Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Charles Luce

Does it happen in real life or only in novels?

In the New York Times today there was a three column obit for Charles Luce, retired chairman of the Board of Con Edison.

On Monday nights in the 1950's I attended meetings of the Toastmaster Club in the old Grand Hotel in Walla Walla. Invariably, as I approached the Alder street entrance Chuck would be coming out of Shelton's bar and grill. What his tryste was there I guess I shall never know.

From small town lawyer to chairman of the board of the company that provides electricity to New York City and its greater area. Wow!

With a dam building splurge in the post World War ll period Indian tribes were losing their ancestral fishing grounds due to the flooding of the stream beds. They needed an advocate to press their case with the "The Great White Father in Washington" and this time they were not going to settle for a bag of trinkets.

Chuck was young, bright, and with little to lose took their case and with diligence and perserverence was able to obtain multi million dollar settlements for them up and down the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Later he signed on to the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy with the idea of a federal judgeship. Even the revered president spoke with forked tongue. He had already promised the judgeship to someone else.

However, in politics you do pay your debts. The consolation offered was to head the Bonneville Power Administration, a bureuocracy that administered the distribution of power produced by myriad federal dams in the Northwest including Idaho and Montana and through links to all the western states.

It was to be a parking place until a judgeship became open. Actually, after several months on the job, he was tapped for the chair of the prestigeous and remunerative private utility. As far as I know he never became a judge.

Reading of his passing opened memories for me.

As a result of large purchases of surplus pipe and steel in 1955 from the Hanford Works, BBS secured railside land at 2nd and Pine in Walla Walla. It was landlocked so we paid a small monthly fee to the fuel yard at the Pine street entrance. We also spilled over into nearby lots.

My late wife Jean and I visited Seattle in the late 1950's. Jean was trying on shoes at I. Magnin.
The salesman asked where we were from. When we said Walla Walla, he said he grew up there and still owned property.

A few weeks later I visited the storage yard and saw a man who looked familiar.

Who owns all this stuff he demanded.

When I indicated I was involved, he continued your on my land!

I recognized him as the shoe salesman from Seattle. I told him that if he would suggest a price I would be interested in buying.

He responded that $1000.00 was the price. Although the plot was landlocked and vertually worthless, it would have cost close to that to move all of our stuff. I agreed.

O.K. give me my money and I'm back to Seattle.

I explained that he would have to give me a quitclaim deed and we would need a lawyer.

I call Charley Snider's office. Charlie's secretary said he was out of town but to call Chuck Luce.

In Chuck's office we gave him the particulars and he said he would make up the paperwork and record it. $25.00 please.

I turned to the seller and said that it was usually the seller who paid the fees but seeing the look on his face I quickly added but I'll pay half.

A few years ago I was cleaning the basement at BBS. Flipping through some old bank statements. I saw the cancelled check for $12.50 on the obverse was the handwritten signature of Charles Luce.

As in the previous post, I wondered if it had a collector value but in the days before E-Bay I decided probably not enough to worry about.

I bought an adjoining piece that had been abandoned to the county for a bid of $600.00.

When the State of Washington took the land for the 2nd street offramp to the freeway, because we owned the property we received $6,000.00 for the property and $12,000.00 to move our stuff.

I never got a chance to thank the shoe guy for the $16,000.00 windfall.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Have I told you this one?

Often an idea post occurs to me and by the time I get to the computer it has slipped from my 78 year old mind.

If you've heard this one stop me.

Uncle Dave and I shared an office. When business was quite we would sit and schmooze.

One day he pulled out his wallet and extricated a check. He examined it and then reported the following.

The Barer's had attended a party in Los Angeles and decided to spend some time in Palm Springs. I believe the year was 1973. A heart blockage was becoming a burden and Uncle Dave was spending his afternoons playing gin rummy with Senator "Maggie" Magnusen who also favored P. S. as a getaway spot.

The check was for $46.00 and represented a settlement on their series of game.

As the Senator was writing the check, he related this story.

It is a tradition in Washington, D. C. that when the president is in residence on Friday there is a late night poker game at the White House. It is an honor to be asked to sit in with the regulars who tend to be the movers and shakers of the administration.

While Maggie was a regular in the Lyndon Johnson era, he was thrilled as a young congressman to be invited to the game by the legendary President Franklin D. Roosevent.

At the end of the game the president summoned his aid, Steven Early to write checks settling his losses. The president always paid by check. He was a frugal man with his own funds and he reasoned that a check with his signature would not be cashed but kept as a memento or end up in the portfolio of a collector.

Uncle Dave asked me if Maggie was suggesting he not cash the check. I thought it might be a while before the Maggies signature would be worth $46.00.

The next question was, "Who is Winnie?"

Prior to leaving Palm Springs, Uncle Dave had called Maggie to tell him he was heading to Portland for open heart surgery.

First Winny now you was the response.

I wracked my brain and finally admitted that the only Winny I could think of was ex Governor of Arkansas and scion of the Rockefeller family, Winthrop Rockefeller who had fallen victim to a heart attack at that time.

He was visibly moved that he had been mentioned in the same breath as the grandson of the Standard Oil (Exxon) founder.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Recently saw the movie "Charley Wilson's War".

The L. A. Times gave it a mediocre rating. I don't know if the reviewer and I saw the same movie.

The problem is that it is just too real as to the way congress works as well as the CIA, etc.

But let's talk about a different Charley Wilson or DR. Charles Wilson, professor of neurosurgery at Moffet Hospital in San Francisco. The hospital is staffed by the University of California Medical School(UCSF).

To backstep a moment Jeannie was beginning to have balance problems. On our 1984 trip to Washington, D. C. she was still walking on her own but was already noticing that looking up at the cherrie blossoms was difficult.

Most of the places we went we requested a wheel chair. At the White House we were taken up a freight elevator and wheeled through areas normally off limits to tourists to join a tour group.
Tom Foley assigned an intern to take us through the capitol building and we sat in the balcony at both houses of congress in the spaces usually reserved for the First Lady to observe democracy in action.

My old friend Tom Lantos took us to lunch in the congressional dining room, a special treat and even more special arranged for us to attend a rare joint house/senate committee meeting where
in the course of the CNN coverage we were seen on national TV.

As Jeannie's condition deteriorated we returned to U of W Medical School. The diagnosis this time was a blockage in the spine. The remedy for this was a threadlike tube inserted down the spine.

This was a breakthrough technique. Dr. Kelly explained that the night before the surgery he had met with the local neuralogical society to explain the surgery and that it would be broadcast live on a dedicated TV network for physicians to observe.

One problem- he couldn't get the tube through, there was too much scar tissue.

He kept mentioning the name, Charley, who had invented the technique. On a follow up visit I asked him if he thought Charley, himself, might be able to do the job.

Late in June we received a call from U of W Hospital advising
Jeannie to get a preop physical and to report on July 1 to Dr. Wilson at Moffet Hospital for further examination.

As a sidelight, Moffet Hospital is located on Twin Peaks, the heights overlooking San Francisco and one of the most expensive sections of ther city.

We booked a room in a refurbished hotel at the edge of Haight-Ashbury and across from Kesar Stadium where in my days in San Francisco the 49ers played football.

We had a brief meeting with the doctor. At the end of the meeting I asked if he would consider doing the surgery. He reponded that we were to report to the hospital the next day to prep for the operation the following day.

To be continued