Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sorry Orwell, This was the Real 1984 just before the Revolution


My involvement soliciting funds for The United Way was somewhat paradoxical. For most of my life I had been resentful and critical of The United Way. This attitude went back to when I worked for ARCo in the 1960s. ARCo supported the United Way and every year they solicited funds from the employees. They were very heavy handed. You were expected to pledge “Your fair share” to the cause or else.  Now whether you actually pledged or gave anything was supposed to be a matter of free will. It was also supposedly confidential; no one would know if you gave or not, or how much so the company claimed. 
I didn’t give anything. I didn’t make a pledge of so much as a penny from my weekly paycheck nor did I even make a token one-time token donation. I had my own charities I gave to and considered this private business. I also resented being pressured to give to something that essentially gave the company a nice public image. ARCo wasn’t doing this because they cared about the agencies on the list. The company President or Chairman wanted to stand up at the campaign award banquet and be handed a plaque to hang on his trophy wall. They wanted comments about ARCo's generous contribution splashed about in the Philadelphia papers.
So rebellious I pledged nothing.
Then one day I came to work and I was approached by a guy I didn’t know and told to follow him to some conference room. I go in the room and there are these guys from the Atlantic Independent Union waiting for me. The guys surrounded me and they're yelling at me for not giving. They're telling me I better give my Fair Share. It was like a scene from some mob movie. They were big guys, too, probably worked down .at the refinery or maybe they were the same goons who showed up from the Teamsters in my office at Olson Brothers (see my post, “Job Roulette with Egg”). 
And how did they know I didn’t give anything; it was supposed to be confidential
I told them, “Fuhgeddaboudit!”  No I didn’t actually say that. I did tell them my charity giving was my business, then I got up and left the room. Sorry if I ruined the companies 100% participation.
For the next week or so I fully expected I might be jumped on the street somewhere after that, but nothing more ever happened. I also swore I would never give to The United Way. Now, here I was in 1984, more than 20 years later not only making a contribution, but standing up in front of groups of fellow employees making speeches asking for their money. I do have to say, Wilmington Trust never put any kind of undo pressure on their employees to give and the list of donors was strictly kept secret.

On January 23 of 1984 I was picking up Laurel from nursery school and my car brakes began to fail. I took the car directly to the mechanic I used and dropped it off. Laurel and I had to walk two-miles home. The next morning, I got my car back at 8:30 AM, which made me late for work. Laurel didn’t go to school. She was still tired out from the walk(remember she was only 5 years old).

On the 26th I bought a new car, a Ford LTD Station wagon. We had truly arrived at that dreaded point of non-coolness, the suburban family in their suburban wagon.

On Saturday the 28th I left a fidget Philadelphia for New Orleans. It was the annual BAI P.A.T.H Conference, now called the BAI Productivity Conference and this year there was a huge difference. No, not the name change.
I was one of the speakers.

Over the course of my first years at Wilmington Trust my name gradually became known. Originally my fame, if you want to call it that, seeped through the bank. My position had started as an experiment really, which no one quite knew how it would work. I was designing my own job descriptions and creating just what Project Management in Banking looked like. I had started working at The Bank (as we referred to ourselves within Wilmington Trust) on September 3, 1980. By the end of 1983 I had overseen 18 major projects and not only brought every single one in before the scheduled completion dates, but also brought them in under budget. A few of these weren’t overly complex, but many required gaining confidence and cooperation beyond our own Division.
People within our bank were actually talking about me at meetings and conferences in the industry beyond Wilmington Trust. This was not just because of my ability to accomplish the goals set forth, but because I sometimes brought a new way of doing them to the table, for example, the Bulk Filing Conversion. I was an aggressive project manager, as well. I was always suggesting projects, which quite often were rejected because no one else was ready to see the possibilities. Still, I was being talked about. At the same time, Project Management was becoming a buzz word around the banking industry, although it remained a mystery to a lot of old-line managers. Thus in the last quarter of 1983 I was asked by the BAI to put together a presentation (what they called A Breakout Session) for the 1984 Productivity Conference on project management in banking. I choose the title, “Project Management Works!” and sent my synopsis to the BAI content committee.
How did a country boy with Social Anxiety Disorder ever pull this off. I had my bad moments dealing with others certainly, but overall I seemed to have been born for this job. My fears of social situations were offset by my gift of organization and my preparation. These were very much gifts from God.

New Orleans was fun, even though I was all on my own. I flew in on Saturday. On Sunday I took both a bus tour of the city and a steamboat cruise down the Mississippi.
I loved the city, but was disappointed by the Mississippi. The Mississippi just didn’t seem all that large where I was. I realize it is the longest U.S. water and a major course of transportation through many a state. But I was used to living near the Delaware River and somehow the Delaware looked wider than the Mississippi in New Orleans. Actually, this is true. The Delaware River where I am from is almost 3 miles across. The Mississippi in New Orleans is 2 miles.

Anyway, I rank New Orleans as one of my favorite cities because it is a great walker’s city. My favorite cities are all walker cities: Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans. You can walk about these places even at night and feel safe because there are so many people about. I would put Washington DC on my list, except there is something about it that isn’t comfortable after dark. And once more I was hitting the marathon circuit.
I stayed at the New Orleans Sheraton, just a short walk from the heart of the French Quarter, and I was in the French Quarter about every evening.

Every morning I would get up early and saunter down to Decatur Street to the Café Du Monde and get a couple Beignets and some café au laits. Ah, it was a little bit of Heaven. I have missed those Beignets all these years I have been home.

My session was late morning on the first day of the conference. I had designed my presentation to involve the audience. Unfortunately, the lighting in the room was terrible and I struggled reading my own script, which I think confused some of the people.
The BAI treated all the speakers to dinner at Arnaud’s Restaurant (left). This establishment has an extensive Mardi Gras Museum inside (right) and we were given a personal tour. The food was excellent. They served Shrimp as an appetizer. It was a huge tray of shrimp in a Creole Remoulade Sauce. This was the only time I ate shrimp and enjoyed it. I am not a big fan of seafood. I had Filet Mignon au Poivre. Why not, the BAI was paying for it. Several of the other speakers near me told me they had attended my session and really enjoyed it. I was surprised since I didn’t think it went well due to the lighting.

The next night I was alone for dinner and ate in the Hotel restaurant. I still wasn’t paying, the Bank was paying for this meal. I had a table sort of toward the middle of the room, unusual since I had found restaurants usually sat lone diner a bit out of the way. As I enjoyed my drink, a woman approached and asked if she could join me. She was young, trim and pretty. She explained she was attending from Pittsburgh National and hated eating alone. We talked about Information technology, of all things. As we neared the end of our meals it became obvious she did not want to go back to her hotel room along. As we got up, she invited me to join her. I turned her down. I had opportunities, but I never had and never would cheat on my wife. There was one time I came close, but we’ll get to that later.
I had been propositioned before her during my stay at the Sheraton. The second night I was there two prostitutes entered the elevator with me. They got turned down as well.
The conference ended on February 1. I came home on the 2nd, a Thursday.
That weekend Lois and I went away while my parents took the kids.

We had a celebration for Laurel's birthday on Sunday the 26th.
That Monday my wife went back to working. She has been home quite a while after the children were born, but money was getting tight and she decided to return to the ranks of the employed.
She was able to get a position in the Data Preparation Division of Wilmington Trust as an encoder. She ran into a couple obstacles. First was a company policy rule, wives were not supposed to work in the same area as their husbands. Walt went to bat for us on this one and Personnel decided there was enough separation between my position and hers and allowed the hire. However, the Supervisor of the Encoding Unit was dubious whether Lois could do the job or not. Lois is left-handed and all the encoders were made for right-handers. My wife got the job and proved to be one of the best encoders they had.
The big draw back for us was I worked the day shift and she worked the evening. We would literally pass going between. But she got to be there for the kids all day and I took over at night, so they never needed day care. It also tended to wear her out going in and working so late. Her hours were from 6:00 PM to Finish. She never knew what time she would get home. Some days it was early, but some days she was there until dawn. Other then this shift difference, life got back to being fairly normal. In April Lois met my mom and grandmother at Granite Run Mall and had the children’s photographs taken.

On April 14 I attended training called “Counselor Relations”. Sometime around this time of that year I also attended The Writers Group Workshop. I think I had more interest in that than the Counselor stuff.

And then came April 1984 and the whole world was about to change.             
             

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Snow business to Show Business

The winter of 1982-83 was a harsh one, very cold temperatures and a lot of snow, leastwise to the north of the state line up around Bucktown and Pottstown. Delaware was spared some of the snow, but in February we got hit with a real blast that left two feet of the white stuff behind. Laurel and Noelle came out to help daddy dig us out.
Blast From The Past: Blizzard of 1983

For a strong Nino winter during 1982-1983, the Blizzard of '83 provided a snowy "treat" to the Delaware Valley, bringing 21.3" of snow to the Airport on February 11th and 12th. Until the Blizzard of '96 and the twin snowstorms this last winter, the February '83 snowstorm was the biggest snowstorm of record in Philadelphia, eeking out the 21.0" snowstorm that everyone remembers from Christmas 1909. From Phillyweather.net

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Laurel made an effort, but Noelle was still too young to be very effective, besides which, her big sister kept pushing her down. Laurel tried to run from her deed, but couldn’t move very fast toward escape in the depths. Noelle lies as a red lump half-buried in the background.

On the 27th we held a small party at home for Laurel’s 5th birthday. Evelyn Weinmann, Lois' friend since grade school, who our kids call Aunt Ev, and my parents attended. Lois made the birthday cake in the shape of a car, forming cakes into some favorite object for the kids became a regular tradition. Laurel lost one of her baby teeth while eating,



On Saturday 26, my parents picked up the kids and dropped Lois and me off at the Wilmington Amtrak Station (left) and since 2011 the Blabbermouth…I mean, the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Station. It was renamed for the then Vice-President in honor of all the years he rode back and forth to Washington from there as a U. S. Senator.
The Bank was sending me to AMA (American Management Association) classes in New York and Lois was going along for the weekend before classes began. This made for a nice little mini-vacation with lower costs for us. The bank was picking up the tab for the hotel and for my transportation and meals. I had to pay for Lois’ train fair and her meals. Any entertainment we did during the weekend was half on my dime and half on Wilmington Trust’s. It was a big savings to us. Oddly, I can’t remember much about this trip, such as what classes I attended. I took a number of courses in New York and Washington DC from both the AMA and the BAI during my years at Wilmington Trust. This was my first such trip and I'd think I would have remembered it, but I don't.  I also don’t have any photos of it.
During our time in New York, Laurel fell and hurt her knees, but recovered quickly. My dad came down to our place and drove Mr. Heaney’s former car, the Big Blue Shark, up to Bucktown and parked in down in their field, where it would sit for years. Lois came home on Monday morning and my mom picked her up at the train station. I attended AMA classes through Wednesday and came back home on Thursday.

Within a period of two decades the term “made-in Japan went from being synonymous with “shoddy juke” to being highly regarded for meaning quality. Some rank quality control and long-term investment as leading causes of Japan having high productivity, and American business persons have begun to look to Japan on tips on how to have better productivity. Americans may feel twinges of chagrin when the Japanese bid on American projects and win them away from American firms, but at the same time they thing, “at least they’ll work.” In recent years, many have decided that if Japanese products work here, perhaps Japanese management style will, too. So after decades of Japanese executives trooping through American firms to learn our management secrets, we have turned the tables and sought a magic formula in Japan.

This was the opening paragraph of my book, Japanese Management Style published by Wilmington Trust.
When I was a boy, after World War II ended and we were again doing trade with Japan, you could find a lot of trinkets and cheap items stamped with “Made in Occupied Japan”. These things were so poorly made they often fell apart after but slight use.
Many Japanese imports were gimcracks,  ceramic and porcelain figurines or prizes given away at carnivals. The Japanese products were so awful they became a joke. If you bought anything and it quickly stopped working, somebody would say, “What was it, made in Japan?” Of course, those old pieces of junk are probably collectors’ items today and cost a small fortune to buy.

But that was the 1940s and 1950s. Things change. If you recall, my job at the other WTC, Welded Tube Company, disappeared because in the 1970s Japan was dumping steel in the United States. Now, by the 1980s Japan was doing okay financially and their products had gained a reputation as the hallmark of quality, especially in the auto industry. When the Datsun arrived in the USA during the 1960s it revised the old “Made in Japan” jokes. (Left, 1960 Datsun. Odd fact, the name Datsun was only used in the United States at the time. In the rest of the world the cars were called Nissans, as they are today.)
It was much the same when the early Hondas appeared in the US market during the 1970s (1970-72 Honda on right). Americans were still driving about in long, wide boats and here come these funny looking little

puddle-jumpers out of Japan. My friend of then, Dave Mason had a Honda Civic. Just as I had heard people ask when I owned my 1966 Beetle, he would be asked, “Can that thing make it up the hills?” I do wonder how he fit his family in the thing, his wife, two kids and Saint Bernard. On the right is an American's idea of their dream car, the 1970 Lincoln Continental.

I'll admit to having two Hondas in my life. They were and are the most dependable cars I ever saw. Currently I have a 2009 Honda Fit. Previously my Daughter, Noelle, owned a Honda Civic. She bought it used after graduating high school, class of 1999. She named it, Robby, after Rob Zombie. She drove it until she was deployed to Iraq in 2003 (she was in the Army). When she left for overseas, she gave it to her brother, Darryl. He drove it until he bought a 2004 Pontiac in 2008. Several months later I sold the Honda to my next door neighbor and he gave it to his teenage daughter. That girl drove that car until sometime in 2015. Someone else is probably zipping around in it even now. Darryl's Pontiac completely broke down in 2010.

While attending the BAI P.A.T.H. Conference in 1982 I met Dr. W. Edwards Deming. He had been sent to Japan after World War II by the State Department to assist with their census. While in Japan he began training engineers, mangers and scholars in quality concepts. Eventually he was credited with turning Japan’s economy around and making it the second strongest in the world. A highly valued award given in Japan to companies exerting top quality control and management is called, The Deming Prize.
US Companies were just beginning to take note of his ideas by 1980 and full recognition of his importance didn’t come until a few years before his death in 1993 at the age of 93. In 1987 he received the National Medal of Technology from President Reagan and in 1988 he was given the Distinguished Career in Science Award by the National Academy of Sciences.

My exposure to Dr. Deming and contacts with Quality Circles expert Richard Toole in Atlanta led me develop a theory of Management Improvements for the banking industry. By mid-1983 I had collected several writings of my ideas and put them together in a book called Tire Teams and Unicycles: Q/P Theory. I was expanding my project management in scope and the role it and I would play at Wilmington Trust over the next several years.

Perhaps the course I had taken at AMA had something to do with Quality. I know at some point I took a course called, The Effect on Cost of Quality Control, which may have been what the New York trip involved.

In July my parents babysat Darryl as we took Laurel and Noelle to Sesame Place for the day. My parents did a lot of babysitting over these early years of parenthood. A lot of the time it was so Lois and I could get away together, but at times it was like this, looking after one child while we did something with the older two.

This was in July, but it wasn’t long before Darryl became the focus of attention. His first birthday came on August 24 and my mom and grandmother came down for it.

In September of 1983 a new career was added to my duties, show business. Well, sort of anyway. Each year a Chairman was named to head up the United Way campaign for the bank. I am not certain who was the very firstChairman, because the Chairman was always a manager who had served the previous year as Vice-Chairman. When the new Chairman took office he or she would name a new Vice-Chairman. And on and on it would continue.
In 1983 my boss, Walk Whittaker (right in photo) became Chairman and he named Joe Jacobs (left in photo), Vice-President of the Personnel Department ( still not called Human Resources) as his Vice-Chairman. Since I was Walt’s project Manager he tapped me to put the program together. Some things were expected to be included, such as Beryl Barmore from Personnel explaining how to make a donation (on right is Beryl doing her speech at a meeting.). I knew Beryl, she went to my church and we were friends. She was also a very excellent singer. Maybe I should have had her sing her spiel. You also had to have some high Muckety Muck from the United Way organization appear and talk about the charities the organization supported, but the rest was quite open. I decided to run a slide show as people entered and got seated. This was accompanied by music. I used “Memory” from Cats that first year I did it. I used Neil Diamond’s “I’m Alive” the next. We wanted to make the whole event truly entertaining. 
To get the slides to use I traveled about to various agencies and snapped scenes. (Right is the Opportunity Center, Inc. (OCI)  in Wilmington, a training and employment place for the disabled and handicapped. When I worked at Mercantile Printing years later, I used to eat lunch at OCI's cafeteria).
After taking and developing  the slides, I had to coordinate the slides to music. We didn’t have any fancy equipment to create these presentations. I recorded the music I selected onto a cassette and then timed everything out so the slides on the slide projector changed at the right moment to match the music.
I was walking between agencies in Wilmington one day and tripped on an uneven brick sidewalk. I didn’t fall, but the force of balancing myself sent my camera strap off my shoulder and my camera slammed into the bricks. I picked it up and there was a big dent in the one corner and it wasn’t working. The bank paid to have my camera repaired, but it was never quite the same afterward. Every so often a photo would have a black smear down the length of one side.

Our United Way show was actually popular, amazing considering it was a plea for money. We set a company record for pledges that year. United Way liked my show format so much they asked if they could present it to other companies as a suggestion for their presentations. I was asked to be the writer and director of the next year’s show, which I did. In fact, I did a third year after that. Each year we put on our show 34 times or more in order for every employee to attend. (On the left is my favorite photo I took.)
In my second year of United Way presentations I was also put in charge of scheduling. It can be tricky scheduling over 2,000 employees, some of whom work over three shifts. You could not have more than so many at one time from any one unit and you had to consider those working a second or third shift, how to get them in to a meeting and then get everyone committed to their time. We did a couple of the shows on the road for branch personnel working down state, and we did a separate show for the third shift employees. Fortunately, most of those who worked in the wee hours of the morning were in one of our own divisions, Data Preparation.
Any such event takes more than one person to do and pull off. On the right was our team in 1983. I'm not in the picture because I took the photo. This was taken in Georgetown, Delaware as we toured. Walt Whittaker is on the far left. At 6 foot 5 inches he  easily stands out. To the front and Walt's right is Beryl Barmore.

All-in-all, 1983 was a busy year.