#15 Joel, Linda and Eliot Dobris (80s-90s)

Joel and Linda Dobris and their son Eliot stayed at Goodenough for three periods: in the early and late 80s and again in the 1990s. The three took time for a Zoom meeting to talk about family life at the College and in London.

Linda and Joel Dobris

Joel: I wanted to spend my sabbatical in London and I’d heard about Goodenough from some New Zealanders who had spent their sabbaticals at Goodenough.

Linda: It sounded fascinating. We knew we’d have a community right away and not be lonely, and in those days it was cheap! Before we flew to London we knew nothing about what we would find. We’d had a call from Val Martin who told us “you’re very lucky, you’ve got a wonderful flat.” I immediately had visions of a huge apartment with a terrace and a great view…  Then she said: “You have central heating year round and 24-hour hot water…”

Joel: We took for granted American prosperity. There was a little bit of WW2 austerity left over in the 1980s, but at the same time there was a lot of community spirit.

Eliot Dobris
Eliot Dobris

Eliot: That first time in Goodenough I was eight-years-old. It was my first trip abroad and my first time getting a passport. The place was full of kids, dozens from all over the world. I made friends straight away – that was the best part of living there.

Joel: During our first stay it was all Commonwealth folks, there were lots of New Zealanders, South Africans and Australians. As Americans we were treated as Honorary Commonwealth Members because of WW2. It was a huge opening up of our horizons.

Linda: Despite Apartheid I remember how the South Africans, the different races, welcomed the chance to mix. They used it as an opportunity to get to know each other.

Joel: Getting to know people from everywhere, that was the ultimate experience for me; Members of the College were questors, they were adventurers. They’d travelled 3,000, 6,000 miles to plug in to the magic of London.

That first visit I got friendly with a business school major from India who’d been working on the railroad system. He knew more about American history than I did and much more about literature. You could discover people like that – that was the magic of The Square.

Eliot: There were loads of Goodenough children around at the time. We were international kids. Everyone had experience of multiple cultures. Everyone brought something from home that they’d get teased about but we all got along and learned to navigate the differences. It’s made me a lot more open to other cultures and more interested and curious about the ways people live.

The pub in the lobby of William Goodenough House was so friendly. I remember the feeling of camaraderie, the warmth of that place. As an 8-year-old I’d be there having a lemonade. I remember distinctly how much fun that was.

Linda: In those early days the lobby had an old-fashioned telephone switchboard to connect calls. Sometimes they’d let the kids connect the calls to the apartments.

One time we got some tickets for a special ceremony at Westminster Abbey attended by Prince Philip. We’d taken Eliot and three other boys but those four kids were ragamuffins, they just wouldn’t get dressed up. There was a moment when Prince Philip stopped, just smiled at the boys and then continued on his way. It was very charming…

Joel: I think the message was “I was a boy once too – I know who you are standing there.” He looked on with sympathy and amusement.

Linda: Jill Morrow and Val Martin were a big presence in the College. Jill put me in charge of the clothing exchange, lots of Members didn’t have much money and it was a great help for anyone who arrived without winter clothes. Jill never took “no” for an answer. Both of them knew how to run things, I was very impressed by her.

Joel:  In those days there were a lot of former military people on the staff. Jill was an ex-Army officer and quite formidable. You lived in terror of her disapproval but I got to know her better on our second visit. She was a lovely person with great warmth and humanity.

In more recent times we’ve been to several Alumni reunions and hope to come back again.

Eliot: Whenever I’m in London I knock on the door and give myself a tour!