This week’s “Free for All” letters.


British middle distance runner Diane Leather leads the field during a race, at White City stadium, London, on Aug. 3, 1957. (Ed Lacey/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Diane Leather, a champion who mattered

Regarding the Sept. 14 obituary “Briton was first woman to run a mile in under five minutes,” on Diane Leather, the British athlete who broke the women’s five-minute-mile barrier, on May 29, 1954:

Something else adds to the melancholy of the world ignoring Leather’s feat. In the very same year and month (May 6), Roger Bannister (another British athlete) broke the world record for the four-minute mile and was hailed on front pages around the world. That, of course, pushed Leather into the shadows.

In a continued bit of cosmic irony, Bannister died in March; Leather in September. Both retired from athletics early and went into public service. Bannister became a doctor; Leather served in child protection and with the Good Samaritans. They were modest and decent people who came together in 2014 to present the inaugural Diane Leather and Roger Bannister trophies at the Bupa Westminster Mile in London, as the obituary noted. Two great champions of the human spirit made all the greater because of their humility and devoted service to humanity. A lot of current athletes could learn from the models set by Leather and Bannister.

Peter I. Hartsock, Laytonsville

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Noteworthy quotes in George Will columns

Regarding George F. Will’s Sept. 16 op-ed, “In Texas, a Democratic template for 2020,” and its reference to Gene Autry’s “Where the longhorn cattle feed/on the lowly gypsum weed”:

First, gypsum — calcium sulfate dihydrate — is the stuff of which drywall is made, for use in home construction and remodeling. Second, Autry made a fine singing cowboy, but he didn’t know much about livestock. “Jimson” (weed) makes a nice two-syllable word for the purposes of rhyme and meter, but the stuff — Datura stramonium — is toxic to grazing animals, and studies have found that most will go hungry rather than eat the stuff.

Nice try. Back to your Internet search engine, sir, or we shall have to start making from-the-hip references to Tinker to “Evert” to Chance.

Harry Meem, Richmond

George F. Will’s Sept. 16 op-ed got the quote right but the source wrong. “Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” was not said by Yasser Arafat. It is attributed to Abba Eban, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking generally of the Arab fighters after the Yom Kippur War and 1973 Geneva Peace Conference.

David Schoenbaum, Rockville

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Reagan's letter was uplifting for this Christian

Thank you for Karen Tumulty’s Sept. 16 Sunday Opinion column on a recently discovered letter from President Ronald Reagan to his father-in-law [“The Great Believer: A private letter from Ronald Reagan”]. This personal letter yields important insight into the president’s faith. The historic Christian faith is essential to my life. I’m thankful to The Post for publishing this.

Frank Strickland, Centreville, Va.

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C&O Canal park volunteer Donald Sladkin, left. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
These C&O Canal volunteers are happy to be there

Volunteers with the C&O Canal Association have had overwhelmingly positive interactions with National Park Service personnel, in contrast with the situation outlined in the Sept. 17 Metro article “Friction at the C&O Canal park.”

Our members volunteer to help the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park in many ways. Our level walkers report on towpath conditions. Our Volunteers-in-Park team performs many maintenance tasks within the park. 

Our leaders’ interactions (and mine) with park staff are characterized by professionalism, courtesy and respect. We appreciate the work done by the perpetually underfunded park staff.

The C&O Canal Association is an all-volunteer, independent organization. We trace our roots back to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas’s 1954 hike with the editors of The Post. We have more than 1,000 members.

We respect the valuable work done by other volunteers at Great Falls. If the article’s portrayal of their interactions with park staff is commonplace, we are surprised and saddened. 

Bill Holdsworth, Rockville

The writer is president of the C&O Canal Association.

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One more must-see painting in the Phillips Collection

Thanks to Mark Jenkins for his Sept. 14 On Exhibit piece about five works to see at the Phillips Collection [“As Phillips went, so went the art world,” Weekend]. I urge the viewing of one more, especially pertinent to our current political climate.

While researching my book on Duncan Phillips, I read that he believed the greatest picture in his collection was Honoré Daumier’s “The Uprising” (“L’Emeute”). In the painting, angry citizens bunch together on a narrow street, grime visible on their faces. The image’s dominant figure wears a white shirt, his right fist raised and pumped. The work had been discovered rolled up in an attic in Paris, and a few years later, when it became available for sale, Phillips wrote: “While the Louvre was deliberating I cabled to have the picture shipped.”

Pamela Carter-Birken, Arlington

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Springing Shirley Temple Black from Prague

Regarding Alice Crites’s Sept. 16 Book World review, “Prague changes, a palace endures,” of Norman Eisen’s book “The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House”:

The book touches upon the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and U.S. Ambassador Shirley Temple Black returning home. In 1968, I commanded the 793rd Military Police Battalion with units throughout Bavaria, Germany. When the Russians moved into Prague, we were alerted and started operations along the border. U.S. citizens streamed across the border into Germany.

While most were appreciative of the help the American military police offered, there were some who cursed us. When Black came across, she hugged the first military police officer she saw and thanked all of them profusely; she was gracious.

I’ll never forget when she arrived in our reception center in Fürth, near Nuremberg, in her purple boots. Our post commander asked if she needed a drink, and she asked: What kind? He said a real one. She replied, “Let’s go!” It had really been stressful. A drink was well deserved.

Frank Cohn, Fort Belvoir

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The poetry of weddings and love

I disagree with Seth Perlow’s statement about the dearth of appropriate wedding poems [“There’s no such thing as a good wedding poem,” Outlook, Sept. 16]. In fact, I recommend “The Lovers” by Marya Zaturenska, a Ukrainian-born American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner. This is not the poem by the same title written by Rainer Maria Rilke and mentioned in Mr. Perlow’s piece.

The poem is wonderfully lyrical. The imagery stretches the imagination. Best of all, it lends itself to responsive reading. On the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I renewed our vows in the quiet garden of a Fairfax County church. The only guests were our son and daughter. They read Zaturenska’s poem, alternating verses. It was perfect. The early verses highlight young, romantic love, while the final stanza talks about committed and enduring love. 

We didn’t ask our children to repeat the reading last year on our 50th anniversary, but I wish we had.

Bernie Nakamura, Lansdowne

I disagree with Seth Perlow’s contention that “There’s no such thing as a good wedding poem”:

One of the joys of being a poet is to write a poem not when requested but to give as a wedding present. Or to take pen to paper and reproduce one of the many poems or lyrics appropriate for this wondrous occasion. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” — “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments” — is an excellent example. An exegesis of this masterpiece might say it speaks to the platonic relationship. Or not. For unions celebrated in marriage encompass body, spirit and intellect, do they not?

Noel Paul Stookey’s “Wedding Song” echoes Scripture: “Whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name, there is love.” I can hear the tut-tuts for this song’s “sexist” lyrics: “A woman draws her life from man and gives it back again” and “what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife.” Ouch. But those lines are quickly followed with the repetition of: “There is love, oh, there is love.” And isn’t that the ideal that spurs each couple to publicly declare theirs? For marriage is an ideal. It’s ephemeral and eternal.

I contend the words or vows spoken between each couple, no matter how many or few, in front of family and friends, are the best wedding poems forever to be told.

Russell Brian Walther, Locust Grove, Va.

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A primer on New Bern, N.C., history

Regarding the Sept. 16 front-page article “In a little city in North Carolina, harried people are ‘chased by floodwater’ ”:

Is it too much to ask that reporters give background information on the cities they feature in the news? In the coverage of Hurricane Florence, nowhere have I read that New Bern — someone even asked me where it is — was the colonial capital of North Carolina before the capital moved to Raleigh in 1792. New Bern was the Williamsburg of North Carolina, with a Governor’s Palace to compare to Williamsburg’s.  

Roderick Speer, Alexandria

The writer is a descendant of Richard Caswell, the first non-royal governor of North Carolina.

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The science on plastics

Paul D. Thacker, in his Sept. 23 Outlook essay, “Dangerous plastics, FDA silence,” forgot to include any scientists. He cited a lawyer for an environmental litigation group, a sociologist, a statistician, and a pediatrician who suggested the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration are either wrong or conspiring with chemical companies to protect plastic. He wrote that my organization, the American Council on Science and Health, “apparently exists to defend fracking, BPA and pesticides.” Yet he refuted none of our peer-reviewed work or our 300-strong list of nationally prominent experts nor that government scientists agree with us on all of those issues. He wanted the public to believe that an environmental lawyer and a sociologist know science better than all of our scientists and the entire U.S. government.

Hank Campbell, Washington

The writer is president of the American Council on Science and Health.

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Choice words for the magazine crossword

Finishing The Washington Post Magazine crossword has become as fun as flossing, and the Something Different puzzle on Sept. 16 was, alas, no different. I have concluded that Evan Birnholz is not a human but a puzzlebot that fills the grid with borderline English and spits out dorky clues. Pull the plug!

Barbara Cornell, Washington

For more than 30 years, I’ve enjoyed doing Post crossword puzzles. Evan Birnholz’s frequent efforts to promote his novel ideas of crosswords are annoying and frustrating. The Post, as the New York Times does, should publish crossword puzzles — not Birnholz’s silly games.

Ivan Socher, Rockville

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Leave these magazine winners alone

Please somebody explain to Washington Post Magazine editor Richard Just that readers are fine with his content experimentation as long as he leaves alone the items with proven success: Second Glance, Gene Weingarten, “Dilbert,” Tom Sietsema, the crossword.  As long as you don’t cut the meat, you can run all the fat you need to. Please play to your base. It’s working for President Trump; it can work for the magazine.

Rick Flowe, Manassas

I was disappointed to see that the Second Glance puzzle was not in The Washington Post Magazine on Sept. 16. Nor could I find an explanation of its absence amid all the self-congratulatory remarks about the design and content of the magazine that week. I can only hope that the absence of Second Glance was an oversight.

Warren Milberg, Annandale

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A father's liberal arts legacy

Regarding Ronald J. Daniels’s Sept. 15 op-ed, “Please take that ‘impractical’ humanities course”:

My father, a committed educator all his life, sent his two daughters to liberal arts colleges (at great expense on his small salary) back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

While women were expected to graduate and become an elementary school teacher, nurse, secretary or wife (and, yes, they generally were mutually exclusive), his wish was for us to become educated: to learn to read great works and to understand history, geography, geology, art, music. He did not send us for vocational training. His advice to us and to my school friends was to get educated first and then “you can go to Katie Gibbs” to learn to type.

Pen Suritz, Arlington