Engaging Nature Carried Wife Of Attache Through Good, Bad
Take a moment and gaze into the soft eyes and beautiful face of the young Evelyn Whalley Nichol, who so enraptured the Corps of Keydets at Virginia Military Institute that they included a rare fullpage photograph of her in their 1938 yearbook. It’s as if you’re stepping into a vanished era, one that F. Scott Fitzgerald might have chronicled.
The face in the photograph recalls a time and place familiar to many Washingtonians of a certain social standing in the years between the wars: childhood in idyllic Chevy Chase, country club dances and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority events at George Washington University, globe-trotting as the wife of an Army officer and diplomat.
Miss Nichol — Evelyn Twombly StewartFitzRoy when she died March 7 of complications from surgery — lived that life and lived it fully, a son and daughter recalled last week. High-spirited and outgoing until her death at 89 at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, she enjoyed life and she enjoyed people.
“She was a real social being,” said her daughter Charlotte Twombly. She had amazing social abilities and got along with people from every state in life, her children said. She was interested in everybody, whether the checkout person at Safeway or a European diplomat.
She was known as “Reds,” for the red highlights in her dark-brown hair and her fiery disposition.
In postwar Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where her husband was a military attache, she was preparing to move her family into a house down the hill from the mansion of Marshal Tito, the Yugoslav Communist leader. Just as the family wasmoving in, the Communist Party slapped a red star on the front door, with a note in SerboCroatian forbidding anyone from taking up occupancy.
But the Yugoslav “Reds” didn’t know the American “Reds.” She snatched down the star, settled her family in the house and dared any party bureaucrat to object.
Her husband, Col. John Fogg Twombly III, was a calmer sort, more analytical, their daughter recalled. Occasionally, when his vivacious wife got a little too worked up about some- thing, he would calmly address her by her pet name, telling her, “Now, Spookie, just smile.”
Twombly got to know the young woman who would be his wife when he was a student at VMI. She had a friend from Alexandria at the school, and she would drive to Lexington for dances.
“She ended up dating the guy with all the chevrons on his sleeve,” her son John Twombly IV recalled. That was the elder Twombly’s very accomplished roommate and captain of the Corps, who asked the young woman from Chevy Chase to marry him. She said yes.
A bit later, after the roommate had gone into business, he occasionally asked Twombly to “look after Evelyn” when he was away on business trips. He did, and she decided she preferred the quiet, scholarly soldier and horseman to the hard-driving businessman who was her fiance.
“I think the last straw was when he had the audacity to ask her how much money her father made,” John Twombly recalled.
Immediately after her marriage in 1941 — Gen. George C. Marshall, a VMI alumnus, danced at the reception — she accompanied her husband to Leadville, Colo., where he was undergoing training. It was a long way from Chevy Chase, but she coped, as military spouses learn to do.
For the next quarter-century, she accompanied her husband to Army posts across the nation, in Germany and elsewhere, including tours of duty at the Pentagon. She had that outgoing nature that made it easier for the family to settle in quickly, getting involved in her four children’s activities, volunteering at base hospitals and interacting with fellow officers’ wives.
Her husband retired from the Army in 1964, and the Twomblys settled in Alexandria. While he embarked on a second career with the State Department as a SALT negotiator with the Soviet Union, she resumed painting, a serious hobby from years past. She also collected antiques, volunteered with the American Red Cross and cared for her elderly mother, who lived with the family.
In the early 1980s, her husband developed Lou Gehrig’s disease, and in April 1984, he accidentally set himself afire while trying to light his pipe. During her husband’s illness and while coping with his death, her children realized that she had a strength and steeliness about her that they had never really acknowledged.
Twombly married again at age 70. Her second husband was an 80-year-old retired captain of the Royal Navy, William Wentworth Stewart-FitzRoy. They had known each other since he and his family and the Twomblys were in Yugoslavia at the same time.
“She would want you to know there was no hanky-panky involved,” Charlotte Twombly said, laughing. “Fitz was one of the many friends my parents kept in touch with over the years. His wife had died the same year as my father.”
Stewart-FitzRoy died in 1998, and Twombly Stewart-Fitzroy moved to Asbury Methodist Village in Rockville. Vivacious as ever, she continued making friends and indulging her artistic side by creating clothing and jewelry ensembles.
“The last week of her life, she was flirting with the doctors at the hospital,” John Twombly said.
A single Evelyn Nichol in 1938 — who had so enchanted the young men at VMI that they ran this photo full-page-size in their yearbook.