Gerry Moore (TV Star) sailing off Hilton Head, SC with My Dad and Me. Circa 1981.
Above photo of Gerry Moore (TV Star) with me and my Dad sailing off Hilton Head, 1981
THE LUGER PISTOL STORY
Included in Peter’s book is his story of finding a Luger pistol in our father’s bedroom. Some of you have asked me for more details on the later incident Peter refers to about dad. In my book about our father, “Brunswick’s Legacy, A Learned Man,” I referred to this incident.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, thirty-five more years of business and of having some experience with depression myself, I’ll recap more about what happened that night.
Ever since the day I was born, my father must have had the idea that some day his eldest son would join him in business. Dad was a self made man who had started his textile business in the depths of the Great Depression and built it up to the success it had achieved when I joined him in 1956. I had graduated from the same college dad had gone to although he was smart enough to also have a degree from MIT.
Dad’s mill was located in the small village of Moosup, Connecticut—an area so clearly described by Peter in his book. Dad had bought the mill there in 1932 and built it up to employ more than 250 people. He was a leader in Moosup, having founded a bank there. In addition, he had served as a naval officer in WW II in a major position at the Bureau of Aeronautics, stationed in Washington, DC. Dad hobnobbed with big shots in the navy and his mill, under the management of our mother and some associates, thrived on making uniform material for the military. He returned to Moosup from Washington, built a fancy office for himself and a substantial addition to the mill itself. He bought a small airport, a brand new airplane, and a beautiful Lincoln Continental automobile. Dad was usually a modest man, but after the Second World War, he was on a high. He was proud of his accomplishments in the navy. He was energized with his having not only his own plane but also an airport. Our family had purchased my grandparent’s home on Cape Cod so we all were able to get out of Moosup for the summers and experience a new life as a happy family. Oh yes, mother and dad also decided (?) to have another child—David Lincoln.
Mercy and I did well in prep school and headed to good colleges, Wheaton and Bowdoin. Then Mercy married a bright Harvard graduate and I graduated from Bowdoin. Peter was in Germany with the U. S. Army.
While I was growing up, dad talked with me repeatedly about his business plans—always assuming that it was predestined for me to join him at Brunswick Mills. One plan he envisioned was our having a southern spinning mill to enable us to compete in the worsted business.
Then I met and married a beautiful southern girl. Dad loved Pat and my marrying her tied right into his own perspective of his company moving south.
Pat and I lived in France and I decided not to pursue a military career. I also decided to return to Moosup, join dad in the business, and give it a try. Dad was overjoyed! His PLAN was working!
In 1959, Pat and I had our first baby, a bubbly girl named Jan. We built a southern plant and I attended a three week Textile Course at Clemson University, near Pickens. In the fall of that year, Brunswick started spinning Dacron and worsted yarn, that was shipped (in our own truck) to our weaving operation, which remained in Moosup. I spent lots of time in the south, having hired a plant manager and staffing our operation.
Although we’d invested major dollars in our worsted fabric business, that business continued to decline with numerous New England worsted mills either going out of business or bankrupt. The Japanese worsted menswear business was eager to re-build their factories after the war and priced their piece goods well below what American mills could sell similar fabrics for. Now, in the early 1960s we had a brand new, expensive operation one thousand miles away from Moosup. I was young, with plenty of energy, and both dad and I were working hard to make a go of the business.
Not only was I supervising the Pickens spinning mill, I had also taken over our accounting department back in Moosup—when our accountant, Buddy Jouret, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 44. Fortunately, I’d taken accounting at Bowdoin. In addition, since it was becoming increasingly obvious to me that our worsted fabric business was doomed, I went out on the road as a salesman to sell our hand knitting yarns and build up a sales force.
Our son, Steve Morgan, was born in July of 1960—equally energetic as his sister. We continued living in Moosup, just down the road from where dad and mother lived—the house where Mercy, Peter, and I had grown up. Peter was away at prep school and college but David was still at home—and a huge challenge for both our mother and father—particularly dad. With all dads’ business challenges, he was ill equipped, both mentally and physically, to care for a boy of 10-12 years old.
Picture this! For years, Dad had worked on convincing his son (me) to join him in his business. We’d sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars in the menswear worsted fabric business as a desperate move to survive in a dying industry. We owed the banks in South Carolina that had helped us finance our operation and were losing money every day. I was juggling the responsibility of a young wife and family and attempting to keep our business going by selling yarn to yarn shops on the road, and trying to convince dad that we did have a future in the business—in the hand knitting yarn industry; not in menswear. I’d talked with mother, who was juggling many things, herself, with both dad and their young son.
Dad became increasingly depressed about our prospects. He felt guilty about convincing me to join him in what he was now seeing as a declining business. Dad was in his mid 60s and I was in my late 20s. Dad was usually an optimistic guy but he and I started arguing about what was happening. He had taught me the importance of keeping things on the bright side and always felt we could solve our problems. I had invested my life with a great wife, a nifty boy and girl, and what I envisioned as a bright future ahead of us in the yarn business. I knew we must get out of the menswear worsted business—the business dad had built up from zero for more than thirty years. Our challenges were great with huge pressures on Dad. I honestly believe my optimism glossed over the seriousness of our situation.
One Friday night; (dad always experienced his major depressions at the end of a week, just before the weekends), he and I had had an argument about what we should do. I remember telling him, “Dad, you really need to get away from here, get out of Moosup and let me make some mistakes. For years, you’ve preached to me the importance of a son having to make some mistakes to really learn the business. I promise I’ll keep you in touch, but you must get away.”
Dad drove home and joined mother and my younger brother, David. They probably had their usual dinner together and, just down the street from them, Pat and I fed Jan and Steve and went to bed ourselves. About ten o’clock, David called me saying, “Get up here as fast as you can! Dad’s had an accident.”
I didn’t even dress. With my pajamas on, I drove up High Street and walked in the font door of the house I’d grown up in. Mother was waiting for me with The Pistol in her hand. She said, “Your father tried to kill himself with this and I wrestled it away from him. Go upstairs and talk with him.”
I grabbed that pistol from mother and ran up the stairs I knew so well and into dad’s room. He was sitting on his bed with his head in his hands, sobbing. I sat down beside him and put my arm around his shoulders. We cried together. I had only seen my father cry two times before that night. One was the night his father had called him with news that dad’s mother had died in 1938 (dad didn’t even know she was sick).. The other time dad cried was when he passed a kidney stone—from the great physical pain of that experience.
This night, Dad was in another great pain; a mental pain that had totally consumed him to the point he just couldn’t cope. Apparently, he’d grabbed his German Luger Pistol and started yelling he was going to kill himself. My mother and brother heard him and ran up to his bedroom. Mother grabbed the pistol out of dad’s hand and apparently told David to call me.
I asked dad to tell me what had happened. He slowly started talking, “It’s hopeless, Hank, we just can’t survive.” We leaned back on his bed and I started talking myself.
I repeated what I’d been saying to him for a couple of years in our many conversations. Dad and I pretty much saw eye to eye on most business challenges but these talks had become increasingly confrontational.
That night, as we lay side by side on his bed, he calmed down and we discussed the importance mother and dad getting out of Moosup for a while. I encouraged him to find a place where they could spend some time, away from the routine he’s had for so many years, and the stress that was consuming him. I said, “You know, Dad, we are both rushing to see who can get through each door in the mill—and we’re meeting in the middle and bouncing off each other. You taught me the importance of my being a different person than you are. I know you are terribly upset at seeing the menswear business go down, but it was you, not me, who had the foresight for us to get into the hand knitting yarn business. That business has a great future for us and I’m determined to make a go of this part of Brunswick. You need to let go and allow me to be on my own some of the time”
We watched the dawn break together and heard the mill whistle at 6:55 and again at 7 AM. Dad agreed to go into Providence and talk with his doctor, Dr. Wilfred Pickles. I went home, took a shower, told Pat some of what had happened, and went to our mill.
Dr. Pickles gave dad some tranquilizers (what doctors gave patients to treat depression in those days). When dad started getting sleepy on his drive back to Moosup, he tossed the pills into the woods. On Monday morning, Dad and mother left for a two-week trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina.
When they returned to Moosup, dad began negotiations that enabled me to buy control of the business. He told me all about the land, and later, house, they bought on Hilton Head and said, “This house has a dock behind it so I can buy a sailboat and keep it right at my own dock.”
Dad and mother created a whole new life for themselves on Hilton Head Island—away from Moosup, the mill business, and his depression. He started ocean sailboat racing on Hilton Head and watched, from afar, the menswear business shut down and the hand knitting yarn business grow and grow. I would later experience a similar depression when the yarn business also went sour, thirty years later—and that’s a story I’ve written about in my “Brunswick Yarns, An American Family Business.”
To my knowledge, Dad never had another night or day of the awful mental grief he’d experienced that night. Oh, yes, I kept him in touch with our business changes and he and mother supported me at every major step along the way. I attended the Owner President’s Course at Harvard Business School in the 1970s. Dad sat in on one of our case studies, telling my can group about some of his MIT case studies.