Chris and Svetlana Finally Tie The Knot

Chris and Svetlana in the early days

Chris and Svetlana in the early days

By Cecil Hoge

After both graduating from college, my cousin Chris and I started working in my father’s business. In an effort to pool resources, we decided to rent a house together. The year was 1970. I was beginning my career in my father’s business while my cousin was looking to have something to do so he could think about what he really wanted to do. For several months, we shared a little house on Lake Panamoka in Wading River and worked together in my father’s business.

As the summer was coming to its conclusion, Chris decided that he wanted to become a lawyer. Chris enrolled in American University Law School in Washington, D.C. This left me in full possession of the house on Lake Panamoka and Chris on his way to the nation’s capital.

Chris had been accepted to law school and he had lined up a job in the university bookstore. The only thing he had neglected to do was line up a place to stay. No matter, Chris drove down to Washington and ended up camping out the first night in a nearby park.

Being a responsible worker, Chris showed up at the bookstore for work the next morning. During his first day of work, Chris talked to one of his fellow workers, a happy-go-lucky Hippie stoner who had just graduated from The American University, and explained his problem.

“No problem man, you can crash with us until you sort some things out.” was the response from the Hippie Stoner.

Us turned out to be four stoner guys and one stoner girl and the house turned out to be a funky place with 5 bedrooms and a large backyard suitable for barbecues. Chris decided this was the perfect place for a law student, made a deal to share the rent and that was his home for the next year.

Although I did not find out about all this until many years later, it turned out that Chris’s future wife worked in the same bookstore. He was in the law book section and she was in the literature section. The way that they met is the stuff of legend. Chris was rolling along a cart of heavy law books and his wife to be was standing on a stepladder, trying to put a book away. Chris, not paying too much attention, crashed into the stepladder and knocked his future wife off. Almost instantly thereafter, the heavy books from his cart, which had been stacked haphazardly, one on top of the other, proceeded to cover Svetlana.

Chris was sufficiently concerned to ask about her health and say he was sorry. Svetlana, for that was the lady’s name, told me many years later, that she looked up and saw Chris’s long hair and green eyes, was knocked out by Chris literally and figuratively. And while she was in considerable pain from the heavy law books, Chris’s face, appearing as it did, immediately brought her around. It was love at first crush. Chris was too shy to take the conversation further, but after a few weeks of bumping into to his wife to be, he asked the pretty Romanian lady to go to a movie. That led to going to dinner at Chadwick’s the same evening and the rest as they say is history.

I did not hear much from Chris, except at occasional family gatherings during Thanksgiving or Christmas or during the summer in Southampton, I had little information about what Chris was doing. When I did see Chris he told me that his studies were advancing quite well, thank you, and, oh, by the way, there is this girl I met.

That was about all the information he gave me about his studies and his new girl. At a couple of later family gatherings, I found out that he and this new girl had been dating for almost a year and it was getting serious. Having known Chris all my life and having known some of his former girlfriends, I knew that “getting serious” could mean he was momentarily in love with his latest fling or it could mean something actually serious.

The first time I met Svetlana was when she and Chris came down to my college buddy’s house on the Rappahannock River in Eastern Virginia. I was there with a group of people to photograph some of the new inflatable boats that we had just started selling. The team consisted of my cousin Cecile Havemeyer, Freddy Havemeyer, her new husband and our new photographer, my buddy Rich Miller and myself. Chris was down for moral support, some part-time model work and to introduce me to his new girl, Svetlana. To give our party a little added luster, Svetlana brought along a beautiful married girlfriend, whose husband worked at the UN and who was not supposed to be there.

I quickly learned that Svetlana Bogdan (that was her full name) was Romanian. She talked in long run on sentences, in a Romanian, Slavic accent, each sentence mutating into some additional observations and comments about the previous sentence. Like a train coming out of the station, once the words began to flow, they kept coming and gathered speed as they went. Her sentences could cover a lot of distance in paragraph, touching on music, Romanian history, how much she loved Chris, mini dress fashions and observations of the decadent West.

In that muddled gathering it was probably not the easiest time to get a solid impression of somebody, but I could grasp a couple of things. She was extremely smart, very sharp in her words, very pretty in appearance, full of energy, young and completely in love with Chris. She seemed to be half the height Chris, who stands a good 6′ 2″. In truth, she was probably a little shorter than some American ladies, about 5′ 3″. As she said somewhat later, “There is a foot between us” and I guess that was about right. So, she was not so short. It was just the contrast between her and Chris that made them stand out as a couple.

At the same time I could see something was really going on with Chris and this was “serious”. This impression was aided and abetted by Chris taking me to the side and saying, “This is serious. I really love this girl.” Again and again, he came over and repeated those words. I got the message and I was immediately taken and intrigued by Svetlana.

It turned out that Svetlana had quite a history and quite a background. For one thing she was the step-daughter of the Romanian ambassador to the United States. His name was Corneliu Bogdan. And apparently he was a very good Ambassador. Time Magazine had done a lead story on the four most respected ambassadors working in Washington and Corneliu was one of the four and, according to Time, these particular ambassadors were really good at their jobs. Two of the three other diplomats cited in the article were Yitzhak Rabin and Anatoly Dobrynin, so Svetlana’s step-father was in pretty impressive company.

I should note that the Communist Party in Romania had a policy that Romanian citizens were not supposed to fraternize with foreigners. Decadent Americans were on the top of the forbidden to form friendships with, forbidden to have relationships with list. This was especially true if you happened to be the step-daughter of the Romanian Ambassador to the United States.

Showing up in Virginia with her new American boyfriend was probably not very clever, for Svetlana was supposed to be studying at a friend’s house. Coming with a Romanian girlfriend (a very tall, dark beautiful lady by the name of Victoria), whose husband was in New York when she was supposed to be with Svetlana in Washington was also risky.

Svetlana’s day in, day out cover was that she was at the library to study. She used this cover for the whole first year of her relationship with Chris. She would be driven daily by a driver from the Romanian embassy who dropped her off at The American University. I am sure that she found some time to study because she successfully completed her degree, but most of the time she really was with Chris. As Svetlana said, the driver was not going to wait around 5 or 6 hours for her to come out of school library, so she always told him she had a friend who would give her a ride back. That worked for almost a year.

In the case of coming down to Virginia for an extended weekend to visit young and degenerate Americans, I am not sure what cover she used. Whatever it was, it was not improved by bringing a high level, beautiful, fully married Romanian girlfriend named Victoria along, especially since Victoria had told her husband that she would be in Washington for the week.

That weekend I got to know Svetlana fairly well and I was immediately intrigued by her obvious high intelligence, her good looks and her strange and exotic Slavic accent. But I had work to do. So during the day we would foray out to take pictures, scout locations and get them “in the can”. In the evenings we spent many hours playing Yatzee, drinking vast quantities of beer and enjoying some of the other fads of the time. Svetlana says she was most impressed when all of us sat down and listened to a recording of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, which my college buddy Rich happened to have. I vaguely remember that but it seemed to me more often we listened to Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones.

On the way back to Washington, Chris, Svetlana and Victoria were cruising along in a blue beetle Volkswagen of the period when they were pulled over by the police. I heard about this later. Apparently there were some extremely concerned and paranoid moments when the girls thought the Romanian Securitate (perhaps in league with the Virginia State Highway Patrol) was after them, but Chris told them to keep their Romanian mouths shut, talked to the cop in question and the event passed as quickly as it arose. All’s well that ends well. So the girls got back to DC, their stories intact, with no major hiccups, no major political crisis.

The romance between Chris and Svetlana was fraught with intrigue and deceit. They had to be very careful to keep their stories straight. It seemed that it was not easy to be the step-daughter of a Romanian ambassador and it was difficult for my cousin Chris to figure out what was the right way to handle his relationship with Svetlana. Chris seemed sure of one thing – he was in love with Svetlana. How that would work out was a whole other question.

In the summer of 1972, Svetlana was told by the Romanian government that she could not continue to study for a master’s degree and had to go back. This was because Romanian citizens could only stay in a foreign country for so long and then they were required to return. Remember, it was strictly forbidden that a relative of a Communist party member of the Romanian government should fraternize or consider marrying a foreigner, especially an American from the land of capitalism.

The saga that was Chris and Svetlana’s relationship went on for the next five years without any clear conclusion. For a while, it simply looked like it would dead-end. Svetlana was back in Romania and Chris was in law school. That was that.

Chris told me that he wanted to marry Svetlana, but that seemed impossible since it was strictly forbidden. In June of 1973, Chris took the bull by the horns and took a trip to Romania to meet with Svetlana. By this time, Svetlana’s parents, Corneliu and Emelia, were aware of the relationship and while it greatly complicated Corneliu’s political life, both of Svetlana’s parents felt that they should get married if they really wanted to. Helping things was the fact that Chris’s own parents, Francis and Helene, supported Chris in his effort to get married.

At that time (many years before the 1989 Romanian revolution) there was something called the State Council, and if a Romanian citizen wanted to get married to a foreigner, he or she had to apply to the State Council to get permission. Unfortunately, the State Council would not give permission because Svetlana was the step-daughter to the Romanian ambassador to the U.S. and because they did not want to break their long standing policy.

One of the problems facing Chris and Svetlana is the fact that if they had married in the U.S., as Chris had proposed to do before Svetlana’s departure to Romania in 1972, that would have ruined her step-father’s career and placed her family in jeopardy. This was something Svetlana definitely did not want to do, since she loved Corneliu and her family. So just running off and getting married was not an option.

So, in the summer of 1973, Chris came to Romania to see Svetlana in Bucharest. Shortly thereafter they went off to the Black Sea to enjoy a holiday resort and resume their romance. After three weeks, Chris went back to the U.S., his love reignited, but his future still in limbo.

Chris and Svetlana kept in touch, but nothing much happened other than Chris knew he loved and missed Svetlana. In the fall of 1973 Svetlana told Chris that she was pregnant, which was not something they had planned, but something that added to the urgency of getting back together. At that time Svetlana also filed the marriage application required by the State Council.

One day in March of 1974, Chris drove out with some of his law school buddies to visit his father Francis in Tuscon, Arizona where his father had set up a new business. It was a hard drive out and a hard drive back and when Chris got back to Washington on March 17th, there was a message waiting for him.

“Congratulations, you father. Have daughter.”

Chris, Svetlana and Alexandra in Bucharest circa 1975

Chris, Svetlana and Alexandra in Bucharest circa 1975

The message – short and to the point – had come from a family friend who did not speak very good English. That information changed the facts on the ground, but really did not improve the status of Chris’s situation. He was still unable to get married because the Romanian government would not grant permission in this particular case. The Romanian government sent Svetlana repeated notices by the mail telling her that her application for marriage had been refused.

All of this could well have ended tragically for another couple, but not so with Chris and Svetlana. Chris contacted a bunch of different Congressmen and Senator’s offices, including “Scoop” Jackson and Jacob Javits, asking them to write letters and plead his case. In fact, “Scoop” Jackson did write a strong letter on his behalf. This proved insufficient to move the needle, but it did lay the groundwork for further action. The American Embassy in Bucharest was also very supportive and kept making frequent inquiries about the status of the marriage application.

Chris then enlisted the aid of his sister’s husband at the time, Philip Marvel. Philip came from a very well-connected Boston family and Philip’s father made an appeal to Ted Kennedy. Others also became involved in the effort to help Chris and Svetlana and their new daughter become a family. They were some professors and former classmates of Svetlana from The American University who tried to help Chris and Svetlana in their effort to get married.

In the meantime, the case of my cousin trying to marry the step-daughter to the Romanian ambassador became well-known in Romania and Chris and Svetlana became a “Cause Celebre” with many Romanian citizens in favor of the marriage, but also with a careful scrutiny of Svetlana by the Romanian “Securitate” (State Security).

You could say that there were a number of elements working together that finally allowed Chris and Svetlana to get married. Chris heard from someone in the State Department that the renewal of the Most Favored Nation Clause was coming up for Eastern Europe and Romania, in particular, and that Ted Kennedy was the Chairman of the Committee reviewing that legislation. Chris went to an aide of Ted Kennedy and explained his situation to the aide. That aide went to Senator Kennedy, explained the situation, and Ted Kennedy said that he would like to speak to Chris directly and to set up a meeting.

Chris, thinking that Senator Keennedy could come to their aid, was naturally excited by this and so he called Svetlana in July of 1977. He told Svetlana that he had spoken to Ted Kennedy’s aide and that the aide had spoken to Ted Kennedy who requested a meeting to be set up. Chris told Svetlana that he thought this could be important because the Most Favored Nation Clause was being reviewed by Ted Kennedy’s office and maybe Ted Kennedy could use Romania’s interest in having that legislation renewed to persuade the Romanian government to allow Chris and Svetlana to get married.

Now here comes the strange part. Just two hours after Chris talked to Svetlana, Svetlana got a strange, but wonderful call from a Romanian government official. The official on the phone said that the Romanian Government had decided to grant permission for the marraige and that Svetlana and her daughter had to leave the country within two weeks and that they were not to bring any papers or books with them to the United States.

Immediately after telling Svetlana that she could leave the country with her daughter and get married, the official went on to say, by the way, please be sure to tell your husband-to-be, Chris, that he no longer needs to go to the meeting with Senator Kennedy because permission for the marraige has been granted. The official repeated this point a couple of times to be sure Svetlana would tell Chris that a meeting with Ted Kennedy was no longer necessary.

It would seem that the Romanian Government had been listening in on Chris’s call to Svetlana and after hearing that Ted Kennedy might get involved, went to a higher officer and reported that, who in turn, went to a higher official. Apparently, the wheels of government can move rapidly in Romania when it wants to or when it thinks it is in its interest. So two and half hours after Chris had spoken to Svetlana, the Romanian Government gave permission for Svetlana and her daughter to come to the U.S. and get married with Chris. It was a quick and anti-climatic ending to a seven year struggle.

Chris and Leila, his grandchild

Chris and Leila, his grandchild

In the end, love did conquer all and later in the summer of 1977, Chris and Svetlana did get married. The ending was truly happy. They ended up living in DC, the capital city for lawyers in love. The daughter that Chris was told about in March of 1974, Alexandra, is now married and has her own child, Leila. So, we can truly say Chris and Svetlana and their daughter lived happily ever after.

Chris, Svetlana, Alexander, Jeremy and Leila

Leila, Chris, Svetlana, Alexandra and Alexandra’s husband, Jeremy

An important aside occurred a decade after Chris and Svetlana got married. It was a particularly frantic period for Corneliu, Svetlana’s step-father. In the last year of Nicolae Ceausescu, Corneliu had been put on a black list of non-favored party members, and was also placed under house arrest.

During the Revolution of December 1989, which ended with the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife on Christmas Day, Corneliu was offered the position of Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Svetlana’s step-father instead opted for the position of Deputy Secretary, leaving the higher position to one of the younger diplomats. In the harsh winter of 1990, Corneliu was working ceaselessly to redefine diplomatic relations between the “new” Romania to the U.S. and Canada, which were his departments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Corneliu also worked to expand economic, trade, and cultural ties between Romania and other countries. Sadly, he died of a heart attack shortly after the Revolution, at a time when things were still very chaotic in Romania. Members of the former Securitate and some military personnel loyal to Ceausescu were fighting against the new regime. Unlike the turnovers in other former Communist countries, the Romanian Revolution was bloody and confused. It is interesting to note that Corneliu’s wife and others believe that the circumstances of his death were suspicious.

After Corneliu’s death, Svetlana’s mother, Emelia, Svetlana’s sister, Ileana, Illeana’s husband, Dov, and their daughter, Ioana, emigrated and moved to Washington, DC and stayed with Chris and Svetlana for a number of years. So you could say that Chris not only gained a wife and a daughter, he also gained a whole Romanian family.

 

About Cecil Hoge

Paddler/Scribbler
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