The Setting. A client dinner for about 50 people. Attendees are either members of the Board of Directors, officers of the company or advisers like me. Round tables of eight. Mostly non-business conversation. On my right is a member of the board and across the table is a late 30 something, African American who three months ago became the company’s Treasurer. Two-thirds of the way through the dinner I had conversed with almost everyone at the table but had not heard the treasurer speak a word.
The Beginning. The board member on my right asks Treasurer how his first three months in the job have been. All of the sudden the quietest person at the table becomes quite animated and tell the tale of how the Company’ cash flow has exceeded expectation for the year so far by a quadrillion dollars and all the things that have been done to make this success happen. The two move on to discuss bond rates and the merits of being rated just above or just below investment grade. Despite an MBA earned over 30 years ago, I begin to tune out. Not a topic I become fascinated by. Yet the juices are clearly flowing within my young protagonist.
The Set-Up. Somehow the conversation migrates from the banal to the personal. We find out that our young Treasurer lived in Germany until he was ten at which time he migrated to the US of A. He tells the tale of how his mother, a typical German woman taught the kids to swim the German way—by throwing them in the water, pulling them out just before they drown and then tossing them back in. Since he is here to tell the tale I can only assume that this technique works. (Interesting tale but we have not arrived at the WOW.) It is the casual question of where in the US he emigrated to that turns the night on its head.
The WOW. The story begins. His father’s grandparents were slaves on a plantation in Florida. Over time they became sharecroppers and eventually the family purchased the plantation which they own today. It continues to be a source of family income in that there are abundant minerals on the land. The area is described as a place of great natural beauty. There is a side story that comes a little latter about how his great grandmother, at the time a slave, was a wet nurse (she breast fed) to a man who became governor of Florida in the late 1800s. The Gov sent our hero’s uncles, possibly great uncles, to college where they became engineers. Remember this is happening in the late 1800s.
That is only at best half the WOW. To where did his family emigrate? To a small town in Connecticut where his maternal grandmother had accumulated 250 acres. She had been a servant to the DuPont’s who had a summer place on this mountain—there was also a lake and a river nearby if I got the story straight. As the DuPont family sold off parcels of land, her grandmother bought them. Still in the family today. Our hero goes on to describe a wonderful childhood in a small town/rural are where the very rich and the not-rich-at-all played side by side. He spent much time in homes of the DuPonts as well as that of William Buckley, a nice man so I have been told.
The evening ended before I could connect all the dots. Was his maternal grandmother also African American? I originally assumed so since she was described as a servant and his father’s people had been slaves. But that would not explain why he described his mother as being typically German or why she had to emigrate as opposed to just come home. And where was his father during this time?
One side of the family goes from slaves to land owners of significant property while the other side a similar story starting out as a servant and owning property once owned by one if the wealthiest families in America. I would had thought that given this background this man could of become the first black President– if someone had not beaten him to it.
I think I will just wait for the movie version of this story to come out. Though it may never get made. Who would believe it?