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Tatiana Gagarine

February 07, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Tatiana Gagarine, who died Jan. 29 at the age of 89. Her obituary was published in The Herald-Mail on Feb. 1.

BOONSBORO -- Born two years after the 1917 Russian Revolution and half a world away in Pensacola, Fla., Tatiana Vassilieff Gagarine's life was nonetheless affected by that historic event and its aftermath.

"Her father was a Czarist Russian naval officer stationed in Washington, D.C., when the revolution began," said Michael Gagarine, Tatiana's son. And Tatiana's mother was on tour in the United States with a Russian ballet company.

Leonid and Ludmila Vassilieff met, married and stayed in the U.S. Tatiana and her sister, Era Wohner, also were born in America.


Just 20 years old, Tatiana met Alexis Gagarine at a party in Rockville, Md., where she was living with her parents.

Born in Russia, Alexis had come to the U.S. as a teenager with his two brothers, rejoining their widowed mother, who emigrated earlier to take a job as a governess.

"Our grandfather was a Czarist officer who died in the attempt to restore the czar to power," Michael said. A family servant posing as a revolutionary guard escorted the young widow and her sons to Turkey and later to France.

Alexis eventually became a U.S. citizen, enlisted in the U.S. Army and enrolled at Virginia Tech in the class of 1940.

"Our parents were married on a farm in Rockville," said Eleana Shipman, Tatiana's daughter. There was barely enough time for the ceremony because he had to get back to his unit.

Because of worldwide turmoil, Tatiana never saw the land of her parents. Alexis never returned to his homeland, not even for a visit.

The early years of their marriage were defined by the events of World War II. Alexis, who spoke fluent Russian, served for a time on Gen. Omar Bradley's staff in Europe. Following the war, the couple toured a series of Army bases.

After Michael was born in 1949, Tatiana joined her husband in Iran in the early 1950s, when the danger of a Russian invasion was looming and his Russian language skills were of great value.

"It was like a honeymoon for them," Eleana said. "They did a lot of hunting and sleeping under the stars."

Michael, who stayed behind in the U.S., said he often heard their stories of a young couple living in exotic places and having a wonderful time.

"Mom was there to support him in his dangerous duties," Eleana said.

There were other stories about their father's long friendship with the Shah of Iran and horseback races through narrow streets in Tehran, among others.

Born in 1953, Eleana remembers living in Pakistan with her parents and brother from 1956 to 1959. Back to the U.S. until 1962, the Gagarine family then trooped off to Brazil for five or six years.

"I came back early for college," Michael said. Everyone else had returned to the U.S. by 1968, and this time to stay.

It was back to Rockville briefly, then the family came to Washington County in 1969, where they bought the 160-acre Thumma farm along Alternate U.S. 40, Michael said.

"In 1980, they sold off most of the farm, keeping about one-fourth for Christmas tree sales," Michael said, noting they were living in a converted horse barn for a time.

It was then that Tatiana became a "snowbird," living in Florida for a number of years until her husband provided a "proper house" for her on the Washington County farm in 1986.

"I came here to live in 1993 and mom visited for a while," Michael said, maintaining her Florida condominium. After the death of her husband in 1994, Tatiana continued her Florida residency until 2000.

Eleana and her family live in Lancaster, Pa.

"Mom was a wonderful homemaker and a fantastic cook," Michael said. In her sunroom, Tatiana spent long hours watching the birds outside her windows.

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