No Boundaries–The Residences at Thomas Circle
By Christy Brudin
Harriet Mayor Fulbright’s international education began at the tender age of 15. She has visited and lived in countries from Latin America to Asia. The world has been her greatest teacher—and she has always been an eager student.
Throughout her career, Harriet has helped foster that same zeal for travel and education in students throughout the U.S. and around the world. With her late husband Senator J. William Fulbright, she has helped to launch the educational adventures of countless students. Today, as the President of the Harriet Fulbright College—which provides opportunities for foreign students to develop the language skills they need to succeed in the U.S. higher education system—she remains deeply committed to carrying on the legacy of Senator Fulbright.
Now living at The Residences at Thomas Circle, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Washington, D.C., Harriet enjoys being in the heart of a truly international city. The central location of the community also means that she can easily access public transportation—allowing her to stay connected with her large social network and remain actively involved in the operation of her College.
Born in New York City, Harriet is a self-described “nomad.” She spent parts of her childhood in Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia.
She also started traveling at a young age. “I started thinking about the wider world at an early age. My father sent me to Columbia to live with friends when I was 15 years old,” Harriet recalled. “I went to their school, and I learned Spanish by immersion. I also learned a very different way of life, and it was fascinating.”
Harriet’s interest was piqued. She went on to study government and policy at Radcliffe College, a former women’s college that is now part of Harvard University. Shortly after graduating, Harriet moved to Washington, D.C. with her first husband and served as the Assistant Director of Career Services for George Washington University. However, she would soon find herself overseas once again, when her husband joined the Foreign Service.
The young couple was stationed in the U.S.S.R., South Korea and Germany. In each country, Harriet made a home for their growing family of three girls and taught English.
After a lengthy career teaching both internationally and domestically, Harriet was appointed as the Head of the Fulbright Association. The Association represents alumni of the Fulbright Program, the international educational exchange program established by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. In keeping with the principles of the Fulbright Program, the Association was founded to encourage former Fulbrighters to continue advancing the exchange of ideas between the people of different countries.
As part of her position, Harriet met with then-retired Senator Fulbright. “He was obviously curious to see who was leading this alumni association for something he had started,” she recalled. “He asked me to have lunch with him, and we ended up having regular meetings.”
The two passionate advocates for education quickly discovered that they had much in common. In Harriet, Senator Fulbright found someone who believed just as strongly as he did in the promotion of peace and international good will through education.
While work brought them together, it was an unfortunate accident that took their relationship from professional to personal. “At that time, I rode my bike to work every day,” Harriet recalled. “One day, a truck didn’t see me while turning right, and I was run over. My leg was badly damaged, and I ended up spending a month in the hospital.”
Following her accident, the Senator called to offer his assistance. “He said, ‘You can’t feed yourself on those two sticks’—meaning my crutches,” Harriet laughed as she recalled. “He told me to come to his house for dinner every night, and so I did.”
Just a few weeks later, Harriet received another call from Senator Fulbright. “He said, ‘I’m sitting here eating breakfast all by myself and I’m lonely, so I want you to marry me,’” she remembered with a smile. The two were married a short time later and enjoyed a full life—complete with a busy travel schedule.
In addition to her work with the Association, Harriet served as the Executive Director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities under President Bill Clinton. “That was such a wonderful opportunity to help make the arts and humanities a more central part of our educational system,” she said.After Senator Fulbright passed away, Harriet continued to live in her home in Arlington, Va. “It was a large 3-story house, and my youngest daughter convinced me that I didn’t need all that space. And she was right,” Harriet said. “I started looking around for a place to retire, and I quickly decided that if I was going to live in an apartment, I wanted to be in the city.”
In addition to an urban location, Harriet also wanted to find a retirement community that provided a range of care options, so she would never have to move again, even if her care needs increased. She also wanted a property that was Metro accessible, so she could give up her car.
“Thomas Circle seemed like an ideal place for me, and it really has been ideal. I am really enjoying my life here,” Harriet said.
Since moving to Thomas Circle last year, Harriet has benefitted from living in a close-knit community in a great location. “I don’t miss my car at all, and I can get anywhere I need to go on Metro,” she said. “I’ve also made some terrific friendships here. There is so much to do here—from clubs to outings—and you can do as much or as little as you like.”
In addition to all the activities at Thomas Circle, Harriet is still doing quite a lot to carry on the impressive legacy of her former husband through her College. A committed student and accomplished teacher, Harriet Mayor Fulbright realized at a young age what she is still teaching others— that education easily crosses borders and that knowledge knows no boundaries.
Published: December 2013