About 14 years ago I flew into Washington-Dulles Airport. I was there to meet my new staff at NRA and look for a place to live. There were a lot of personal issues going on in my life at the time, so many of the details of that trip are unrecoverable—thankfully. One detail that is clear, however, is a diminutive, almost pixie-like lady that I met and had dinner with that evening, along with Joe Graham. Lourdes Fleckenstein was Joe’s Deputy Director at NRA, and she would be one of my new bosses.
In September of 1962—just a month before the Cuban Missile Crisis—Lourdes, her parents and sister Regina fled the murderous Fidel Castro’s Cuba and arrived here with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Not one of them spoke a lick of English. Her father immediately applied for political asylum. Unlike so many today that come here illegally, hide out and then demand goods and services they believe they are entitled to, the Jimenez family took their place in line and eventually earned their citizenship in this country.
Her father, who had been a successful businessman in Cuba, was reduced to taking jobs like bussing tables and hotel maintenance work to support his family. Lourdes went through the public school system and apparently was a pretty good student. She certainly gained an expert grasp of English.
In July 1975 Lourdes came to work at the NRA. She took about a year off sometime after that to have her son—this being a time when maternity leave did not exist—and then returned to work. She worked in various divisions of the NRA, ending up as the Deputy Director of Publications—the number two position in that division. On January 6 she will retire from the NRA.
I mentioned that she was one of my bosses during my time at NRA. But the relationship we developed was not so much one of boss vis-á-vis worker as much as was a brother-sister bond. She’s the little sister I never had but should have. One of my great failings in life is my aversion to anything regimental. It is why I never joined the military. The NRA is very regimental—it was founded and continues to be run by former military people who adore regimentation and protocol. Lourdes, because of her longtime service, knows where the mine fields are and largely steered me away from them. Had she not been there, my service at the NRA would have been much shorter, I assure you.
After a while I assigned her a nickname. At first it was Mother Superior, but eventually I found a better one—Baby Sister—with a nod toward the Kim Darby character opposite John Wayne in “True Grit.” Like the Mattie Ross character in the movie, Lourdes Kite (her married name now) is an extraordinarily intelligent and savvy woman, with absolutely impeccable character, integrity and honesty. Anyone who really knows me knows how much I value those qualities in a person. She is quite comfortable with herself and her values, thank you, and won’t take any crap off anybody. I have no doubt that had we grown up as siblings she would have straightened out my sorry arse and seen to it that I became more socially respectful and respectable. Hence she will always be “Baby Sister” to me. I could not love and respect this woman more if we were blood related.
So in a little more than a week Baby Sister will be retiring from the NRA after 38 years of service. A lot has changed since I left there 7 ½ years ago. No one—not even Baby Sister—is irreplaceable. The NRA will go on doing what it has been doing. But the person who replaces that diminutive, almost pixie-like lady has some profoundly large shoes to fill. Happy Retirement Baby Sister!