Transitions

By Jenna Schnuer, Photo by Travis Gauthier

Barbara Lamont-Gelobter

Don’t go to Barbara Lamont-Gelobter '60 for a chat about how life’s just an endless stream of the same-old same-old. She knows nothing of humdrum. “Once in 1994,” she says, “my husband was out of town and I had this weird feeling. I could not recognize it. Just before I fell asleep I thought, This is the first day I’ve ever felt bored. And then it was the last.

Lamont-Gelobter doesn’t seek change, but major life shifts find her anyway. “I stand in a room and the ceiling falls,” she says. “I’m one of these people who attract adventures. I’ve been this way since I was 2 years old.”

That ceiling has fallen in some crazy ways, including a military coup in Nigeria that forced her to flee her job running Network News at the Nigerian Television Authority and Hurricane Katrina, which spilled 18 feet of water into her house and eventually sent her and the call center she owns to her current home in Lafayette, Louisiana.

“I got to the shelter and everybody else was looking for cots and bed rolls and pillows,” she says of her experience during Katrina. “I went up to the shelter director. I had no idea where we were. He said, ‘near the big city of Lafayette.’ I said, ‘I know somebody there.’ I whipped out my satellite phone and called my friend, who teaches at the university. She came down and got me, and that’s how I wound up here.”

Since graduating from Sarah Lawrence, Lamont-Gelobter has embraced a number of careers. She was once a jazz pianist (Duke Ellington was a family friend), but she explains, “Rock ’n’ roll came in, and it was time for me to move on to something else.” She also worked as a radio and television reporter. “I thought it’ll either be Hollywood—I can act maybe—or I can try television,” she says. These days, she’s a busy entrepreneur. And that list is far from complete. Lamont-Gelobter has gone through more changes than a chameleon walking across a book of wallpaper swatches. But there’s a common thread through all her transitions. “Communications is really what I’ve been doing all my life,” she says.

How does she do it all? Lamont-Gelobter favors five-year plans. “You chart a path, and then you go for it,” she says. “And then something else comes up, and you chart it in another direction, and you go for that.”

Along the way, she’s also made time to read a book a day, learn six languages, and get her MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (at age 45). A founding member of NARAL Pro-Choice America and a board member of Planned Parenthood, Lamont-Gelobter is included in Feminists Who Changed America, 1963–1975, a directory of more than 2,000 women (and a few men) considered the leaders of the second wave of feminism.

”She is always learning something new and she understands and accepts a huge range of different people as unique individual selves.” Gloria Steinem

“Barbara is brilliant in both an intellectual and an intuitive way,” says longtime friend Gloria Steinem. “She is always learning something new, and she understands and accepts a huge range of different people as unique individual selves.”

For all the decades they have known each other, Steinem says she recalls “one symbolic experience” that best depicts Lamont-Gelobter.

“One day when she was still living in New York, working as a radio reporter, we were having lunch at a Chinese restaurant. The waiter didn’t quite understand our order, so she spoke to him in Chinese,” Steinem says. “I was shocked. I had no idea this was one of her many talents. She explained that she had been learning Chinese while riding the subway to work. She seems to use every bit of time.”

These days, Lamont-Gelobter is focused on building her business, New Orleans Teleport/CALLS PLUS, which handles customer support for a range of government agencies. “I’m just trying to grow the company,” she says. “Right now I’m working six days a week, which is one day less a week than I worked last  year.”

She’s also looking forward to someday living in the same city as her husband of 56 years, Ludwig Gelobter, whose import/export firm keeps him constantly traveling. Their four adult children are spread around the globe in lovely-to-visit spots, including Paris, New York, Washington, DC, and Berkeley, California. “My husband and I have never really lived in the same city at the same time,” she says. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

What comes next is far from settled, though her husband is lobbying for them to live in China for a year. Meanwhile, Lamont-Gelobter is designing her next five-year plan at CALLS PLUS, trying to incorporate more social media to better serve her clients.

Wherever her life or career takes her next, she’ll be ready for an adventure. Lots of adventures, in fact. She plans to live to 120.