Natasha Reatig, 77, a fixture of the 1980s and 1990s Washington, D.C., cultural and arts scene, died in Bethany Beach, Del., on March 18, 2019, after an extended battle with cancer.
For more than two decades, her informal salons, held unfailingly every Wednesday night, drew scores of artists, poets, writers, actors, filmmakers, fashion designers and other creative beings to such venues as Columbia Station, Cafe Lautrec, The Biltmore Bar, Café Riche, Bradshaw’s and Chief Ike’s Mambo Room. A patroness of the arts, minus the wealth often associated with that term, her salons set the stage for attendees to meet, socialize, share ideas, plan and collaborate.
She was described as warm, wise, witty, loving, generous, confident, engaging and knowledgeable on a huge variety of subjects, “an inspiring, independent woman who made the world a better place,” and “a combination of Madame Sousatzka, Auntie Mame, Margaret Mead, Betty Friedan and Jane Fonda — while remaining a true original.”
In the late 1970s, she embraced what she described as the “emerging new-wave/art/punk/avant-garde scene” in downtown D.C., supporting artists by hosting numerous late-night hangouts at dc space, the 9:30 Club and The Bank nightclub.
In 1991, she co-founded rhe Rosebud Awards, a film competition to honor innovative, experimental or deeply personal work. She also served as a board member and president of the Washington Film & Video Council; and co-founded the Peer Awards competition for filmmaking.
With her purple-tinted hair and vintage-yet-classy/chic attire, she did not look the part of a federal employee with a long and distinguished career. Yet, for 31 years, until her retirement in 1996, Reatig was a research assistant at the National Institute of Mental Health; grants program officer at the Psychopharmacology Research Branch; and worked in NIMH’s homelessness and mental illness programs before landing her “dream job,” director of protection and advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness at the NIMH Center for Mental Health Services in Rockville, Md. She earned many professional awards, culminating in the 1996 DHSS Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Services.
Reatig was an only child. Her father, Abraham Bihovsky, the son of Russian Jewish fur traders, was born in Mongolia and, by the mid-1930s, was living in Tientsin, China. Her mother, Helena Zhemchuzhny, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, was born to a prominent physician who fled Russia, also landing Tientsin. Shortly after their marriage in 1937, amidst the Japanese invasion of China, the couple emigrated to the U.S. Although Bihovsky was a previously naturalized American citizen, his wife was denied entry until 1938, when he secured $2,000 to prove to the satisfaction of the U.S. government that she would not be a burden to American taxpayers. They moved to New York City.
There, on April 10, 1941, Reatig was born, as Natalie Ann Bates (her father had by then changed his name to “Bates” from Bihovsky). In her autobiography “Crossing Borders,” Reatig’s mother described her shock at her young daughter’s extreme “willfulness” and defiance of authority. A Yale Child Clinic evaluation showed Reatig to be “gifted,” with a “dynamic personality.” Reatig attended Cherry Lawn School in Darien, Conn., a progressive and innovative school where she enjoyed the arts and even horseback riding.
When her mother remarried and moved to Washington, Reatig gained a stepfather, Sergius Yakobson, and stepbrother, Dennis. She attended D.C. public schools, including Gordon Junior High School and Woodrow Wilson High School, graduating in 1958. She graduated from Vassar College in 1962, majoring in cultural anthropology. After three months of traveling Europe, she found herself in Israel for a year, working (doing interviews with Kurdistani families who had recently arrived in Israel), studying Hebrew and living with an Israeli sculptor.
After returning to the U.S. in 1965, and now known as “Natasha,” she married the Israeli sculptor, Matti Reatig, and resumed life in the Washington area. The marriage lasted five years, and the parting was amicable.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Reatig was an outspoken supporter of the civil rights, anti-war and feminist movements. She served on the NIMH Minority Affairs Committee; the Alcohol, Drug Abuse & Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) Women’s Council; and Vietnam Moratorium Committee at NIH/HIMH; and the board of the Boston-based Public Responsibility in Medicine & Research, a non-profit organization concerned with research-related ethical and legal issues; and was a founding member of Applied Research Ethics, National Association (ARENA), an organization for scientists and administrators serving on institutional review boards.
A world traveler with friends scattered all over the globe, Reatig moved to Bethany Beach after her retirement and continued her active lifestyle for the rest of her life. Continuing her tradition of weekly salons, meeting in various locations for “happy hours” each week, she also participated with the Shore Democrats and enjoyed singing with the local AARP Chorus. Her beach home often teemed with family members, friends and their friends.
Diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2016, Reatig continued to provide encouragement and support to her friends and loved ones throughout her battle with the disease. Far outdistancing the medical estimates of “six weeks to six months” given early in 2017, she remained upbeat and appreciative of the life that she had led.
In a 2018 interview, she stated, “I feel fully content, fulfilled and ready-to-go when death comes. My life choices — to stay single, to not have children — have enabled me to explore all of my interests and passions. I’ve been very lucky and I feel very grateful and very happy.”
Reatig is survived by her half-sister, Victoria Levy of Los Altos, Calif.; a half-brother, William Bates of Mount Airy, Md.; a stepbrother, Dennis Yakobson of Denver, Colo.; a friend and longtime companion, Theodore Pawlik of Washington, D.C.; and her many devoted and cherished friends.
At her request, no formal services are planned. Memorial donations can be made to Arlington Independent Media Inc., FBO ROSEBUD; 2701-C Wilson Blvd.; Arlington, VA 22201.