David Roffman, for many years the publisher and owner of The Georgetowner, was feted with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Georgetown Business Association at its Senior Advisor Luncheon at the City Tavern Club June 16.
That brought out not only members of the Georgetown Senior Center, which Roffman was instrumental in keeping alive after the passing of founder Virginia Allen last year, but also a lot of other Georgetown old-timers who appreciated Roffman’s long-time status as a village historian, promoter, champion and swain. At an occasion like this, you tend to hear some phrases repeated often, among them “I haven’t seen you in ages,” “I thought you were … never mind” and “No thanks, I don’t drink anymore.”
Good memories and some irony, story-telling and laughter were the hallmarks of this occasion. Roffman had once been president of the Georgetown Business Association and now he had the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award to go with the Citizens Association of Georgetown’s Peter Belin Award. Not bad for a guy who would be the first to admit that he’s not much of a businessman.
You might suspect that his singular achievement for which he was being honored was that of being a highly visible, active and energetic publisher of The Georgetowner after founder Ami Stewart passed away. That would be about half right, or even less than that.
You might suspect that the award was about a love affair — the one between Roffman and Georgetown and its people and history. People like Sally Davidson (widow of Stuart Davidson, the founder of Clyde’s), Earl Allen, the seldom-seen Mike O’Harro, king of disco, the Wheelers and the Weavers, Pat Burke, who was in his young cop days Georgetown’s live-in policeman and is now MPD’s homeland security assistant chief, Grace Bateman and a host of others, all of whom showed up along with a few folks from the senior center. And where there’s a newspaper publisher, there are candidates for office —Kwame Brown and Vincent Orange, both vying for city council chairman, also made an appearance.
Small community newspapers are tricky businesses — they’re usually free, they depend on the kindness of local businesses to provide advertising revenue, they reflect and report on and are reflective of the community they deserve. With all due respect to other such publications in this city, no other paper is so associated with place than The Georgetowner. And it’s fair to say that Roffman, when he owned and published the paper, reflected the community in all of its facets.
He wasn’t just a publisher, and his efforts weren’t only about stories, scoops, ads, deadlines and headlines. He was the village’s biggest cheerleader and booster, acting as if Georgetown were a particular lovely, elegant lady who needed to be helped across the street. He sometimes acted as if she were a party girl, to be sure, but that was part of the times.
Roffman would do stuff — he hosted parties, fund-raisers, publicized charity events (at good old reliable Nathans), promoted festivals (the annual Francis Scott Key day), institutions (the Georgetown Senior Center was a particular favorite) and events (Volta Park Day). He got involved — he went to ANC Meetings and CAG meetings, not just to report on them, but to speak at them and make himself heard. At times, he was brilliantly inventive — when a print run came back with two blank middle pages, he turned them into material to pick up doggy poop, a particularly hot issue at the time.
He had an unabashed passion for this place — the Old Stone House, the university, the cemeteries, the people from the Harrimans to Sky King. At the publishing level, he was more citizen than editor. And he was an eclectic original doing it, from the elephant vac effort to a startling proposal launched in the paper for the village to secede from the city.
If one of the great folks of Georgetown passed away, an Alsop, a Bruce, a Harriman, it was duly noted, but so was the passing of Freddie the Bum in a phone booth. If the paper highlighted galleries, antique shops and Earl Allen’s clothing store, Commander Salamander and Tramps got equal space.
In the pages of Roffman’s Georgetowner, the neighborhood became full bodied — it was the sleepy village and the noisy night time, it was contemporary and historic all at once, it was a classy place but it was also democratic.
So, the achievement was not just that David Roffman published The Georgetowner for many years. He became, whether he was here or not, a Georgetowner in full.