I cannot recall the exact date but sometime in the late 1990s, Quinn Peeper and I
attended a cocktail party at a historic home in New Orleans. In attendance was the
then-current president, Walker Y Ronaldson, a true bon vivant, local character. Walker
and Quinn realized they attended the same undergraduate university which then led to
a discussion of English history. Walker mentioned the ESU and Quinn’s face lit up. I had
no clue what ESU stood for but Quinn was well aware of the organization. We both
started showing interest when this southern gentleman described the various cocktail
parties, luncheons, speakers, and brunches all at very refined clubs and private homes.
As it turned out, the Queen’s brunch was to be held a few weeks later and Walker invited
us to be his guest.
Quinn knew about the ESU after studying for three years at Oxford University and
attending medical school at Columbia University. While in New York, he was invited by a
friend to have tea at the ESU headquarters in the fancy upper east side townhouse
which was redolent of a grand Pall Mall club in London.
Despite our original intention of joining the organization for booze and tea, we found
ourselves enamored with the institution and its many civic aspects. Why not give back
to the community and at the same time enjoy a mint julep with fascinating local
characters? We both joined the organization and found ourselves participating in all
kinds of activities.
A year later Quinn found himself traveling to New Haven, CT for his first annual general
meeting. (AGM) with New Orleans branch president Walker Ronaldson and New
Orleans members Courtney Anne Sarpy and Katherine DeMontluzin. He came back
raving about the various lectures, meetings, and of course people. He insisted that we
attend other meetings in US cities including Indianapolis, Richmond, New York,
Nashville, Orlando, Denver, and Louisville. We met loads of fascinating people and
enjoyed all the speakers.
Walker Ronaldson was president from 1986-2004. He handed over the role to Quinn
Peeper who remained president until 2013 at which time the position was given to David
Grissett who remains the current president.
In 1999, Quinn started the New Orleans branch Shakespeare competition which is still
going strong today. We found some top-notch lawyers, judges and english teachers to
attend the competition and judge the students. We have had many great events in the
city of New Orleans including lectures, dinners, concerts, films, and two annual general
meetings. We held one of them the year after Hurricane Katrina flooded and devastated
the city of New Orleans. The theme was biography. Guest speakers included Flora
Fraser, Julia Reed, and local professor Carol Gelderman. The year before, New Orleans
hosted a symposium on historic gardens and houses. Guest speakers included
Henreitta Spencer Churchill and Lucinda Shaw-Stewart.
Quinn helped organize ESU patron tours of historic homes in England and Scotland.
New Orleans has hosted a number of notable speakers including writer Allison Weir,
member of Parliament Patrick Nichols, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
In 20__, Quinn and I helped fund the necessary start-up to receive the gift from Andrew
Romay for the ARNIC program. In gratitude, the ARNIC student lounge is named for us.
in 2018, New Orleans hosted the second AGM which was a smashing success for our
local branch. Quinn decided to put on a piano concerto concert at the Orpheum Theater
in New Orleans. Quinn played Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 2 and I played Bach’s
Piano concerto no. 5. The event was a fantastic fundraiser for the local branch and
attendance was astonishing. A contingency from France came and invited us to play for
the ESU in Paris to celebrate the 100th anniversary of ESU US. The plans were
canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic but we hope to play in France in 2022. We plan
to play Mozart and Chopin and call it “MO and CHO.” In the meantime, each of us will
play a movement of a Mozart and Chopin concerto to be played at the AGM in 2021.
ESU US decided to host a virtual gala in lieu of an in-person gala during the AGM.
Honored at the event was Princess Anne who delivered a recorded speech. During that
meeting, Quinn recorded Rhapsody in Blue with an orchestra in New York City which
was played during the virtual gala.
Our local branch is still thriving today. No in-person activities have taken place from
March 2020 until the present due to the virus. We hope this will change soon because
as of today half of all American adults have been vaccinated and virus numbers continue
to plummet. ESU has enhanced our lives more than we can imagine. In spite of joining
for parties, drinks, and entertaining local characters, it has been so much more than just
that. We have been enriched by ESU. We love the mission, the members, the speakers,
and the events. ESU is certainly at this point a lifelong passion and we hope that
continues for years to come.