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.
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.
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.
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.
that was a new duty of Mr. Russell’s.
the Wentletrap Restaurant opened, rental offices were built on the second floor,
and a ballroom for the restaurant was added on the third floor.
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
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
“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
Immediately the cool air volume in the ballroom began to quickly
displace the hot, stagnant air that had been there moments before. The problem
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.”
Cherry's Galveston Memories
August 5, 2010 column
Copyright 2010 – William S. Cherry