Westeryears: Anniversary Reflections of a Waiter
By Thomas Dunlap ’71
Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity (SAE) at Westminster College and the Winston Churchill Memorial share a significant anniversary in 2019. SAE established its Missouri Gamma Chapter in 1949. Thus, 2019 is its 70th year on campus. On May 7, 1969, the Winston Churchill Memorial Dedication took place at Sir Christopher Wren’s church, St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, reconstructed, stone by stone, at Westminster College. 2019 marks its 50th anniversary with a weekend celebration May 3-5.
The paths of these unusual bedfellows crossed in the spring of 1969. Here’s the story as gathered from my memory, enhanced by the assistance of others.
The idea to transport the damaged remains of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, from London to Fulton, Missouri, and put it back together again in its original glory was . . . . “an imaginative concept.” The equally daunting task of raising the money to make it happen was shared by many, including B. David Stinson, Vice President of Westminster College.
David Stinson was self-assured, handsome, and drove a Bentley. If you searched Webster’s for the definition of debonair, you would find his photograph. While in New York City on the fundraising circuit, Stinson was randomly approached while walking down Madison Avenue by an employee of the Password television game show, looking for contestants. Stinson agreed and became the Password partner of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The gregarious pair struck up an immediate friendship which resulted in Fairbanks becoming an advocate for the Churchill Memorial project. Doors and bank accounts began to open and the relocation of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, literally, got off the ground.
As the Church jigsawed together, the dedication ceremony was set for May, 1969. Dr. Stinson continued to work on his shrinking punch list. He needed some willing, inexpensive (i.e., free) help to serve the meal, bus tables, and pour wine at the luncheon. Fortunately for SAE, Dave Stinson, Jr. was a freshman student at Westminster and a member of the fraternity. Dr. Stinson called on Dave to draft the chapter. We were flattered and willing.
Sardi’s of New York City theatre district fame catered the luncheon and their maître d’ (Martin) gave us the CliffNotes version of the task: don’t spill, don’t drop, and apologize profusely when you do. We performed without international incident and then assisted in robing those participating in the ceremony.
Polling of the ‘waiters’ yields consistent, distinct memories of two attendees: J.C. Penney and Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honorable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, of whom we referred as … ‘That’s Lord Mountbatten!’
James Cash Penney (his name is an aptronym) was a Missouri native, born in Hamilton, Caldwell County, Missouri, in 1875, the seventh of twelve children. In 1969, there were few persons who hadn’t shopped at Penney’s or frayed the pages of the Christmas catalog. He was dressed in a non-descript suit, quite alert, and in the moment. He was 93 at the time of the dedication and died in New York less than two years later. His obituary confirms our impressions: “In his 90’s he kept five full-time secretaries busy and always wore Penney’s clothes.”
Lord Mountbatten appeared to have been chiseled from the same limestone that comprised the structure of St. Mary, Aldermanbury. My memory was that his military uniform epaulets “were the size of lampshades.” A review of photographs impeaches me on this description. Nevertheless, it is not debatable that he cut a striking military figure and radiated a poised presence in the charged atmosphere. Of course, by 1969, Lord Mountbatten had been, inter alia, the Governor-General of India, a Member of the House of Lords, the First Sea Lord, Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command during World War II, and Knight of the Garter.
All of this was heady stuff for a twenty-year-old from Fulton, Missouri, and his equally awe-struck fraternity brothers. But, alas, every ball has its end and we wound our way back to the SAE living room to relive the highlights.
Did I say that Vice President Stinson always knew his audience? He had two kegs of beer ordered for the House and stopped in on his way back to The Hill to drink an ice cold mug, smoke a cigar, and flash a Churchillian ‘V.”
Please join America’s National Churchill Museum and members of the Churchill family for the grand 50th anniversary celebration of the Church and Museum coming May 3-5. Information on all the wonderful events and registration can be found here.