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Recollections of my childhood and of my father’s amazing career

by William McGaughey, Jr


My father, William Howard Taft McGaughey, was born on March 28, 1912, and grew up in the Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis, Indiana. My mother, Mary Joanna Durham (McGaughey), was born on August 25, 1911, and grew up in Greencastle, Indiana, a medium-sized town forty miles west of Indianapolis. Before memories grow cold, I want to write some things about my parents and their background.

My father’s father, Samuel McGaughey, was a medical doctor who, among other things, did some work at a mental hospital. He also checked army recruits for enlistment during World War I. My mother’s father, Andrew E Durham, was an attorney and elected official As leader of the minority (Democrats) in the Indiana state senate in the late 1920s, he led a revolt against a Republican attempt, as I recall, to gerrymander the legislature that involved Democratic legislators hiding out in Ohio so that a quorum could not be called. (The ploy worked.)

My father’s mother, Martha, was a housewife who lived until 1949. We, McGaughey children, called her “Granny”. My mother’s mother, whom we called “Munny”, died in 1978. In her later years, she lived in a small house at 102 Sawkill Avenue, Milford, Pennsylvania, during the summers - I presently own the house next door - as well as in a cottage at Twin Lakes, eight miles to the northwest. She may also have spent time at the Durham house in Greencastle which now belongs to a Depauw University fraternity. The address was 309 E. Seminary Street (on the corner of Seminary and Locust), I believe.

Both my parents went to Depauw, my father a year or so behind my mother. Their first contact may have been when my future father asked my future mother, then president of Depauw’s Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, if she would help his sister, Mary Jane, be admitted to that sorority. (Depauw’s was the alpha chapter.) I have no idea of the result. My mother graduated from Depauw in 1932. My father graduated, I think, in 1935. He had been editor of the Depauw student newspaper.

Years later, both my future parents were working separately as journalists in New York City. My mother spotted my father walking down the street perhaps near Times Square. She shouted at him, they talked, they later dated and they got married in St Bartholomew’s church on November 18, 1939. The couple promptly moved to Detroit. I, their eldest child, was born on February 21, 1941.

My mother had a promising career as a journalist. After some initial difficulties, she landed a position with the Tarrytown newspaper. Later she worked for the Associated Press. Among other things, she wrote an article that was distributed nationally about John Dillinger (who had robbed a bank in Greencastle) when the famed criminal died. But she gave it all up to become a housewife in Detroit.

Once he graduated from Depauw, my father landed a position as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in New York. That newspaper, surprisingly, was then dominated by graduates of Depauw. It was Bernard Kilgore, also an editor of the Depauw student newspaper, who is credited with building up the Wall Street Journal to its prominent position as a national newspaper in the 1930s and 1940s as editor in chief. Two other Depauw graduates, Buren McCormack and Ted Callas, also had key positions at the Wall Street Journal. (Kilgore and Callas also had summer homes at Twin Lakes in Pennsylvania near my mother’s family summer retreat. As a boy, I remember kicking an inflated rubber ball around the drive way in Twin Lakes with Bernard Kilgore.) I myself worked as a copy boy in the offices of the Wall Street Journal on Broad Street in New York in the summer of 1960.

But, to return to the story, my newly-wed parents moved to Detroit. Their first home was a rental place at 999 Whitmore in the Palmer Park neighborhood of Detroit. Then they bought a house in the Indian Village neighborhood of Detroit whose address was 2224 Seminole Avenue. After living there for a dozen or so years, my family moved to Bloomfield Hills, a suburb northwest of Detroit.

We first lived in a rented house at 3501 Lahser Road. Then my parents bought a house at 131 Guilford Avenue in Bloomfield Hills, leaving it when they moved back to New York City around 1964. I did not spend as much time in that house as might be expected because I lived in a dormitory at Cranbrook school for two years, 1956-1958) and then went away to college at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, starting in September 1958.

My early years on Seminole Avenue in Detroit were a golden age for me as a boy. My best friend was Roger Taylor, who lived two houses away from us on the corner of Seminole and Vernor highway. His sister was Ann. The next house to the south, between the Taylors and us, belonged to the Clemons. Betty Clemons was the daughter of Bill Crapo, a retired executive with Portland Cement, who lived in the house on the other side of us.

Then came the Harpers. Terry Harper, the daughter, was my age. She might have been Ann Taylor’s friend. Next was the Ossius family. Dick Ossius was a year or two older than me. That covers much of the east side of Seminole Avenue between Vernor highway and Kerchival. The Hodges family, with a younger son, was down the block near Kerchival on our side of the street. Several other houses were between them and the Ossius family. I cannot remember the owners’ names. I write this from memory 65 years later.

We also knew the Morse family across the alley on Iroquois. Dave Morse was our age. The house next to them on the south, with a vacant lot between, belonged to a spooky-seeming man who I called Mr Jones. He once chased us off the vacant lot. I later learned that this house had once belonged to Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s son and father of Henry Ford II.

Elsewhere, we knew Frazer Clark’s family across the street from us and one house over on Seminole Avenue. Mr. Clark was the principal at Mumford high school. We knew the family of Andrew Court, a statistician with General Motors, on St. Paul street between Iroquois and Seminole, and especially son “Christy” who later worked for Henry Kissinger and the oldest daughter Lisa.

I got to know Alan Pierrot, on the corner of Burns and Kerchival, when we were students together at Nichols school. His father produced and hosted a radio show, World Adventure Series, popular in Detroit. Jimmy Howbert, on Burns avenue, became a friend after I transferred to Detroit University School in Grosse Pointe and we rode the school bus together from Indian village.

But now let me describe my father’s amazing career after he arrived in Detroit. My father was hired to become public-relations director at the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) at the New Center Building in Detroit. His boss, AMA’s general manager, was George Romney, later to become CEO of American Motors Corporation, Governor of Michigan, and a candidate for U.S. President.

The most memorable event during my father’s years as AMA’s public-relations director was to help organize and conduct the “Automotive Golden Jubilee” in 1946, which was a civic commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Henry Ford’s first automobile. The elder Ford participated in that event two years before he died. But this was also a time when the automobile industry became involved in production for national defense during the Korean war. GM’s chairman, C.E. Wilson, became Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense.

My parents also traveled to Europe in 1950s for the particular purpose of inviting Winston Churchill to attend an event commemorating the production of the 100 millionth automobile in the United States. That invitation did not directly bear fruit but they did meet Churchill for an hour-long visit. They struck up a lifelong friendship with Churchill’s secretary, Jo Sturdee, who later visited Detroit.

My father, a writer by trade, wrote and published two books during this period. The first, published in 1942, was titled “Roll out the Tanks”, published in 1942. A wartime thriller, it was a fictional account of German spies in U.S. automobile plants. My father’s second book, “American Automobile Album”, was a well-illustrated history of the U.S. automobile industry that was published in 1954. I have the honor of having both books dedicated to me and, in the second case, also to my brothers and sister.

George Romney left the Automobile Manufacturers Association in 1948 to join the nation’s fourth-largest automobile company, Nash-Kelvinator, which manufactured the Nash automobile. Romney became executive vice president of the company in 1954 and then, after the death of its chairman, George Mason, president and CEO. After a merger with Hudson Motors, the company was renamed American Motors. My father joined the company as Romney’s assistant in 1954. In 1956, my father was appointed vice president in charge of communications. He stayed at American Motors for about ten years.

My father’s years at American Motors were memorable for several reasons. Surely the highlight of his career was the decision to sponsor the Disneyland television show and later an exhibit at the Disneyland theme park in California. My father and mother picked this show from a list prepared by the advertising agency. My father personally met with Walt Disney in California who gave us kids autographed celluloids from Disney film productions.

Another memorable event was a tentative decision for AMC to buy the Time Square tower. From an also-ran, American Motors became a surprising automotive pacesetter in the late 1960s, having sparked the compact-car revolution with its Rambler automobile.

Behind the scenes, my mother was a full partner in these career ventures. Each New Years Day, my parents hosted an open house at our home which was well attended. They sent out hundreds of Christmas cards whose visual theme was a magazine, differing each year. My mother also became active in the International Institute in Detroit. Those efforts led to a position for her on the board of the national organization, the American Council for Nationalities.

After George Romney resigned his position at American Motors to run for Governor of Michigan, my father also left the company. He then took a position with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) as senior vice president. My parents moved first to New York City, where the NAM was then headquartered, and then to Washington D.C. after the NAM moved its headquarters to that city. A memorable event was organizing a commemoration of the NAM’s 75th anniversary. President Richard Nixon was the principal speaker.

My parents bought a condominium at Harbor Square in Washington DC, not far from the U.S. Capitol Senator Hubert Humphrey was one of their neighbors.

So it was that my parents became personally acquainted with many of the nation’s business leaders, such as Daniel Parker of the Parker Pen company. The NAM’s annual “Congress of Industry” was my father’s main responsibility. After he retired from the NAM, my father worked for a few years at BIPAC raising money for business-friendly political candidates.

Finally, in old age, my parents moved to Milford, Pennsylvania, living in an ancestral home at 100 Sawkill Avenue which I now own. They are buried in the Milford cemetery, near my mother’s maternal grandparents’ graves. My two brothers are also buried in that cemetery as I myself expect to be some day.


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