Georgetown’s Frida Burling Dies at 100

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Frida Burling (1915 to 2016). | Constance Christakos

Frida Frazer Winslow Burling, one of Georgetown’s oldest and noted citizens, died May 26 at her Washington, D.C., home.

Her daughter Belinda Winslow told The Georgetowner: “Mother passed away peacefully this morning about 10. She was surrounded by family and love. We did a circle of love and recited ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ ”

Last weekend, Burling began receiving hospice care and died in her own bed in her own house on 29th Street.

That same weekend, she received an award — which her daughter Belinda accepted on her behalf — from the Episcopal Bishop of Washington Mariann Budde at St. John’s Church on O Street in Georgetown.  Burling was also visited at home by Rev. Gini Gerbasi of St. John’s and by Rev. Johnsie Cogman of Mount Zion United Methodist Church across the street from her house.

A memorial service is planned for September at St. John’s in Georgetown.

Yes, Georgetown’s Frida Burling — born in Sept. 16, 1915, in Newport, Rhode Island — led a life that merited many an award and was worth celebrating, especially in her town. 

When people talk about legacies and life stories, usually the tale is about how you lived your life, and what your markers there are along the way that tell your story and note what you bear your participation in your life and in your community.   

Here at The Georgetowner, we’ve always felt, ever since we encountered Frida Burling in her first forays into making something iconic, lasting and permanent out of the annual Georgetown House Tours, that in many ways, she represented an ideal of community and citizen here. Not just because of the tour itself — although she always gave the yearly celebration of Georgetown history and essence her full energy — but because she embraced the idea of community service and identity with place with all the joy she could muster, which was considerable. Ask those involved with the Junior League of Washington, another one of her favorite efforts.

Burling was and has always been, even now — with that beautiful energy now extinguished — a Georgetowner who represented her town and herself more than well. 

She had a deep, abiding love for the place where she lived and was never afraid to show it —and to be persuasive in her efforts to get others to join her in her various efforts that included the Georgetown Ministry Center as well as other programs at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

When she came looking for volunteers and help for the tour, whether to host patron’s parties or have homes on the tour, she was pretty hard to resist, because Frida always had an immense reservoir of charm, humor and knowledge and a sense of life’s duty and rewards.  

When we sat down with her in early September 2015 just before her 100th birthday at her 29th Street home — which is one of those sunny, stylish, book-filled residences that perfectly reflected the life she and her late husband Edward Burling shared there — she still had that empathy in her eyes and certain certitudes also.

She led a life which allowed her to dive into causes with fervor that was fueled by compassion, as well as self-assurance — she was at the 1963 Civil Rights rally and historic Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In her book, you will find a picture of her gleefully holding up a sign (“Money for Jobs Not War”) at a rally protesting U.S. policy.

Burling’s lifetime spanned 17 presidencies: Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman, Ike, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, and Barack Obama. She remained firm about her loyalties and preference. Asked who her favorite president during the course of her life was, she emphatically said, “Barack Obama.”

Her long life produced a sense of continuity, a feel for its history, detailed and otherwise, and that burgeoning consistent warmth provided by family. In Burling’s case, one that produced a fair-sized clan and tribe from two marriages, both by any measure fruitful and well-shared.

But knowing Frida and knowing about her also gave you a sense of her values and the values and history of the community — she was exercising in the gym in her nineties — which she championed with that sustained energy of hers.

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