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Meeting Lady Nancy Astor

May 23, 2005

My grandfather, George Sayers, was one of the best golf instructors in the world. At the age of 18 he was hired to be golf professional at the golf club in Monte Carlo, Monaco. His reputation as an instructor caused him to sought by kings, queens, czars and nobility from all over Europe. Of course, my great-grandfather, Ben Sayers, was even more famous as a player, teaching professional and golf course architect but you'll have to read about him later.

Somewhere along the way, my grandfather taught Lady Nancy Astor how to play golf. They stayed life-long friends and often met to socialize. On one occasion, granddad invited my grandmother, my mother, my sister Susan and myself to visit Lady Astor in New York City. They all thought it was a very big deal. I thought the fuss was over nothing; but, frankly, I was intrigued to meet someone who was seldom referred to using her first name. As I was told, "Her name is Lady Astor; not Lady Nancy Astor."

We drove to New York City one beautiful warm summer day. During the ride, my granddad instructed Susan and I in the proper protocol for speaking with nobility. He instructed us to always say, "Yes, your ladyship," or "No, your ladyship" when she asked a question. And, most important, we were to mind our manners and not speak unless spoken to by one of the adults present. To many, if not most, Americans reading this in the early 21st century, this may be carrying manners a bit too far but granddad was from Scotland and knew something about the protocol for dealing with nobility. My granddad was at ease in any social circumstance...unless I was there.

I was a typical young American teenager who didn't give one hoot about etiquette or manners or nobility. For most of the trip, my grandfather was quite upset with me because I insisted on saying, "No! I'm not going to call her 'your ladyship' I'm going to say 'yes, ma'am and no ma'am' just like I would with any other adult woman."

Granddad was beside himself. He was quite concerned that I would embarrass him and the family with my impudence. My mother tried to reason with me but I insisted that there was no reason to call someone 'your ladyship'.

"It's stupid and I'm not going to say it." Everyone was quite upset with me.

Lady Astor lived in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel which was quite opulent and luxurious. Having grown up in 'country club' atmosphere in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, on the what is called 'the Main Line', luxury was something I saw on a regular basis...but that hotel was amazing. I was impressed.

We traveled up to her penthouse suite in a private elevator. It was fun. Her suite was at least two floors, maybe more. There was a winding staircase and very tall French doors which opened onto a balcony. The doors were open because the day was warm and sunny.

After meeting Lady Astor, we sat and the adults talked about golf. The main reason for meeting her was to deliver a full set of my granddad's custom-made golf clubs to her. My sister and I were bored. When Lady Astor spoke to me I replied to her question using 'ma'am' and my granddad gave me a scolding look each time but she never seemed to care. I must admit I had never met anyone with her poise and class. She made us all feel welcomed. I liked her immediately, actually.

While the adults were talking I looked around the room at the paintings and decor. What a place! As I was looking around I thought I heard music coming through the open French doors. I finally realized that, in fact, I did hear music. Bagpipe music. I blurted out, "Hey, I hear bagpipes." I jumped up and moved quickly to the doors looking out on the balcony and New York City. Granddad said, "Bernard, you come back here and sit down."

Lady Astor said, "Oh, George, don't be that way. He's just a curious boy." She turned to me and said, "Go ahead, Bernard, look out."

I went stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the city. We were many, many floors high; I don't have a clue how far up. I looked down and much to my surprise, on the roof of a building nearby was a man dressed in full Scottish kilt playing the pipes and walking back and forth. "There he is! There he is! Come look! Come look! It's a piper in full dress!"

Everyone moved to the balcony and stared down to the piper.

Lady Astor said, "Hmmm. Well, isn't that interesting."

After we spent time looking out at the piper, we went to lunch in Lady Astor's private dining area in the hotel. What impressed me most about the lunch was the number waiters. Granddad, grandmother and my mother each had their own waiter who stood one step behind where they were seated. Lady Astor had two waiters, one on either side of her and one step back. Susan and I shared a waiter between us. I was impressed. The waiters would always step forward with water or what ever was needed. They always seemed to know what we needed. It was interesting to be waited on like that.

Many, many years later I mentioned the trip to New York to my mother. She told me that my father had told her that Lady Astor had paid the piper to play that day as a tribute to my granddad and their very long and warm friendship.

It seems that granddad and Lady Astor were always playing little tricks on each other.

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