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SARASOTA, Fla. − Christine Chubbuck flicked her long dark hair back away from her face, swallowed, twitched her lips only slightly and reached with her left hand to turn the next page of her script. Looking down on the anchor desk she began to read: "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in"—she looked up from the script, directly into the camera and smiled a tentative smile. Her voice took on a sarcastic tone as she emphasized "blood and guts … and in living color." She looked back down at her script, her left hand shook almost unnoticeably.

Her right arm stiffened. "We bring you another first." Her voice was steady. She looked up again into the camera. Her eyes were dark, direct and challenging. "An attempted suicide." Her right hand came up from under the anchor desk. In it was a .38 caliber revolver. She pointed it at the lower back of her head and pulled the trigger. A loud crack was heard. A puff of smoke blew out from the gun and her hair flew up around her face as though a sudden gust of wind had caught it. Her face took on a fierce, contorted look, her mouth was wrenched downward, her head shook. Then her body fell forward with a resounding thud against the anchor desk and slowly slipped out of sight.

Hours later at the hospital, shortly before Christine Chubbuck died, her mother was interviewed by a local reporter.

"She was terribly, terribly, terribly depressed. She had a job that she loved. She said constantly that if it ended tomorrow she would still be glad she had had it. But she had nothing else in her social life.

"No close friends, no romantic attachments or prospects of any. She was a spinster at 29 and it bothered her. She couldn't register with people. That's the main thing. She was very sensitive and she tried and she would reach out, you know. 'Hi, how are you, won't you come have a cup of coffee with me,' and you say 'no,' but you don't say 'Won't you come have a cup of coffee with me,' that sort of thing, in her personal relationships, and it really got to her. She'd been very depressed. She'd been seeing a psychiatrist who really didn't feel that she was that serious about not wanting to live. She felt if you've tried as hard as you can, you've prepared yourself, you work hard, you reach your hand out to people and nobody takes it, then there's something wrong with your drumbeat, and she really felt she couldn't register with anyone except her family. And at 29, that's sad."


Monday, July 15, was just another day at Channel 40. Chris Chubbuck arrived about a half hour before the 9:30 morning talk show, "Suncoast Digest." She had had a quick cup of coffee with her mother at their house on nearby Siesta Key, asked her mother to leave her chocolate poodle out because she'd be back at 10:45, jumped in her yellow Volkswagen convertible and dashed off to the studio. She looked particularly good that morning. She had a tan, her waist-length black hair was clean and shiny and her black and white print dress complemented her long slim figure. She was in extraordinarily good spirits. Her guest arrived and she showed him and his wife into the studio, then excused herself to write her script for the newscast. This was a departure and it puzzled the technical director Linford Rickard, and the two camerawomen. Chris normally opened her show in her interview area and conducted a rather informal half hour. Only occasionally on weekends has she ever anchored the news and never once had she opened her show with a newscast.

But Chris was so reliable and so professional that everyone figured she knew what she was doing. She sat down at her typewriter, quickly wrote her 10-minute news script, told the control room that she wanted to use film of the shootout that weekend, and took her place at the anchor desk, across the room from her interview area.

She placed under the anchor desk a large bag of puppets she had made, which she occasionally brought with her to use on her broadcast or to give a puppet show at a local hospital for mentally retarded children. Hidden in the bag was the .38 caliber pistol.

She told the two camerawomen that she would open with a short segment of news, then move over to her interview area.

She began with three items of national news, then led into a film piece about a local shooting at a restaurant the night before. When she finished the lead-in she waited for the film to come up, but nothing happened.

"I looked up and said to her, 'Chris, the film's not going to roll,'" said Jean Reed, the camerawoman, "and she just looked at me very levelly and said, "It isn't going to roll." Then she just smiled as thought she were terribly amused. Normally she would have been furious and said, 'Oh, this damn, two-bit outfit.' But she just sat there calmly.

"Then, when she went into that blood and guts thing I thought what sick humor. And after she shot herself I was furious and ran over to the anchor desk, fully expecting to se her lying on the floor doubled up with laughter. But I saw her stretched out, blood running out of her nose and mouth and her whole body twitching. I said, 'My god, she's done it. She's shot herself.'"

On the desk, after Chris had been rushed to the hospital, a blood soaked news story was found. It was the story of her own suicide attempt, written in long hand. It described the attempt, how she was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and it listed her in critical condition.

Hours after the shooting, the story was on network radio, television and on front pages of newspapers all over the world. "TV Star Kill Self," "TV Personality Takes Own Life On Air," "On Camera Suicide," read headlines of tabloids from Tokyo to London to Australia to the New York Daily News. People were stunned. Lee Harvey Oswald, George Wallace, a Viet Cong prisoner had all been shot before viewers' eyes and it riveted the world. But never in history had anyone deliberately killed herself on live television. And it was Christine Chubbuck's story.


She left no suicide note. A week before she died, she mentioned to Rob Smith, 22, the night news editor, that she had purchased a gun.

"What for?" asked Rob.

"Well, I thought it would be a nifty idea if I went on the air live and just blew myself away," she answered, and then laughed her funny cackle.

"I just changed the subject," said Rob. "That was just too sick a joke for me."

Several weeks before she died, she told Mike Simmons, 26, the news director, that she wanted to do a film piece on suicide. He gave her the go-ahead. She called the local police department and discussed methods of suicide with one of the officers. She was told that to kill oneself with a gun, the "best" method was to use a .38 caliber pistol. And to be absolutely sure of success, a wadcutter, a slug that disintegrates into tiny pieces in the body, should be used.

She was also told that the gun should be pointed not at the temple, which wouldn't necessarily kill, but at the lower back of the head. It is there that the heart and lungs, the life functions, are sustained.

When Chris Chubbuck killed herself, she followed those instructions. There seemed to be no doubt that she had every intention of killing herself. There were some who were confused by the word "attempted" suicide in her script. But those who worked with her had a ready explanation. Chris was too good a newswoman to write suicide when it might have failed. She was too precise. And even her mother thought it not unusual.

So once it had been established that she fully intended to die, obviously the question became why. And of course, why did she choose to do it the way she did?

When somebody commits suicide, especially violently and publicly, once the initial shock dies away and people can absorb what has happened, they can begin to speculate on why. This is what was happening in Sarasota one week after the death of "TV Star Chris Chubbuck." Everyone had his or her own idea of why it happened.

Everyone agrees that her sexual status was a manifestation of the problems she had in relating to people. Chris would have been 30 on Aug. 24, and she was still a virgin. She made no secret of it to her family, her friends, and her co-workers. But to say that she killed herself for this reason would be extremely simplistic.

She had worked for nearly a year with a young man named George Peter Ryan, a tall, handsome, blond stockbroker who read the stock reports on the local news show. George ("Gorgeous George" to some of his friends) was divorced and had had personal problems himself. He was heavily involved in transactional analysis. Chris developed a crush on him. In fact, she confided to one of her friends that she had decided that George was the perfect person to help her solve her problems. She went to George on his 30th birthday in late June with a cake. And later at the press party, she made it clear to him in a subtle way that she was available. He rejected her.

Chris' closest friend, if she had one, was Andrea Kirby. Andrea, 32, was the sports reporter for Channel 40. She was Southern, petite, divorced and had a way with men. Andrea was also tough and ambitious.

Andrea had recently been hired by a Baltimore TV station and was leaving Sarasota in a few days. That depressed Chris somewhat because she saw her friend leaving and going on to bigger and better things while she was left behind. It was Andrea to whom Chris confided her plan to proposition George. Andrea had no patience with Chris' tendency to feel sorry for herself. Occasionally she would say, "That's right, Chris. Just kick yourself in the ass." What she didn't say was that she and George were already seeing each other. "When Chris found out that George and I were going out, that depressed her," Andrea said.

The owner of station WXLT-TV is Robert Nelson. He had owned radio stations in the area and three years ago had started this new channel, and ABC affiliate. That station was getting off to a slow start. Their equipment was old, their staff was small, very young and inexperienced. Everybody did everything. They concentrated on the more sensational news in the area, violence, crime, accidents, "blood and guts," as Chris would often put it. Channel 40, sometimes referred to as "Funny Forty," estimates its highest viewing audience at 10,000 sets.

Chris' program had ratings of 500 homes. In season maybe 1,000. She was not by any means a "big TV star," but she wanted to be. She wanted to be recognized, she was hard working, diligent and competent.

Her friends and family say she hated Nelson because she thought he seemed unconcerned with the quality of the station. She complained often about what she saw as the number of tasteless and violent stories on the air, about the station pandering, in her opinion, to its advertisers, about the lack of pay. When she died she was making little more than $5,000 a year. That was for putting on a morning talk show, doing sometimes four or five stories a day and occasionally working on weekends, anchoring the evening news. She was bitter about the fact that Nelson seemed to want only those who would work for the least amount of money, not those who were the most talented.

Chris' suicide put station WXLT-TV on the map. Nelson proudly showed his collections of clipping about it to a visitor. "We got the whole front page of the Daily News," he boasted.

On the Friday night before Chris killed herself, she had a terrible fight with Mike Simmons, the news director, about her story being cut, in favor of a shoot-out.

"She was very emotional, would get unusually upset about these things," said Simmons. "She would, well, throw tantrums a lot."

A week earlier she had thrown a terrible tantrum when the director placed a bouquet of plastic flowers on her interview table. In front of her guest, a state politician, she had flung the flowers across the studio, screaming, "I won't have these damned things in my studio." Everyone was a little unnerved by that scene.

She had had very few dates in the past months. When she had invited men, several times, to have dinner, they had accepted, then not even bother to show up or call. "I don't think Chris has had more than 25 dates in the last 10 years," her mother said.

Last summer she had had an ovary removed. The doctors told her then that if she didn't have children within the next two or three years she probably never would. And, of course, there were no prospects.

She had no real friends. She was a strange combination of someone who at once wanted, needed desperately, the support and friendship of others and in another way rejected others out of a sense of defensive pride. Her initial image was one of a self-confident, totally contained, together young woman. She would seem haughty, distant, standoffish really. Yet when people began to know her she evidenced such a crying need for a completely committed relationship that it drove them away for fear they couldn't give her what she wanted.

"There was a haunting melody in Chris," said Mrs. Chubbuck. "She gave so many presents, spent so much money, not to buy their friendship ... but because she wanted to.

"It's almost like her life was a little out of gear with other people. She was the only person I ever knew who would walk into a room and every head would turn ... yet nobody ever came over and asked for her phone number. It's been like that since she was 13."


Chris Chubbuck lived at home with her mother and her older brother, Timothy, 32, an interior decorator. But it wasn't the usual situation of a 29-year-old "spinster" living at home. She had left a small town in Ohio several years ago and moved into her family's summer home on Siesta Key. Two years later, her parents were divorced and her mother moved down. Her younger brother Greg, 28, later came down and began to work in contracting. And last year, Timothy developed mononucleosis and moved down from Boston to live in the guest cottage, replacing Greg who had become engaged.

"It's sort of like an adult commune," said Mrs. Chubbuck. "Everybody thinks it's a little odd, we know that, but it's a nice arrangement for us. We all have our own privacy."

Mrs. Chubbuck was 53 last week. She has long, shoulder-length grey hair and a round, open, friendly face, carefully made up over her tan. She describes herself as a "53-year-old hippie who's with it." Her conduct throughout the whole suicide episode had been exemplary. Too exemplary, some thought.

"That's a tough cookie," people would remark.

"Peg" Chubbuck had not shown any emotion in public, and some people thought perhaps her coldness might have had something to do with her daughter's reasons for killing herself.

She talked to a visitor about Chris and herself and their family exactly one week after her daughter died. She seemed composed; she could laugh and talk calmly. Yet once, when she was asked about her composure in the face of such a horrible event, her eyes filled with tears and she said, "I know what people are saying, But we're very private people. We grieve privately. Chris threw us into a public position. She knew we could handle our sorrow. But we refused to wear our hearts on our sleeves. Those who think I haven't cried should see my swollen tear ducts."

Chris' brother Timothy is artistic and creative and it was Timothy who decorated the house they live in, all very tasteful and House-and-Garden in pinks and greens. He helped Chris with her bedroom, a yellow and white checked room with a small single bed in a corner with ruffled curtains around the bed posts. It looked more like the room of a young girl than the one of a 30-year-old, 5-foot-9 woman.

Greg, more an all-American boy, described himself as Chris' second best friend. Her mother was "her best friend who just happened to be her mother."

On the Saturday before Chris Chubbuck killed herself, Greg and his fiancée visited her house to use the washing machine. She told him that she was terribly depressed and that she didn't think she was going to be able to cope with life any more. "I'm thinking about killing myself and I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do," she told him.

"So you want to talk about it?" Greg asked her.

"No," she said, "let's not. We can talk about it tomorrow."

"I would have discounted it if she had said it to me," said her brother Tim. "She said it before."

"We'd all heard it," said her mother. "I think it was always serious. I've always known it might happen."

"But everything she said was offhand," said her mother.

"I always thought," said Greg, "in my own mind, that she was intelligent and would find a way to carry herself through. In the course of the last two or three years I'd had that conversation with her many times. I didn't think of it as an active thing. I thought of it as something she wanted to talk out.

"Besides, her mood seemed up Saturday and Sunday," he said. "She baked a cake. She improved her tan."

"I guess she was putting her house in order," said her mother. "You know, she's always talked about it. 'If life gets too tough, I'll get out. If I can't handle it, I'll leave.' It was her decision and she decided that it was all just too much for her, whether anybody else thought it wasn't, well, it was."

"It was a recurrent conversation," said Tim. "In times of real downness it seemed to her a real solution for escape. We gave it credence."

"We thought it possible because there wasn't anything in her life," said her mother.

"If someone asked me a few weeks ago if it was possible, I would have said yes. For her it was the only way out."

"I don't think any intelligent person hasn't viewed it as an alternative," said Greg. "But in her case it always became a serious alternative."

"We didn't ignore it," said her mother.

"It was kind of interfamily therapy in a way," said Tim. "Suicide had been discussed a lot from everyone's point of view."


Chris' family is a well-to-do, upper-middle-class family from Hudson, Ohio, where her father, now remarried, is a businessman. All of the children had been sent to private schools. After Laurel School for Girls, Chris had gone to Ohio State University and graduated from Boston University in broadcasting and film. Since college she had had many TV jobs with small stations, but never on-camera work until she arrived at Channel 40 last August. It was shortly after that, because the station wanted a public affairs program to fulfill FCC regulations, that she was given the morning talk show.

Even in high school, according to her mother, she had formed the "Dateless Wonder" club for girls who didn't have dates on Saturday night.

"She often referred to herself as someone who still believed in wine and roses, being sent flowers and called up for a date. But she would go through periods of two or three years where nobody would even ask her out for a hot dog. You've got to learn to crawl before you walk and Chris never even had a crawling relationship with anybody. She never had more than two dates with anyone in her life. She really wanted to find someone to love and get married. It was much more important to her than her job. She used to say that even a bad relationship is better than none. Her 30th birthday would have been Aug. 24th and she would have been officially an old maid. It bothered her like hell.

"If you look at it on paper," said her mother, "her suicide was simply because her personal life was not enough."


When George Peter Ryan first heard about Chris' suicide he was not surprised. But he felt angry. Angry that she had discounted his friendship. "I was suicidal two years ago and I got into transactional analysis, a form of group therapy," he said. (In fact he brought his "T.A." group leader to the second interview to analyze his reactions to the questions.) "I tried to get Chris interested in that. I tried to talk to her. I wanted to tell her how important it was to be able to talk to someone from the standpoint of honesty. But she didn't believe anyone wanted to be her friend. But I was made aware that she had a crush on me. On my birthday, I think Chris had set out to plan to take control of her life and she was going to do it her way.

"She never said she wanted to be my friend. I only know what people tell me. She never told me anything. I just know that I didn't want to get involved that way. I had the feeling that she demanded more than I could give. I didn't know until after she shot herself that she was a virgin."

Six months ago Ryan, admittedly, was a mess and Chris hated him. He thought she was "a liberated woman. A pain in the ass, not very attractive, almost manly. She was doing a man's job, only doing it better than a man. She was precise and efficient. There was nothing feminine about her."

But once he started "T.A.," he improved and so did his opinion of Chris and hers of him. "She was two different people, really. Sometimes she was really together, her posture and carriage and just the way she said hello, were different. She was a methodical and efficient career girl, a Germaine Greer, a Gloria Steinem. There was an 'I can handle it... but not really' air about her. Other times her posture was rotten, she made no effort to look attractive, she would put herself down, she had this poor-little-me, kick-me attitude."

It was only on the Thursday before she died that Ryan found Chris totally changed, "I went into the studio and she was flirting and, well, smug, really, almost patronizing. And she was never patronizing. She came and sat on my lap and we joked about my being horny. She was really, really together. I couldn't believe it was the same person, especially after our encounter a few weeks before. The next night I wanted to ask her out but her attitude was 'don't touch me.' I couldn't understand. I told her then, 'I really like you, I want you to know you're okay.' But she just brushed me off. I felt discounted. I felt badly about it. Now I realize that she'd already made her decision to die. Her decision had been made. She'd found the answer and she didn't need to feel afraid of me anymore."


To Andrea Kirby, Chris was a woman who had a lot going for her but couldn't get it together. "In the last few weeks before she died, she had turned into a 'yes, but' person," said Andrea. "She became a sniveling, self-pitying creature at the end and I really lost patience with her. I thought that if I got mad at her she would be able to pull herself out of it.

"She discounted me as a friend so many times and other people, too. But I had the feeling that if she had friends she wouldn't have been able to say she wasn't a success. Every time she'd be hurt by someone she could chalk another one up. If you didn't call her or do something positive with her, she'd think you didn't like her. I think she killed herself to say, 'Hey look at me,' to get attention, to be recognized. And I think she wanted marriage and children more than anything else. She said to me once, 'I would like to have, just for one week, somebody I really loved, who really loved me.' Her only trouble was that she came on so heavy, so intense. Her way of covering up her insecurities was to be physically confident. That was just her manner."

Andrea and Chris were dining out the night Chris told Andrea her plan to get George. "She was so excited about her great plan. George had, before the last six months, been too aggressive for her and she couldn't stand him. But as she changed, so did her opinion of him. And she wasn't cool about it. I don't think she could have handled an affair with George. She would have held anyone she had an affair with responsible. And I think men sensed that."


Jean Reed, 54, the camerawoman who was working the morning Chris committed suicide, has mixed feelings about her. They were friendly and occasionally would have dinner together. It was at those dinners that Chris confided many of her problems. "She told me," said Jean, "that she had tried to kill herself four years ago with pills. She said she'd had a hard life. In my view she was very self-centered. Hers were the only important problems. She was constantly aware of how people reacted to her, immediately read things into what they said to her, but it was not a two-way street. She talked about her suicide attempt a lot. She was threatened by everyone. I once tried to do an interview and she got furious. And they let Shay Taylor, the other camerawoman, do one and Chris hit the roof. She even thought Miss Florida was going to take over her job when somebody suggested she do the weather.

"She needed encouragement or support and we all tried to compliment her on what she was doing. She dearly loved a kind word but she could put other people down without flashing an eye."

Jean Reed describes Chris as an elegant dresser, as someone with talent and someone you could have a good time with, a good laugh with. "She had a great sense of the absurd, almost a macabre sense of humor. And of course, she adored to laugh about Nelson. She did not like the unexpected. She insisted on being well prepared at all times. She had begun, toward the end, however, to make nasty remarks about her guests. She said to me, 'I'm getting sick of these people. They're all using me. The only thing they want out of me is to be on my show and I resent it.' The funny thing about that was she was using them, too, because they were good guests. But she would never think of things that way."

Shay Taylor, the 24-year-old camerawoman, felt that Chris displayed her insecurity by being standoffish, masculine, and occasionally, using crude language in front of her male guests, apparently to turn them off deliberately.

"If she met an attractive man or had a good-looking male guest that I knew she was interested in," said Shay, "she'd always tell them that they ought to take me out."

"I make it a policy of not maintaining a close social relationship with any of my employees," said Robert Nelson, the owner of the station WXLT-TV. "But the spring when Chris invited us to an open house at her mother's, we went. I was amazed at the number of VIO'S there. Everything seemed to be going perfectly and Chris was the center of attention. But quite frankly, people who live on the beach, on Siesta Key, are just different from the rest of us. They're more bohemian. They have a different life style from us who are more urbanized. Chris fit into that category."

Nelson, a small man with dark skin, a round face and thin lips, had some bones to pick with Chris.

"She wasn't as interested in the hard news as she was in features and didn't distinguish as she should between them. She had her own system of priorities. I asked her once to interview a prominent businessman, a restaurateur who was getting an award. She didn't do it and I got a little uptight and asked the news director why. He said Chris felt her program should not be a vehicle for every commercial enterprise in the community. I explained that he was an interesting man, but frankly, I own and operate this business and I didn't have to explain to her."

Bob Keehn, the anchor man for the evening news, was along with the Nelsons during this conversation over dinner. Keehn and his wife own an advertising agency, "Ad Infinitem," representing retail clients, banks, department stores and automobile dealers in the community.

Keehn liked Chris Chubbuck. "She had a protective coloration," he said, "what might appear to some to be no need for friends. I felt she was someone with very deep feelings. Someone who seemed more involved with her job and with her emotions than most people seem to be. She had a little more depth than most people.

"What seemed to concern her was her involvement with the human condition. She would express a negative reaction to people and the way they treated each other. One thing about her, though, she was always self-deprecating. Always. She seemed so hangdog that I'd always compliment her purposefully. And she'd always put down the compliment."


Though virtually no one seemed shocked by the fact that Christine Chubbuck decided to take her own life, there were many who were stunned by the method she used to take it. Including her mother.

"I would have thought she would have swum out in the ocean as far as she could go. She was an extraordinarily strong swimmer. She could have gone three or four miles. The water was her friend. It could easily have been her final resting place."

But Chris didn't swim out as far as she could go. She committed a grossly public act, one that, in its way, reverberated around the world and left those behind to deal with the reason why.

"I think," said her mother, "she was saying, 'Look world, I've been here all along. How about a date Saturday night?' But her last act was the most selfish thing she ever did. She brought her death into other people's homes.

"I think she did it because she felt the station was a showcase for blood and guts, and a last statement, if you will, that 'I have been here.'"

"I think she expected the film of her death to be shown on the networks," said Tim.

"I think she did, too," said Greg. "To draw attention to her life. But I can think of nothing more grotesque than seeing a beautiful young woman blow her brains out on TV."

Mike Simmons, the news director, felt Chris did it because she wanted the film to be aired internationally. "I think it was a last cry for recognition to all the people she had helped, reached out to and who hadn't reached back out. She was saying, 'I was here, not just Sarasota, but I was here, world.' If you do it on TV, nobody's ever done it before. And Chris, being the professional newswoman that she was, always wanted us to have the story first. We weren't even on the map before this happened. Now they know we're here. Perhaps it was her way of trying to help us along."

Bob Keehn sees it differently. "I think she was saying, 'Is this what you want folks, this blood and guts? Well here it is. See how stupid and horrible it is. Is this what you really want?'"

Rob Smith, the 22-year-old night news editor, was closest to Chris at the station. He liked her a great deal and she would confide in him. He thought she was bright and talented and professional, but he was horrified by the way she killed herself and found it very uncharacteristic.

"It was a really bad thing she did," he said. "If you want to kill yourself you shouldn't drag others down. I guess she just was going to be a household word. It wasn't worth it to her to put in all those years to get where she wanted to get and put up with her private life. This way she got there and ended all her problems. Chris and I talked once about the fact that Andy Warhol said that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes in their lives. This was her 15 minutes."


When Chris was 15, she wrote her autobiography. In it she said: "... I hope to be able to become a lady with little spice, a housewife, mother and good friend to all of my acquaintances...

"...But whatever I endeavor I shall try to make a go of it. Because if there is anything that leaves a sour taste in my mouth it's failure."


"We suffer at our sense of loss, we are frightened by her rage, we are guilty in the face of her rejection, we are hurt by her choice of isolation and we are confused by her message." —R. Thomas Beason, from his eulogy at Christine Chubbuck's funeral. August 4, 1974

Journalist and author Sally Quinn is the founding editor of, a religion website. It is a spin-off of "On Faith", which was an interactive feature on religion at The Washington Post which she founded eight years ago. As editor-in- chief of On Faith, Quinn hosted a panel of renowned religious scholars of all denominations, making On Faith the first worldwide, interactive discussion about religion and its impact on global life.

Quinn has written four books: We're Going to Make You a Star, about her short-lived experience as a co-anchor for CBS Morning News; Regrets Only, her first novel; Happy Endings, its sequel, and The Party, in which Quinn offers an insider's look at Washington entertaining and a personal view of the value of friendship. She is currently working on a spiritual memoir.