Florence Snyder - 7/9 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

In violent homes, every night is Halloween

On Halloween, Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Katie Kustura brings us a timely reminder that for many women and children, every night is “dark, and full of terrors.”

Domestic violence is a notoriously underreported crime, but available statistics place Volusia County near the top of what State Attorney R.J. Larizza calls an epidemic. Larizza is fed up, and is putting together a broad-based community task force to bring the numbers down.

Abusers are adept at convincing victims that they are to blame for the black eyes, broken ribs, and bloody noses inflicted upon them. Domestic violence can go on for years under the oblivious noses of friends, family and co-workers, and it ends amicably about as often as the Cubs make the World Series.

Ekara Nichols‘ story is typical. She was a young single mother when she met Brenson Burns, who was 17 years her senior and very good at playing Prince Charming. By the time his Prince of Darkness emerged, they had a child together, and Nichols was convinced that the problem was some combination of her looks, her personality, and her housekeeping skills.

In fact, Burns was a garden-variety serial abuser who needed no “provocation” to use a woman as a punching bag. Unbeknown to Nichols, Burns had done time in the 20th century for attempted murder, having inflicted 24 stab wounds on a woman who had the bad fortune to be the subject of his “infatuation.”

In Volusia County the focus is beginning to shift from “Why do victims stay?” to “Why do abusers abuse?” Often, the answer can be found in the tree from which the abusive apple fell. Parents tell themselves that the kids can’t hear the slamming of fists on flesh in the room behind the closed door. Daytona Beach Police Victim Advocate Sophie Vessa calls that idea “laughable … you don’t sleep through domestic violence,” she told the News-Journal.

Much more likely you grow up to be a lead actor in a new generation of domestic violence. Take it from Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood, who has been around long enough “… to see the kids that were in the house when we arrested Dad, we’re now arresting the kid who is in a relationship as a domestic batterer.”

Larizza’s task force was hailed by Tiffany Carr, CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She told the News-Journal it’s a “groundbreaking effort for a community of Volusia’s size.”

Breaking the cycle of family violence is a neat trick, and Kustura’s story is a Halloween treat.

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Florence Snyder: Postcard from Halloween

How did Halloween come to be first runner-up to Christmas among holidays that excel at separating families from their money?

We can thank people like John Murdy, creative director and executive producer of Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.

In an interview with Marketplace Weekend’s Eliza Mills, Murdy recalls growing up in the ’70s, when Halloween was just a small treat on the run-up to winter. Murdy was just 10 years old, but already developing tricks that would help elevate a minor annual diversion into a major year-round economic engine.

Armed with little more than chicken wire and imagination, Murdy turned the family garage into a Star Wars-themed Halloween House and charged 25 cents admission. By the time he reached middle school, the show had expanded from the garage to every room in the house and into the backyard. The crowds numbered in the hundreds.

These days, Murdy has no trouble finding seasonal employees for Universal’s multi-sensory fright-fest. He’s hired doctors, lawyers, 70-year-old grandmothers, and mechanical engineers to dress up and scare people.

Horror may not get a lot of respect as a genre, Murdy notes, but its fans are ferociously loyal. Universal’s Horror House is not a cheap date, but patrons know they’ll get a very generous shot of adrenaline.

People who do what they love don’t need metrics mavens. They trust their own eyes and do their own polling.

“I don’t need to look at a survey or any kind of data,” Murdy said.” I just stand outside and look at the crowd.”

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Florence Snyder: Memo from The Moon, ‘641 Muriel Court’

641-muriel-courtKyle Jones‘ mother was among the hundreds who packed The Moon last night for the Tallahassee premier of the Florida State University senior’s first foray into filmmaking.

She must be over-the-moon proud.

Jones, assisted by fellow students Elijah Howard, Deanna Kidd, and Michael Walsh, received a loud and warm ovation for “641 Muriel Court,” their documentary about the 50-year-old unsolved murders of Robert and Helen Sims and their 12-year-old daughter Joy, a student at nearby Raa Middle School.

Everyone in the room knew the broad outlines of the story, and many of them were living here Oct. 23, 1966, when news broke that the family had been stabbed, shot, and left to die in their home the night before, while the older Sims daughters were out baby-sitting.

It was a time when Tallahassee people didn’t think to lock their doors, even when away on vacation. There was no 911, and no paramedics to be dispatched to render assistance to the victims who had not yet drawn their last breath.

When they came home to their dead sister and dying parents, the teenage Sims girls had nowhere to turn but the phone book.

Funeral director Russell Bevis got the call. Had he understood the magnitude of the bloodbath at Muriel Court, he might have not brought his son along to help.

Rocky Bevis, who took over the family business in 1998, is still haunted by what he and his dad saw.

Bevis, along with Joy’s neighbors and classmates, local historians, and, remarkably, a person of interest in the murder investigation, granted lengthy and revealing interviews to the student filmmakers. Virtually all the story is told in their voices, and the grainy black and white footage of long-ago interviews with a witness and possible accessory to the murders.

The students frame their film with archival material that reminds us what Tallahassee looked like in its Mayberry days.

Jones & Co. are shopping their project on the Florida film festival circuit.

They should do well; “641 Muriel Court” is a compelling hour of storytelling that would fit comfortably into the lineup of big-budget cold case programming on cable TV.

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Florence Snyder: If you’re laughing, it was probably not a ‘skit’

Pols, pundits and other people in #TheProcess are busy plastering their social media accounts with paeans to the “skits” produced and performed by the stellar crew and cast at Saturday Night Live.

So this is a good time to show our appreciation by resolving not to mention Lorne Michaels’ people in the same sentence with the word “skit” ever again. Men and women who make their living by making us laugh would never use that four-letter word to describe SNL’s version of a presidential debate or TV game show, nor any of the parodies, satires and social commentaries that come out of an improv troupe at Podunk Junior College, let alone an internationally celebrated comedy collective.

Aaron Sorkin, who brought us The West Wing and The Newsroom, explains: A skit is when the football players dress up as cheerleaders and think it’s wit. A sketch is when some of the best minds in comedy come together.”

A more detailed explanation is provided by Tim and Kris O’Shea, who present humor-infused motivational programs to Fortune 500 companies. On their website, the O’Sheas elaborate:

People often say to us, “Oh, I love your skits.” And that’s a great compliment.

But we twitch a little bit inside when we hear that … because we don’t do “skits.” We do sketch comedy.

What’s the difference you ask? Here’s the deal:

A sketch is a skillfully crafted segment of purpose-driven comedic material, written and performed by professionals.

A skit is created by amateurs, and it usually looks that way, too.

Some examples:

Saturday Night Live is sketch comedy.

Performing that funny short play you wrote with your cousins in your grandma’s basement at Thanksgiving when you were a kid … well, that was a skit.

The Carol Burnett Show was brilliant, classic sketch comedy.

What the counselors did at summer camp after the mac & cheese dinner was a skit.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Mad TV, The Tracey Ullman Show, and Laugh-In: you guessed it … all contain sketches.

In high school, when the cheerleaders dressed up as football players and the football players dressed up as the cheerleaders and performed something that wasn’t funny … that was definitely a skit.

A sketch is material that has been drafted, discussed, edited, tried and perfected by trained comedy writing professionals that have hundreds of hours of experience in front of hundreds of audiences of all types.

A skit is “cute.”

So now you know!

Skit: amateur.

Sketch: professional.

We do sketch comedy.

Sorkin and the O’Sheas probably could tell us exactly how many decades ago “football players dressed as cheerleaders” came to be shorthand for the great gaping space between skits and sketches. It’s time to put skits back where they belong … pep rallies, frat parties, and corporate events which were not produced by the O’Sheas.

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Florence Snyder: A crowd of cousins at The New York Times

The mortality rate for a family business is staggering. Seventy percent of them will fail or be sold before the founders’ children come of age. Just 10 percent remain active, and in family hands when the third generation is old enough to work for a living. The chances are close to zero that a family business will be around to provide employment for a fifth generation.

Somehow, the descendants of newspaperman Arthur Ochs beat the odds.

Ochs founded The New York Times in 1896. This week, his great-great-grandson, Arthur Gregg “A.G.” Sulzberger was named Deputy Publisher; he will soon follow his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. into the office where the buck stops at America’s newspaper of record.

Sulzberger, Jr. became Publisher in 1992, a time when most of his fellow Lords of Journalism had not even considered the possibility that emerging technologies and changing consumer tastes would require them to rethink their mid-20th century business models. Family-owned media companies were dropping like flies, but the Ochs folks appear to have some kind of sustainability gene that the rest of us can only dream about.

A.G. was one of three extremely credible Ochs’ heirs to throw a hat into the Aspiring Publisher ring.

Sam Dolnick worked as a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press before moving to the Times newsroom. In 2012, he won the George Polk Award for Justice Reporting for his expose of rape and murder inside New Jersey’s privatized halfway houses.

Following a stint in the fun-and-glory job of deputy sports editor, Dolnick took on the Sisyphean task of figuring out how to win the hearts and eyeballs of readers looking for news on their digital device.  His portfolio today includes podcasting, virtual reality, and other forms of 21st-century storytelling for which the Times is greatly admired.

David Perpich earned praise within the company and in the industry for his work as senior vice president for product, a fancy title for the Herculean task of monetizing content in an era when people think that information is a free gift from Mark Zuckerberg.

A.G. made friends and earned credibility among Times’ readers and newsroom colleagues as a reporter, national correspondent and assistant Metro editor. His rise to the Publisher’s office began in earnest when he was named associate editor for digital strategy.

Titles like that are a dime a dozen in the news business, but in 2014, Sulzberger actually produced a gutsy, influential and widely praised strategy for keeping the Times independent, and profitable. Sulzberger’s “Innovation Report” seems to have tipped the family’s collective judgment in his favor when it came time to vote for which of the 30-somethings would get the job with the highest profile and the highest pressure.

If this were a story told by George R.R. Martin, it would be called A Crowd of Cousins and everybody would end up dead. But Sulzberger, Dolnick and Perpich are said to be friends who will play well with one another and work as a team to maintain the Times as a place where their children will aspire to work.  It’s an impressive contrast to the legions of families where cousins spend very little time together, and wouldn’t like each other if they did.

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Florence Snyder: Notes from the Florida State Archives

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Florence Snyder

If you want to feel good — really good — about your government, pay a visit to the overworked, underpaid band of public servants who staff Florida’s State Library and Archives.

These are the people who preserve, protect and defend our history from those who would rewrite it for short-term political or financial gain. Florida’s archivists and librarians are paragons of competence. They are bottomless pits of the childlike curiosity and thirst for knowledge that moves a society in the right direction.

Turnover is not an issue at the Library and Archives. The new kids have been around for five years, and the gray-haired eminences were brought on back when Bob Graham was governor.

Just nine archivists tend the vast collection of stuff that tells Florida’s story. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics were important tools of the archivists’ trade long before “STEM” became a ubiquitous acronym.  Without their expertise in chemistry and climatology, priceless treasures like Baptista Boazio‘s Saint Augustine Map, commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I in 1589, would have long ago disintegrated.

The muscular left-brains who labor in the R.A. Gray Building make it possible for legislative staffers, opposition researchers, survivors of Florida’s infamous Dozier School, and generations of writers and students to access parchment and vellum and onion skin papers, along with the Dictabelts and CDs where our history resides.

New material arrives every day, and somehow, this tiny staff manages to keep track of it.

October is American Archives Month, and a good time to drop by the R.A. Gray Building and see your tax dollars working very hard and extremely smart.

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Florence Snyder: And another one gone (-30-)

Editor’s note: Within 24 hours of his layoff, Lloyd Dunkelberger has joined FloridaPolitics.com as a contributor.

***

There was yet another round of layoffs last week at Florida newspapers. Men and women with, collectively, hundreds of years of priceless institutional memory and high-functioning moral compasses were unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

They will be replaced, if at all, by younger, cheaper bodies who have not necessarily been taught the difference between putting bylines on news releases and honest reporting.

Serving up the pink slips at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune was Publisher Patrick Dorsey. Dorsey previously held the same title at the Tallahassee Democrat, where his principal achievements were getting to the gym at 6:30 a.m. and cozying up to shills for bad actors in the public and private sector; Chamber of Commerce cronies; and Chamber of Commerce cronies who also worked as shills for bad actors in the public and private sector.

Among the casualties of Dorsey’s latest exercise in “reduction in (work)force” is ink-stained eminence grise Lloyd Dunkelberger.

As a newly minted University of Florida College of Journalism graduate, Dunkelberger walked out of the 1977 graduation exercises and into the newsroom at the Ocala Star-Banner. His mother was very proud, as well she should have been.

The Star-Banner, along with The Gainesville Sun; the Lakeland Ledger, and the Herald-Tribune were owned by the Sulzberger family and they lavished almost as much love and attention on those properties as on their flagship newspaper, The New York Times.

Dunkelberger was hired by the late Don Meiklejohn, a “prototypical mean-ass editor” and assigned to cover the Marion County Commission, with its weekly marathon meetings. Dunkelberger would sit through the first few hours and go back to the smoke-filled newsroom to pound out a story for the afternoon paper. Then it was back to the meeting, where he stayed for as long as it lasted.

Tutored and occasionally terrorized by editors and publishers who were paying attention to everything, every day, Dunkelberger passed the audition and would spend the next 39 years serving Florida citizens and taxpayers at papers the Sulzbergers had nurtured.

Meiklejohn said Dunkelberger was the “best damn records-checker” he’d ever worked with, and was both proud and sorry when the Times Company moved the young newsman to the Ledger. In Lakeland, Dunkelberger served as assistant city editor and was soon promoted to the demanding — and in those days prestigious — post of capital correspondent for The New York Times Regional Newspapers.

Dunkelberger’s experience served the public well during the circus known as the 2000 Recount. The New York Times sent a team of seven to Tallahassee including Todd Purdham (now with Vanity Fair as National Editor) who cited Dunkelberger’s steady hand as a significant contribution to the Times’ definitive recount coverage.

Dunkelberger earned the gratitude of generations of Florida journalists for his extraordinary generosity. He didn’t cherry-pick the good stories, leaving the boring or minor topics for the underlings. He freely shares knowledge with newcomers and arcane bits of information with his peers.

Some of the brightest names in what’s left of Florida journalism cycled through his office. He gave his office manager, Dara Kam, a shot at reporting. Today, she’s a Senior Writer for The News Service of Florida. The famously ferocious Gary Fineout, now with The Associated Press, flourished professionally under Dunkelberger, who was neither threatened nor intimidated by Fineout’s outsized personality.

Dunkelberger’s ethics have never been questioned. He stays out of his stories and lets the work speak for itself. He does not preen, fawn, or discuss his adult beverage preferences in cyberspace.

The New York Times Co. fell on hard times and pulled up stakes in 2011, abandoning the Florida properties to investors who knew little and cared less about journalism.  With the writing on the wall, old timers headed for the lifeboats. Diane McFarlin, Dorsey’s predecessor in the Sarasota publisher’s office and a Florida newswoman to the core, now serves as Dean of the UF journalism school where she does what she can to produce good journalists in a world that treats good journalists very poorly.

Dunkelberger kept his nose to the grindstone, and went down with the ship, his integrity intact.

___

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

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Florence Snyder: Where the Sun don’t shine

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is not the worst offender in Florida’s never-ending War on Open Government.

It just gets caught in the act more often than fellow offenders at the state, county and municipal levels.

That’s because DCF is one of the few agencies left which ever has to contend with watchdog journalism.

DCF chieftains, lawyers and flacks are well-acquainted with the well-oiled BS detector of the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller, a veteran investigative reporter who knows the difference between transparency, and transparent nonsense.

But they keep trying to buffalo her, anyway.

The latest example involves the case of Sophia Hines. She’s currently residing in the Broward County jail, charged with suffocating her infant son and toddler daughter. Hines, a resident of Pennsylvania, had been receiving services from that state’s child welfare authorities.

Marbin Miller “cobbled together” some of the sad story of how Hines ended up in Florida and the children ended up dead, but only after days of being diddled by DCF while its lawyers tried and failed to come up with a good excuse to keep secrets on Pennsylvania’s behalf.

“Though child protection records remain sealed in Pennsylvania, they are considered public record in Florida when a youngster dies from abuse or neglect,” Marbin Miller reports in her June 25 front-page story. “For about two weeks, the Florida Department of Children & Families sought to shield records of the Hines children from disclosure, saying Pennsylvania’s confidentiality extended to Florida, a claim First Amendment lawyers disputed. DCF ultimately relented, and released all of the records to the Herald Friday.”

State agencies employ an army of well-paid lawyers and “communications professionals” to play public records keep-away. They do it — with our money — because they can.

It’s been decades since Florida had an elected statewide official who paid much more than lip service to open government.

In 1992, Florida voters passed, by an 83 percent majority, Amendment 24 to Article 1 of the state constitution. Nicknamed the Sunshine Amendment, it was supposed to drench existing open government laws in a thick coat of permanent sunlight.

Almost immediately, the Legislature began throwing shade and thumbing its nose at voters.

The First Amendment Foundation, which has the depressing task of keeping track, reports that since 1995, the Legislature has passed 240 bills creating exemptions to our open government laws.

The contempt for open government is entirely bipartisan; more than half those bills were approved unanimously by both Legislative chambers. The Senate, which loves to call itself the more “deliberative” chamber, has approved exemptions unanimously 151 times.

Florida’s current attorney general, Pam Bondi, spends a lot of public money in court and a lot of time on cable news “defending” gun rights and gay marriage bans. She insists she’s just doing her job, protecting Florida’s Constitution and guarding against “federal overreach.”

Bondi is far less aggressive when it comes to protecting Florida’s constitutional right of access to public records and meetings. Like most of her recent predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike, Bondi has treated the Sunshine Amendment as an unloved, unwanted poor relation. Think Catelyn Stark and Jon Snow.

In the wake of the June 12 mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, reporters requested documents about the killer and the police response — which are plainly public record under Florida law.

Bondi said nothing and did nothing, as federal and local officials told the press to pound sand.

On June 15, Florida Politics’ reporter Jim Rosica asked Bondi for an explanation. She has yet to answer, perhaps because there is no principled answer to be given by an attorney general who claims to be a defender of Florida’s faith in Florida’s Constitution.

___

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

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Florence Snyder: Church scandal underscores importance of press

At long last, there’s an edge-of-seat movie about journalism where the woman on the I-Team is not sleeping with her boss or her source.

That’s just one of a million things to love about “Spotlight.” It’s a two-hour cinematic distillation of two years in the lives of Boston Globe reporters as they piece together the big picture of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests harbored and enabled by Cardinal Bernard Law. Audiences burst into applause as the end credits roll.

Forbes Magazine calls the film “a superb love letter to journalistic competence.”  Indeed, it’s a video textbook.

Reporters knocking on doors. Reporters getting doors slammed in their faces.  Reporters unfazed by the dead rat decaying in a dusty storage room where they discover old church directories. Reporters turning old church directories into proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

All in a day’s work for journalists who get their stories from people who aren’t being paid to talk to them – and whose documents are hard to get and harder still to assemble into a damning database. In one particularly satisfying scene, reporter Mark Rezendes refuses to be stonewalled by a smarmy court clerk who won’t give him a public file full of smoking guns. Rezendes goes straight to the duty judge and politely but firmly insists that the law be followed.

Like most jaw-dropping scandals, the Catholic Church sex abuse story hid in plain sight for a very long time.

Small stories that should have made reporting radar light up had been published in the Globe. Victims had approached the paper years earlier and couldn’t get the time of day. Eventually, some found their way to the Boston Phoenix’s Kristen Lombardi.

Lombardi, now with the Center for Public Integrity, is a fearless and highly decorated investigative reporter, but an alt-weekly was no match for Cardinal Law’s decades of experience at running a conspiracy of silence.

The paradigm shifted when Martin Baron arrived for his first day of work as editor of the Globe. Baron had held the same job at the Miami Herald, and no one who worked with him there was the least bit surprised when the movie-Baron ordered his startled staff to push past the omerta that prevailed in the church, the courts, and the community.

The real Baron told the real backstory to WGBH’s Emily Rooney in 2011:

“When I first came, before I even came, I was reading stories in the Globe about Father Geoghan and that he was alleged to have abused 80 children. It was an extraordinary story and I thought, what could be done with that? I read a column by Eileen McNamara who was a columnist for us at the time, who had said these documents were under seal and perhaps the truth would never be known.

“It came up at my first news meeting here. I raised the question of what we could do …”

In the beginning, the Spotlight team could think of plenty of reasons to do something else. They’d all been raised Catholic, and nobody wants to tell Grandma that her trusted spiritual advisers are not really doing the Lord’s work

To Baron, “perhaps the truth would never be known” was an unacceptable place for a local newspaper to be.

The Spotlight reporters warm to the story as they pursue the hard task of thawing out sources who understandably believe the Globe is in the tank for the church.  Slowly, the traumatized victims come around.

At the movies, and in real life, the payoff goes like this:

Source: You can use my name if you want.

Reporter: Thanks, Patrick.

Source: Don’t thank me. Just get the assholes.

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

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Florence Snyder: Postcard from ‘Iris’

Take some incredibly good advice, Tallahassee, and see Iris, which played to full houses last weekend at the All Saints Cinema and is held over for three more showings.

The movie made its debut last October at the New York Film Festival and was shot by noted documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Gray Gardens), who died in March at age 88.

Maysles’ subject is 93-year-old Iris Apfel. If you’ve never heard of her, it’s because you don’t live in New York City, so you missed the Bergdorf-Goodman window filled with Iris mannequins, each wearing her signature glasses with frames the size of beer can bottoms.

Iris and husband Carl Apfel, whose 100th birthday party is among the many highlights of the film, started a textile company in 1950.  Doing business as Old World Weavers, Iris, a decorator, worked on design restoration projects in the White House during the administrations of every president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.

The Apfels closed the firm in 1992, and Carl was hoping that the wife he plainly adores might take life a little easier.

But Iris was just warming up.

As a personal shopper to the great historic homes, museums, and residences of the most prominent Old Money people in the world, Iris had to keep a lid on her opinions. A consummate professional, Iris honors her obligations to long-dead clients like Jackie Kennedy, giving Carl a loving, but firm smack on the knee as he begins to tell Maysles that “Jackie was a difficult client.”

Now in business for herself as a consultant, a visiting professor at the University of Texas, and fulltime “rare bird of fashion,” Iris has wise and witty opinions on everything, and she’s not afraid to express them.

The camera lingers on the Apfels’ Park Avenue apartments and their warehouse in Long Island City.  To the untrained eye, it looks like something out of those reality shows about hoarding.  To the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, it looked like great material for an exhibition.

Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel opened in the fall of 2005 and was so successful that they took it on the road to some highly regarded regional museums, including the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

It is hard to imagine a more interesting woman of any age than Iris, unless you know Agnes Ash, Iris’ friend and fellow nonagenarian. Aggie, as her army of admirers call her, got to know Iris in her decades covering the beautiful people for The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, and as publisher of the Palm Beach Daily News and Palm Beach Life Magazine.

It was Aggie who introduced her daughter to Iris decades ago. That daughter grew up to be filmmaker Jennifer Ash Rudick, an executive producer of Iris, and producer-director of last year’s Diner en Blanc, a documentary about the world’s largest dinner party. Rudick has a rare gift for storytelling, and an even rarer knack for finding real wisdom in unexpected places.

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