By Sandra Olivetti Martin
If sunsets glow a little showier this year, flashing brighter pinks amidst glistening gold, I won’t be surprised. That’s how I next expect to see Vera Freeman, Calvert County’s empress of glamour, who died January 23, three weeks short of her 93rd birthday.
It’s the stuff of legend, how this sparkling blonde exotic came to illuminate Calvert’s waterfront.
In this mid-20th century American girl’s alternate success story, a shapely, strong-willed half-Indian from the frontier wilds of Montana finds glamour, wealth, pleasure and (if not complete, a full measure of) happiness.
“She did everything she wanted, several times over,” said stepson Lee Freeman.
Vera’s dream directed her to Hollywood. But she found her starring role not in the movies but on the arm of Dr. Freeman, eye doctor to the stars and a speculator in real estate. Business opportunities led the doctor and his glamorous wife to a man whose imagination matched their own: Calvert County’s homegrown icon of wealth, savvy and political power, Louis Goldstein. Under his guidance, the fur-coated Vera tip-toed in high heels through the snow onto the promontory where she would create her own legend.
Thus the stage on which she acted out her life’s story became St. Leonard’s Creek in deep Calvert County. There she decreed a pleasure dome be built above a beach of imported white sand. For over half a century at Vera’s White Sands Restaurant and Marina, her Polynesian paradise above the Patuxent, she entertained her public.
Appreciation was much of what Vera wanted. Vera’s was never so much a business venture as a stage arranged to show Vera at her dramatic best. From her annual ’round-the-world travels, she collected baubles, bangles and expensive exotica a Polynesian boat, a Kenyan giraffe, a marble Romanesque Venus to furnish her stage.
As sunset approached during the warm months that she spent in Calvert, a minion would strike a great brass gong. Then gowned in diaphanous sari silk, platinum hair bound Indian-style with a precious headband, fingers and wrists heavy with gems Vera would appear. Completing her entrance, the setting sun would flame the western sky.
Throughout the evening, drinkers and diners would pay their regards to Vera, the empress of it all, as she sipped champagne or martinis. We, her public, came by land or water, would slip plastic leis around our necks and think ourselves lucky to have stumbled on such a show in such an unlikely setting.
When, over the years, the service was slow, the food less than scrumptious, the set tarnished at the edges, Vera persevered and her legend added depth and dimension. How long, we wondered, could she last? What would become of her, and her kingdom without her?
For we had glimpsed, behind the glamour girl, the woman who got past losses as real as yours or mine by her sheer determination to live the life she liked.
Vera’s luck held. When she was ready to retire, too tired she said to sustain the show, a successor appeared as admirers and aides always had in this enchanted life. She sold her business last June and retired to her adjacent home, a Roman villa by way of Hollywood overlooking sunrises on Johns Creek. From there, she watched a new beach club version of Vera’s White Sands face the future.
It’s ashes to ashes, dust to dust for ordinary mortals, but Vera’s particles will surely revert to the spectrum of light, from which they were borrowed.