Richard Reid Cheswick

13 January 2006

I can't tell you how honored I am to see you all here today. There are many familiar faces and names. And some are long-time clients that my sisters know well that I only know as destinations. I have fairly early memories of city names like Elmira, Chicago, and St. Louis, where Daddy went periodically On Business.

Ches was born and raised on Long Island, the son of one of CMU's first graduates in industrial engineering, and his wife, who could trace her lineage back to the American revolution. They lived in Rockville Center, and Dad went to South Side High. I found a skills evaluation report of him from around that time: with most skills at the ninth grade level, his math was at the twelfth grade level. He could rattle off numbers and computations at an amazing rate, and I could never quite keep up with him.

He wondered where I got my interest in science and engineering. His father was an engineer, but it seemed to Dad that the interest skipped a generation down to me. In fact, Dad would have made a terrific engineer, but studied government instead.

He told me not long ago that his parents were part of a group in the 1930s who wanted to strike pre-emptively at Germany, before Hitler got too strong. Dad summarized his view of this ongoing debate with one of his many one-line aphorisms:

If you want to avoid war, you must be willing to wage war.
or, on a long drive home from Nantucket:
If you are going to fight a Wauwinet.

After Pearl Harbor he was eager to enlist, but his parents insisted that he wait until after high school graduation. He joined the Army Air Corps to be a pilot. He told me that there really is nothing like flying your first solo flight. Alas, his first solo flight ended in something called a ground-loop upon landing.

He trained as a navigator, and went to Europe as the team of Leland/Kevorkian/Cheswick/Maxwell, as pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier flying B-17 flying fortresses. If none of this sounds familiar to you, may have wandered into the wrong memorial---Ches liked to talk about his war experiences at length, and this was a very important part of his life.

He flew his first mission six days after D-Day, over the awesome armada of ships and troops off the Normandy coast. On his first mission he saw little flashes on the ground, and realized it was somebody shooting at them. As frightening as it was, he later came to understand that the first mission was a milk run, a piece of cake.

I don't ever recall Dad having to stop and ask for directions. Perhaps Mom can think of a time or two that they got lost, but his navigation was good and the directions he gave excellent. But while flying his navigation was dead-on. Lloyd Leland, his pilot, said that while some other people could barely write during the stress of battle, Ches would stay focused and accurate through it all. His math skills and focus on results were a perfect match for the navigation job.

Carol and I talked to Lloyd this week. Lloyd had lots of stories to tell, and he told us things Dad had never mentioned. I now regret that we never got the two of them together with several offspring and a camcoder, liquor them up, and get all these stories from the two of them.

"Dick, there's a flak train near Dunkirk. Let's go around it," Lloyd said. Dad plotted a course around Dunkirk, and they returned safely. The flight behind them did not go around Dunkirk, and Lloyd said the entire group of 150 planes were shot down. From that point, the one-liner was born:

"Don't take us over Dunkirk."
I wish I'd known this one when he was alive: I would have used it, and I will use it.

They practiced repeatedly for one mission, bombing a seagull-infested island in the North Sea. They practiced at different altitudes, each time creating an an instant cloud of annoyed seagulls. The bombardier, Maxwell, was one of the best in the Corps. He could drop a bomb within 100 feet of a target from 30,000 feet using the Norden bombsight. This is an astonishing feat. The bombardier actually flew the aircraft with the bombsight during the bombing run. They flew in the lead plane. When Maxwell dropped his bombs, everyone else followed suit.

I marvel at the technology, then and now, and tried to explain how it works to him. In Baghdad in the second Gulf war, one bomber could hit seven targets with seven bomb in 2 seconds with accuracies of a few feet. I know someone who bought a Norden bomb-site for $200.

Dad bought us a flight on a B17 a few years ago. We flew out of Westchester airport, and down the Hudson to the Statue of Liberty. I actually had the Statue in the sites of the Norden. On that flight, Dad remarked that the bomb bay was harder to get through, that he used to run through the very narrow walkway. Of course, he was half the weight and a third the age when he had last done it.

They bombed that seagull island to practice for a run into Berlin. I was surprised to learn that on any given day, once you heard what the mission was, you could ask not to go. Perhaps you had a cold, that made the oxygen mask hard to use. Or maybe you just felt unusually unlucky that day. It was not a great shame to refuse a mission: the air corps simply didn't want people up there who were off their game.

Over a thousand bombers (that's 13,000 aviators!) flew to Berlin. Dad's group split off, came in low, and bombed Wilhelmstrasse station, which Lloyd said was Gestapo headquarters. There was also intelligence suggesting that Hitler might be in the building. They dove to a lower altitude, Maxwell "skipped the bombs into the front door," and they left Berlin flying low, away from the mayhem above at 30,000 feet. They followed a river back to the coast, and home. Three or four out of the 20 in the small group didn't make it home. For this mission Lloyd and Dad got the Distinguished Flying Cross. Dad's flight log shows nine and a half hours of flight time for that date. Alas, Hitler was out of town.

On one mission, though, he had no idea where they were. They flew on radio beams deep into southern Germany. They were flying over "desert" (Lloyd's words) for a long time. They reached the IP (start of the bombing run). Still desert. "Where are we, Dick?" "I have no idea." Maxwell lined up the plane and released the bombs. "Dick, we are bombing a desert." But sure enough, they hit something: the smoke cloud reached 32,000 feet. Pilots are good about remembering altitudes. On the flight back they heard the German fighters radio chatter: they were assembling over a certain town. Lloyd had Dad plot a long trip around the fighters, and they barely made it back to the English coast, landing on runways just off the beaches. One of their engines ran out of gas while taxiing on the runway. I haven't verified the target of that mission, but I believe it was production facilities for V2 rockets.

Dad flew 29 missions in all, qualifying him as a member of the Lucky Bastard Club. (The limit was 30 missions, but Berlin counted as two for our four heros.) Lloyd said he couldn't give Ches enough credit. "He'd sit down there with his maps while most people couldn't even write." Dad told me that he never fired his machine gun during the flight: he was always navigating, recomputing positions every two minutes.

It is clear to me that the lucky bastards had more than simple luck going for them. You make your own luck, tipped the balance towards survival. Accurate navigation helped. Not going over Dunkirk helped. The lead plane had a little more fuel. The team of Leland/Kevorkian/Maxwell/Cheswick fought and relaxed together, forming friendships that lasted to the end.

Dad made it clear over the years, to us and his doctors, that he never expected to reach the age of 21. To make it to 81 was beyond hope for the young navigator. In his last years he expressed great satisfaction with his life. and amazement that he dodged so many literal and figurative bullets.

He said that after you experience something like that, it's a bit of a letdown to sit around conjugating French verbs. (We have seen his Harvard transcript: he got a "D" in French!) He went through Harvard in two and a half years, which his classmate Stanley Marks said was not that unusual. I asked Dad why he rushed through college. Because he wanted to get on with life.

And get on he did. He married Mom after he was graduated in 1948. They lived in Levittown, where their first and smartest child was born in 1952. In 1954 we moved to Florham Park, NJ. Susie was born in 1955 and Carol on Christmas day in 1957. I remember Dad standing in the kitchen eating some sirloin when Mom announced that it was time for Carol's arrival.

Route 24 was going to come through the woods behind our house where I used to play real soon now, so we moved in 1960. Dad wanted to move to Short Hills, and Mom wanted to move to Darien, so they compromised. They finally built route 24 about 30 years later, and I used it yesterday to buy this suit.

Back then we spent part of our summers up at the boathouse in Speculator, NY. Mom's Dad built this, and it was, from my kid viewpoint, heaven. Even with the leaches, razor sharp clams in the lake, and pink eye. Dad would drive up for long weekends, a seven hour drive. I think it was during one of these trips that he coined the word pflug. When you are on a narrow highway with no passing zones, stuck behind a milk truck along with 10 other cars, that's a pflug. Dad coined a number of words, and this one, I think is useful enough to deserve to enter the lexicon. He clarified the spelling just a year ago: P-F-L-U-G, perhaps the name on a truck he was stuck behind. It's interesting that it is a German name. (By the way, my spelling checker objected to pflug. Dad was an amazing speller, and his grammar was spot-on. I never met his grandpa.)

He made up had other words, too. Shmordnoi - a particularly advantageous arrangement of three cards in gin rummy. And whosiwhatsis (maybe not his word), which is a thingamajig or a shocockstahagen. yenom: money spelled backwards.

Dad used acronyms a lot, and so do we. DC is diet coke; HFS: hot fudge sundae. FT: French toast; DOD: Dear Old Dad; TBD: Tinkle, Brush Drink (the kids' bedtime mantra); PBJ. PITA (not the bread), RB: roast beef. Come to think of it, most of them were food-related. The "F" in these was never a bad word. Dad's words and demeanor were temperate. He taught neither racism, prejudice, nor intolerance. Though he was not a religious man, he did teach that all business dealings should be ethical.

He worked at Lehman Brothers, and Glore Forgan, and started Cheswick Investment in 1972. He had several business partners until most recently, my sisters and David Tuttle. Some clients stayed with him for over 50 years. "I made secretaries millionaires," he said. He sometimes noted that "I made that family a lot of money. They'd have had a lot more if they hadn't kept removing money from the account!"

Dad was in the news a few times, usually concerning the excellent performance his portfolios usually achieved. But there was one ado in the early 1980s concerning Bill Casey's account. At the time Mr. Casey was the Director of the CIA, and his stock accounts were doing very well in the blind trust Dad was managing, despite a down market. (I remember these times: deep gas drilling was unregulated, and the best companies like Apache were doing well.)

Someone suggested that the CIA was feeding Dad inside information to help the account. (I have great respect for the CIA, but I am not sure I would rely on them for stock-picking.) The Wall Street Journal carried a short, respectful letter from Dad denying any CIA involvement. He later went to Bill Casey's funeral. He told me he was impressed and moved by the people he met there, particularly Jean Kirkpatrick.

Obviously, we all learned a lot from Dad. Much of his best wisdom, in life and investing, was in more one-liners:

  • We don't try to dodge between the rain drops
  • If you don't look forward to Monday morning at work, it is time to move on. That's also true if you feel great relief on Friday afternoon. I think about this one from time to time, and pass it on to my students.
  • We don't invest in the market, we invest in fine companies
  • Stock traders don't count taxes in their performance ratings.
  • Back soon: "spotted or herbaceous backsoon", from Christopher Robin.
  • We buy and hold top-quality growth stocks for the long term
  • This last one was especially interesting to me. If you buy Johnson and Johnson ("you'll be glad you did in 10 years"), it really isn't necessary to review Johnny on a daily basis. You can pick six similar stocks and hold them for a long time, and go read a book. It is true that there are new stocks to check out, but you won't find all of them. ("You can't kiss all the girls.") "Most stocks are not worth owning." When asked in a WSJ interview about whether he was concentrated too much in a few stocks, he quoted Mae West: "Too much of a good thing is wonderful!" ("We can't print that: we are a family newspaper.")

    Since account activity is fairly low, by design, why did Dad spend most of his waking time researching companies? I asked him this. Why not read a book? "I read one book a year." It was always non-fiction. I don't think he ever read early Clancy, but I think he would have loved it. His answer was similar to what I hear from doctors: that every extra article or report he read might make a difference. He was very proud of the success of Cheswick Investment.

    I found a number of jokes in some of his random files, which brings to mind his delicate sense of humor. I am delighted to report that this continues in his children and grandchildren. Of course, Mom had to live with this sense of humor, and I can hear her response: "Oh, Richard. Honestly!" or the moaned "Oh, God!" Some samples of humor he enjoyed are on display at Wee Burn.

    Speaking of files, I have a piece of advice for some of you. We encountered some photos and documents I had never seen before in Dad's effects, and their significance wasn't always clear. I suggest you go through that stuff and brief your kids about it. Why did you bother to save this piece of paper? Who is that person in the photograph. Where were you when it was taken. I have some minor questions that will go unanswered simply because we didn't do this.

    If you or your kids have the necessary skills, build some web pages with the information. Your descendents will be interested in it, and it is nice to get the information straight. And if you back up your files, data like this may end up lasting literally a millennium, given rapidly lowering cost of data storage. My sisters and I will spend the next few weeks going through stuff and scanning in things. You will be able to find the results at Dad would have been amazed to see this, and be concerned that we don't tell too much. Your secrets (as few as they might be) are safe with us, Dad.

    We didn't travel much as a family ("I see cows!") when we were kids. Aside from a venture to Bermuda in 1966 (where we met "PK," Dad's acronym for "pussycat"), I never got out of the northeast United States as a kid. As a parent, I can look back at what monsters we Cheswick sibs could be in the back of the station wagon, and imagine Mom and Dad saying "Kids, if you don't behave, we are going to turn this car right around and go home. For a decade!"

    I asked Dad about this later, and he said that travel was "just geography." Mom and Dad did travel some in later years, and not just for golf. After seeing the Baltic countries he said we should kiss the ground and thank our ancestors for coming here to North America.

    We took pictures when we did travel, of course. Dad used to say "why don't you just buy a postcard?" While looking through is effects, I realized that he did just that. The photos were of people, not places.

    Dad did not take to the PC revolution at first. His worry was that it would take too much time. But he finally got on board by the mid 1990s, and stared at his stock information endlessly through the day. His typing speed picked up a bit, something that had always been done by his "girls." He even used words like newbieism. It is fair to say that he never became a power user, and as is true for a lot of technical people, our visits to his house often devolved into tech-fests of computer repair and software virus removal. His computer troubles and some possible solutions inspired one of the technical talks I have given over the last couple years.

    Dad communicated with email, and more importantly, by instant messaging. For those who are not computer literate, an instant messaging window lets you type messages directly to others on your buddy list who are also logged in anywhere in the world. It's faster than email, less intrusive than a phone call, and costs nothing. The teenagers in your life use this technology endlessly, typically carrying on perhaps 15 conversations at once with friends and family. They don't mind including a conversation with DOD, and answering questions. This is a fine way to keep in touch with someone who never writes and never calls.

    You can also save instant message conversations easily, something not typically done with phone calls. Here's a snippet of one conversation:

    WRCheswick: I am in the southernmost tip of Holland right now.
    RRChes: tmo  where do u talk?
    WRCheswick: Same place, same conference.
    WRCheswick: Had about 300 people today.  Should be 500's 
    	the keynote.
    RRChes: oh   wow.  tell them our b17s crisscrossed the area 
    	hundreds of times
    WRCheswick: I keep thinking about that when I fly from Heathrow to europe
    RRChes: one island off the coast  is called certainly was!!!!!
    Dad did admit to me last summer that travel wasn't just geography. We were discussing the good fortune I have had to set foot in some 30 countries. My travel opportunities impressed him, and I took delight in sending him an instant message:
    WRCheswick: Greetings from Athens (or Edinburgh or Monterey or Sydney or ...)
    I think the hardest part of losing Dad is that I will miss his usual reply:
    RRChes:  WOW
    RRChes:  All is well?
    No, Dad, all is not well. But it will be in time, and with much thanks and warm memories of you.