News & Politics

My Best Friend

They inspire each other. They look out for each other. They laugh and cry together. These 12 women have friendships built on love and loyalty.

They met as young mothers, classmates, working women. They describe an instant bond, a sense of meeting one’s twin.

These women have friendships that are extraordinarily close, built on love, laughter, and loyalty—the realization that this girlfriend has got your back.

“In Washington,” says Emily Miller, “a friend is the family you choose.” 

Katherine Bradley and Mary Haft

When Katherine Bradley and Mary Haft showed up at a children’s Halloween parade in identical Ralph Lauren sweaters, another mother said, “I get it. Katherine is going as Mary, and Mary is going as Katherine.”

Bradley keeps a photo of the two of them that Halloween 2003 on her bulletin board at CityBridge Foundation, a nonprofit focused on health and civic engagement. “We’re twins!” she says. “Same dog, same lipstick. We share things freely.”

Mary Haft, president of Haft Productions, a video-production company for nonprofits, says that kind of coincidence happens often. “We’ll buy the same thing for the same event and show up wearing it,” Haft says. “We rejoice in it.”

The friendship has deep roots. Their husbands, entrepreneurs Robert Haft and David Bradley, were best friends at Harvard Business School. At Robert and Mary’s wedding 24 years ago, best man David brought a former intern he was smitten with, Katherine Brittain, as his date. Bradley enlisted the Hafts to help him strategize a courtship, and the two couples have been close ever since. The families vacation together, have lived together during house renovations, are godparents to each other’s children—they have six between them—and plan family movie nights.

Haft has a twin sister. “But she lives in Switzerland, and in her absence, for Katherine to be here and fill that space is such a connection,” says Haft.

Bradley lost her own sister to cancer 13 years ago, and her brothers live in California and Arizona, so “Mary fills that all-important sister role of the friend whom I trust completely.” 

Diane Rehm and Jane Holmes Dixon

They came together 40 years ago, stay-at-home moms who met at church.

Diane Rehm had heard about an adult-education course at George Washington University called “Expanding Horizons for Women” and made her friend Jane Holmes Dixon go with her.

The course inspired both onto paths neither could have imagined. Rehm is host of WAMU’s The Diane Rehm Show, and Dixon, who was Episcopal bishop of Washington until her retirement, is now a senior adviser at the Interfaith Alliance.

They talk most mornings on the phone. “The calls are brief, never more than five minutes, just to check in and hear what the other is doing for the day, giving support, talking about something one of us is afraid of or that’s new,” says Dixon. “It’s meant the world to me.”

“If the phone hasn’t rung by five after 7, I start to worry,” says Rehm. “Over at her house, Jane’s husband, David, will ask, ‘How come Diane hasn’t called yet?’ ”

Rehm credits Dixon with teaching her interviewing skills: “Her Southern style has always been something I’ve been drawn to—there is such warmth and willingness to be open. She has taught me a lot about how to hear other people—to listen with an open heart.”

Dixon says Rehm’s insistence on going back to school together led her to her true path. “That push from her back in the ’70s, that support, gave me the confidence to explore my call to ordination and become a priest,” she says.

Says Rehm: “I joke that she better not die first so she can do my funeral. She’s got to be there.” 

Lori “Missy” Murphy Leel and Michelle Fenty

Some friendships grow gradually over time.

Michelle Fenty, lawyer and wife of DC mayor Adrian Fenty, got to know Lori “Missy” Murphy Lee, an immigration attorney with the Department of Justice, because Lee was the cousin of Adrian Fenty’s older brother’s wife.

Both young lawyers, Michelle Fenty and Missy Lee realized they had the same outlook on things.

“I went to school in England. My best friends are over there. I didn’t expect this close bond once I got here,” Fenty says. “But we both see things the same way.”

Lee, a fifth-generation Washingtonian, agrees. “The best thing about our friendship is we have an unspoken understanding,” she says. “I look at her, and she gets it—we just pass a look and don’t exchange words.”

They really became close after the birth of Fenty’s twins eight years ago. “For the first year, the hardest thing about having two kids is that they both need physical warmth,” says Fenty. “Missy would come over and hold one, and I would hold the other, and we’d just sit there and talk.”

Fenty’s status as the first lady of DC hasn’t changed the friendship. “I think of her as my friend first, although I am aware now that if I say something about my friend I’m not just saying it about Michelle but about the mayor’s wife,” Lee says. Says Fenty: “She’s very loyal and an attorney by trade, so she has the ability to talk and not say anything. A critical skill!”

As careers and motherhood—Lee has a six-year-old daughter—take up more time, the two still talk at least every other day. During which, Fenty says, they spend about half of the time laughing. 

Nathalie deWolf and Emily Miller

Emily Miller’s boyfriend kept telling her she had to meet Nathalie deWolf, “like I needed her approval to date him.”

The two women finally met around the 2003 opening of the Georgetown boutique Nathalie deWolf Designs. “I couldn’t stop talking about her,” Miller recalls. “I loved her!” When Miller broke up with the boyfriend, “I told him I get custody of Nathalie.”

They’ve been there for each other ever since. DeWolf says that when Miller was press assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell, “she’d e-mail me to bug me about my store. Here she is on missions of state on Air Force Two with the secretary and Vice President, and she’s trying to get me on Oprah.

Later, when Miller’s ex-fiancé, Michael Scanlon, came under scrutiny in the Jack Abramoff lobbying investigation, it was her friend who helped her through the media frenzy.

“I ‘turtle’ when there’s a crisis and just hide, but Nathalie made me move in with her for a week,” Miller says. “The rhythm of her household, with two little boys, was so healing.”

DeWolf says that the best friendships work on an upward spiral: “You always want to do more for each other.”

Miller agrees: “In a town that runs on gossip, when you find your closest girlfriends who have got your back, you’re going to make it.” 

Nancy Torray and Dorothy Bell

The day Nancy Torray showed up to volunteer at DC Central Kitchen, she was intimidated. No stranger to helping others, she and her husband run the Robert E. and Anne P. Torray Foundation, which supports a variety of charitable causes. But this was a large, loud kitchen full of strangers.

“I was in the minority there,” Torray says. “But she pulled me right in.”

“She” is Dorothy Bell, known as Miss Dot, who has worked at DCCK since 1995. “When a volunteer is shy, I talk to them, tell them we won’t bite, and get them to work,” Bell says.

A closeness developed. “Being with her invigorates and inspires me,” Torray says. “We have a relationship of mutual respect.”

“She’s just like I am,” Bell says. “She wants to work and wants it done right. She is my right-hand man.” Torray was delighted when Miss Dot introduced her to some new volunteers as “Nancy, my sous chef.”

When not traveling, Torray comes twice a week to work with Miss Dot: “Before I met her I never quite understood the plight of the homeless, but here the culture is,‘Don’t question, just serve.’ ”

Recently, when a blind college student came to volunteer, Torray says she watched in awe as Dot “did not miss a beat. She had this young woman peeling carrots and preparing lettuce in no time. I learned we all have something to contribute.”

Bell feels the same way about Torray: “When I see her, she just brightens my day up. She’s beautiful. We love each other.”

“But,” adds Torray, “I still don’t cut the tomatoes right.” 

Sharon Malone and Darya Maanavi

When they met as medical residents at George Washington Hospital in 1988, Sharon Malone and Darya Maanavi couldn’t have had less in common.

“She had come from a life of privilege and sophistication in Tehran, and I was from Mobile, Alabama,” says Malone.

“Initially we didn’t hit it off,” Maanavi says. “She was a snob, and I don’t think she liked me. And she was beautiful.”

Both were pretty, and both liked to dress up. “A lot of female doctors tended to downplay what they looked like,” says Maanavi. “People would say, ‘You don’t look like a doctor!’ We had a third friend who was American Indian; they called us Charlie’s Angels.”

Both had arrived at GW after hard childhoods. When Maanavi was 16, at the height of the Iranian revolution, her father, an admiral in the Imperial Iranian Navy, put her on a middle-of-the-night flight out of Tehran to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. She stayed with family friends until her mother and brother arrived months later. Her father couldn’t join the family for a year.

Malone’s mother died when she was 12. Her older sister, the late Vivian Malone Jones, was one of two students blocked at the door to the University of Alabama in 1963 by Governor George Wallace.

“We’re both very self-reliant people,” says Malone. “But being in a residency is like being in war: The very best and worst comes out, and you end up with someone who is a lifelong friend.”

When Malone needed to buy a wedding dress for her marriage to Eric Holder, at the time DC’s US attorney, the only person she knew well in Washington was Maanavi. Their tastes, it turned out, were the same—they’ve unknowingly bought the same furniture.

The two went on to become ob/gyns and run their own practices—Malone in DC, Maanavi in Fairfax. They have five children—Malone three, Maanavi two—and have helped each other through good times and bad, including miscarriages and marital stress. Maanavi is currently single.

“I have never had the sense that she isn’t looking out for me,” Malone says.

Says Maanavi: “We are sisters, separated at birth.”