Odette Louise Galmard Pantelich, a former Burleith resident and proprietor of the first French restaurant in Georgetown, died on January 7, 2018, at Thomas Circle Residences. She and her late husband, Vojislav "Voya" Pantelich, lived in the 1900 block of 38th Street from the late 1950s to about 2010. Her January 14 Washington Post death notice supplements the biographical details below.
Neighbors Richard Reed (who had known Ms. Pantelich since he was a boy), Pat Loughlin-Reed, and May Vaughan shared their recollections of the renowned owner of Chez Odette. The Reeds also shared photographs and documents they are sorting and distributing as part of their notifying more than 50 friends and former staff scattered across the globe of her death.
Born Odette Louise Galmard on July 24, 1920, in Ballancourt-sur-Essonne, France, she participated in Resistance activities during the German occupation in World War II. A translation of a November 1940 letter that the 20-year-old Odette wrote to her brother concludes with “Vive le General De Gaulle! Vive la France!” and adds her historical PS: “When this was sent to my brother Pierre, I could not sign it as if the mail was opened he could have been in big trouble … and me too!”
Their exploits helping a downed British paratrooper retrieve his belongings after the Germans killed the survivors were described in the March 2004 Burleith Bell. While her brother biked back to the village holding the soldier's rifle in a fishing rod case, “Odette had the knapsack which contained maps on silk and ammunition for the rifle. She put it in a big burlap sack and tied it on to her baggage carrier, with a couple of fresh cabbages emerging from the whole thing. They reached her village safely, passing German soldiers all along the way.”
Another time, she and her mother traveled to Paris to convince the mother of a Jewish friend to leave the city. The mother had earlier refused to flee with her family, wanting to save the family’s possessions and wondering, “Who would want to hurt an old lady like [me] anyway.” In her reminiscences, Ms. Pantelich wrote, “When we knocked on her door, she opened it a crack and she asked who we were. We said we were friends of George and wanted to offer her our hospitality in our home, in pretending she was a relative of ours. She looked like she was so afraid, like a cornered animal. She said she could not leave … Two weeks later, the Germans raided the rue des Vinaigriers, where a lot of Jewish people lived, and no one heard anymore about what happened to Mme Garbarovich …”
After she emigrated to the United States, Ms. Pantelich was first employed as a domestic at the Virginia estate of prominent diplomat David K.E. Bruce. In later employment, she met and married the cook, Voya Pantelich, formerly a POW of the Nazis following the German conquest and occupation of Yugoslavia, and unreconciled to his homeland's subsequent Communist dictatorship.
In the early 1950s, the couple opened the landmark Chez Odette restaurant at 3063 M Street in Georgetown. The Pantelichs prospered operating the popular, modestly priced French restaurant until selling the property and name in 1974. A 1981 tribute to Mr. Pantelich in The Georgetowner following his death that year noted, “Georgetown in those days was not the fashionable place it is now. They were the only French restaurant in Georgetown at the time (Rive Gauche came next) and would hesitantly prepare small quantities of Boeuf Bourgignon or a Gigot, uncertain whether there would be enough customers to eat them … As time went on and Georgetown became fashionable, Chez Odette received its share of visiting celebrities. The Kennedys came and many other significant figures on the political scene.” Neighbor Pat Loughlin-Reed has the May 1964 thank-you letter to the Pantelichs from Caroline Kennedy’s school class after a lunch at the restaurant. (A neatly printed “Caroline” is among the signatures.)
Both the Reeds and May Vaughan recalled the couple’s (and, later, Odette and her brother Pierre’s) focus on entertaining and good food, whether at home on holidays, or dining out (Chinese food was a particular favorite). Both remember the multi-hour dinner parties on New Year’s Eve, with each course paired with a different wine. Says May Vaughan, “I got to enjoy many meals with them. The best were the meals on New Year’s Eve. They started at 9, and luckily I could walk next door at 1 am!” She adds, “When Odette and her husband owned Chez Odette they went by liner to Europe every summer. She did all the ordering for the restaurant beforehand, and it was always accurate.”
Ms. Pantelich was also remembered for her sense of style, with Pat Reed recalling her exquisite clothing and grooming. Noted May Vaughan, “Odette loved fresh flowers and usually had pink carnations in her house. She had a lovely camellia in her back yard. She maintained her house superbly. I always knew what I should be doing on my own house, when I saw whatever she was having done: roof, new furnace, porch painting, etc.”
Over the years, both Pantelichs were incredibly generous to the Serbian community here and abroad, their restaurant staff, and multiple human and animal welfare charities. Contributions in Ms. Pantelich’s memory may be made to Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Inc.; the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; and/or the Humane Society of the United States.
Interment will be at the Galmard family vault in Baulne, France, this week. A domestic service will be arranged at a later date at an Orthodox church in the metro area.