At first glance, The Loveliest Woman in America might appear to be an unlikely book for review at Serve to Lead.
In fact, it’s of great interest to anyone concerned about leadership, generational change, families, and American history.
Bibi Gaston has recovered the history of a great American family of the early 20th century: the Pinchots.
Gifford Pinchot is remembered as an intimate ally of Theodore Roosevelt, founding director of the U.S. Forest Service, and governor of Pennsylvania. Cornelia, his wife, was a noted public figure in her own right.
Amos Pinchot, Gifford’s brother, was a prominent public intellectual and man of affairs in the Progressive Era. He is immortalized in a letter from Theodore Roosevelt, following the 1912 campaign. TR, expressing some bottled-up frustration, referred to Amos as precisely whom he had in mind when he coined the phrase, “lunatic fringe.”
Rosamond Pinchot is sketched by Gaston “as a niece of Gifford Pinchot; cousin to Edie Sedgwick; half-sister of Mary Pinchot Meyer, JFK’s lover; friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Arden. At nineteen she was discovered aboard a cruise ship, at twenty-three she married the playboy scion of a political Boston family, but by thirty-three she was dead by her own hand.”
Bibi Gaston is a granddaughter of Rosamond Pinchot. Bibi Gaston’s father, Rosamond’s first-born, was a child at the time of his mother’s death. In the telling of The Loveliest Woman in America, Rosamond’s suicide was a hinge point in the life of their family.
Leadership Questions Worth Pondering
Gaston’s book is unusual in its skillful weaving of her personal exploration for identity within the history of her family, all in the context of American history changing around them. This works, because the Pinchots’ world intersected with politics, finance, Broadway, Hollywood and what was once called “high society” makes this interesting. Crafting such a book is no mean feat from a creative standpoint. One suspects it was not easy to conceive and write, either professionally or personally. Nonetheless, Gaston succeeds memorably.
The Loveliest Woman in America prompts questions about the relationship of private life and public service.
How does one balance public service and family life? Amos Pinchot was notably effective in serving the public in various contexts. Did he overlook the needs of those in his own household? If so, was such a conflict necessary? Or might it have been avoided? Or was the conflict itself a symptom of household issues?
What About You?
How do you reconcile your service commitments in your work and life?
How do you define “success”? Who are your models for “success” in this regard?
Are you reviewing and updating your approach to reflect changing circumstances and enlarged understanding?
Bibi Gaston | The Loveliest Woman in America