L.A. County’s Chief of Protocol Is a Natural
Proper and correct ceremonial forms and courtesies--commonly called protocol--are frequently seen as pretentious and pompous. Despite her title, Sandra J. Ausman, Los Angeles County’s new chief of protocol, fits neither of these adjectives.
Sitting behind her new desk in the county Hall of Administration, she revealed she often brown-bags it for lunch, that she loves to shop by catalogue, that the vividly wild Karl Lagerfeld blouse she was wearing had been purchased on sale at Marshall Field in Chicago, that her gold earrings were fake.
‘Shy in a Crowd’
“If I’m known for anything, I’m known for enthusiasm and a positive attitude,” she said. But, if she has a weakness, it’s shyness in crowds. “As easy as I am on a one-on-one basis with people, I am shy in a crowd, if I have to perform.”
Shy, maybe, but not aloof: “I talk to everybody. I guess I am basically gregarious. I enjoy meeting people. Meeting people has never been a problem.”
Margaret Paterson Carr was the first county protocol chief, a post created for her two years ago in order for Los Angeles County to have greater visibility during the Olympics.
When Carr resigned recently, the county supervisors selected Ausman, another Olympic and social activist, as her successor. During the Summer Olympics she had served on the executive committee of the Los Angeles County Host Committee. She had organized the Hospitality Center at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History for dignitaries attending the Olympics. Her husband is Sheldon Ausman, managing partner of the Los Angeles office of Arthur Andersen & Co., an international accounting firm with more than 200 offices in 50 countries. The company had underwritten many of the costs for the host committee.
Sandra Ausman, too, is a natural leader. She was co-chairing for the second year, by demand, the fund-raising Music Center Mercado. In 1981 and 1982, at her husband’s request, she had chaired the activities for more than 1,200 partners’ wives from all over the world when Arthur Andersen & Co. held its international partners’ meeting in Los Angeles. And many of her innovations were incorporated into Olympics hospitality.
With the supervisors’ blessing, she is now dividing her time between the Mercado and the protocol office, planning to zero in full time in June following the Mercado, which is expected to raise nearly $1 million for the Music Center.
Already, though, she’s standing before the supervisors regularly, introducing new consular corps chiefs as they arrive in the city. She’s initiated meetings with each supervisor. With her staff, headed by Ginger Barnard, deputy chief of protocol, and Yolanda Sanchez, special assistant, she is planning a major consular corps gala for spring.
And, she’s immersing herself in procedures in her job, which is unpaid. “Protocol is a relatively new job description. It’s only since 1969 that we accepted the Vienna Convention on consular relations and that we established protocol offices.”
What are her goals?
“To involve more people,” she said. “Margaret was incredible in organizing this office two years ago. Now we can expand, involving more people in being hosts and hostesses to out-of-town dignitaries and visitors.”
That’s only one of her responsibilities. As defined by the supervisors, the chief of protocol must also maintain an ongoing liaison with the consular corps and should work closely with the Economic Development Corp. in order to showcase the county to the international community.
Fortunately, for Ausman, there may be enough hours in the day. She’s up at 6 every morning and goes to bed just before midnight. With rosy cheeks, she has a healthy glow. “It’s my background. My mother was Finnish, my father Hungarian. I believe in vitamins.” And she tries to take care of herself: “I’ve been to Pritikin four times.”
As for her habits, “I spend very little time on myself; it takes me 30 minutes to dress--that’s all the time I have for that.” She’s equally nonchalant about clothes: “I find myself choosing my clothes more wisely--I don’t spend a great deal on clothes. I used to spend more. Now I wear moderately priced Anne Klein pleated skirts, which can go all day and night.”
For jewelry, she no longer cares. “My good watches were stolen. My earrings are phony. I take them off when I’m on the phone, and I can’t keep them two weeks.”
After burglaries in her San Fernando Valley neighborhood, she launched a Neighborhood Watch among 30 homes. “I went door to door with my Xeroxes. Sheldon helped with the signs.” It’s part of her everyman attitude, never too haughty to initiate good deeds, get the work done.
Born in Chicago, she remembers a childhood with family chamber music groupings. Her father, who manufactures casket hardware and airplane seals, played the violin, and for an avocation played with the Chicago Theater of the Air. Her brother, now with the Milwaukee Symphony, was cellist. She played the piano and oboe.
At one time she thought she wanted to be a clothes buyer or a fashion or interior designer. “Those seemed appropriate fields,” she said. Instead, she married at age 19, had a daughter, Cynthia, now 30. She is married to Idel Lachman, who owns apartments and office buildings in Mexico City. The Lachmans have his stepson, two toddlers and are expecting a third.
The First Days on the Job
Sandra Ausman remembers her first days as chief of protocol very well. The Mexico City earthquake struck. Her daughter was in Los Angeles, but Lachman and his son were in Mexico City. “The first day was not so difficult, because we didn’t expect communication. As time went on, we became very anxious. Everyone in the office was helping--Yolanda, ham radio operators. Finally we heard on the fourth day that they were fine, and though they lived two or three miles away from the center of the damage, nothing had even been broken.”
It was while she and Cynthia were vacationing in Wisconsin, where her parents have a summer place at Rhinelander and Cynthia was at camp, that she met Shell Ausman. “My life started when I met Shell. We went together for a year and were married in Milwaukee in 1965.”
He had been an accounting major and joined Arthur Anderson immediately after graduation from the University of Wisconsin. He became a partner the year after they were married. The year they left Milwaukee, 1972, he was chairman of the United Way. She had converted to Judaism before marrying Shell and was on the board of the National Council of Jewish Women and the board of the Milwaukee Hearing Society. (“My father has been almost deaf for years.”) She also found herself soliciting in factories for United Way.
Those also were her sporting days: “In order to please my husband, I took golf seriously. We would play at 5:30 at the Brynwood Country Club in Milwaukee--maybe twice a week. I was an 11 handicapper in 1973, scored in the middle eighties regularly. It was very serious.”
Life in Pittsburgh
After their move to Pittsburgh, there was less golf, more Steelers fanship, more community work. She became an ardent supporter of the Pittsburgh Public Theater, set up subscription policies and the box office for the repertory theater.
Meanwhile, Shell was on the board of the Pittsburgh Symphony at the time it hired Andre Previn as conductor (he is now the new conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony). It was through the symphony that they met Tom and Esther Wachtell of Los Angeles, and it was Esther Wachtell who was the first to introduce the Ausmans around Los Angeles when they moved here in 1977.
Said Sandra Ausman: “It is hard to come into a new city. Esther was extremely sensitive. She introduced me to the Aman Festival, and I became involved with Performing Tree.”
Both Ausmans are members of the Joffrey Ballet board. Shell is a Huntington Library overseer. Sandra is on the board of the Downtown Women’s Center, is assistant chairman of the Children’s Festival for the Blue Ribbon of the Music Center. The latter annually brings more than 20,000 to the Music Center for performances.
Now, she travels to Australia annually with her husband. “He works for a week, and we take a 10-day vacation after that, usually finding our way back to Italy. Last year we were in Sardinia. My other big trip is to Geneva. Shell is on the board and the committee on operations, which meets there.”
Recently, they purchased a two-bedroom condo at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage. “I’m not a sun worshiper,” she said. They’re there maybe once a month, relaxing and golfing. Usually, they’re in town at their “smallish-type California ranch house” in the San Fernando Valley.
“It’s very comfortable for us. When we moved here, it took me about 13 months to do the house, and three days later we had an electrical fire in the kitchen. The house was black. We had to start all over. So that kept me in the house almost two years--that was our welcome to Los Angeles.”
Evenings, she reads books such as Shirley MacLaine’s “Dancing in the Light” (“I loved it”) or flips through her “couple of thousand” cookbooks.
“One of my favorite pastimes is being in the kitchen. Our favorite way to entertain is buffet, but I don’t do as much as I could or should.” Regularly, in fact, she and Shell meet en route home and have dinner at neighborhood restaurants. “He doesn’t like to see me grubbing away all evening in the kitchen.
“I am not one for lunch, unless someone has a birthday. I prefer to work through. For me, lunch is time wasted.”
Working through lunch also leaves more time to memorize all those county statistics she likes to recite: “The county has 31% of the state’s population, 36% of the state’s jobs, 46% of the state manufacturing output and 64% of the import/export trade. We are 84 cities--almost 4 million people. This is a very big place,” she said in awe of her own statistics.
Why would she work for nothing?
“I would never take a job that would conflict with what my husband does. Shell is completely supportive. After all, we have no children at home, and I truly enjoy working, love doing something, and I have the time. And having the (financial) ability to work and do something for somebody else--I can’t imagine my life any other way. I have always loved to work. I have had more fun now than I ever had in my life. Thank God, I have energy.”