Mom’s Tiny Part in History

In the many years since she passed, my mother, Thelma Neworth, has gotten wiser. How? She once told me, “The first draft is always the hardest.” I was in the 6th grade at the time so it didn’t have much meaning. However, every week for the past six-hundred weeks, as I start these columns, I’m constantly reminded how right she was. (Be grateful you don’t see the first draft.)

With two children, a hard-working husband and a comfortable middle-class life, my mother was a stay at home mom. She was a Cub Scout “Den Mother” and PTA President. But not for long.

At Temple Isaiah, she was selected to the board where she’d serve for over forty years. She was also “Social Action Chairwoman.” In that role, she founded a Forum Series in which luminaries from many walks of life were invited to speak to the congregation.

The list of notables my mother picked up at LAX (or at a minimum, had dinner with to make notes for their introduction) included: Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, journalist Daniel Schorr, U.S. Senator Wayne Morris, anthropologist Margaret Mead and, my hero as I entered my teens, “Twilight Zone’s” Rod Serling. (Yes, mom had definitely outgrown being a den mother.)

My parents were FDR Democrats (a lost term these days) so it was fitting that my mother helped start a local Democratic club and helped start others. But the biggest change was when she became Executive Secretary of the California Democratic Council (CDC). She was even put in charge of the seating at the 1960 Democratic Convention at the L.A. Sports Arena.

In that capacity, she interacted with the Kennedys, LBJ, Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson and everybody who was anybody in the Democratic Party. She was also invited to JFK’s lavish nomination celebration party at Peter Lawford’s Santa Monica beach house. (That story, which tangentially involved Marilyn Monroe, would make a whole other column.)

Among my mother’s less glamorous duties at CDC was to mentor three interns who would make history. The trio included Henry Waxman, who would become our Congressman for forty years; Howard Berman, a Congressman for 30 years; and Jerry Brown who was Governor in 1975 and, with many stops along the way, is Governor today. (Brown is the longest serving Governor in California history!)

Occasionally Jerry’s name came up at the dinner table when my parents talked about their day. (Remember when families ate dinner together?) Young Jerry drove my mother crazy. The son of the sitting Governor, Pat Brown, Jerry wanted to hold that office asap. Albeit an extremely intelligent one, mom thought he was a brat. Yet drawn to him, she counseled that he should “pay his dues” and work his way up the ladder. She suggested he run for a local office and build his resume before he’d run for Governor, advice she was flattered he seemingly took.

We fast forward to 1992 and Jerry Brown is running for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Rick, a friend and neighbor at the Shores, was a volunteer at the Brown For President headquarters on Pico and 23rd. Often arrogant, he was, however, proud that Jerry knew him by first name.

Rick insisted that I join him on the beach in a jogging fundraiser for Jerry who would naturally be the main attraction. I could see how important it was to him so I reluctantly agreed. We began jogging in a big crowd with Jerry up front surrounded by security. At Rick’s insistence, we worked out the way to Jerry and jogged alongside. Sure enough, Jerry said very enthusiastically, “Hi, Rick.” (Rick should have left well enough alone.)

To impress me further, Rick responded, “Jerry, I’d like you to meet Jack Neworth.” Jerry quickly asked, “Are you related to Thelma Neworth?” Surprised, I responded, “Well, yes, she’s my mother.”

Jerry stopped on a dime, causing a traffic jam of joggers. “I was an intern for your mom!” Jerry said excitedly. I resisted saying, “Actually, she thought you were a brat.”

Hearing that my mother’s health was failing, and seemingly teary-eyed, Jerry insisted, “After this go home, promise you’ll call your mother and tell her I said hello.” She was delighted when I told her as I could almost hear tears in her voice.

Jerry’s fuss about my mother rained on poor Rick’s parade. Not surprisingly, he never invited me to another rally. He was, however, a delegate at the 1992 Democratic convention and proudly cast a vote for Brown.

That’s it for this week. Maybe next year on this holiday I will elaborate on that JFK nomination party at Lawford’s house and how Marilyn Monroe figured into the equation.

In closing, to those celebrating mothers living and passed, have a very Happy Mother’s Day! (Now I can finally delete that brutal first draft.)

To hear my mother introduce MLK in 1960, click here: Jack is at