A Chevy Chase doctor's quest for the woman who most influenced his childhood: the family housekeeper
After turning 50 a few years ago, Dr. David Sherer examined his mental state and hated his diagnosis. His health was declining. His mood was darkening. He felt like a “prisoner” in a profession dictated by his parents during his Bethesda childhood.
“I got very scared, and felt my life was heading in the wrong direction,” he tells me.
Sherer did not react to his turmoil in the usual way. “I didn’t run off with the secretary or buy a Stingray,” he jokes. Instead he decided to write a book about the woman he called “Weezy,” an African-American from Macon, Ga., named Louise Johnson Morris who was his family’s housekeeper for more than 20 years.
On the surface it was a placid and prosperous household. But to young David, it was a place marked by coldness and catastrophe. Morris was his source of warmth and stability, so central to his well-being that “she gradually replaced my mother as nurturer and caregiver.”
And yet Morris abruptly left town while Sherer was away at medical school in 1981 and he never heard from her again. He never tried to find her, but he never forgot her either. And now he felt a question had to be answered, a debt had to be paid.
“If I don’t understand what happened to Louise,” he remembers thinking, “I’ll never forgive myself.”
His family was dismissive, even hostile. “The attitude was: Why are you stirring up old waters,” says Sherer, now 56. “Why don’t you let a sleeping dog lie?”
But he couldn’t do that. “I felt, well, I’m tired of being told what I have to be and what I have to do…,” he says. “I’m going to poke this dog with a stick and see if it wakes up.”
Sherer’s determination was driven by history. His father, an endocrinologist, had brought the family to Montgomery County in 1953 to take a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. They rented in Somerset before buying a house near the Burning Tree Club, which Sherer’s mother still occupies.
Morris was so important to him because his parents were so absent. They fought constantly—over finances, fears, failures—and suffered debilitating physical problems. Whatever caregiving they managed was largely devoted to Sherer’s sisters, one of whom was chronically ill; the other, chronically rebellious.
“Louise was the great equalizer, she was like ‘The Great Black Hope,’ ” Sherer recalls. “I’ve said many times that she saved my life. She filled a place that needed filling.”