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Harry & Susan

On one’s 89th birthday it’s time to share your journey through life. Mine is a story of survival including two marriages, six children, three from my first wife and another delightful three inherited from my second marriage, nine grandchildren, a clinical depression, and six distinct, colorful careers in the private and public sectors. The experience includes being fired while running a challenging bank. My sixth career involves publishing a biography on Ernie O’Malley, Commandant-General at 23 of the Irish Republican Army who fought Great Britain for its freedom from 1916-1921.

I’ll explain how a boy from an Irish-Swedish emigrant family whose parents struggled to finish high school is able to become a Wall St lawyer, an officer in the United States International Aid program, President of five banks here and abroad, CEO of the Family Office of the Cargill-MacMillans, owners of the largest family company in the America, a global consultant to wealthy families, and finally, an author.

It helps that my father, who had to leave school to support his needy family, worshiped education although he was deprived of it. He somehow manages to send me to Phillips Andover, Harvard College and its Law School. I meet him evenings when he comes to the Harvard Yard for the adult education courses on philosophy. Able to finally stop his drinking without going through AA, he also helps me become a young man who is not afraid of confronting powerful men later in life. As a psychiatrist I consult many years later tells me when I am dealing with a dominating CEO: “Being able to stand up to your father as a boy of ten protecting your mother empowered you to confront any man in corporate America.”

In spite of his drinking challenges, my father loves my mother. He has a humorous view of life. “Son” he would say: “You’d better marry a good looking girl, since you’ll be looking at her the rest of your life.” My sister is born seven years after me. This makes me an only child whose parents make me feel I am the most important boy in the world.

At Andover, I’m excluded from both the athlete group who rule the school and their buddies the country club set. I deeply resent this, vowing to show them I am as good or better than they. This spirit drives me the rest of my life, probably accounting for much of my later success. The deep resentment continues as a driver even after life favors me.

At Harvard I become a budding intellectual, befriending fledging writers and painters. Summer nights after my freshman year, I read the 2,000 pages of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. In sophomore year I apply to the exclusive Department of History & Literature, only to be told it is closed. I insist on seeing its head, Howard Hugo. He asks why a boy like me believes I could join his elite scholars. When I say I want to write a thesis on Proust’s character the Baron de Charlus, Hugo looks at me differently, takes out his registration book saying: “My dear boy there will always be room for my friend the Baron.” But when I only receive a Cum Laude on my thesis thus destining me to mediocre Academia, instead of a more distinguished Magna, I apply to Law School.

David Rockefeller with Harry in Buffalo

During these early years I need money and work at various jobs. In the summer vacation I join the Laborers and Hod Carriers Union, and help build the headquarters of the Parker Game company that makes ‘Monopoly’ in nearby Salem. The older guys ask me to join them for beers at lunch. That afternoon taking my wheelbarrow with cement up the side of the building on a rickety elevator to pour it into the foundation top I almost fall off, giving me an early lesson in the risk of drinking. While at Harvard College, I drive a Checker Cab at night in Boston. One night pulling in after work at 1 AM an older cabby asks me what I’d made. I say $20, a lot back then. He looks at my trip record and finds I’ve been driving in the dangerous black night club district. “Hey guys,” he yells, “Our Harvard boy won’t come back some night if he continues driving in the danger zone!” I begin to drive in stable, downtown Boston.

In college I first experience the value of senior mentors in life, people helping you be your best while giving you exciting career opportunities. Frank Fisher, from a family of distinguished Chicago lawyers, has founded the International Students Association at Harvard. He introduces me to the overseas world I will follow the rest of my life.

As an Army reservist who decided not to become a ROTC military officer at college, I report to basic infantry training in Jackson, South Carolina as an enlisted man. The regular sergeants there have just been assigned to an Army military training exercise in Oklahoma. I’m chosen to be an acting platoon sergeant in charge of 50 men. I thrive in the role and win the 300 yard Regimental race under machine gun fire observed by visiting Turkish Generals.

Our commander Colonel Stephens calls me to his office saying I’ve been chosen to attend an officers’ certification school followed by special training as a ‘Ranger’. I’d been accepted to Harvard Law School after my two year military service but this would require an additional 18 months, so I reply I can’t accept. “Martin”, the Colonel says: “My young officers believe you can lead men in combat. Nothing you do at Law School or thereafter will ever equal that responsibility. You will reconsider and accept tomorrow.” The next morning I turn it down, and feel guilty about that decision the rest of my life.

After being a relative outcast at Andover and Harvard College, I become popular at Harvard Law School, invited to join every Club while I’m chasing girls in Cambridge. Foolishly, I neglect my studies and finish in the middle of the class. My mistake should have been apparent during the first year when Phil Heymann, a classmate who later became a distinguished Professor at the Law school and Deputy Attorney General under Clinton, tells me he is leaving my study group because “It isn’t serious enough”.

My two most memorable experiences at Law School are summer jobs. One is serving as an intern in Mobil Oil’s operation in Lagos, Nigeria where I discover a senior person is stealing from the company. This leads to an offer to join Mobil’s International Division which I decline. In my second summer job as a waiter at the Harbor House Hotel in Nantucket, I lead a service strike which persuades the owners to improve our situation.

Grandchildren by Red Barn

After Law School, I get a job at Clark Carr & Ellis, a boutique Wall St law firm. The firm’s senior litigating partner is Bill Blind. A week after my first assignment to find support for a client building docks in the Hudson River for the Port Authority, I report there is no law supporting our client’s case. Blind, a tall man who wears red suspenders, stands up, looks down at me with disdain and says: “How much are we paying you, Harry?” I answer: “$7,000 per year.” “And how much is at stake for our client?” “About a million dollars”. “Then don’t say: ’There is no law’- come back when you find it!” I finally discover a 1923 New York Supreme Court case clearly supporting our client’s claim. Blind reads it, and says with a smile: “Harry, some day you might even be a lawyer.”

Late one afternoon, Frank Fisher calls me from Washington DC where he is now a lawyer with the Agency for International Development. AID’s largest Division: Near East-South Asia (NESA) is looking for a young lawyer. I take the job. The head of NESA, Bill Gaud, a powerful, former partner from a large Wall St law firm who later runs the Export-Import Bank, becomes my next mentor. He uses me to draw up special contracts where NESA supports CIA operations in countries like Nepal. He sends me on exciting investigative missions overseas to verify whether he should make key tough decisions such as removing an AID Mission Director in a troubled country.

Finally I meet my long term mentor, Alec Vagliano. Alec is a character from Proust. His Greek family were leading shippers of grain from the Black Sea in the 19th Century. In the early 20th, Alec’s father goes to Paris to run Morgan & Cie. Just before World War II young Alec is sent to America for safety. He eventually joins the JP Morgan Bank and comes to NESA to run its Capital Development unit. He uses me as his lawyer on key projects like the US built steel mill in Eregli, Turkey. When asked by the CIA to access private enterprise in Vietnam Alec brings me along as his special assistant. Well after AID, he recommends me for several positions I get running banks.

Something terribly exciting happens to me in Washington-I fall in love with Muschi Waibel, a lovely girl from southern Germany. We meet when she is visiting her sister who is married to a friend of mine at the World Bank. Muschi and I share an exciting life which brings us to Colombia, Argentina, Buffalo, London and New York City. We have three wonderful children-Monica and Nick are born in Bogota and Derek blesses us in Buenos Aires.
In 1964 AID sends us to Bogota, Colombia. The Mission Director asks me to leave the law to be his Assistant Director in charge of Americans advising the Colombian government how to improve their housing, agricultural development, and exports. Mushi and I make close contacts with many interesting Columbians. Governmental agencies are filled with highly motivated young professionals working to develop their country. We meet Fernando Botero, its famous painter, but unfortunately don’t buy one of his works. We have the time of our lives in Colombia, star of Latin American AID programs.

I join the Chase bank in NYC and we return to the U.S. without our previous nursemaid for the children or the personal driver we had enjoyed in Colombia. Instead of the young American sought after by high level government players in Bogota, I sit with mid-level bankers on a platform in Chase’s downtown office. There hasn’t been a downer like this for me since I was ignored at Andover. I begin drifting away from the office about 11:30 AM each morning to have a big martini before lunch. I’m becoming an alcoholic. An older friend notices my problem, insisting I join an informal AA group which helps me rein in my drinking. Thank heaven I’m able to accept and act on serious criticism.

Chase sends us to Argentina. It’s better than New York, but not as stimulating as Colombia. Our CIA guys in country ask me to help them again, and I learn how risky a country can be. I run Chase Argentina’s branch system, including the one on the southern coast robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a century ago. I’m able to break the strike a Peronist union calls on our bank’s Buenos Aires branches. In retaliation Mushi receives a call at home threatening us. We go incognito to hide in a small hotel, keeping baby Derek with us in one room. In their adjoining room Moni and Nick stick silverware into the electric outlets blacking out our floor, while they paint the wallpaper with crayons. We eventually go back to our house, but when a colleague is found dead on a highway outside Buenos Aires, it’s time to go home.

Back at Chase, New York we have the same withdrawal we had leaving Colombia. I’m saved by being sent to run Chase’s banks in Western New York, headquartered in Buffalo. We’re welcomed there by local business and civic heads, and I have the chance to build a successful operation for Chase during the next four years. David Rockefeller spends time with me welcoming local leaders at our new bank, and I get to know one of America’s true gentlemen.

Susan’s Birthday with Family

In Buffalo our marriage begins to unravel; everyone experiencing this knows how painful it can be. One evening when Muschi and I have a big argument, I go for a drink to a new restaurant my bank has just financed. The owner takes me to meet someone at the bar. O.J. Simpson, star of the Buffalo Bills, welcomes me with my local nickname. “Hey kid banker”, he says “What are you doing here tonight.” I admit I’m leaving an argument with my wife, but will return home soon. O.J. replies: “You’ve got it all wrong, man. If you really want to make an impression on her just stay out all night with me.” I go back to Muschi.

We might have divorced then, but when I receive an offer to run Merrill Lynch’s International Bank in London, we hope this might save our marriage. Our first years in exciting London are great, the children are in fine schools and I manage to meet Merrill’s targets for our growing bank, whose main business is lending to sovereign countries. I also get to know Edmond Saffra, who owns private banks in Geneva, New York, Miami and Brazil. He asks me to be his Aide de Camp for all the banks. Visiting him in Geneva I realize I could add little to his banking expertise and would be a target for the guys now running his units. Reluctantly, I pass on his exciting offer.
Meanwhile, an unexpected situation surfaces. Meeting our objectives isn’t enough, Merrill headquarters decides senior Brits will make our bank a star in the London market. They hire Lord David Montague, who has a horse running at the Ascot races each year, and a young British banking leader, John Craven.

The two call me to a morning meeting. They sit at one end of the table, with me at the other. Montague says: We’re calling your staff to a meeting this afternoon to announce we’re managing the bank. You don’t need to attend.” I reply: “You are asking me to be a coward. I’ve close to my people. They won’t like this or you for it.” Craven comes to join me, saying: “David, he’s right. Harry, we want you to come and sit between David and me this afternoon. Tell us how to handle this” I reply: “I’ll tell my people New York believes the bank needs new direction from leading London bankers which will be good for everyone. I’ll be returning to the U.S.” Craven asks: “What can we do for you, Harry”. “You will carry me here, financing my weekly trips each month to New York for a job search.” “John takes my hand saying: “Agreed!” That begins our long friendship.

Cuz Hardee, my hiring partner at Clark Carr, has become CEO of one of New York City’s largest savings banks-Lincoln Savings. He brings me in as President. When I meet Alvin Dworman, one of the bank’s key NYC real estate developer clients, Alvin asks me what a guy in a Saville Row suit like me is doing in a Savings Bank. That begins a rewarding relationship with my last mentor. Alvin is a great teacher. “Next week there will be a huge Manhattan real estate deal involving all the banks and guys like me. Harry, you and I will be there. Mr X is the smartest guy in the room. Forget about the other bankers and developers, just watch Mr X. If he’s in, you and I are in. If he isn’t we’re out.” Alvin has a ski house in Aspen and its fun continuing my education on Ruthie’s Run.

After Lincoln Savings I spend a couple of challenging years in New York City running UBAF, an Arab consortium bank owned by central banks from several Arab countries and four US regional banks. It’s not easy to be CEO of a bank whose shareholders have divergent interests when the price of oil is falling.

Our marriage ends in divorce, and I leave the Arab bank to confront the most difficult challenge of my life-a deep six month clinical depression. What triggers it is my recent personal losses-the divorce and losing the bank job. The depression shuts off transmitters in the brain delivering the positive messages. Only the negative ones remain, and they inhibit one’s ability to eat, sleep, have sex or entertain any future hope. It’s a total reversal of life. At the end of this awful period I’m in the office of the psychiatrist heading Colombia University’s Depression Clinic. Fearful about money, I hold my right hand with my left to write his check. His office is on 72nd and Park. He points out the window: “Down there in the square are one hundred people with depressions like yours. The twenty on the left will have life long problems, the sixty in the middle will gradually recover, but the last twenty over there on the right will be stronger after their experience. Which group are you in?” “The last twenty”, I reply. “You’re right- call me when it lifts.” Later I give his clinic a big contribution.

When I receive an offer shortly thereafter to come to Hartford Connecticut as President of New England’s largest Savings Bank, a life changing event much more important than any bank job occurs. I marry Susan Plimpton Drinkwater Cottrell, a beautiful, strong woman who makes me a better person. Alec Vagliano is my best man. We are now in a blissful second marriage of 34 years. Susan creates a Brady Bunch blended family of our six children, four spouses and nine grandchildren. The entire family, now 21, has vacationed together at large Villas in Italy-twice, France-twice, Costa Rica, Jamacia-twice, Morocco, northern Minnesota, and Vermont. Our children visit each other’s families without bothering to tell us about it. Thank you Susie!

At the end of our stay in Hartford I’m called by Michael Dukakis, my former Law School classmate, to be a Co-Chair of his 1988 Presidential campaign’s fund raising efforts in Connecticut, for Manhattan’s real estate moguls like Alvin, and in Ohio. Susan and I have a wonderful time travelling the country with Mike.

My banking days are finally over, My new career begins in 1990 as CEO of the Cargill-MacMillan shareholder Family Office of Cargill, Inc. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Cargill merchants and processes food. It is the largest family company in America. This becomes an extremely rewarding experience for us. We understand and care for this fifth-generation Scottish family who came to America in the mid 19th century from Canada. We befriend the seniors, and act as mentors to the younger generation, attending their funerals and weddings. I help keep their vast company in 60 countries private, by creating an Employees Stock Option Plan selling Cargill family stock to employees. I survive an attempt by a few seniors to exit me, by transferring power to younger generation family members. The company and family thrive. 0ur contribution is honored when we retire after ten rewarding years in the upper middle west.

Mike Dukakis’s Presidential Race-1988

From 2000 until 2014 we build a global consulting company servicing great families overseas and in the United States. Our clients in Hong Kong, Singapore, Montreal, London, Basel, and Barcelona recognize my experience with Cargill will help them develop their businesses while retaining family unity. I become a lead speaker on family issues at wealthy family conferences here and abroad sponsored by the world’s great banks. My two leading contributions to clients are: 1) Resolving the inevitable blood-money conflicts in wealthy families by creating communicative family boards; 2) Helping the younger generation become future leaders by teaching them their family wealth creates responsibility for them, not entitlement.

Our blended family now consists of Susan’s: 1) Max & Christine, with Angus & Charlie-12 year old twins; 2) Sophie & Paul, with Theo 21, Lila 18, & Felix 15; and 3) Lydia. Mine are: 1) Monica; 2) Nick & Christina, with Reilly 20, Klaus 10, & Dash 8; and Derek & Julie with Allegra 14. Their professional, business, athletic, creative and educational accomplishments are too numerous to mention.

Susan and I step up our skiing and travel, enjoying the hospitality of Garnett Keith while skiing in Snowmass. Before retiring from the mountains at 85, I go to Stratton in Vermont each winter to ski with my old buddies the “Grizzlies”. Susan and I have our best travel experience in Tanzania, Africa. After staying at the Rift Valley Children’s Village where we sponsor 14 year old Raymondi, we go out with our guide Rajabu mornings and evenings to view the unforgettable, beautiful wild animals, birds and reptiles of the Serengeti.

Beginning in 2014 Susan takes on a needed leadership role in our community by bringing a wide range of world class speakers to Stonington as seven-year Chair of the Library Program Committee.

I continue my transition from professional to intellectual by giving well attended talks here in Stonington, at bookstores in CT and VT, at the Harvard Clubs of NYC & Boston, and at Florida Clubs on: ‘Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey’; ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’; ‘Emily Dickinson, Brave Lady-Great Poet’, ‘Tolstoy & the Russian Aristocracy’, ‘Marcel Proust’, ‘Giving and Parenting Like the Rockefellers’, ‘Hemingway’s Four Wives’, ‘Generals Grant & Lee’, and my own story: ‘Surviving a Challenging Life’.

I write a biography-Ernie O’Malley, A Life, co-authored by his son Cormac. It’s published in Ireland, October, 1921 by Irish Academic Press’s Merrion Division, and is available on Amazon. At 23 Ernie is Commandant-General in the Irish Republican Army fighting the British to a standstill in the War of Independence 1919-1921. He’s second in command of the IRA during their battle with the Irish Free State in the following Civil War 1922-1923. Captured three times, he escapes twice, is tortured, and wounded fourteen times. He becomes a world class intellectual in the second half of his life writing the leading book on each Irish conflict. He marries an American heiress-sculptor, Helen Hooker, who kidnaps his two older children from Ireland in 1950. When he dies in 1957, Prime Minister De Valera gives our Irish hero a state funeral in Dublin.

Please contact me for the spirited talks on Ernie and other subjects I give to various audiences in the Northeast.; P.O. Box 59, Stonington CT 06378; (860.536.2950)

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