Sunday, June 15, 2003
My father has been dead for 22 years now. When he was alive, I thought that I knew him. But as the years roll by, I see that I only knew the part of him that was at home. Maybe this is true for all child parent relationships. We actually only experience a part of our parents.
I picked up a book the other day that talks about my father in a broader way and I thought in tribute to him today I would post some of the more outrageous stories about him Thanks to Wally Stracey his business partner for many years whose memoirs I take these comments from. (The italics in the brackets are my comments)
“Jim Paterson wasn’t simply one man but a number of characters rolled into one…He was strictly a one off and a paradox in so many ways.
One minute he could behave like a rude infuriating snob, elbowing and pushing his way to the front of a queue as though he some kind of divine inherited right to be served first. The next moment, he would put himself out to assist some weary young mother struggling to board a flight and over-burdened with a couple of kids and too much luggage.. There were times that he had an air of such supreme confidence and self-reliance it bordered on the arrogant and yet the reality was that he could not bear to be alone…
He never exercised, he drank and smoked too much, he did not eat properly and he kept irregular hours. When we warned him that the regimen he was following was hardly conducive to good health and a long life, he replied by asking when was the last time we had heard him say that he wanted to make the Guinness Book of Records for longevity! (He died aged 55 – My sister found him sitting up in bed holding a book in one hand and a cigarette in the other)
Despite the fact that his lifestyle was almost guaranteed to do him physical damage, he was a hopeless hypochondriac. Travelling with Jim was like travelling with a mobile chemist’s shop he was so well stocked with an array of pills, antacids, lotions, laxatives, salves and ointments. Always present was at least on bottle of Dr. Collis Brown’s famous morphine-based concoction that had been used around the British empire for more years than any one reading this has been born and then some (I recall one of the testimonials dated from the Crimean War!!!) Once, when visiting Toronto, he inadvertently ran out and went to a chemist and asked for a bottle of the good doctor’s mixture. He was quite taken aback when the horrified pharmacist informed him that it had been on the dangerous drugs list in Canada for at least 75 years!
On another occasion there was rumour that Dr. Collis Browns’ Mixture being taken off the shelves in England (where we lived) or at a minimum that there would be changes to the formula. A distraught Jim hastily dispatched his driver Charlie (Charlie had been a cat burglar who needed to lay low for a few months and had a temporary job with Dad that extended into many years – Charlie helped me carry his coffin into the church for Dad’s funeral- he was an Alfie character – this was in the 1960’s – and no one had a better “brother” than him than I did) around London to buy up all available supplies.
I (Wally) learned early in the game if you were not feeling well to keep quiet lest you be plied with an astounding variety of pills, herbs and medicines all guaranteed to give you instant relief to your discomfort. (Dad always believed that if the dose was one pill that three must surely be better) One could easily disperse a meeting in London simply by announcing that Jim was arriving with a bottle of Dr CB’s and wanted everyone to take a dose to ward off the latest species of flu or whatever other dreadful malady that was currently making the rounds……
Nobody could say that Jim was not an extremely intelligent man and yet he was capable of doing some of the most incredibly silly things at times. This partly because he was terribly impulsive….There were times when he would be down in spirits, feel very sorry for himself and act like a spoiled and petulant school boy. These occasions were relatively rare and at most times he was whirlwind of activity, a human dynamo who taxed your ability to keep pace with him mentally and physically. An able debater with an excellent command of the English Language, once he had worked up a full head of steam in order to push some new scheme or acquisition, it was next to impossible to withstand the onslaught…He overwhelmed one like a tidal wave and the best tactic that could be employed to divert him from a particular course of action was to suggest some other idea that he would hopefully find more exciting and challenging.
I (Wally) recall some years after his death when Indal (Wally’s company in Canada) was in court fighting a grossly unfair tax assessment. David Culver, (Dad called David hours before his death to apologize for being such a difficult friend – David gave the eulogy at Dad’s memorial service) then President of Alcan, was called to give testimony relative to certain, metal supply contracts that he had negotiated with Jim over the years. David became aware that his testimony seemed to indicate that each time they had met, Jim had gotten the better of the deal and finally said to the Judge in a plaintive tone “Your Ladyship, I realize that it seems that every time that Mr Paterson and I met.. he took me to the cleaners. But your ladyship, I cannot impress on you too strongly what a tenacious individual he was. Once he trapped you in a room, there was no escape: regardless of the hour and totally exhausted one was literally forced to capitulate….”
( Dad had set up a metals trading company called PISS , or Pillar International sales and services to buy metal for the group. They had become Alcan’s largest client. They would have these marathon annual buying meetings in Bermuda with Alcan – part of the strategy was to wear the Alcan team down with no sleep and oceans of drink. He also set up a corporate account with the best “escort service” in London so that visitors would not have to sleep alone. It was called the “Culver Corporation” in honour of David. If you were a member you simply gave the madam a “Culver Corp” card and all the money aspects would be dealt with by Dad’s secretary)
We could not have come from more disparate backgrounds but one of Jim’s endearing traits was the fact that he didn’t pick or judge his friends based on their social backgrounds or by how much money they had in their bank accounts. If Jim liked you, he liked you and was fiercely loyal to you…He was very unselfish when it came to the people working for him. During the wage freeze and high inflation times in England before Mrs Thatcher had taken the country by the throat and shaken it out of lethargy, Jim constantly schemed to find ways to raise salaries of colleagues, some of whom were even having trouble paying their children’s school fees. But I never heard him complain about his own situation that was being squeezed just like everyone elses’s.
(Dad made millions for others but while he lived a very lavish lifestyle which was all funded by the company he never made any money for himself – I think that what he really got off on was seeing ideas become realities – something that I appear to have inherited. Above all he was a teacher – his “boys” ran his firm for more than 15 years after his death)
Nor did Jim ever claim credit for his colleagues achievements. Bu conversely would brag about how well they had done because he was able to share in the pride of their accomplishments. He never had to ride on anyone’s coattails or steal their glory in order to serve an over inflated ego as is often the case with many executives.
I (Wally) have only scratched the surface in my comments about this wonderfully complex man. However one of the most succinct, amusing and best descriptions was contained in a letter that I received from Sir Thomas Hiley in Australia…
As for Jim Paterson someone should write a book about him. Magnificent perception, good but not infallible judgement, a fine personal charm and with it all times “an enfant terrible” If he had grown up with Al Capone, Capone’s mother would have sought police protection for her son. He should have been a German Count levying tribute on the passing Rhine traffic. He enriched my life even at times he raised my eyebrows’
Valete Dad and to you too Wally
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