Potomac VIPs Reminisce about Holiday Traditions and Establish New Favorites

Ellen Cromwell

As the grand marshal of the Potomac Day Parade in October, Potomac resident Ellen Cromwell sat back and waved to her admirers along the parade route. It’s practically the only time in her life she has done so, as she has always instead preferred to be in the action. As the founder of Georgetown Hill Early School, being in the action for Ellen has always meant teaching. Ellen retired seven years ago at age 78 after expanding Georgetown Hill to 10 campuses serving more than 1,000 early-childhood students.

Reflecting on traditions and memories of the holiday season, Ellen says, “I grew up in a small apartment in the Bronx with very few toys. My friends and I mostly played imagination outside. One year, I remember receiving a family of Raggedy Anne dolls who were very important to me.”

These days, she said, her favorite holiday tradition is “to unpack the boxes of old Christmas tree ornaments that hold so many memories and carefully place them on the tree.”

Early in Ellen’s career, she authored three groundbreaking books about early childhood education. After retiring from Georgetown Hill, she began writing books for children, including Are You Listening, Potbelly?, TALASI… A Story of Tenderness and Love and The Bus Ride: A Timeless Story That Bonds Generations Through Shared Memories. Today, Ellen enjoys seeing others give her books as gifts.

“Now that I live in a senior community, I have been so happy to see grandmothers purchase my books and share them with their grandchildren. They are all loving stories about diverse families, and they encourage conversations about values, memories and childhood.”

As for gifts she likes to receive, Ellen says, “My favorite gift is to spend time with my children and grandchildren. I always loved seeing all of my grandchildren play sports, play instruments or sing. Recently, my two youngest grandsons have become interested in writing and publishing their own stories. I love that we can share this hobby together. They come to me for advice!”

Bruce and Margo Fonoroff

Anyone invited to a Hanukkah party at Bruce and Margo Fonoroffs’ should plan to bring a menorah. It’s not that Bruce, a retired senior executive in the Department of Defense, or Margo, a retired Montgomery County school principal, don’t have their own. It’s just that their Hanukkah parties feature a group candle lighting before dinner, so, the more menorahs, the better. As for the meal, Margo makes homemade latkes and slow-cooks brisket sliders for the more than 50 people attending.

Bruce and Margo established this annual party soon after their 2007 move from their single-family Potomac home to the condos at Park Potomac, a planned mixed-use community.  

Bruce serves on the Park Potomac Condo, HOA and Master Association boards of directors and was appointed by former County Executive Ike Leggett to the Commission on Common Ownership Communities. He is also the chairman of the Park Potomac Ice Cream Social for Charity, and Margo is the co-chair.

Reflecting the Fonoroffs’ passion for helping underprivileged children, Bruce and Margo ask their Hanukkah guests to bring items for needy families, such as canned goods, disposable diapers, hats, etc., which they donate to Interfaith Works of Montgomery County. That way, they say, they are not only celebrating the holiday but also practicing the Jewish concept of Tikun Olum: acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world.

Susan Page

USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page covered six White House administrations and interviewed the past nine presidents. She is also a frequent analyst on television. But since she is usually the one asking questions, it’s possible that none of her interview subjects know that on Christmas Eve, her favorite night of the year, Susan’s traditional family dinner is takeout pizza.

“We start by attending the Christmas pageant at our church,” she says. “When my kids were little, they participated in the pageant,” she adds, referring to her sons, Ben and Will. “They were initially cast as sheep but graduated to bigger parts, eventually filling just about every role.”

After the pageant, Susan says the family heads home and orders takeout pizza before opening presents.

One year, Susan gave her boys a play kitchen, which included a pretend phone.

“Ben marched over to the phone and tried to call Domino’s to order pizza. This may indicate that they hadn’t seen me doing a lot of home cooking in our actual kitchen,” she laughs.

Susan is the author of The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, a New York Times bestselling book. She is now working on another biography, Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Arc of History.

Books are Susan’s favorite gifts to give.

“I love to find a book for someone that they might never have considered but that I think they would end up treasuring,” she says. “One year I found a used book of portraits taken by August Sander, a renowned German photographer, called Citizens of the 20th Century: Portrait Photographs 1892-1952.”

The book includes portraits taken during the Nazi era and includes a portrait of her husband’s grandfather, Hermann Leubsdorf, labeled “Persecuted Jew.” When Susan corresponded with the Sander estate in Germany, “They were glad to learn that (Hermann) and his wife managed to immigrate to the United States, to safety,” she says.

Bob Levey

Bob Levey says he does not have the “business gene.”

“I’ve never been anything but a journalist,” he says.

Yet he knows how to craft a deal hard to refuse: He is currently offering two sausage factories for the price of one.

“If you like the political sausage factory, you get that. If you want the journalism sausage factory, you get that,” he says, referring to his new novel Larry Felder, Candidate, which Bob says is “a real good ground-level look at the reality of Congress, political campaigns and big-time downtown journalism, which are my worlds.”

A renowned Washington Post journalist from 1967-2004, Bob is also a well-known radio and television talk-show host and commentator. Of his several books, Larry Felder, Candidate is Bob’s first novel. Bob self-published the book and is also promoting and selling it himself (from BobLeveyPublishing.com or BobLevey@Comcast.net). Bob is happy when people tell him they are giving his novel as a gift for Christmas, Hanukkah or any occasion.

It happens “all the time,” he says, adding that the book is a “great gift for anybody who knows or cares about this community and is curious about what really happens.”

 Bob’s own holiday traditions are low-key.

“Our Hanukkah celebrations are only slightly about gifts and very little about religion, but all about family,” he says.

His wife, Jane, a historian, and their two grown children join them, along with some extended family members. None bring as big a smile as the family’s littlest member, who Bob refers to as the “world’s greatest grandson,” also known as Robin Levey.

The Levey family is a musical bunch, with singing and/or instrumental talent on each of their resumes, so their holidays always include lots of tunes.

Bob’s Hanukkah gift to himself, he says, would be to finish his second novel, which will be about the world of radio.