Kitty Weaver, expert on Soviet schools, dies at 102

Posted Feb. 24, 2013, at 6:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Kitty Weaver, who died Jan. 9 at 102, was a poultry farmer, student of primatology, Northern Virginia socialite, fox hunter and scholar of Soviet-era education practices.

A 1963 visit to the Soviet Union with her husband, a corporate lawyer, marked a turning point in her life. While playing tennis with her husband at a sporting facility in what was then Leningrad, she was shocked when asked by an instructor to leave the court and practice with other novices: Russian children.

It would not be her last encounter with communist youth. Around that same time, she traveled to East Berlin, where she found that young people were eager to strike up a conversation.

“Then I began to wonder what makes someone a Communist,” she told The New York Times in 1971, “and I decided to start at the beginning with the children.”

She made 48 subsequent trips to the Soviet Union, once in the company of her friend Forrest Mars Sr., the candy magnate who created the M&M. She once told The Washington Post that she was initially reluctant to bring him because “he, being a capitalist, would ruin my trip.”

But Mars opened doors by proffering M&Ms to the right Soviet bureaucrats. It also helped that the Russians thought his name was Marx, she said.

Weaver wrote three books, describing Russian education from preschool to college: “Lenin’s Grandchildren: Preschool Education in the Soviet Union” (1971), “Russia’s Future: The Communist Education of Soviet Youth” (1981) and “Bushels of Rubles: Soviet Youth in Transition” (1992).

In his foreword to “Lenin’s Grandchildren,” Times education editor Fred Hechinger wrote that Weaver “properly stresses what Russian preschool education does rather than what its theorists claim it does.”

The two later books drew more skeptical reviews. Writing in the journal Europe-Asia Studies, Jim Riordan, a Soviet expert at the University of Surrey, called “Bushels of Rubles” an “undigested regurgitation of old-time propaganda.”

“Everyone wants a better life for their children, one that is well-rounded and will produce youngsters that are physically, mentally and morally healthy, but the Russians stress morality more than we do,” she told The Times. “Even the very tiny children have a sense of moral responsibility to the state and to their fellow man.”

In a 2009 Washington Post interview, she said her trips abroad piqued the interest of the CIA, and the spy agency sent agents to her Loudoun farmhouse to debrief her. Her residence, she said, became a social meeting ground for expatriate Russians and CIA officials.

Sometimes, she added, friends ribbed her about her loyalties. “I’m not a Communist but a friend of the Soviet Union,” she said. “They always wanted to go to my parties.”

Katherine Gray Dunlap was born Sept. 24, 1910, in Frankfort, Ky., and she grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., where her father was a newspaper columnist.

She was a 1932 graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. and received a master’s degree in English from George Washington University in 1933. In 1947, she received a second bachelor’s degree, in agriculture, from the University of Maryland.

She also took classes in Vienna taught by the noted psychiatrist Alfred Adler, and she did graduate work in Russian studies at Georgetown University.

In 1933, she married Henry “Hank” Weaver, a longtime legal executive with the Atlantic Richfield oil company who became a partner in the Washington law firm of Steptoe and Johnson.

In the late 1940s, the Weavers moved from suburban Falls Church, Va. to Glengyle, a 110-acre farm near the community of Lenah in Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County. Kitty Weaver decided to use her agriculture background and took up poultry farming after the previous owners left her 50 leghorn chickens. She acquired 4,500 more chickens and began selling eggs to local businesses.

“Hank took them to Washington in the back of his Rolls-Royce to sell to distributors,” Kitty Weaver told The Post. They eventually gave up the chicken business in 1955 after being advised they would need an additional 15,000 leghorns to make a profit.

Weaver traveled to 135 countries during her lifetime. She communed with wild orangutans in the forests of Indonesia and visited the Great Wall in China at 95.

She co-founded a day care center in Northern Virginia and was a former field secretary of Piedmont Fox Hounds, in Upperville, Va. She also was a past president of the Aldie Horticulture Society and a member of the International Primate Protection League, an animal rights group.

She died at her Glengyle farm home of complications from pneumonia. The death was confirmed by her only immediate survivor, William Dunlap of Glengyle, a nephew she helped raise. Her husband died in 1995.

At the time of her death, Weaver was working on a fourth book, “You Don’t Live to Be 100 Overnight.”

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