FOUR GOOD GUYS AND A VERY BAD GUY

When I sat down to write this essay, my intentions were to deal with four good guys. John Rosenburg, Dick Lewin and Emory Wilbur were all my colleagues when I was the Labor Relations Manager for AT&T Long Lines from 1955 until 1963. Lowell Wingert, the President of Long Lines, came later.

Unfortunately, my efforts to tell you of these four good men, suffered the intrusion of Henry T. Killingsworth, an evil and miserable man. Killingsworth ran the 35,000 employee Long Lines division of AT&T from about 1950 until 1962 with an iron and biased hand. In the words of a friend who served with me in the U. S. Army, Killingsworth was a spherical SOB. That means that no matter how you looked at him, no matter what angle you viewed him from, he was a miserable SOB. Before I can deal with the four good guys, I suppose I had better deal with Killingsworth.

Killingsworth is a long name so to save space we will call him HTK, his initials. The people who worked with HTK or had anything to do with him, detested him. I spent 33 years of my 43 year telephone career with Long Lines. In all that time, I can’t think of a single act of decency attributable to HTK. He ran Long Lines as a martinet. Finally, his bosses at 195 Broadway tired of his act and moved him to a staff job in the AT&T headquarters where his staff consisted of two or three unlucky individuals. He soon headed into retirement.

Now I hate to waste time on HTK because he was an unspeakably evil and worthless piece of work. He came to New York from South Georgia. He brought with him every racial, religious and social prejudice that afflicted Southerners 30 or 40 years ago.

In the 19th Century, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem with the jaw breaking title of “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways.” In Killingsworth’s case, I will attempt to try to count a few of the ways that he earned the disdain of the people of Long Lines. Let’s start with the nun who spent countless hours asking for alms in the lobby of the Long Lines Headquarters building at 32 Sixth Avenue in New York.

Outside of working hours, Larry Pierce was a mover and shaker in the American Legion. For the Company, he was responsible, among other duties, for the Headquarters lobby at 32 Sixth Avenue. Each year around Memorial Day, the American Legion asked some of its members to sell paper poppies as a form of remembrance for departed servicemen.

The nun sat with a basket near the entrance to the subway in the lobby of 32 Sixth Avenue. She or her sister nuns bothered no one. When given a contribution, they would simply say “Thank you” or “Bless you.” There was seldom more than one nun on duty in the lobby.

Each year before Memorial Day, Larry Pierce would get permission from his supervisors to call upon Killingsworth to see if it would be agreeable to sell poppies in the lobby. Until this particular year, HTK had always given his permission to Larry Pierce to sell his poppies in the lobby. On this occasion, Larry must have caught Killingsworth on a bad day – of which he had many. When Larry asked for permission to sell poppies as he had done before, Larry said Killingsworth replied, “Hell no. And while you’re at it, get rid of that Goddamn nun.”

The nun bothered no one. HTK was driven by his chauffeur to and from the office and had no occasion to pass the nun. I suppose there was some sort of divine intervention on behalf of the nun because she never seemed to miss a beat.

Now, the end of the year was approaching. Traditionally, the head man at Long Lines would write employees a holiday letter. In it he would say how much he enjoyed working with the employees in the past year and how much be looked forward to working with them again in the coming year. And in previous years he would extend holiday greetings to everyone. That was not Killingsworth’s style.

HTK used the holiday letter to demand more from employees in terms of greater effort and the saving of money. In his year end holiday letter, Killingsworth demanded that employees “take up the slack in the trace chains.” He explained that this was “South Georgia talk.” Actually, that method of speaking had to do with getting greater production out of your team of mules in planting cotton. The trace chains had to do with driving a mule team. HTK thought his holiday letter was clever, effective and well received. In point of fact, outrage was the emotion exhibited by the people who received the letter.

Killingsworth was paid quite well. In the mid 1950’s, his salary was $50,000 per year. He was quite proud of his earnings as it was reported by the FCC. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the New York Yankees enjoyed considerable success in winning pennants and World Series. One of their mainstays after Joe DiMaggio left was a catcher who called St. Louis home. His name, of course, is Laurence Peter “Yogi” Berra. Berra dropped out of schooling after the eighth grade to go to work and to play ball. In recognition of Berra’s contributions to Yankee fortunes, Dan Topping, the President of the Yankees, gave Yogi a $50,000 contract.

For the better part of month, Killingsworth was in an even more foul mood than normal. He referred to Yogi as “that little Dago.” And to think that the “little Dago” was making as much as Killingsworth was more than HTK could bear. Yogi made even more money in the next year or so.

Aside from Italians, HTK had an active bias against Jews, black people, the Episcopal Church, gay people and men who wore bow ties. And he greatly disliked people with labor union backgrounds. I had been the President of the St. Louis Union Local and a member of the national contract bargaining effort in 1950 and in 1951. According to HTK, a special place in hell was reserved in my name. Kind of ecumenical, I suppose.

Earlier in this essay, I said that in all the time I had worked in the telephone business, I could not recall a single act of decency attributable to Killingsworth. Let me give you an example.

When labor contracts are negotiated, the talks on the final day generally go on to 4AM or 5AM before agreement. Ordinarily, contracts expire on their final day at midnight, but in every case where I have been involved, there is an agreement to hold the clock at 11:59PM and to continue talking. I have been on both the Union side and the Company side and I can tell you, that the reason talks go on so long is for the Union negotiators to be able to say to members that they wrung the last drop of concessions out of the Company. Company negotiators would much prefer to reach agreement earlier than the contract deadline, but Union negotiators would balk at such an arrangement. So the talks go into the early hours until everyone is exhausted and then finally, there is some sort of agreement.

After agreement at say 4AM or 5AM, all kinds of work still remains to be done such as deciding about wage schedules and other important matters. Ordinarily, the whole process comes to an end around 7AM or 8AM. This means that the negotiators have been awake for at least 24 hours. The other members of the Company’s negotiation team would be free at that time to go home or to return to their hotel rooms. But not the Labor Relation’s Manager – namely me.

I would go back to the office from the negotiations room to answer questions and in some cases, to accept well wishing from friends. If fortunate, I could leave for home around noon.

During the Killingsworth era, he would frequently call my boss, the Personnel Vice President, or he would call me. Typically, he would complain that we had “given the store away.” Of course, nothing could be further from the facts of the negotiations. But as a general rule, we had to take Killingsworth’s abuse and hope for the best.

Then in 1962, I believe, Killingsworth was relieved of his Long Lines duties and was succeeded by Lowell Wingert, who had been president of the Mountain States Company headquartered in Denver. Wingert had only been on the job for a week or two and I had not met him. I heard he was a good man.

We went through the end of bargaining mating dance that year ending around 7AM. I arrived in the office from the hotel negotiations room a half hour later. The phone rang. The fellow on the other end of the line said he was Lowell Wingert and said we had done a fine job and offered his personal congratulations.

At that point, I had never talked to Lowell Wingert in person or on the phone. For several moments, I thought it was one of my joker friends pulling my leg. So I said something to the effect “Are you really Lowell Wingert?” He said “Man, if you don’t believe me, I’ll walk down to your office and tell you the same thing.” He didn’t offer to call me to his office; he suggested that he knew I was tired and therefore he would come to my office.

I told Lowell Wingert what a contrast he made to that miserable Killingsworth. Wingert laughed. I thanked Wingert and as you might imagine, he is one of my heroes in the telephone business. Lowell Wingert is the first of four good guys in this epic story.

Now we come to Killingsworth’s fixation and obsession with automobile doors. Killingsworth was nuts on this subject.

Harold Patterson, a fine fellow, was the Plant Superintendent in Omaha as I recall it. Pat needed a new car to replace the Company car he drove. So he got bids from Omaha dealers at the time of model changes. He finally found a good deal and bought it. What he didn’t know was that this model came with electric windows. It must have been one of the early such cars, this being in the late 1950’s. When Patterson’s bosses found out about the electric windows, they warned Pat that HTK was death on such devices. Before HTK came to Omaha, Pat had to locate a car with wind up windows before Killingsworth came to visit him. What ever Pat saved on the original purchase was more than lost during the windup door episode.

In the early 1960’s, Killingsworth decided that he wanted a personal Cadillac. He assigned the job to the Personnel Vice President, Bill Whittaker. Whittaker must have spent dozens or hundred of hours in locating the best deal in a Cadillac car. Part of the specification was that HTK wanted his initials on each of the four doors. Finally, the car was delivered. Bill Whittaker proudly showed Killingsworth the new car. As he looked it over, HTK flew into a rage. Each door had a small plaque attached to the doors containing HTK’s initials. The initials on the doors were in BLOCK letters. Killingsworth claimed that he had specified script. So the car was returned to have the four doors replaced. It was not a matter of replacing the block letters with script; HTK demanded that the doors be replaced. I suppose AT&T picked up the extra expense.

Now I end this part of the story of a very bad guy with a thought on personal honesty. AT&T was considered a public utility for many years. For employees, it was required that honesty was a pre-requisite for working for AT&T. Cheating was supposedly not tolerated. Well, HTK had a liberal view on this subject.

When he visited his home territory in Georgia, he returned to New York from Atlanta. HTK had a thing about airplane seating. He insisted that he have a seat near the exit so that he would be the first, or among the first, to leave the airplane. In those days, the flight HTK took originated in New Orleans. AT&T made reservations and paid for HTK’s seat near the door as though he would be traveling from New Orleans to New York. In point of fact, in the leg from New Orleans to Atlanta, HTK’s seat flew as a vacant seat until he claimed it upon boarding in Atlanta. I suppose kings have their privileges.

I will cite one other example of HTK abusing the trust to control expenses of a public utility. Killingsworth decided that he wanted to paste identification markers in his own private library collection. That’s all well and good, but he loaded this project on the Long Lines Public Relations Department. He didn’t go to a bookstore; he asked that Long Lines artists design an identification marker and have it printed. This happened in about 1960 – some 40 years ago. John Rosenburg was sufficiently impressed that he sent a copy of “No frigate like a book” to me. His envelope and the marker are attached.

Comedians often say that people like Killingsworth are going to put markers in their whole library – both books. Unfortunately, HTK had hundreds of these markers printed – at AT&T’s expense. Maybe he had only two books but he had hundreds of the markers printed.

I know this story of Killingsworth’s failings is longer and drearier than even I thought. These are only some of the recollections that come to mind after forty years. But now that HTK is largely out of the way, let’s go on to some cheerful news about some good guys. Whereas Killingsworth was unspeakably evil, there were three gentlemen, aside from Lowell Wingert, who worked in the Public Relations side of the Long Lines operation who were absolutely good and decent men. John Rosenburg ran our press contacts. Emory Wilbur and Dick Lewin were responsible for employee information. So Rosenburg was Mr. Outside and Emory and Dick were Messrs. Inside.

I worked very closely with all three men because in the 1950’s and 1960’s, labor developments were important subjects. During contract negotiations which took place almost yearly, the three men more or less lived with us. It was in that fashion that they were able to formulate what would be said to the press and to what would be said within the business. So at the end of most bargaining sessions, no matter how late, I would meet with John Rosenburg and either Dick Lewin or Emory Wilbur or both of them. They would usually type up something in the pressroom, and show it to me. If there was no time, as was often the case, I trusted those three men to proceed in the name of the AT&T Company. They used good judgment and never caused a problem to anyone.

They were very different people. John Rosenburg was about my age. He had spent a lifetime in newspaper work. Before he came with AT&T, John had worked for United Press International. John had the skepticism and brashness that marks all good newsmen. He was no pushover for anyone in AT&T, including Killingsworth. He kept news people away from the bargaining team, which was a very valuable contribution.

Killingsworth marked off John Rosenburg’s aggressive nature to his Jewish heritage. But John was not Jewish. His family was of German ancestry. In the First World War, John’s father, an American soldier, married a Frenchwoman, and John was a product of that marriage. But that made no difference to Killingsworth. With all the certainty that a South Georgia upbringing can offer, Killingsworth seemed to take credit for having a pressman with a minority background.

Somewhere in the early 1960’s, John tired of Killingsworth’s patronizing attitude and took a transfer to Philadelphia where he worked for the Bell Company there until he retired. After a lapse of perhaps twenty years, I spoke to John after I wrote this essay. He laughs just the way he did 40 years ago. And we both remember the same stories about Killingsworth. John is a first class piece of work.

Killingsworth did not run over John Rosenburg because of his demeanor and because of the credentials he brought to the job. On the other hand, Dick Lewin and Emory Wilbur were sort of shy, retiring types of men. That is how it appeared to people who didn’t know them. But in their reporting on news within the Bell System, they did not run from controversy. Fortunately, the Public Relations Vice President defended them because they were almost always right.

Both men, as I recall it, were single. Both were tall and handsome. Dick Lewin lived in Greenwich Village. According to Killingsworth that made both of them queer, as it was then termed. To top it all off, Dick Lewin attended an Episcopalian church in the Village, so Killingsworth said Lewin was a Jew. According to Killingsworth, every Jew who attempts to act as a gentile joins the Episcopal Church. Most Episcopalian preachers have never tumbled to that fact, but Killingsworth knew all about it.

Two more decent men never lived. I’m here to tell you that Dick Lewin and Emory Wilbur were top notch people who would be welcomed in my home anytime. I have no reason to believe that either one was gay – and that would make no difference. And as far as Lewin’s religious preference, John Rosenburg told me that Dick’s family had always been Episcopalians. I have not seen either one of those fellows for many years, but I thought it right to set the record straight on them.

The passage of three or four decades has not diminished my respect for John Rosenburg or Emory Wilbur or Dick Lewin or Lowell Wingert. They were good, decent men back then. Maybe there will be more like them in the future, but I’m not so sure. I just hope so.

A sad note. When I called Dick Lewin’s residence in the Village after I wrote this essay, I was told that Dick died of kidney failure at the end of August, 2001. He was 80 years of age.

E. E. Carr
September 6, 2001

~~~
Wow, Pop just missed being able to speak to Lewin — that’s really rough. Killingsworth seems a little like a comic book villain. More essays about him can be found here and here. The Cadillac and library anecdotes both seem more than a little absurd, but I guess archetype of the self-impressed businessman is nothing new, and certainly hasn’t gone anywhere in modern times.

SO. PRETENTIOUS.

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