The Welcomers

 

 

 

When Marjorie Silverman became a concierge, it was unusual.

Back when Marjorie entered our field, most people didn’t know what a concierge was, much less how to pronounce the word… What she did was a big deal. Our international organization was very male and European-dominated, so she single-handedly broke that glass ceiling.

What does a concierge do? Her Chicago Tribune obituary explains:

Silverman’s workdays typically started with a meeting of luggage attendants to advise them of the arrivals and departures, particularly of large groups. She would also check the VIP arrival list and send those guests a note or, when appropriate, a gift. As business travelers left for appointments, she made travel arrangements and arranged baby-sitting services, dinner and theater reservations. Then she began preparing for the next wave of guests.

In short, a concierge upholds one of humanity’s oldest and noblest traditions, hospitality. The details have changed over millennia, but the essence remains the same:

When a stranger came to the house, he was always entertained with a warm bath for his “poor feet” and with food and wine. He was never (vide Homer’s poems) rudely, or even civilly, questioned as to his name, country, and business, until his bodily wants had been attended to. It was not, indeed, until the cloth was removed, the dessert put upon the table, and the wine-cup passed around, that the questions were put: Who are you? Whence come you? What is your city?

– A Few Reflections on the Rights, Duties, Obligations and Advantages of Hospitality, Cornelius Walford, 1885

 

 

 

Toni Mascolo, an Italian immigrant to the UK, opened a hair salon with his brother in London in the 1960s. Over the next half-century, they created an international chain in 48 countries.

As Mascolo’s Financial Times obituary notes, Toni & Guy’s success was in part due to historic good timing:

During the “swinging Sixties” models and pop stars set new style trends. London became a fashion capital. Women began entering the workplace and they spent some of their earnings on haircuts and beauty treatments. More recently men have begun to take more care of their appearance as well.

But the success was also due to listening. As his Wall Street Journal obituary recounts, “Women began asking if the salon could cut their husbands’ or sons’ locks, so the brothers turned their shop into a pioneering unisex establishment.”

Listening wasn’t just good business sense; Mascolo understood it was an obligation – and advantage – of hospitality.

“He had a tremendously strong set of values and passed them on to the staff. He said you had to treat clients as if you are inviting them into your home.”

 

 

Henry Saglio

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In the 1920s, supporters of Herbert Hoover claimed he’d bring about such prosperity that America would have a chicken in every pot.

That would have raised the living standard of the average American family, even in the Roaring Twenties. As this article explains, “a chicken dinner was such a rare treat that the few chickens raised for meat were sold directly to high-end restaurants, first-class dining cars, and luxury caterers.”

Chicken is now the most commonly eaten meat in the United States. This transformation is in large part due to the ingenuity of a man Frank Perdue called “the father of the chicken industry.”

 

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Henry Saglio began breeding chickens as a teenager. His initial motivation was the respite it provided from farming in the open sun. Within decades, as his Boston Globe obituary notes, “three out of four birds sold were descended from Mr. Saglio’s breed stock.”

Mr. Saglio, who had only an eighth-grade education, took his expertise to the developing world as well, and, at the age of 87, founded a company dedicated to antibiotic-free breeding.

“I’ve dedicated my life to making chickens affordable to poor people,” Saglio told Associated Press in 1987. “And that’s what I did. Everybody’s eating chicken now.”

 

Continue reading “Henry Saglio”

Riskers

The Private

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“He brought four people out. When he went to bring a fifth person out, the fire caught up with him.”

Emmanuel Mensah, a Ghanaian immigrant, was a National Guardsman. Although not on duty two weeks ago, he remained true to his vocation.

 

The Philosopher

Anne Dufourmantelle was at the beach last summer when she saw two children struggling in the water. She went in to rescue them, dying in the effort. She probably had a sense of the risk involved, as she was a student of the concept:

“We say in French ‘to risk one’s life,’ but perhaps we should say ‘to risk being alive.’ To be truly alive is a risk few take.”

 

Continue reading “Riskers”

A Christmas Memory

 

On December 6, 1917, two ships collided near the shore of Halifax, Nova Scotia. One, filled with munitions for the Western Front, caught fire. Most of the city’s inhabitants were unaware of their mortal danger.

Vince Coleman, a train dispatcher, saw that calamity was imminent, and delayed his own evacuation so that he could warn inbound trains to halt. He and two thousand others perished in one of history’s largest explosions.

 

 

The city of Boston responded quickly. Abraham Ratshesky, a banker, public servant, and philanthropist, led the way:

Ratshesky mobilized that first “relief special,” getting the workers out of Boston on the night of December 6. The group was so determined to reach Halifax that its members climbed out of the train in the snowstorm to help shovel the tracks.

In gratitude for Boston’s help, every year the province of Nova Scotia sends the Hub its official Christmas tree.

 

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The Doctor, the Submariner, and the Cook

 

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In 1958, a Soviet virologist proposed that all countries work together to end smallpox.  As this tribute notes,” no disease had ever been eradicated. No one knew if it could even be done.”

In 1977, the last case was found in Somalia.

Smallpox is the only human disease to have been eradicated. Thanks to what Viktor Zhdanov started, efforts to end polio, malaria, and several other diseases are now underway.

 

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During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a US warship began to fire warning shots at a Soviet submarine. Unfortunately, only the Americans knew it was a warning.

Continue reading “The Doctor, the Submariner, and the Cook”

The Explorer

 

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In her spare time, Alexander wrote two books on science for children and mentored young people, especially African American girls. “She wanted children of color to see themselves as scientists,” her sister Suzanne said.

 

The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799. Carved two thousand years before, its text was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, which had been a mystery.

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Claudia Alexander was NASA’s top scientist on the Rosetta project, which launched a spacecraft on a ten-year mission to a comet. Comets are small icy worlds created when the planets were formed, billions of years ago. By studying comets, we learn about our own origins.

As she said in a LA Times profile, published less than a year before her death from cancer, “For me, this is among the purposes of my life — to take us from states of ignorance to states of understanding with bold exploration that you can’t do every day.”