,” said Ginger Laytham, senior executive officer at Clyde’s.

Ginger, Dave and I were at the Georgetown Clyde’s, at the back bar where Rose used to sit, before she switched her allegiance to the bar at the front.

“We miss her,” Ginger said. “Well, she’s upstairs. There was no way we were going to let anything happen to her. She had to come home.”

Rose’s ashes are in a box in Dave Del Bene’s office. On Nov. 19, the restaurant will host a reception in her honor.

“I think she lived her life the way she wanted to live it,” Dave said. “God bless her for that. I am extraordinarily grateful to have known her.”

Rose Kearney died alone. But don’t say that she lived alone.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.