Washington has its share of "grande dames." I visited with one the night before she died.
Yesterday morning, before dawn, Antonia Morgan passed away in her uptown Washington apartment, following a long illness. She was 91. "Sal" had been her live-in caregiver for over four months, and was up the whole night as Mrs Morgan struggled with her final breaths.
Outside the public eye, it could have been said that Mrs Morgan lived in interesting times. Raised in a educated and distinguished English family, she married an American officer stationed there during World War II. But there was more to her life. It was her daughter, the noted cosmetic surgeon Jean Elizabeth Morgan, who was the subject of the 1991 book by Jonathan Groner, Hilary's Trial: The Elizabeth Morgan Case: A Child's Ordeal in America's Legal System, and the 1992 television movie A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story. The mother was played by Bonnie Bedelia. In an excellent choice of casting, the part of Mrs Morgan was played by Patricia Neal. In 1996, Congress finally vindicated the mother by passing "The Elizabeth Morgan Act."
Mrs Morgan was a formidable, well-bred, and well-educated woman. You read about them now and then, the type for whom time never erases their grace or presence. This was evident in her final hours. When I dropped Sal off at the residence that evening, I went up for a brief visit. While it was obvious that Mrs Morgan was deteriorating, and that she was resigned to the inevitable, she was keen enough to draw my attention to her vast library, and asked me to pull The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations off the shelf. There was something she wanted to show her son when he came later that evening. She went directly to a collection of sayings attributed to King Charles II, and settled on the final listing:
"He had been, he said, an unconscionable time dying; but he hoped that they would excuse it." *
"I'm sure that would make a fitting epitaph," I told her. She understood.
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* from Macaulay's History of England, 1849, I, 4, 437