Local lady helps Houstonians
Harriet Gertner is passionate about defeating kidney disease after watching her first husband, Larry Rosmarin, suffer and eventually die from the disease.
She describes Larry Rosmarin as, “the catch of the city.” They met as she was heading to The University of Texas and he was graduating. He started a record distribution company and wooed her home to marry him in 1957. They soon added Lance and Marci to make a family of four.
The stylish couple hob-knobbed with all the recording stars of the day and traveled extensively, “having a wonderful time!” Larry had a passion for big-game hunting.
South Central Africa still buzzes with the story of the two Texas ladies who hired a private plane to fly from the safari to Victoria Falls to get their hair washed. Harriet’s friend, author Catherine Lanigan, fictionalizes the tale in her novel, “All or Nothing.”
“I’d had my hair done once a week all my life, and I’d already gone two weeks!” she says. There is nothing “diva” in that statement, but there is a bit of “princess.” You can see it in the perfect hair, perfect shoes and perfectly matching couture ensemble, including the perfect jewelry, most of it really big.
This five-week safari was the last of Larry and Harriet’s travel adventures. Shortly after returning, Larry went on the kidney dialysis machine three times a week. Two years later, he died.
The 38-year-old widow confronted “how fragile life is,” but she didn’t retreat into a darkened world of grief. She made up her mind “to be good for whatever time I had left – and to give back to Houston for the beautiful, happy, healthy life I’d been given.” Harriet has learned the hard way, “You can’t buy health. If you have your health, you have everything.”
The merry widow
For the next 10 years, she was, in her words, “the merry widow.” What else would you expect from a third generation Houstonian whose father was part of the Gordon Jewelry family? Even as a child growing up on Rosedale and going to Sutton Elementary, Harriet Sampson laid out her clothes, shoes and jewelry the night before. Something she does to this day.
Harriet “loved life as a child.” She says she had “fabulous parents” and remembers with glee dressing up in hats, gloves and heels as a 12-year-old and taking the bus downtown with her girlfriends. Houston proud
“Everyone watched out for you,” she recalls. “Houston was a small wonderful place to live a happy childhood. Nobody locked doors.” And she gushes about what a “beautiful downtown” Houston had in the 1950s.
Finally, she married transplanted New York businessman, Gil Gertner, who appreciates her organizational skills exercised through charity work.
Harriet says her volunteer efforts really revved up when the American Diabetes Association honored her late husband. (It was diabetes that led to his kidney failure.) She has chaired events for Moores School of Music, Child Advocates, The March of Dimes and FotoFest Houston, among others.
Now, with friend Philamena Baird, Harriet is co-chairing the Kick-Out Kidney Disease Luncheon on May 19 in memory of Anne O’Neil, who succumbed to kidney failure in February. The luncheon and Neiman Marcus fashion show, featuring Cole Haan shoes, bags and coats, will be held at the Houston Country Club. Harriet beams as she announces, “The luncheon will be generously underwritten by Royce Builders, so all the proceeds will go directly to Houston’s effort to kick-out kidney disease.” Harriet says, “Wear fancy shoes!”