Story By: Jillian Rinehimer
Video By: Sasha Laferte
Five hundred people sat in the audience anticipating a speech from two housewives that wrote a book to shine light on life in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. A book that revealed the secret gardens behind the brownstones and brought strangers into a friendly home. A book to challenge the stereotype.
The authors, Gail Weesner and Barbara Moore, met in the 1970s after Mrs. Weesner moved onto Pinckney Street a few years earlier. They quickly learned their shared qualities of Midwestern universities, work in New York and marriage to lawyers. Despite Mrs. Moore’s ten years over Mrs. Weesner, their similarities created a special bond and a friendship blossomed out of their mutual passion for gardening.
When Mrs. Weesner got the call that her buisness partner, Mrs. Moore, wouldn’t be able to make the presentation, she was reluctant to give the speech on her own. It wasn’t stage-fright or her lack of charisma, but Mrs. Weesner didn’t want all the credit.
With no choice but to present alone, Mrs. Weesner gave the speech. After, she called her friend and President of the Friends of the Public Garden, Henry Lee, and declared, “I almost died.”
Although Mrs. Weesner worked in the editorial department at Time Life in New York she wasn’t comfortable with publicity. In their collaboration, Mrs. Moore talked and Mrs. Weesner wrote, which resulted in four books and their publishing company, Centry Hill Press.
Business meetings were held at Mrs. Weesner’s house with spotless shelves and neatly filed cabinets. The women spread colored photographs and papers atop the long dining table that accommodated their business discussions and doubled as a lunch spot for friendly gossip over a favorite of tunafish sandwiches.
“She would always entertain me by telling me stories of her family,” said Mrs. Moore, “and families are full of all kinds of things, you know disasters, hysterical situations, love, hate, you name it.”
Along with her publishing company, Mrs. Weesner was a member of the Beacon Hill Garden club. Every spring members spruce up their gardens with the help of professionals to make them presentable for the single day that curious eyes pay for a glimpse at the little green spaces behind the bricks of one of Boston’s most prestigious neighborhoods.
Mrs. Weesner preferred to maintain her garden without help. She tended to her flowers as if it was a typical spring day. And if there was a late season frost, she would tuck her red hair into her aqua knit hat, then continue planting before she moved onto rebricking.
“A lot of people probably didn’t know exactly how much she did cause she really was a very generous person… and very, very modest,” said Mrs. Moore.
While in the hospital during her last illness, Mrs. Moore went to visit Mrs. Weesner and was surprised when she asked for mascara. Mrs. Moore never knew Mrs. Weesner wore make-up.
The twenty page papers that Mrs. Weesner wrote in response to books read in the neighborhood book club offered insight into her profound knowledge of Boston’s history, literature and museums.
“She pretended she didn’t know much about things but she had extraordinary knowledge and recall,” said Mr. Lee.
Mrs. Weesner was constant in her hard-working manner. She worked as secretary and board member of the Friends of the Public Garden.
“She turned our holding expression into models of clarity and concision,” said Mr. Lee. “And in our governance she was an unfailing source of wise and discerning judgement. She was a superb editor, a very good writer, and though modest she was quite strong-minded.”
While receiving treatment in the last year of her life, Mr. Lee gave Mrs. Weesner a draft of a paper he had written. Mrs. Weesner returned the copy simply stating, “boring, rewrite.”
“She was a very special person,” said Mrs. Moore. “If you talked to anybody that knew her, they would tell you stories about her. I mean she clearly died many, many years early.”
Mrs. Weesner was laid to rest among the 5,000 trees and 700 species of flowers, shrubs and plants that cover the 170 acres of America’s first garden cemetery, Mount Auburn.
“She gave me very early on something that I will always appreciate and that is – she called it at the time – a Lenten Rose, but they are called Hellebores now. It’s interesting because that was a plant that was not much used in the United States.”
The plant is used to bring color to a winter garden. Its five mystic purple, triangular petals flower among a February snow.