Nora Saporta teacher of the year award stokes up memories of Mama, Papa, Dick Munroe and Luis Maza

By Maria Saporta

For the past few days, I’ve been spending time with my parents.

Although they have been gone for more than 20 years, their spirits shine brightly in Atlanta and within me.

Two recent events really solidified that fact.

Marie-Claude Zajde and Maria Saporta at the Nora Saporta Teacher of the Year event on Sept. 6, 2019 (Special: Alliance Francaise of Atlanta)

The first occurred on Friday at the presentation of the AllianceFrançaise’s Nora Saporta Teacher of the Year Award to Marie-Claude Zajde.

Zajde is a delightful person and talented teacher who told me my mother’s spirit lives on at the Ecole de L’Alliance Française d’Atlanta, a school that my mother co-founded in 1963 and served as its executive director for three decades.

The second event was the estate sale over the weekend at the home of the late Dick Munroe and the late Luis Maza, dear friends of both my parents. The juxtaposition of the two events exposed the interconnectedness of our lives.

One example, Munroe served as board chairman of the Alliance Française for much of the time my mother served as executive director. Mama and Dick Munroe were best of friends and neighbors. Dick and Luis lived at 7thand Durant and my parents lived at 8thand Durant.

In a wonderfully eerie moment, as my daughter and I were about to leave the estate sale, someone asked Carmen if she had seen the numerous sketches that Papa had given to Dick and Luis over the years.

We went back upstairs to Luis’ studio, and we found dozens of Papa’s sketches – so we decided to buy a few as keepsakes.

The two events were dual reminders of the people who have left us, of the years that have passed us by and of how my parents’ generation of friends continues to live on in ways we may never fully appreciate.

Photo of Mama and Dick Munroe that Jan Munroe left on my doorstep (Special)

After my mother died in 1999, I made a seed gift to the Alliance Française to set up some kind of scholarship in her name. The Alliance matched the gift and two other people made significant gifts. The first came from business leader Brad Currey, who had been moved by an article I had written about wanting to do honor my mother.

The other major gift came from Dick’s son – Jan Munroe – someone who has been a dear friend for decades.

In fact Jan, who lives in Los Angeles, had recently come to Atlanta to go through the house to get a few items he wanted to keep. One day when I got home, there was a framed photo of Mama and Dick on my doorstep. It was as if Mama and Dick had stopped by to say hello – courtesy of Jan’s kindness.

I told you these stories were intertwined…

We were able to raise a total endowment of $50,000 for a Nora Saporta recognition, and after much thought, I decided it needed to go towards celebrating the teachers at the Alliance Française. Hence the Nora Saporta Teacher of the Year Award.

In addition to receiving the award, the teacher receives a check for $1,111.11 – a tribute to my mother’s favorite number – 11.

So far we have honored four amazing teachers:

  • Ghislaine Smith during the 2013/2014 school year;
  • Catherine Masseron during the 2015/2016 school year;
  • Emmanuelle Lenourichel during the 2017/2018 school year; and
  • Marie-Claude for the 2019/2020 school year.

(L-R) Ghislaine Smith, Catherine Masseron, Emmanuelle Lenourichel

During the celebration, Samuel Vorhees, education director for the Alliance, said: “We need a lot more teachers like Marie-Claude. It’s because of teachers like her that this place exists.”

In a similar way, I’ve continued a tradition that I learned from Dick Munroe and Luis Maza. Every New Year’s Day, Dick and Luis would hold a wonderful party at their home with collard greens and black-eyed peas. Dick, who was from Quincy, Fla., taught my European parents as well as my sister and me about the Southern tradition for good luck and fortune.

Poster of a production of the Pocket Theatre on display at the estate sale

Those New Year’s Day parties ended when Dick was seriously injured while riding a bicycle and died in 1991. That’s the exact same year I began my New Year’s Day parties with collards and black-eyed peas, a tradition I have continued in their honor.

During the estate sale, several people looked at all the dishes they had and the layout of house observing they must have had some great parties there. The house also was full of artwork – many of them painted by Luis Maza, a creative genius from Cuba who was a musician, an artist and a theater set designer.

Back in the 1960s, Dick and Luis opened the Pocket Theatre off Courtland, and there was wonderful memorabilia of that time and of Luis Maza Studios. The estate sale reminded my how they always attracted a great melting pot of artistic and intellectual friends who were full of life.

Luis Maza died in May – hence the estate sale – full of remnants of a special time in Atlanta and memories of Mama, Papa, Dick and Luis – and so many others who are no longer with us.

The backyard of the home of Dick Munroe and Luis Maza at 7th and Durant in Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Papa’s sketch of the same backyard that he gave to Dick and Luis in 1985 (which I bought at the estate sale)

Marie-Claude Zajde with some of her students at the Alliance Francaise (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Marie-Claude Zajde with staff members of the Alliance Francaise (Photo by Maria Saporta)

A picture of the Nora Saporta Teacher of the Year award

A sketch Papa drew for Dick and Luis on New Year’s Day 1990

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

15 replies
  1. Avatar
    Martha Porter Hall says:

    What a lovely tribute to your wonderful parents! I continue to be inspired by their example of integrity, activism and good works. And I can tell you are, too!Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    P Halkos says:

    Thank you Maria for the Wonderful trip down memory lane, a tribute to you, your family and your friends in the terrific Midtown n'hood. Very heartwarming to say the least. Thanks!Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Bobbie Munroe says:

    Ah Maria. Thanks for the lovely memories. Your father always drew something when he was at the house. Your parents were such a big part of Dick's and Luis' lives…… a wonderful example of a great and lasting friendship.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Beverly Molander says:

    Maria — I truly appreciate your memories of your parents and Dick and Luis. Back in those days I was a fledgling board member of the Arts Festival of Atlanta and I remember the four of them quite well from the Atlanta art world.. Your parents had a joie de vivre and an attachment to each other that I remember (and want to emulate) to this day. Thanks for the memories!Report

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  5. Avatar
    Tom Woodward says:

    Maria, what a fitting tribute! Like Bobbie, I was born and raised in Quincy, FL where we were childhood friends. I only met Dick and Luis once on a shared Spoleto bus trip around 1979/80. Your father Ike was my architectural studio professor one sophomore quarter at GA Tech. Many fond memories of him as well as Joe Amisano, whom I worked for in 1977-1981, fresh out of graduate school.Report

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  6. Avatar
    Nancy Longacre says:

    Maria,

    What an incredibly moving and delightful tribute to your parents and their friends!
    I felt your love and gratitude seep through your words – just beautiful!

    NancyReport

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Margaret Hylton Jones says:

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories and pictures of four folks I so admired and loved. I knew Dick and Luis first through Emory Theatre. Then I met your parents through them and the Arts Festival board. Dick and Luis' parties were the best ever. Hate that I missed the sale. I am also remembering when your daddy would come see Manuel Maloof he would do a sketch for me and another for Manuel.Report

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Sara Fountain says:

    Maria, this is such a lovely tribute to your parents and to Dick and Luis. I met your parents at Dick's New Year's Day party so many years ago. You are honoring four people who added so much to the quality of life in Atlanta. I was a particular fan of your parents because of their deep convictions. Your teacher's award is so fitting for Nora. And, I can only imagine how many lucky people got to have your father's sketches. At every gathering, he would sketch either a person or the scene. Such talent! I love these memories you evoked.Report

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  9. Avatar
    Julie Herron Carson says:

    Maria, what a beautiful story! I didn't know your mom, but I remember your dad often visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden when I worked there. He would sit in the Garden and sketch and chat with the other visitors. I always enjoyed running into him and reminding him that I knew you…Report

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  10. Avatar
    John says:

    Congratulations to Marie-Claude Zajde! It is indeed all the teachers of the AF and its School who insure the longevity of this superb organization and French culture in our midst.
    And thank you Maria for making these memories come to life and the torch carriers.
    The picture of Dick (on the day he received the Order of Arts and Letters) and your dear mother is truly wonderful. I have a copy of my own. And Ike's wonderful sketches of which I am lucky enough to treasure a few.
    Good also to see Dick featured, bringing back memories of his showing me his Atlanta, riding a bike with him, on Sunday afternoons.
    Lots of memories, thanks for being their safekeeper. John (Mcintyre)Report

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  11. Avatar
    Young Hughley says:

    Marie I know I met your father. Not sure about your mother but what a beautiful tribute. My surprise was the death of Luis Maza and the estate sale. I can't believe the 6 degrees of separation! I was a drama student at Morehouse/Spellman. Luis was set designer and part time instructor. Dick also came around and probable lent props for some of our productions. They were good people. Joe introduced me to your father. Just amazed thanks for sharing this story I didn't not know your mother's connection to AF. Congratulations to the teachers and I applaud the legacy of your mother.Report

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  12. Avatar
    Matthew Rao says:

    Maria, I'll never walk the path to my Saturday morning German class at the Goethe Zentrum Atlanta, which shares space at Colony Square with Alliance Français, without now thinking of your parents and their contribution, and of your gift in their honor to keep not only a tradition alive but an important cultural attribute of our city alive too.Report

    Reply
  13. Avatar
    Robyn Ice says:

    Your article evokes such fond memories of my time as a young puppeteer and designer in Atlanta. Meeting and working for Luis and Dick, attending their celebrations, and enjoying their friends, including your parents, transformed Act I of my life. The impact remains, even two careers and several cities later in my life.Report

    Reply

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