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Never Ask Permission

Never Ask Permission: Elisabeth Scott Bocock of Richmond, A Memoir by Mary Buford Hitz

A Memoir by Mary Buford Hitz
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Never Ask Permission
    Book Description:

    Some cities, through hardship or glory or a combination of both, produce extraordinary women. Richmond in the early twentieth century, dominated by its prominent families and still haunted by the ghosts of its Confederate past, produced a galaxy of such characters, including Ellen Glasgow, Mary Cooke Branch Munford, and Lila Meade Valentine. Elisabeth Scott Bocock, Victorian in values but modern in outlook, carried on this tradition with her unique combination of family wealth and connections, boundless energy, eccentricity, and visionary zeal. Her daughter Mary Buford Hitz's candid memoir reveals the pleasures and frustrations of growing up with a woman who expected so much from her children and from the city whose self-appointed guardian she became.

    Elisabeth Bocock's vision was of a city that would take historic preservation seriously, of a society that would accept the importance of conservation. Impatient with process and society's conventions, she used her enormous personal magnetism to circumvent them when founding many of the institutions Richmond takes for granted today. In the creation of the Historic Richmond Foundation, the Carriage Museum at Maymont, the Hand Workshop, and the Virginia Chapter of the Nature Conservancy she played the dual roles of visionary and bulldozer. While part of a tradition of strong southern women, Elisabeth Bocock's tactics were unique, as she sought to convince others of both the practical and aesthetic links between preservation and the environment.

    One of the "five little Scotts," children of the founder of the investment firm Scott & Stringfellow, she grew up with great privilege, and she schooled her children in how to take advantage of such privilege and how to ignore it. Whether in their winter residence at 909 West Franklin Street in Richmond or at their summer home, Royal Orchard, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in her household she insisted both on achievement and on avoiding boredom at all costs.

    As Mary Buford Hitz recounts with intelligence and feeling, her mother often seemed like a natural force, leveling anything that stood in its way but leaving in its wake a brighter, changed world. Never Ask Permission is not only a daughter's honest portrait of a charismatic and difficult woman who broke the threads of convention; in Elisabeth Scott Bocock we recognize the flawed but feisty, enduring character of Richmond.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3347-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Anne Firor Scott
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. Prologue
    (pp. 1-7)

    I am seven years late starting to write about my mother, and here I am, a half sentence into the project, already having violated one of her chief commandments—never begin a letter, a sermon, or any other piece of writing with the pronounI.Mother’s Victorian upbringing, combined with a well-born southerner’s passion for privacy, made talking about oneself a sin second only to the sin of talking about money. She was born in 1901, the year that Queen Victoria died, and we often teased her by pointing out that she had been born to carry on the tradition....

  7. 1. 909: Ground Zero
    (pp. 9-29)

    It did not take me very long, growing up, to realize that other people didn’t live the way we lived. It wasn’t so much that no expense was spared, because Richmond had its share of moderate fortunes founded on the economic boom at the turn of the century; it was more a matter of the formality of our life, which resembled the 1920s more than the 1940s.

    During World War II we had moved to Lexington, Virginia, where Father was second in command of the Officer Training School attached to Washington and Lee University. Not long after we returned to...

  8. 2. Father
    (pp. 31-53)

    Father was a man of few works, an intensely private person, and someone I never knew adult to adult. As a child I was a star held firmly in the gravitational pull of Mother’s planet, caught up in a whirlwind of physical activity: work in the garden, horseback riding, delivering flowers to friends who were in the hospital, soup to those sick at home, water to drought-parched trees newly planted on the Turnpike—all those and a myriad other things, whether planting bulbs around family graves in Hollywood Cemetery or raiding Mr. Caravati’s junk yard, that were part of Mother’s...

  9. 3. A Passion for Preservation
    (pp. 55-83)

    Mother accomplished a great deal in her life that materially and visually affected both the city of Richmond and the state of Virginia, and the level of public appreciation of her work was brought home to me one day when I was working on this book. I was returning research files on ESB to Virginia Commonwealth University Library when Ray Bonis, who helped me get the files up to the Special Collections Department, told me that a fifth grader had recently appeared at their door saying she wanted to research the life of Elisabeth Scott Bocock. When asked what had...

  10. 4. Heaven Has Nothing on Royal Orchard
    (pp. 85-107)

    As a child, I measured time according to how soon I would be back at Royal Orchard. If we were leaving there in the predawn darkness to drive to Richmond for school and work, I grieved for the days that stretched ahead before we would return the next weekend. If we were on a glamorous trip, and I was asked what I thought of my first view of the Matterhorn, or the Grand Tetons, or the Pyrenees, my answer was always the same: “It doesn’t compare to Royal Orchard.” Mother’s retort, too, was always the same: “If that’s the way...

  11. 5. Theirs Not to Reason Why
    (pp. 109-129)

    Nobody who ever dealt with Mother, whether they were family members, friends, or professional acquaintances, would question the statement that she had a will of iron. No other element of her character was as central to who she was. As a young person, Mother instinctively understood that, as a female in a society where a woman’s role was largely ornamental, she often needed to adopt disguises to get her way. The social expectation just made the game a little tougher and more fun, and as had countless women before her, she used her considerable charm both to get what she...

  12. 6. When the Wheels Came Off
    (pp. 131-153)

    In his bookThe Pattons: A Personal History of an American Family,Robert H. Patton describes the “manic élan” with which his grandfather, Gen. George S. Patton Jr., led his troops in the final, successful drive against Germany in World War II, and how poorly this leadership style translated when he had to confront “the horrors of peace.” He had played too large a role on the stage of history to make the confines of domestic life comfortable for him, or for those who shared it with him. In any situation, writes his grandson, “he was compulsively driven to emote,...

  13. 7. A Flash of Green
    (pp. 155-169)

    Mother was a woman of many talents, but in one area her touch approached that of genius: she had a very special way withflowers.When it came to flower arranging, Mother could do more with less in less time than anyone else I know, except possibly Bessie. Her membership in the James River Garden Club came about because of her interest in conservation, not because she wanted or needed to study decorating with flowers. Most likely she felt in her bones that either the Lord had made you so that you could arrange flowers or he hadn’t, and if...

  14. 8. (Wild) Goose Chase
    (pp. 171-189)

    Father’s death took the referee out of ESB’s relationship with her brothers and sisters. As with any game lacking a referee, the play soon turned rough. The irrationality of her behavior increasingly irked the other “little Scotts,” and when they tried to impose their will in matters having to do with Royal Orchard she reacted defensively, feeling, in the isolation of her widowhood, that the other four were ganging up on her.

    At the heart of this conflict was ESB’s relationship with her brother Buford. Bobbie Carter may have thought that he was the first person in ESB’s life since...

  15. 9. Grandmother the Undergraduate
    (pp. 191-203)

    Mother scrambled so fast, in the month after Father died, to arrange her transition to college life that a month later she was a live-in student at Ambler Junior College of Horticulture. That first year, she kept an on-again, off-again diary, whose short entries give a peek into her new life.

    Sept. 19th: Ambler has just become a section of Temple University, and will expand, offering liberal arts education. Ambler has cut out agriculture—cows, chickens etc. this year in order to do this—but still teaches all phases of horticulture and horse husbandry—it offers no athletics except riding...

  16. 10. Mother and I
    (pp. 205-215)

    It would have been easier for both Mother and me if I, at least as a child, had not looked so much like her. Coming out of church on Sundays on the steps of Saint Paul’s, the ladies would peer down at me as I fidgeted at her side and remark, “My dear youdolook so like your mother.” This seemed to require some response from me, and when I asked Mother what I should say, she replied, “Say politely, what can’t be cured must be en dured.” So, having no idea what it meant, I would look up...

  17. 11. One of This World’s Originals
    (pp. 217-228)

    Mother’s most striking characteristics were self-confidence and energy. What was her confidence built on? I find it is a question with many different answers. In Langhorne Gibson’s biography of Fred and Elise Scott, Mother’s parents, he describes the effect on the family of Mother’s early bout with tuberculosis. In the era before antibiotics, TB was truly a life-threatening disease. Gibson writes: “Elisabeth’s sickness was the first family crisis they had faced together. Their near loss of her, plus her beauty and wit, made Elisabeth always special to her parents:” Elsewhere in the book, commenting on family dynamics, Gibson points out...

  18. Index
    (pp. 229-240)