But before we go any further, let us wish Laurie "Dougie" Harbach, who lived for a number of years as an American expatriate in Tangier, a very happy 100th birthday. Today she's safely back home in Oklahoma, thanks to the help of two Swiss gentlemen who came to her aid.
"Dougie," as she is known to her friends in Tangier, was a "Powers Girl" model with the John Roberts Powers agency in the mid-Twentieth century. She graced the covers of Vogue, Modern Photography, Modern Romances, and other magazines, many of which have disappeared from circulation. Fashion photographer George Platt Lynes featured the beautiful model along with his male nudes, and Dougie was quoted as saying that their affair was complicated: "He didn't want his boyfriend making passes at his girlfriend."
Dougie, who later married TV producer William Harbach, traveled in privileged circles in her early life. Her photo albums show Gatsby-like mansions on Long Island, skiing in the French Alps, and cover-girl spreads in exotic locations. She modelled for legendary couturier Charles James.
On the back of a faded picture of then-US Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy, she writes "Florida, 1944, JFK, 27 yrs., I took picture."
But our point here is not to dwell on the glamorous young Dougie, who appears to have had a relatively sybaritic existence. Later, when she settled in Tangier, the good life continued in the International Zone's expat community, with Dougie appearing at American School of Tangier theatre productions by Headmaster Joe McPhillips; longtime Tangier American resident Blanca Hamri remembers Dougie as "always elegant, never a snob, and never a negative word said about anyone."
In recent years Dougie, by then in her late nineties and beset with health and financial problems, got out less, and visitors were less frequent; her downtown Tangier apartment had scores of steps and no elevator. Sometime last year, Swiss residents of Tangier, philanthropists Jean-Marc Maillard, Honorary Consul General of Morocco in Switzerland, and his partner Jean-Daniel Polier, took action. They spent time with Dougie, got to know her story. Looked for help in the obvious places – family members, US Embassy, even seeing if her previous marriage to someone who was Jewish might qualify her for admission to Tangier's retirement home (the answer was no).
And then, the miraculous: paging through her star-studded photo albums, Jean-Marc Maillard marvelled, "you were a princess." Dougie's rejoinder; "I am a Princess." A Chickasaw princess, as it happens, granddaughter of Douglas Johnston, the first Governor of the Chickasaw Nation after Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma. Among her books in Tangier: "A Chickasaw Dictionary," published by the Chickasaw Nation and compiled by her grandfather's friend.
Now, you can be an American citizen, living overseas, and get into medical and/or financial trouble, and good luck to you. Without family resources back home, and with things like Medicare stopping at the border, there is not a lot that the US Government can do beyond ensuring that your Social Security check is paid. Even if a destitute overseas American retiree were to return back to the States, then what? Medicaid? That would depend on their state, and many have been cutting that aid for the neediest.
But not the Chickasaw Nation, which
considers its elders “living treasures” and works hard to provide for them the best service and care possible. The tribe remains devoted to the health and well-being of its elders by offering programs and services which are focused on all aspects of their lives.
So, here's to a "living treasure," Laurie "Dougie" Harbach, back in the Chickasaw Nation on her 100th birthday. We raise our glasses to you, Dougie Harbach.
Pisa chukma – her Chickasaw dictionary says it means "beautiful."