Leslie Ennis-Schulten & Her Legacy


The Georgian-American strategic partnership did not come out of the blue. This Georgian-American amity has roots, and the roots are deep enough to hold the Peace Tree erect, and worthy enough to go down in history. Undoubtedly, there would not have been any camaraderie between the two countries had the Soviet empire not collapsed, but there is something more to this bygone sociopolitical tremor which took place more than thirty years ago. That is the time when one lovely American couple, who both resided in Georgia, fell in love with Georgia. One of these two namesakes happens to be the American Georgia, and the other is this one, our country in the South Caucasus.

The coincidence has proved to be a truly felicitous twist of fate, and here is why: believe it or not, Leslie, the creator of the celebrated Peace Tree, ventured to send a letter of goodwill to the then Soviet leader Gorbachev, who was incredibly popular in the world in the final years of the dwindling geopolitical giant known as the USSR. Her attempt to indicate to soviets the American benevolence towards them was responded to with the same munificence. She reached out to President Shevardnadze and his family too, and the reaction in this case was also prompt and elated.

Popular public figure and the president’s speech-writer, Gela Charkviani was also actively involved in the incipient process of mutual understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union, personified and materialized in Sakartvelo. Encouraged by the unimaginable soviet compassion and the enthusiastic nod from Georgians, Leslie went ahead and communicated with the offices of the Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, and the city council, as well as Friendship Force, headed by the late Reverend Wayne Smith, the famous international organization promoting peace and friendship all over the globe by means of family exchanges and using a tool for this called ‘Kitchen Diplomacy’.

On top of all that, Leslie contacted Harvey Mars, the president of WXAI-TV Atlanta, a.k.a. Channel Eleven, for which the author of these words worked as a journalist for several years, finally receiving the regional Emmy Award for television excellence. Leslie’s entire endeavor, based on the sincerest love for our Georgia, yielded into an exchange of delegations between the American and the Soviet Georgias.

Incidentally, the word ‘Soviet’ used as a determiner of ‘Georgia,’ which irritates most of us today, was then the only way to distinguish this Georgia from that one, because the world did not know anything about us as a nation and we were compelled to use the term for others to tell between the two.

The exchange of delegations grew into the wonderfully significant twinning of the cities of Tbilisi and Atlanta, followed by many good things for both sides. For instance, Leslie and Scott Schulten gave a valuable gift to the kids of the Georgian capital: the Children's Dental Clinic, saying nothing about computers and other gadgets so much needed then for the post-soviet development of the country which was starting life again, almost from scratch.

Remarkably, it was Leslie and Lamara (Tatulia) Margvelasvili, the guru of national education, who made things happen together. The sister-city relationships did a lot to lay a firm foundation for future Georgian-American rapprochement and cooperation, which has today burgeoned so much that any exchange of goodwill between the two nations is taken for granted by all of us. Since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridges of both nations; things have changed; we have grown older, and new generations have come around with new attitudes but with no idea of what had happened between Georgia and America more than forty years ago. Suffice it to say that the journalistic exchange between the two Georgias was one of the most outstanding projects, launched at the twilight of the soviet regime and which had a huge affect all over the USSR. And I was the lucky one to have played a pivotal journalistic part in that brilliant project, put together by Chanel Eleven of Atlanta and the Georgian State Television. And notably, without Leslie Ennis-Schulten’s almost fanatical attempt to turn hatred into love, nothing of the sort would have happened. She is now 65 years of age and never stops dreaming to be back in Georgia to again relay the torch of love and friendship, lit generations ago between Georgia and Georgia, for our progeny to carry on towards our better visions turned into reality.

In memory of those Americans whose lives were taken by 9/11 tragedy.

By Nugzar B. Ruhadze

17 September 2020 15:59