HEARTBREAKER

July and August 1992 were interesting times at Olcott International.  I was busy coordinating marketing activities with fellow employee Peggy.  My sister Blair also joined the company for a couple of weeks as she was out of college for the summer; I welcomed her company in yet another attempt to curtail or document Dad’s occasional onslaughts of wild behavior.

Like the time in July 1989 out of the blue one morning he assigned at the last minute a “chore” for me: move 25+ heavy (40 pounds each) 3 x 3 stacks of heavy tiles around the family summer house in Shinnecock Hills, Long Island.  It was beyond my ability.  But no matter.  Later that afternoon, he hunted me down at a friend’s house by telephone to tell me I was disinherited.

Dad was like that.  Apparently, it ran in the family.  Remember my Uncle Ed who out of the blue would also assign overbearing tasks to my cousin Billy and berate him if left uncompleted?

But back to Peggy.  She was a good soul who had a lot of previous experience with legal software and easily did her share of (in this case appropriate) heavy lifting in terms of marketing and support.  At the time, Olcott International sold various versions of patent management software, including ones for DOS, Windows, and Mac!  I learned, and trained clients in, all of them.

The Mac version was a real curiosity.  No one else had it!  Apple’s patent department in Cupertino was definitely intrigued; apparently, they were managing their patent data on a Windows platform, much to their and Steve Jobs’ chagrin.

But in the middle of this patent management business drama appeared a man much like Huntington Hartford or Bobby Edwards.  Out of the blue and completely unexpected.

But in this case, Dr. Wilson Greatbatch was the real deal.  An inventor’s inventor.  The man who had created the pacemaker and who was now going to cure AIDS.  What was he doing in the Weehawken, New Jersey offices of Olcott International?

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FROM HAWAI’I WITH LOVE

Notifying a distant family member of the passing of one of their own in the Aloha State is one of the least favorite tasks of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Honolulu County, Hawai’i.  It’s typically done by telephone; calls are made in the morning local time to account for the time difference back on the mainland.

The script is very simple and to the point.  “This is Betty from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Honolulu, Hawai’i.  Mr. Olcott, I’m very sorry to inform you that your brother has died here in Hawai’i.”

In Edward Olcott’s passing, an additional explanation was necessary.  “Your brother passed away last week.  I apologize for the delay in notifying you but we were unable to identify your brother because he expired on the street and was found without any identification.  We surmise that his wallet was stolen when he died.  We had to send his fingerprints to the FBI and we just got the results back this morning.”

Next are the questions about medical history.  “Did your brother suffer from heart disease?  Did he use drugs?”  These are used to confirm the autopsy results.  In Ed’s case, it was a heart attack.

Finally, the key question.  “How will you be taking care of funeral arrangements?”
Now that involves potential cost to the family member answering the phone.  Bernard Olcott never liked to be left with the bill.  He liked it least of all when stuck with the check from the person he had fought so much over so little.  His own brother.

DEATH IN HONOLULU

There is a good reason why the Bernard Olcott Story, every so once in a while, makes a reference to the Aloha State.

On a late July 1977 morning, a slight man woke up in his modest efficiency apartment near Waikiki, the tourist district of Honolulu.  He was 61 years old, somewhat gaunt, barely five foot seven.  Wrinkles of a hard life lined his face as he switched on the radio after leaving his bed.  The weather forecast came on, as if it were the news.  For Honolulu it isn’t, since the weather is always the same, day in, day out.  Highs will be in the low 80s, lows in the middle 70s.  Winds are “trade.”  Winds are always trade in Hawai’i (unless a cyclone comes to visit, of course.)

The weathered man had lived some thirty years previous at 3169 Alika Avenue in the Nu’uana – Punchbowl neighborhood, an up country residential district.  The previous week, he had decided to travel from his current home in Exeter, New Hampshire to come back here to retrace his steps as a young naval officer and maybe plumb his soul.  It’s about the longest trip you can make in the USA and still remain in the land of the free.

He found himself later that morning on Ala Moana Boulevard wandering alone in the sunshine on Wednesday, the 26th of July in 1977.  As Honolulu is the southern-most metropolis in the nation, at these latitudes, the sun can cause a bad sunburn in as little as 15 minutes.  The fair skin of a new arrival from Northern New England is at particular risk.

The man stopped in his tracks, his pace suddenly unsteady.  As he wiped the sweat off his forehead, the traffic swirled around him and he became disoriented.  It wasn’t the bright sun that had gotten to him, but a sharp pain in his upper chest.  He gripped himself, but could only stagger forward and reach out vainly with his free arm.  When he dropped to the pavement, he cut his face on the sidewalk.  His last sight on this planet was the passing traffic – buses, trucks, cars – from ant level.

As the dying man went down, passersby unknown took advantage of his incapacity, rapidly relieving him of his wallet, cash, and watch.  By the time help arrived, the corpse on the sidewalk could no longer identify himself.

The Honolulu County Medical Examiner later that day fingerprinted “John Doe.”  A match came back the next day – from military records.

The man’s name was

THE BIGGER IDEA (AS TED’S WINGMAN)

As recounted in my last post ‘THE INTERSECTION,” Dad went back to the patent drawing board in 1998 (at the young age of 80).  He was intrigued by various developments in the America’s Cup race, and as a new member of the New York Yacht Club, he set out to prove his bona fides both as a sailor and as an inventor.  Accompanied by his usual gusto for going with what he knew.  Natch.

By 1998, there had already been four America’s Cup races since the New York Yacht Club lost it in 1983.  A new challenge was pending in 2000 and Dad wanted in.

The race in 1983 had been won by the yacht Australia II due to its specialized keel design.  In fact, when the boat was first brought over from down under, the keel was physically shrouded so that no one could see it!

What was the big secret?

THE INTERSECTION

On West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan, a few doors down from the Harvard Club, stands a stately landmark building.  Designed by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore – the same team that did Grand Central Station – the façade features both Beaux-Arts and nautical styles.  Three magnificent windows to the left of the entrance are crafted to resemble the sterns of 18th century galleons.

Lights pour in through those windows to illuminate one of the most curious chambers in the metropolis.  It’s a grand room where more than 150 years of sailing history is preserved.  Specifically, the main exhibit documents the competition for the America’s Cup sailing race from the first event in 1851 up to the present.  In each regatta, a replica of the American boat, known as the defender, (from the New York Yacht Club up until 1983) is presented alongside the main competitor, the challenger, always English (at least at the beginning).  The determining factor for the victor is not indicated but is usually visible.

As long as you know where to look.  Dad did.