May 8, 2005
Beth Pforr: Chris Pforr's mom, aka "Bird-Lady"; Brentwood, California, USA.
A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW
STREETBUZZ: Mom, when and where were you born?
BETH PFORR: I was born at the Hospital of the Good Shepherd in Syracuse, New York, on February 24, 1926...that makes me 79 years old.
STREETBUZZ: How about your childhood?
BETH PFORR: I was extremely shy and afraid of men. Until I was about....15, when I began to realize that the opposite sex was attractive. My mother and her family despised my father and his family, because he had been unfaithful and abusive to my mother.
I saw snapshots of him holding me, but I never met my father. They never had anything good to say about him. I learned years later that he went to my high school, and the dean of girls pointed me out to him through a classroom window.
All of my girlfriends that I went to school with, went to college, but my family never encouraged me to attend university, which was within walking distance.
I went to work at a bank the day after I graduated from high school, in the mailroom. I was there for eight months, when I decided to attend secretarial school. I got my diploma and because I wanted to follow in my aunt's footsteps and get an interesting job in Manhattan (New York City), in September of 1944, this aunt went with me on the train and helped me to locate a place to live and a job.
STREETBUZZ: How was your experience in New York City?
BETH PFORR: I was so homesick the first week, alone, I didn't unpack my bags and was going to go home; but I decided to stick it out. I worked for a British steamship company on the very tip of Manhattan where my Dutch ancestors had landed around 1700.
STREETBUZZ: You were also a flight attendant for American Airlines...
BETH PFORR: In 1945 I worked as a sales correspondent in Manhattan for American Airlines. In 1947, they sent me to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to their stewardess school. They sent me back to their base in New York and I flew for a year and a half. I flew on DC-3's, and DC-4's which were converted Air Force C-54's. Later I also flew on DC-6's. The glamour wore off after a couple of months, but I did meet some prominent celebrities, including Jimmy Doolittle, Bob Hope and Kate Smith.
STREETBUZZ: You met my dad in New York...
BETH PFORR: I met Stan Pforr at the Riverside Church in 1945. I feel that there were two instances when he and I were in planes that almost crashed. He was scheduled to fly to Cleveland one weekend and the plane crashed, killing several people. He missed the flight.
Then I was flying on a DC-3 circling in the fog, awaiting permission to land, when the plane dove many hundreds of feet, knocking me to the floor. Then it leveled off. It repeated the dive, leaving me black and blue for months. When I went up to the cockpit, the pilots were pale. They said an Air Force plane came so close to hitting us they could see the rivets. We got permission for an emergency landing in New Jersey and they bussed the pasengers into New York. I was afraid to get back on the plane to ferry it to La Guardia Field, but the pilots told me if I didn't get back on I would always be afraid. I overcame my fears.
In April 1948 Stan Pforr and I were married in the Riverside Church Chapel. We spent three weeks on the west coast, and we looked from Los Angeles to Seattle, thinking we might move there. When we returned to New York, I got a job working for the Famous Greeter, Grover Whalen. During this time I served lunch to the first Atomic Energy Commission.
STREETBUZZ: Then you moved to Washington State...
BETH PFORR: Stan was offered a job in Seattle. We decided one weekend to give up our jobs and move there. It was the antithesis of New York City: the buidlings were so clean, it was not overcrowded, and you couldn't buy an alcholic beverage anywhere without a license. In 1948, the Northwest was called the last frontier, and it was.
STREETBUZZ: You had children...
BETH PFORR: We had two sons, Jonathon Gary in 1948 and Christopher Stephen in 1951. We had a darling home in Bellevue, Washington, and I wish I was still in it.
STREETBUZZ: Did you work in Seattle?
BETH PFORR: I only worked part-time, at Frederick & Nelson's Department Store in Bellevue. Stan worked in advertising at the Smith Tower in Seattle, which was built by a typewriter tycoon from Syracuse (for decades the tallest building west of the Mississipi River.) In 1957 we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area of California.
STREETBUZZ: Shortly after arriving in the sunshine state you separated from Stan, and then later divorced. What can you say about the marriage?
BETH PFORR: If I had been more mature I would have pleased him more as a wife. There was twelve years difference in our ages. After we were divorced and we sere both independent, we became much better friends, until he died in 1989. I still miss him. I still have a coffee cup that he bought for me, I think of him when I use it. My daughter-in-law has my wedding ring.
STREETBUZZ: In California you had a very successful career as an executive secretary...
BETH PFORR: I went to work in 1958 for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. I had a top secret clearance, because we were working on a very classified satellite called the XA Project. We were trying to get a satellite up before the Russians. I was there for two years with a very congenial group of people, and we worked closely with the U.S. Air Force (USAF.) We all listened to the first missile launch from Vandenburg Air Force Base.
Because the commute was seventeen miles from home, I decided to get a job closer to home. I went to work for Litton Industries, they made the first microwave oven. I remember they microwaved bacon and we all ate it; we all wondered if we were going to get radioactive.
Next I went to work for the Aerospace Corporation, Bay Area office, which had been organized for research by the USAF Space program. My boss there was Dr. Ezra Kotcher, who had been the father of the XA plane, the first plane to break the sound barrier. They got the plans for that from file scraps that the Germans had left behind in Paris after World War II.
When they decided to close the office in about 1963, I went to work as a secretary at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Palo Alto for ten years. Most of that time I was secretary to the president of SRI International, Dr. Weldon "Hoot" Gibson, an international economist. I met top-level executives from countries all over the world. At one of the conferences here I was designated to help Dr. Ghermaine Gvyshiani who was the director at the Russian Institute of Technology.
In December 1973 I went to work at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto. I was there for 18 years, with an excellent boss, Dr. Ralph Perhac.
STREETBUZZ: ...and from there you retired...
BETH PFORR: I retired in 1991, at age 65.
Before I reitred, on weekends I was working for American Airlines at San Jose International Airport, helping passengers to check in. AFter I retired I continued with American as a hostess at the Admiral's Club. After I moved to Brentwood in 1998, the distance to the airport and the early morning hours caused me to retire from that part-time job. I continue to miss it now, six years later.
STREETBUZZ: How about your love life after your divorce?
BETH PFORR: I had several serious romances, but I 'm glad now that none of them culminated in marriage.
STREETBUZZ: What are you doing in your so-called retirement?
BETH PFORR: Since 1998, I have lived in an active adult community, called Summerset. There are many social groups and the one I have been active in is called Kare Bears. We give temporary help to people who are ailing or need drivers to appointments. We take food and flowers if needed.
Starting in 2005, I will be associate secretary of the Summerset social club, which plans many events and activites here.
At home, I have five exotic birds for pets, and am fostering a young pigeion (rock dove) with a lame leg that will be operated on next week. I have three lovebirds and two canaries, and I go about three times a week to the Antioch animal shelter to take care of the bird cages. I actually pray for them every day, I pray for the wild birds, but I believe they are in constant alertness for predators and foraging for food. If I had a million dollars, I'd build a sanctuary for them to be safe and have food.
I spend a lot of time gardening, reading, and emailing. That's it.
Oh! I forgot...for three years I did a monthly column on the seniors page of the Contra Costa Times and I have continued to send letters on various issues to the editor, which are frequently published.
STREETBUZZ: I think we need to touch on politics. You have been a member of the Republican Party for many years. Can you briefly summarize your political beliefs?
BETH PFORR: Well, they change, you know, they're in constant flux.
I am particularly interested in the illegal immigration, because I think the majority of these people come for their own benefit. And most of them don't want to assimilate. Like these gardeners here, most of them have been here for 15 years and they still don't want to learn English. They want the benefits but they don't do their share to contribute to a needy society.
I'm registered as a Republican, for awhile I was an independent. I'm thinking seriously of becoming an independent. My estimation of most politicians and corporate CEO's is that they are extremely greedy and care little about the good of the people and the country.
I don't think people should be forced to join unions. They are forced to join, have money taken out of their wages, and people are afraid to speak at meetings.
STREETBUZZ: Have you ever been to a union meeting?
BETH PFORR: No, but I have a friend in Los Altos who spoke up at a librarians union meeting and was accosted in the parking lot afterward. I don't think she was physically atacked, but she was scared.
STREETBUZZ: But the Republican Party has been THE party of big business for many decades; everybody knows that. How do you reconcile being a Republican with your stated feelings about corporate CEO's, and your long-held antipathy to corporate greed?
BETH PFORR: Because I liked the candidates better than those of other parties. But I never vote a straight party line. I am very disappointed in President Bush and I believe he receives bad advice from his advisers. I don't believe he thought out the consequences of our Middle East inolvement. But it would be unfair to the people in Iraq if we abandoned them now. And I'm tired of Mr. Bush trying to be Mr. Nice Guy to everybody. I think a lot of countries look upon us as Uncle Sap instead of Uncle Sam.
STREETBUZZ: Foreign Aid has been one of your favorite themes over the years. Can you say something about the subject?
BETH PFORR: I think that our generosity has been taken advantage of and instead of the aid helping the people it was intended for, it has been stolen by selfish people. I think we should have admnistered it ourselves, to make sure it went to the people it was intended for.
STREETBUZZ: California! What can you say about this amazing state?
BETH PFORR: I will never feel that California is home (STREETBUZZ note: Beth has lived in California since 1957). Well, I suppose you could say it's been good to me. My careers have allowed me to save enough money for a good retirement. I think the politicns and the developers are ruining it. I still love and feel like Syracuse is my home, even though I left in 1944.
STREETBUZZ: You had two sons, my brother Gary who's 56 now, and me. What can you say?
BETH PFORR: When they were little boys, I think it was unfair of me to cite to Gary "Why can't you be more like your little brother?" (Chris was the 'little angel'.) I wish that I had treated you both more equally. Like many parents, I was more critical of the older one. I wish as parents we had helped you both more monetarily when you were going through college. But I feel very proud htat you both were ambitious and independent. And you have been good sons in spite of the fact that I could have been a more patient mother.
STREETBUZZ: At age 79, what can you about life? Any words of wisdom for our readers out there?
BETH PFORR: Every heart that beats is precious. Even those of people who we don't understand.
STREETBUZZ: Any final thoughts?
BETH PFORR: I am ambivalent at times about a god of love. I don't understand how He could have allowed some of the terrible things of the world. Yet my most important prayers have been answered.
A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW