En­gag­ing Na­ture Car­ried Wife Of At­tache Through Good, Bad

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro Week - By Joe Hol­ley

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.

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