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 Texas : Feature : Columns : Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories :

No One Called Him Anything But
Mr. Russell

by Bill Cherry

The plaque on the front edge of the big desk said, “Mr. Russell,” as if anyone who came through the door would ever consider calling him “Ed,” anyway.

You’ve known people like that. It just doesn’t feel right calling them by anything other than Mr. or Miz So-and-so.

Mr. Russell was a tall, large man with the remainder of a commanding Boston accent. He was kin to President John F. Kennedy. In fact the relationship was so close that oft times his mother would call the White House and give the president an ear full.

Mr. Russell had a serious amount of dark brown hair, wore beautifully tailored-made suits from Ortiz’s, and walked very erect. When he walked in the door, his very presence told the others in the room that from that point forward, he would be in charge.

In fact, had someone put Mr. Russell and his boss, George Mitchell, side by side and asked 200 people who didn’t know either, which one had a lot of money, I’ll guarantee you at least 198 would have picked Mr. Russell. The other two wouldn’t pick him just because they had ornery personalities.

And it was always a weird relationship between the two men, really. Mr. Russell had served his time in the service and gone to a business college in Boston on the G.I. Bill. There he found his forte. It was oil and gas accounting.

He got a job working for a Canadian oil company, and by some fluke, George Mitchell’s young company, Christie, Mitchell and Mitchell, bought it and merged the Canadian company’s administration with his. Mr. Russell moved to Houston.

Meanwhile, two things were growing. George and Cynthia Mitchell were building a family that would end up totaling ten children. And Christie, Mitchell and Mitchell was becoming a major presence in oil and gas exploration.

So George Mitchell decided it only made sense to have his own Dr. Watson, his own Man Friday. Mr. Russell was the obvious choice.

So for the next umpteen years, Mr. Russell managed the personal finances of all twelve of the members of the George Mitchell family. And he also was assigned to do his best to look after Mitchell’s eccentric brother, Christie, who had a restaurant and bathhouse on Galveston’s Stewart Beach called The Beachcomber.

There Mr. Russell met Christie’s secretary and side-kick, a former Miss Splash Day, Juliet Pappi. They married.

When George Mitchell began the adaptive restoration of the Strand’s T. Jeff League Building, to be the home of the Wentletrap Restaurant, the whole thing would be destined to be an elaborate, complicated and expensive undertaking.

Overseeing that was a new duty of Mr. Russell’s.

After the Wentletrap Restaurant opened, rental offices were built on the second floor, and a ballroom for the restaurant was added on the third floor.

When the ballroom was completed, the air conditioning system simply didn’t keep the guests cool. The architect called in engineers. They added additional tonnage. It didn’t seem to make much difference.

George Mitchell told Mr. Russell, “Go down there and do whatever it takes to get that problem resolved.”

So on that next Friday, the architect, the project manager, the heating and air conditioning engineer and the building maintenance engineer gathered in the ballroom around Mr. Russell. Every one of them was trying to tell Mr. Russell and the others why they thought the room wasn’t cooling. Mr. Russell listened, then listened some more.

A painter walked through the room with a ladder on his shoulder, some brushes and a drywall saw in his scabbard.

Mr. Russell cleared his throat, a mannerism he always used before he gave someone a direction. “Jack,” he said to the painter, “See that door?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Russell,” Jack said.

“I want you to go get two 3 foot by 18 inch grills from the shop, then come back and take your drywall saw and cut a 3 foot by 18 inch hole above the door. Put a grill on each side.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Russell. I’ll be right back,” Jack responded.

Within less than five minutes, Jack was back with the two grills. He cut the hole just as he had been instructed, and put on the grills.

Immediately the cool air volume in the ballroom began to quickly displace the hot, stagnant air that had been there moments before. The problem was resolved.

George Mitchell got a note from Mr. Russell the following Monday. It said, “George, you’ll be pleased to know that the air conditioning problem is totally resolved.” And Mr. Russell signed it, “Edward T. Russell, Executive Officer,” then added “AIA and HVAC Engineer.”

Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories August 5, 2010 column
Copyright 2010 – William S. Cherry

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Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands, and is still available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other bookstores.
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