Memory Thirty Five

About mid-1979, I was faced with two alternative opportunities to get a promotion and a higher salary with fairly identical benefits. One would entail a move to Carthage, MO and the other a move to Houston, TX and Doris and I had gone to have a look at Houston to help us compare it with Carthage which I already knew well and Doris had seen over a three day visit earlier. 

The only major difference between the two jobs was my reluctance at 53 to have to start out again to learn a new industry if I chose to go to Houston with Production Operators Inc, having done it already for fourteen years in in cryogenic gas separation, four in structural foam plastics and eight in wire manufacturing. My decision based on this, was to take the promotion in Carthage and I told Rahl George this and continued in my job as President of Adcom Wire Company in Jacksonville, FL.

After about three weeks, I got a call from Paul Pigue, the President of POI telling me he wanted to fly to Jacksonville and have a dinner meeting with me at Jacksonville airport and I agreed to meet him there. He said he did not want to leave my decision as it was without telling more about what he wanted me to do. He said he would bring me in initially as Executive VP with the intention of making me President as soon as I was comfortable with it. My salary would be $35,000 more than I was making and he told me it was $10,000 more than he was paying himself. This was much higher than we had been talking about and I quickly agreed.

An interesting additional factor that made his offer more attractive was the fact that POI had just ordered a cryogenic nitrogen plant from Kobe Steel in Japan to produce nitrogen gas for injection into Chevron’s oil wells for pressure maintenance in the new Overthrust Belt oil discovery in Evanston, WY. This was the biggest project POI had ever contracted and they had no-one with any knowledge of cryogenics. This meant that I could be an expert in at least part of the company right away. Paul’s hesitation about making me president immediately was his concern about how his two partners would accept it. I agreed to join the company in October and commute weekly from Jacksonville until I found a house and could move furniture and family. This was all acceptable and we shook hands.

I immediately called Rahl George and told him and sat down to write a difficult resignation letter to Frank Ford at Leggett. (My resignation from Leggett and Platt over the years, made me ask myself if I had made the correct decision. Today, as I write, Leggett has 130 manufacturing units in 18 countries and employs 19,000 people so I believe I could have had a successful career there.) As I contemplate what I actually did, I believe I faired very well with my decision and I think we have been happier in Houston than we would have been in Carthage, MO so I have no regrets.

Rahl George, in his capacity as Executive VP of searchPOI’s parent company, was himself commuting to Houston on a monthly basis and was staying in POI’s company condo, so I also stayed there on my weekly visits. I did this for a couple of weeks in October and all of November, while at alternate week-ends, staying in Houston and checking out houses on or near the many golf courses. POI had agreed to pay 50% of any initial dues and to provide me with a company car. I found an attractive house with a nice swimming pool and spa literally in the middle of the two-course Champions Golf Club and community. The realtor I was working with told me that someone else was interested in buying it and that I should make an offer quickly if I seriously wanted it. With only a telephone description of it, Doris told me to go ahead so I made an offer that was quite quickly accepted and I scheduled the closing. At the time we were moving, homes in Houston were very high and the best mortgage rate we could get was 13 ¼ %. I submitted my application for membership to Champions GC and was put on a waiting list.

My secretary helped me find a store that sold western clothing and I bought the first searchpair of jeans I had ever owned, together with a cowboy hat, shirt, boots and a big-buckled belt and when Doris flew out for the closing in mid-December, I lounged in the hallway at the airport awaiting her arrival. She came walking down the hall and was about to walk by me as I said, “Howdy Ma’m. Welcome to Houston.”  As she recognized me, her response was, “You bloody fool.”

The good news was that she loved the house even though it was very empty. We stayed the night in the condo and the next day, she helped me buy a single bed and a few cooking utensils so I could move in on a temporary basis and she returned to Jacksonville.

We had a complication about moving to Houston because Doris’ mother, living in a nursing home in St. Augustine, FL had been taken ill and sent to a hospital. This made it difficult for Doris to decide if and when to leave town. We had a chance to sell our house with the closing set for January 16th, 1980 and I pre-signed the documents so that Doris could handle the closing alone. Our daughter, Melanie had been accepted at Florida State University but when she realized we were leaving Florida, she decided to come with us. I flew home, arranged for the movers and told them to include Melanie’s Toyoto in their van and picked the moving date.

The three of us, together with our two cats, Samson and Delilah in a travel-cage, drove imgresin Doris’ Toyoto wagon to Houston, stopping one night in Louisiana on the way. The only memorable thing about the trip was that Delilah slept quietly all the way but Samson made a fuss so we let him out to move around the car. He finally chose me and came and sat on my lap as I drove, for which I was rewarded by him peeing on my crotch. Having only brought an over-night bag, I had no change of clothes and smelt of cat pee the rest of the journey.

Once we were settled in our new home, we arranged with the airline to fly Doris’ mother to Houston with her wheel-chair, accompanied by Doris who flew back to Jacksonville for that purpose. In Houston, they were met by an ambulance and taken to a nursing home in Tomball, about 10 miles north of our home that I had reserved for Granny. This all happened on January 23rd and was a hard day for her but she quietly accepted it all saying, as she was wheeled into her new room 900 miles from where she woke up, “Oh, they’ve painted my room.”

Unfortunately, there is a sad end to this saga because, after we thought she had done so well during the trip, she suddenly had a seizure and died on February 6th. She had lived with us from 1957, when she joined us in Montreal, had moved with us to Rowayton, CT, Atlanta, GA, Jacksonville, FL and now, Houston, TX.  She had baby-sat for our three children and had watched them all grow up and go to college, which together with her long life in London that included six years of World War II during which her home had been bombed, had given her a broad-ranged, colorful and happy life. We had a commemoration service for her and she was cremated. We wanted her ashes to be buried next to her husband in a cemetery plot in London which they had reserved years before and Doris took the urn to the post office to be mailed to Granny’s relatives who had a short ceremony at the grave site on our behalf. Doris had an emotional moment when the postal clerk, for insurance purposes, asked for the value of the package. Not being sure what her mother was worth, she left in tears.

With my wife, daughter and furniture in our new stock-photo-total-bliss-63335833home, I tried to get back to a normal relaxed way of life and was finally ready to do the job I was hired for. On my first day of normal commuting, I came home to be told that Doris had been in the new pool even though the water was only 56 degrees F. She bragged that she wanted to be the first to use the first pool we had ever owned.

Little did I know that a further shock was in store for me at the office but that’s another memory for another day.

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