Chairman Lou, Chairman Les & Chairman Mao

In 1970 I was appointed Chairman of the Puget Sound Section of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers because Dan Bartlett had to abdicate soon after he was elected. The Section was unique compared to others because it consisted of three distinctly separate areas: Puget Sound, Columbia River and British Columbia. Then the marine industries in all three areas were relatively large compared to what they became thirty-years later. There was a more dynamic quality to both the Section’s professional and social activities, especially during the spring and fall meetings on the Oregon shore and at Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia.

The Columbia River and British Columbia areas each had their own leader. Chairmanship of the overall section, my job, implied chairmanship of the Puget Sound Area as well. I was fortunate in having my tenure coincide with that of fun-loving Les Coward, Chairman of the British Columbia Area. Les was a Yorkshireman who had migrated with his wife Jean to Canada. When Les said, “statue” when he meant, “is that you” he disclosed his origin. He was teased about it, but he gave as good as he got. Many of the other Canadian members had also migrated from Britain where people living even thirty-miles apart have different accents.

Whenever Les and I referred to ourselves, we always said, “Chairman Les and Chairman Lou.”

In order to enhance our prestige we added Chairman Mao and, borrowing on the latter’s influence on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, we then made reference to the “Big Three.”

Following the banquet at our Section’s 1970 fall meeting in the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel, the Big Three hosted a party with Chairman Mao in absentia. Since the affair was on Chairman Les’ home turf, about thirty people gathered for after-banquet nightcaps in Les; and Jean’s room. Each American brought a bottle of duty-free booze that was purchased at the border for just such an occasion. One person brought a guitar and before long people were singing the songs that were popular in British pubs, for example, I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts and Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree.

Then someone complained to the hotel night manager who rang up Chairman Les and asked that he quiet his guests. As Chairman of the Section, I advised Chairman Les that Rhoda and I had the last room at the end of the hall and that we didn’t seem to have any immediate neighbors. “Let’s reconvene there,” I said.

I loaded a dozen or so whiskey bottles into a cardboard box that had been used for technical papers, and then led our guests down the hall. All carried their drinks with them and were happily talking or singing as they followed me. Rhoda and Jean were somewhere in the pack and Chairman Les brought up the rear.

With few exceptions, the hotel featured a common alcove for every two rooms. The hall-side of each alcove had double doors that were normally kept open. Within each alcove there was a door for each of the two rooms. If someone wanted adjourning rooms accessible to each other, they could rent such a pair, keep the hall-side double doors closed and the alcove then became a private connecting hallway. It was the last of these alcoves on the right side that I entered and placed the box on the floor so that I could unlock the door.

However, the first couple behind me, because they were conversing with the couple behind them, didn’t see me enter the alcove and assumed that I had already turned the corner of the hallway. Everyone else followed them like lemmings following one another on an established path.

As fate would have it the hallway doors and one inner door were open in the next alcove. A bar was visible in the sitting room of a suite. The lead couple assumed that they were at the place where the party would resume and thirty-some people followed them into the wrong room!

When I realized that the crowd passed me I joined the rear of the pack and discovered that the suite was rented by the President of a Seattle shipyard. He and his wife were entertaining a couple from Alaska. The VP was behind the bar and stunned wordless with his mouth open. The Alaskans seemed to be happy that more people joined in to liven up what remained of the evening. Interlopers who had empty glasses were already at the bar asking for refills.

I quickly said to the VP, “We were going to have a party next door. This place is so much better, do you mind if we have it here?”

The VP, still in shock, just nodded and started to pour drinks with what supplies he had. I dashed back and returned with the group’s cache. The party, then hosted by the Big Three with the VP standing in for Chairman Mao, was a huge success.


Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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