Merci. Merci Beaucoup.

A career including chart topping albums and No. 1 hits.  A larger than life stage personality which translated to a career on the silver screen.  A life captured in tabloid headlines detailing car crashes, wild parties, and a tempestuous love life.  A funeral attended by current and former heads of state, A-List celebrities, and the Who’s Who of social elites from countries wide and far.  A funeral procession lined by more than 950,000 fans.

By now you know that these descriptions relate to Jean-Phillipe Smet.  Jean-Phillipe Smet?  Who?  Smet?  Never heard of him.  If you fall in the camp of “Who was Smet?”, you are not alone, at least among the Americans.  Perhaps you would know this performer by his stage name:  Johnny Hallyday.  Oh!  Johnny Hallyday!  Of course, that clarifies it.  But who was Johnny Hallyday?

Johnny Hallyday may be the most famous singer, musician, performer and actor you do not know.  Known as the French Elvis, Hallyday picked up his guitar at age 14, swiveled his hips and twisted his lips into a sneer after seeing the 1957 Elvis Presley film “Loving You”.  Hallyday later described the influence of The King: “His voice, the way he moved, everything was sexy.  The first time I saw him, I was paralyzed.”  Hallyday got over his paralysis and gave audiences his own version of sexiness for the next six decades.

Johnny Hallyday may not have been groomed to become the French Elvis, but he clearly started on a path destined for Show Business.  Hallyday’s father performed in the circus.  His mother made a career as a model.  No stage fright in those bloodlines.  However, Hallyday’s parents separated soon after Johnny’s birth with Hallyday’s paternal aunt, Helene, stepping in to raise him.

Helene, a former silent-film actress, spent most of her time as stage manager for her two dancing daughters.  Helene brought Johnny on the never-ending dancing tours of European cities with his performing cousins.  Taking naturally to the stage, Johnny began singing for these audiences during the dancers’ costume changes.

Helene’s American husband, in typical American fashion, called Jean-Phillipe “Johnny” until it stuck.  Johnny, not meaningfully knowing his own parents and adapting to the performing nature of his new family, began using the family stage name of the Hallidays.

By 1955, with Aunt Helene’s encouragement and connections, young Johnny appeared in commercials and landed the role of a schoolboy in a French movie.  After discovering Elvis in 1957, Johnny focused on developing his own rock ’n’ roll style incorporating much of what he learned from Elvis Presley.  After performing in Paris clubs for a few years, Vogue Records signed Johnny with his first album, “Hello Johnny”, released in 1960.  The album cover misspelled Johnny’s last name as “Hallyday”.  Johnny Hallyday was born.

In his own way, the French Elvis skyrocketed to fame much as the original Elvis.  Hallyday’s first single, “Laisse les Files” or “Leave the Girls Alone” remains credited as the first French rock ’n’ roll song.  Hallyday followed up this song with his first multi-million selling song “Vines Dancer le Twist” which is the French version of Chubby Checker’s hit “Let’s Twist Again”.  Just like Elvis, Hallyday served in the military, for France, where he entertained while also served.

Hallyday never broke through to audiences much beyond France and Western Europe.  Nonetheless, fellow musicians appeared to recognize his talents, or succumbed to his charismatic personality.  Early in his career, Hallyday recorded with the Jordannaires, the real Elvis’ back-up group, in Nashville.  Some group called the Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for Hallyday during a 1966 tour (and also partied with Hallyday).  Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Peter Frampton joined Johnny for recording sessions.  Johnny Hallyday hung out with Keith Richards and Bob Dylan.

During his career, Hallyday sold over 110 million records with 5 diamond albums, 40 gold albums, and 22 platinum albums to his credit.  He performed 540 duets with over 200 artists.  The French selected Hallyday as the headline performer for the 1998 Stade de France performance to celebrate France’s victory in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.  In 2000, Johnny held an outdoor concert at the Eiffel Tower with over 500,000 fans attending and 9.5 million television viewers.  One sixth of the population of France paused to take in that performance.

As his music career progressed, Johnny did not slow down.  On his 50th birthday in 1993, after one of his multitude of “come back” albums called “Rock ’n’ Roll Attitude” charted, Johnny issued a 42 CD set, limited edition collection, entitled “Collection: Johnny Hallyday” priced at $1,000 per set, which sold out in two days.  His sales never slowed including his 2002 double CD “A la Vie, a la Mort” or “To Life, to Death” which sold 800,000 copies in its first week.  As recent as 2015, after disclosing his cancer diagnosis, Johnny indirectly once more topped the charts with other artists performing his songs on an album called “We’re All a Little Bit Like Johnny”.

Johnny Hallyday’s acting career failed to include credits such as Beach Blanket Bingo or Viva Las Vegas which would have Johnny performing his music.  Johnny actually appeared as a serious actor with roles such as a career criminal in “The Man on the Train” and a revenge seeking parent in “Vengeance”.  He also dabbled in comedic roles with French comedians and Harvey Kietel.  The critics respected Johnny’s acting chops more so than his music, but even these critics could not deny Johnny’s mass appeal.

Off the stage and away from the movie set, the French closely followed Johnny’s personal life and exploits through the tabloid headlines.  His first four marriages resulted in four divorces, including two of the marriages and divorces to the same woman.  Johnny’s fifth marriage stuck for good, but naturally ended with a will contest between quite young wife number five and children from prior relationships.  His three daughters and one son were the result of relationships with various wives and mistresses.  Johnny very publicly partied hard.  He crashed cars.  And his fans adored him along the journey.  Johnny Halliday served as a dream public figure for the editors of the French tabloids.

Perhaps because Johnny Hallyday appeared so human and so vulnerable he resonated with his legions of fans.  He connected with everyone regardless of status.  French President Jacques Chirac made Johnny a member of the Legion of Honor in 1997.  Yet, Johnny’s favorite past times included riding his Harley on long trips, staying at local hotels, and performing with local artists if requested.  The French Elvis passed away in 2017.

In my Estate Planning practice, my clients do not include mega stars and international artists.  Yet, among my clients I can identify the Johnny Hallydays.  These clients are not well known beyond their immediate families, loved ones, and friends, just as Johnny gained little fame beyond the French borders.  Nonetheless, to this smaller group, those clients are, indeed, the rock stars of their families.  We understand how their presence in the lives of others will be missed so dearly.  

Comprehensive Estate Plans should address all aspects of the clients’ lives and not merely “What happens to my stuff”.  I include a Statement of Intent in trusts through which heartfelt messages can be shared with those left behind.  Even if he cannot perform any more, the Johnny Hallyday in your family can provide comforting words and thoughts while you still hope for one more song. Merci. Merci beaucoup, Johnny Hallyday!

The Original Grinch

Christmas as a celebration including fancy gift giving, festive parties, parades, and elaborate meals did not really arise until the mid-1800s.  In 1822, a New York City newspaper published the original version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  This poem provided the basis for the modern image of Santa Claus as the portly, red suit wearing, white bearded, jolly ol’ elf. The rise of entire Christmas Season as an extended shopping and celebratory season then fell in line with publication of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in 1843.  Prior to that time, Christmas remained more subdued in recognition.  

In the 1800s, the Yule Log which could burn for the Twelve Days of Christmas had begun to be phased out as the centerpiece of Holiday traditions.  Society moved toward decorating Christmas trees as a quite visible symbol of Christmas. Edible Christmas treats still remained the prime gift, but other gift giving began to appear in those stockings, hung with care.  Celebrating Christmas as a season unto itself gradually grew in the 1800s.  By the later 1800s, Christmas became a mass-marketing event upon which retailers depended.

The Americas and Europe embraced this new Christmas Season concept.  Large retailers and local shop owners benefitted with the Christmas trade.  With this transition also came some secularizing of Christmas.  Even with roots tracing back to St. Nicholas, the newer version of Santa Claus did not readily tie into the birth of Christ.  Capitalism embraced Santa and tolerated the religious aspects of Christmas.  In fairness, Christian religions still embraced the religious aspects and tolerated the blatant capitalism as folks remained dedicated to religious observances in the Christmas Season.  All was good.

So who would declare a War on Christmas?  There actually have been multiple Wars on Christmas.  Even with a declaration of victory against the War on Christmas in 2016, these Wars on Christmas have been made up affairs intended to serve ulterior purposes of those leading the crusades to putatively save Christmas.  Except one.  The original War on Christmas actually succeeded for almost an entire generation.  This first War on Christmas remains markedly different from all subsequent Wars on Christmas.  Let’s work our way in reverse chronological order to touch upon the modern Wars on Christmas and then explore the first, almost successful, War on Christmas.  We can then determine the true Grinch who almost beat Christmas.

In 2004, then leading conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly declared there existed a “War on Christmas”.  He actually screamed to his audience that this War threatened the very existence of Christmas.  The basis of O’Reilly’s claim that a war was being waged against Christmas included retailers who did not use the word “Christmas” in advertising; retailers who advised their workers to not say “Merry Christmas”; the leftist media which secularized the Christmas holiday; and Democrats, well, just because they were Democrats and therefore should be blamed.

Each year from 2004 until 2016, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Bill O’Reilly carried on about the continued War on Christmas.  His ratings soared each year during that time frame.  O’Reilly’s team would search high and low for those who took some action against Christmas, at least in the view of O’Reilly.   O’Reilly then railed against these organizations and companies as they were taking Christ out of Christmas. 

On the retailer side, favorite punching bags for O’Reilly included Target and Starbucks.  Starbucks dared to introduce Holiday cups for its overpriced coffee drinks with those cups not including sufficient Christmas references for O’Reilly.  Boycott Starbucks during the Christmas Season!  Even worse, Target directed its employees that they could not say “Merry Christmas”.  Instead, Target workers could, at best, tell a customer “Happy Holidays”.  Boycott Target during the Christmas Season!  

Notably absent from O’Reilly’s rants were the facts that Target also instructed its workers not to say “Happy Hanukkah”, “Happy Kwanzaa”, and “Happy Diwali” during the Holiday Season.  The facts do not matter when a War on Christmas is being fought!

Bill O’Reilly also directed his ire toward municipalities.  He particularly enjoyed finding towns that refused to put up Nativity displays or would do so only if in conjunction with a Menorah or religious symbols from non-Christian religions.  Such towns might cite potential challenges to use of municipal funds for religious purposes as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  

O’Reilly then would bring out his well-worn trope that our Founding Fathers recognized Christmas with Nativity displays and celebrated Christmas as O’Reilly and his followers want the celebration to continue.  Ahh.  There it is.  Celebrating Christmas is fine.  Recognizing aspects of a non-Christian Holiday, celebrated by those who do not look like Bill O’Reilly or follow his beliefs, is not fine.

It took the election of Donald Trump in 2016 for Bill O’Reilly to declare an end to the War on Christmas.  Why?  During the campaign, Trump declared that we will all again say “Merry Christmas” at Christmas time.  Once Trump was elected, O’Reilly declared:  “How about all those department stores they have the bells and they have the red walls and they have the snow but they don’t have Merry Christmas?  I think they’re going to start putting up Merry Christmas.”  An official end to the War!

Yet, since 2016, some businesses still direct employees to not say “Merry Christmas”.  In fact, the American Family Association publishes its annual list of Christmas friendly and not-so friendly businesses with direction that only the Christmas friendly stores should get your business.  Bill O’Reilly established his true purpose in battling the supposed War on Christmas by abandoning the fight entirely in 2016 once Trump was elected.  O’Reilly moved the political needle with his efforts and left the cause behind once political objectives were achieved.  

Bill O’Reilly is not the first modern champion to take on the War on Christmas.  In the 1950s, the John Birch Society declared that America needed to fight a War on Christmas being waged by Communists and the United Nations.  In fact, this War included a conspiracy among Communists, both here in the United States and abroad, together with the United Nations to secularize Christmas.  The goal of this conspiracy was to undermine American democracy and capitalism while socializing America.  America was not terribly long removed from World War II with the Axis of Evil still fresh in the minds of many.  The John Birch Society easily tapped into these lingering feelings in setting up a straw opponent challenging a beloved Holiday and its traditions.  Through a campaign of fear, the John Birch Society sought to turn this War on Christmas into political gains.

The John Birch Society learned much from Henry Ford.  In addition to his auto-making achievements, Henry Ford quite publicly crusaded in the area of anti-Semitism.  In 1919, Ford bought a struggling newspaper which he transformed into an outlet for his deeply held anti-Semitic views.  The newspaper included one page entitled “Mr. Ford’s Views” through which Henry Ford blamed the Jews for World War I, short skirts on women, and the rise of jazz music.  In 1920, on the front page, this newspaper began including a weekly article entitled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem” wherein Ford would present some circumstances or conspiracy theory to “prove” that Jews were seeking world domination.  Henry Ford required that his auto dealerships carry this newspaper and display it for customers.

In the 1920s, Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism collided with Jewish organizations who opposed Bible readings during Christmas pageants in public schools.  The Jewish groups challenged this practice under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Henry Ford took such objections personally and quite publicly supported the efforts against these organizations.  For Henry Ford, these Jewish groups challenged Christmas itself, without deeming it a “War on Christmas”.  For Ford, the Jewish people were the immigrant class seeking to displace Christian, white-controlled institutions.

For Bill O’Reilly, the John Birch Society, or Henry Ford, the playbook remained the same.  White Christian nationalists needed to find an enemy in order to hold onto the America they desired.  The enemies in these Wars on Christmas were Jews, Communists, liberals, or anyone not on the right.  These battles were much more political than religious.

Then there were the Puritans.  

The Puritans growled, with their Grinch fingers nervously drumming.  We must find some way to keep Christmas from coming.

In the first War on Christmas in the Americas, the Puritans actually won for more than two decades.  The Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed Christmas celebrations in 1659.  This law lasted on the books until 1681.  However, the Puritanical War on Christmas appeared quite different than the modern counterparts.  For starters, the Puritans wanted to end Christmas and stop others from celebrating the birth of Christ.  

For the Puritans in the 17th century, both in England and in the American colonies, a primary goal remained ridding the church of any of the growing Catholic influence.  For these Puritans, life was black and white: if it was not referenced in the Bible, it should not be observed.  Christmas is not mentioned in scripture.  Therefore, Christmas celebrations must be gone.  

Even worse, Christmas as a celebration, appeared to have roots in the Roman pagan ritual of Saturnalia.  Saturnalia, falling at the Winter solstice, celebrated the days getting longer.  Festivities included candle-lighting, caroling and wassailing.  The Catholic Church, as it has done with many pagan rituals, coopted the Saturnalia vestiges into what became Christmas celebrations.  

For the Puritans, Christmas suffered on multiple fronts.  Foremost, it was not in the Bible so it should never be a religious event.  Second, the celebrations arose from pagan rituals.  Third, it appeared as a creation of the Pope and Vatican influences.  Christmas represented the trifecta of bad acts for the Puritans.  To allow Christmas recognition and celebration would amount to Papist idolatry.  

Then the Puritans got an awful idea!  An awful idea!  The Puritans got a wonderful, awful idea!

In 1647, the English Parliament made up of mostly Puritan representatives, outlawed Christmas services and all celebrations which went with them.  In 1654, the Calvinist church in Scotland followed suit and banned Christmas.  The Calvinists were Puritans in everything except name.  The leaders in the colonies took note and outlawed Christmas in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659.  In the 1660s, the governments and churches in England backed off these laws.  Yet, they remind effective in the Massachusetts Bay Colony until 1681.  

While no longer against the law after 1681, in the Americas, celebrating Christmas was left to the Catholics, Episcopalians and Methodists well into the 1800s.  In fact, it took until 1870 for Christmas to be declared a federal holiday in the United States.  Even then, a number of “Bible-based” Christian religions, most notably Baptists and Presbyterians, continued to shun Christmas recognition and celebrations.  

In one sense, the Puritanical War on Christmas appears as the opposite of the modern Wars on Christmas.  The Puritans tried to stamp out Christmas entirely while the modern efforts wanted more Christ in Christmas.  Nonetheless, all these Wars on Christmas shared a disturbing foundation: fear and hatred of others.  Henry Ford openly hated the Jews.  The John Birch Society feared the Communists and socialism.  Bill O’Reilly perhaps loved ratings more than hating others, but his hurtful undercurrents and disdain still come through in his own War on Christmas.  The Puritans both feared and hated the Pope and Catholic influence in the new world order.  All of this hatred in the name of Christmas does not strike me as very Christmasy.  We should be leery of any further Wars on Christmas.

But this sound wasn’t sad!  Why, this sound sounded glad!

The 17th century, fun-loving Puritans succeeded where modern Christmas warriors failed.  While difficult to imagine, there could be no legal Christmas celebrations for over twenty years during a period in our history.  If the Puritans succeeded, I would not be listening to Christmas music as I pen this article as I am so doing.  I would not be looking forward to my wife’s Christmas cookies as I am so doing.  And we would not be planning to get together with our three boys over Christmas as we are so doing.  As I walk the dog this evening, I will especially admire the Christmas lights placed on my neighbors’ houses and be warmed by the thought that the original Grinch did not succeed in preventing Christmas from coming.  

Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Diwali, and Merry Christmas to you.  Happy Festivus to the Rest of Us.

From Miami to the South Seas

“Here we go. . . .  Here’s your ballgame, folks, as Flutie takes the snap.  He drops straight back . . . has some time, now scrambles away from one hit . . . looks . . . uncorks a deep one to the end zone, Phelan is down there. . . . Oh! He got it!  Did he get it?  He got it!  Touchdown!  Touchdown!  Touchdown!  Touchdown!  Touchdown Boston College!  He did it!  He did it!  Flutie did it!  He got Phelan in the end zone!  Touchdown!  Oh my goodness. . . . What a play!  Flutie to Gerard Phelan! . . . No time on the clock, it’s all over!”

With this call, Dan Davis, longtime Boston College football radio announcer, immortalized the “Hail Flutie” last-second, improbable 47-45 victory of Boston College Eagles over the University of Miami Hurricanes on November 23, 1984.  With Boston College trailing with six seconds on the clock, Boston College quarterback, Doug Flutie, scrambled away from Miami’s defense and launched a Hail Mary pass 63 yards in the air against 30 mph winds.  Miami’s defense allowed Boston College receiver Gerard Phelan to run past them to the end zone where Phelan caught the game winning score.  The Miami defenders later stated that they did not believe that Flutie could throw the football that distance in those conditions.

Improbable?  Perhaps.  But the Miami defenders just witnessed a game with 919 yards of passing offense (Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie – 472 yards; Miami quarterback Bernie Koser – 447 yards).  The game included total offense output of 1,282 yards under hurricane like conditions.  Gerard Phelan alone, who caught the Hail Flutie pass, accounted for 227 receiving yards.  The quarterbacks combined for 84 pass attempts.  No defender should have taken either offense for granted, especially these quarterbacks on that day.  Improbable or not, this college football game between two top-ranked teams playing before a national television audience the day after Thanksgiving, remains a defining moment in both the legend of Boston College football as well as among the most memorable sports moments ever.

Yet, I suggest that the Boston College football program played a much more consequential game decades before on November 28, 1942.  Boston College entered the big game in 1942 against then rival, Holy Cross.  Boston College, then ranked No. 1 in college football and posting a record of 8 wins and 0 losses, remained heavily favored to easily dispose of Holy Cross at Fenway park.  Holy Cross stood as Boston College’s sole obstacle to an invitation to the national championship game in the Sugar Bowl.

This 1942 Boston College squad deserved high praise.  In reaching a record of 8-0, Boston College outscored all adversaries by a combined score of 249-19.  Boston College scored more than 31 points per contest while limiting challengers to fewer than 3 points each game.  Of the eight wins, Boston College shut out five opponents.  After defeating Wake Forest on October 24 by a score of 27-0, the sports section of the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer ran the headline: “Baptists Beaten in Boston Battle”.  Great alliteration, but try to get away that headline today!

Preparations were in place for this lead-in game to an invitation to the Sugar Bowl.  After the Holy Cross game, the celebration would continue throughout Boston culminating at the Coconut Grove nightclub.  Coconut Grove, the multi-story Polynesian themed nightclub could accommodate the anticipated crowds of fans as well as the sailors on leave from the Naval fleet docked a few blocks away in Boston Harbor.  The Boston College football team would show up late that evening to the anticipated cheers and adoration of all.  What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, no one advised Holy Cross of the invincible nature of the 1942 Boston College Eagles.  Holy Cross embarrassed Boston College by a score of 55-12 thereby dashing all national title aspirations.  All celebrations were abruptly cancelled, including the alumni, fans, students and football players gathering at the Coconut Grove.

Not to worry at the Coconut Grove.  19 naval vessels remained at port in Boston Harbor providing ample patronage for the nightclub.  The crowds would even be larger as many enjoyed some time off for the Thanksgiving weekend.  Having lived in Boston for a number of years, I speculate that at least some Boston College fans might still seek to attend the festivities at establishments such as the Coconut Grove even with a Boston College football loss.

Indeed, on Saturday night, November 28, 1942, as many as 1,000 people packed Coconut Grove to enjoy the South Seas ambience.  Coconut Grove offered large dining rooms, dance areas, and cocktail lounges.  Floor shows would begin about 10:30 p.m. to make certain that guests remained well-entertained into the night.

The basement level of the Coconut Grove housed the Melody Lounge.  At about 10:15 p.m., a small fire started in a corner of the Melody Lounge.  Once flames hit the South Seas paper decorations and fake palm trees, fire raced up the walls and across the ceiling covered with additional, flammable decorations.  Heavy black smoke filled the basement with both smoke and flames quickly traveling upstairs to the street level and the main dining room.

As shouts of “Fire!” rang out, electricity at the club was lost.  A witness who survived the fire, Navy Lt. John Edwards, noted: “it seemed that when the lights went out, everybody’s intellect went with them.”  Unfortunately, it appears that Coconut Grove included only two operational exits:  the main revolving door and an inward opening door.  The revolving door became jammed almost instantly overwhelmed by the rush of hundreds of patrons trying to escape.  The second exit did not fare any better with the wall of people pushing to flee through limited space.

With billowing black smoke, many could not even get out of the basement level Melody Lounge.  Smoke filling the main levels added to the chaos in the darkness.  492 people died in the Coconut Grove fire.  The cause of death of most – asphyxiation.  For those trapped in the Melody Lounge, extreme burns caused the most deaths.  Yet, many died due to injuries suffered while trying to escape.  These victims were trampled to death by their fellow patrons.

The occupancy limit at the Coconut Grove nightclub was fewer than the 492 people who lost their lives that evening.  On that fateful night, 1,000 patrons packed in Coconut Grove.  Coconut Grove did have additional doors.  However, to maximize the areas for paying guests, these other doorways were blocked or obscured for club operation.  One door with a “panic” lock designed to release in the event of emergency had been bolted shut.

Fire investigators could not assign a specific cause to the Coconut Grove fire.  Suspicion followed busboy Stanley Tomasewski who was in the area of fire origin to change a decorative light bulb.  Tomasewski admitted to lighting a match to assist with light bulb replacement in a dark corner, but denied starting the fire.  The fire department could not connect Tomasewski’s actions with the fire.

Even greater suspicion followed Coconut Grove club owner Barnett Welansky.  Despite failure to meet fire codes concerning occupancy limits and intentionally blockading exits, no actions were initially taken against Welansky.  Welansky remained close to Boston Mayor Maurice Tobin with this association bringing into question the zeal with which officials “investigated” the fire.  In addition, Welansky, a lawyer, possessed a long-standing relationship with his client Charles Solomon.  Upon his death a few years earlier, Solomon, a known mafia boss, transferred ownership of Coconut Grove to Welansky.  Close ties to top politicians and mob bosses with no real investigation pursued?  Tough to believe.

Nonetheless, removed from these local pressures, the Navy conducted its own, independent investigation determining that fault rested with Welansky in failing to comply with fire codes.  Further, the Navy found that Welansky expanded Coconut Grove without building permits or authorization from City officials.  These expansions failed to meet minimum code requirements and played into the poor safety conditions already in place.

With these public findings by the Navy and corresponding public outrage, the state opened a criminal investigation into Welansky.  A grand jury returned an indictment charging that Welansky failed to comply with building standards and allowed overcrowding.  A trial resulted in the conviction of Welansky on 19 counts of manslaughter.  Charged to serve 15 years, Welanksy spent but months behind bars only to be released for his supposed “failing health”.

The state charged nine others including a Boston firefighter lieutenant, police captain, building inspector and employees of the nightclub.  These officials and employees secured acquittals.

The fire commissioner did propose various measures to improve safety in public buildings designed to enhance the chances of escape in the event of emergency.  Chief among the these recommendations were installation of automated sprinkler systems and use of powered, illuminated EXIT signs.  Those recommendations served as the basis for establishment of new public safety codes adopted by municipalities and states over the next decade.

Doug Flutie’s 63 yard, last-second pass to Gerard Phelan will remain “The Pass” for college football fans.  This 1984 victory over Miami rightfully resides at the zenith of Boston College football lore.  And yet, Boston College’s 55-12 loss to Holy Cross in 1942 proves more impactful.  Absent that 1942 loss, hundreds of additional patrons would have been in attendance at Coconut Grove on that Saturday evening.  Many students and perhaps even the entire football team would have been present at the ill-fated nightclub.  Additional loss of life, while difficult to imagine, surely would have been a reality.

Wooden theater houses existed since the late 1590s, illuminated with open-flame oil lamps.  Movie houses existed since the early 1900s.  Certainly, it should have dawned on someone prior to 1942 that well-placed, illuminated EXIT signs should be mandatory in public settings.  It is of little solace to the families of the 492 who perished in the Coconut Grove tragedy that this loss served as the impetus for part of the modern public safety system.

In Estate Planning, we do consider legacy impacts.  None of my clients will throw a 63 yard Hail Mary pass on national television to salvage a victory in a flash moment establishing their legacy.  Nonetheless, some of these clients encountered the pain of tragedy as did the family members of the 492 Coconut Grove victims.  These clients desire to do something, anything, to seek to prevent their own tragedy being repeated for others.

For these clients, we consider charitable gifting to organizations and institutions to tackle the underlying problems.  We also evaluate establishing longer lasting foundations with educational, research, or action goals to address these issues.  For these clients, seeking solutions to, and prevention of, their own tragedies represents a step on the path forward.  These efforts become their own legacy, just as important and impactful as any football contest.

Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy in 1984.  The voting for the Heisman concluded prior to the Boston College vs University of Miami football game.  Even so, this Miracle in Miami cemented Flutie’s legacy.  Years later, Doug Flutie reflected on the Hail Flutie pass.  Flutie opined: “Without the Hail Mary pass, I think I would have been very easily forgotten.  We would have gone to the same bowl game, the Heisman voting was already in, and the direction of my career set.  Everything would have been the same, except that pass put this label on me as ‘it’s never over ’till it’s over’ guy.”

I suspect Flutie may be correct in this self-assessment.  Everyone knows Doug Flutie.  A few can name Gerard Phelan as the trivia answer to who caught The Pass.  No one can readily name other players from the 1984 Boston College football team.  No names from the 1942 Boston College football team immediately come to mind.  No legend or legacy plays capped a comeback against the underdog, Holy Cross.  The Boston College faithful crowds had no reason to gather at the Coconut Grove nightclub on November 28, 1942.  Losing that football game is a legacy for the 1942 Boston College football players worth cheering.

Stingy Jack

A good number of years ago in Ireland, a fellow known as Stingy Jack maintained less than a stellar reputation.  Stingy Jack derived tremendous pleasure in playing tricks on all.  He fooled villagers and travelers alike.  He tricked his family members.  On occasion, he even pranked his own mother.  Few enjoyed the company of Stingy Jack who appeared deficient on goodwill toward his fellow man rather than stingy with his purse.

Adding to this charming persona, Stingy Jack was a drunkard who spent most of his free time at the local pub.  While at the pub with the Devil himself, Stingy Jack took the Devil up on an offer for drinks.  Stingy Jack only had to agree to give his soul to the Devil for the drinks.  Stingy Jack asked how the Devil would pay for the drinks.  The Devil changed himself into a coin to pay for the drinks.  Stingy Jack, always the trickster, placed the coin in his pocket next to a cross.  Being stuck beside a cross, the Devil lost his powers and remained a coin in Stingy Jack’s slacks.

The Devil pleaded for his freedom and offered not to take Stingy Jack’s soul at least not until Stingy Jack died.  Stingy Jack freed the Devil, only to encounter the Devil years later in an apple orchard.  The Devil sought payment of Stingy Jack’s soul.  Stingy Jack said he was ready, but requested an apple from a nearby tree as his last wish.  The Devil climbed the apple tree to retrieve an apple.  Stingy Jack quickly carved a cross into the tree thereby once again trapping the Devil high up in the apple tree.  

Apparently with a little self-reflection on his life until that moment, Stingy Jack demanded that his soul would never pass into Hell after Stingy Jack died.  It appears that Stingy Jack recognized his immortal need for insurance.  The Devil agreed in order to secure his freedom.  

Years later, Stingy Jack died and traveled to the Pearly Gates of Heaven.  Saint Peter greeted Stingy Jack advising that there would be no admittance to Heaven as Stingy Jack spent his life miserably and in a cruel fashion.  Stingy Jack wasted his life and his worthless nature did not merit entrance to Heaven.  Not knowing where to turn, Stingy Jack showed up at the gates of Hell.  The Devil, true to his word, denied Stingy Jack entrance to Hell, although the Devil certainly believed that Stingy Jack belonged there.

Stingy Jack shrewdly avoided eternal damnation in Hell.  Yet, he ignored the other half of the equation and continued with his less than heavenly approach to life while on Earth.  

Stingy Jack asked what would happen to him with the Devil replying that Stingy Jack must eternally wander the Netherworld between Heaven and Hell.  Stingy Jack complained that the Netherworld presented total darkness and Stingy Jack could not see his way.  The Devil tossed Stingy Jack an ember from the fires of Hell to light Stingy Jack’s way.  Stingy Jack carved out a rutabaga and placed the eternal ember in the hollow root vegetable to light his path.  From that day forward, Stingy Jack would forever roam the Earth without a resting place with his dimly lit rutabaga as his only light.

The Irish thereafter called Stingy Jack “Jack of the Lantern” which, when shortened, became “Jack O’Lantern”.

On All Hallow’s Eve, the Irish would carve out rutabagas, turnips or gourds and place a lit candle inside the vegetable to ward off Stingy Jack and other evil spirits.  This tradition continued for centuries with a slight change in the mid-1800s.  The new Irish immigrants to the United States quickly recognize that pumpkins much better fit the bill for carving at Halloween than rutabagas and turnips.  The Irish back in the homeland did not use pumpkins as no pumpkins were grown in Ireland.  The modern Jack O’Lantern became a staple of the Halloween celebration.

But how did Stingy Jack become associated with Halloween itself?  His story stands apart from All Hallow’s Eve.  The lessons we may learn from his life do not readily tie into Halloween.  The “scary” side of Halloween’s history may shed more light on the Stingy Jack’s eternal wandering, at least more light than a dimly lit rutabaga.

The Celtic pagan ritual of Samhain celebrated each October 31, recognizes the end of summer and beginning of the darker months ahead.  At this time between seasons, the spirit world among us becomes visible.  Spirits could freely travel with us and cause supernatural mischief.  The spirits needed to be appeased and avoided.  The tradition of leaving food, wine and treats for the deceased spirits arose as a bribe for the spirits to leave us alone.  Soul cakes, the precursor to candy treats, would be prepared and left out.  But more would be needed to ensure our own well-being.

Disguises in the form of masks and frightening costumes would fool the spirits.  The spirits would avoid anyone so dressed up as they would falsely believe them to be just another spirit.  The scarier the costume, the better the odds of surviving All Hallow’s Eve.  

In these traditions, an old guy eternally walking the Earth carrying a rutabaga with an ember from Hell as his lantern found a home.  Stingy Jack may not be welcome in Heaven and may be precluded from Hell, but he fit right in with the Samhain crowd, at least one night a year.

In honoring Stingy Jack and perhaps even more as an effort to keep him at distance, we carve pumpkins into Jack O’Lanterns.  Those perfectly stenciled pumpkin carvings with intricate patterns and detail may nicely shine on walkways.  Yet, it strikes me that such Jack O’Lanterns may be ineffective in dealing with Stingy Jack.  Going forward, I am in the camp of those poorly carved, can you tell if it is even a face, Jack O’Lanterns.  A Jack O’Lantern should be the result of a child envisioning a perfectly scary face then butchering a pumpkin to the point that the eyes are uneven, an off-center hole is the nose, and the mouth has but one large tooth.  That type of Jack O’Lantern would be Stingy Jack worthy!

In Estate Planning, when considering disinheritance of someone, we may encounter the Stingy Jack client.  That client starts off with a firm position that one child must be disinherited.  I never ask for details regarding such relationships and instead focus on the methods of disinheritance and risks presented to estate plan documents if not done properly.  Nonetheless, these clients feel it imperative to explain the reasons for disinheritance.  My office  becomes a confessional.  

As the planning process unfolds and that Stingy Jack client ponders these actions more deeply and prepares to set forth that disinheritance position in stone (or at least on paper in a trust), a little self-reflection may soften the rough edges.  A number of these clients come back to a less than full disinheritance position.  Nothing has changed between the client and the estranged family member.  No reconciliation has taken place.  Yet, something fundamental changed.  Perhaps these clients have their own Stingy Jack moment where they think they need some insurance against a drastic decision.  I would like to believe that the change is made out of affection for the wayward family member rather than securing a Stay Out of Hell card.

This Halloween, in addition to rooting for the poorly carved, scary looking pumpkins, I also will cheer for the more authentic costumes.  Our doorstep has been visited by way too many Spidermen and princesses the past few years.  Those kids are cute, for sure, but those lame costumes will not frighten away the mischievous spirits.  I say, any kid who shows up with a scary mask and frightening costume gets an extra piece of candy.  If a daring child knocks on our door dressed as an old man toting a carved out dimly lit rutabaga, that kid should get all the candy.  Enjoy your own Trick or Treating. 

Goddesses Frigga and Taylor Swift

Congratulations!  If you are reading this article, you survived the one and only Friday the 13th which landed last Friday in this year’s calendar.  Friggatriskaidekaphobia, or fear of Friday the 13th, impacts an estimated 17 – 21 million people in the United States.  These folks alter their lifestyles and routines on any Friday the 13th.  They try not to travel, most especially air travel.  They refuse to conduct business.  Some do not even get out of bed on this most feared day and date.  Hopefully, you got past last Friday with nothing more than noting the date and exclaiming: “Oh, it’s Friday the 13th.  I hope I have no bad luck.”

Friday the 13th consists of two elements:  the day of the week and the number on the calendar.  A history, of sorts, exists for both aspects and, surprisingly, not all bad.  And yet, it is the confluence of both pieces of the bad luck puzzle which must combine to create disruption to ordinary affairs.  No one trembles on Wednesday the 13th.  Standing alone, Friday is not a harbinger of bad things to come your way.  Indeed, Friday is quite often welcomed as the beginning of the weekend and end of the work week, it may even be payday.  The marriage of the day Friday and the 13th day of the month results in this phobia for millions.

Historical events treat the number 13 poorly.  Part of this perception arises from the good fortune associated with 13’s next door neighbor, the number 12.  A sense of completeness rests with the number 12 in culture.  There exists 12 Days of Christmas.  12 months are in a calendar year.  There are 12 zodiac signs.  We find twelve tribes of Israel.  The number of gods of Olympus: 12.

13 has not fared so well.  In Norse mythology, 12 gods attended a dinner party at Valhalla.  Loki, the trickster god, had not been invited and crashed the party bringing the number of gods in attendance to 13.  Loki then tricked the blind god, Hodr, to shoot an arrow with its tip poisoned with mistletoe at Hodr’s own brother, Balder.  The poison arrow instantly killed the god of joy, light, and goodness, Balder.  The Norse gods proclaimed that with Balder’s death, Earth got dark and mourned as it was a bad and unlucky day when 13 gods came together.

In Christianity, the Last Supper witnessed Jesus dining with his 12 disciples (totaling 13).  The most infamous guest to arrive was the thirteenth – Judas Iscariot.  Judas’ betrayal lead to the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday.  13 appeared a doomed number in culture thereafter.

Captain William Fowler, a New York socialite popular from the 1860s until 1880s, established the Thirteen Club in an effort to remove the persistent stigma associated with the number 13.  The Thirteen Club met for a 13 course dinner on the 13th of each month at the Knickerbocker Club.  13 guests dined in Room 13 each month.  Members of the club entered under a ladder below a banner which read “Morituri te Salutamus” (“Those of us about to die, we salute you.”).  Four U.S. Presidents joined the Thirteen Club at one point in their careers.  The Thirteen Club may have assisted the social standing of some, but appeared to have minimal impact on the poor reputation of 13.

As for Friday, it started off slightly better than 13.  Enter Norse goddess Frigga after whom Friday has been named.  Frigga, a goddess of marriage, also symbolized fertility, motherhood, love and sex.  Frigga provided protection to homes and families.  The Day of Frigga, or Friday, then stood for ancient family values and relationships.  So far, so good.  

As Christianity spread in the Middle Ages, no tolerance existed for pagan rituals or worship of pagan gods.  Frigga, the goddess who invoked sex and fertility, had no place at the new party.  Christian Church leaders worked to conflate the reputation of Frigga with the goddess Freyja.  Freyja, also a goddess of fertility and love, further could perform magic, predict the future, and determine who would would die in battle.  Freyja traveled by chariot drawn by two black cats.  With Freyja’s dark side reputation wearing off on Frigga, the Church fathers recast Frigga a witch banished to a mountain top.  In this new role, Frigga allegedly convened a gathering of eleven other witches plus the devil – for a total of thirteen – to plot fateful ill turns for each coming week.  This effort to throw a pagan goddess under the bus may be the first instance of quite literally combining Friday with the number 13.

Side note:  Norse god Balder’s association with the number 13 does not appear related to Norse goddess Frigga’s positive association with Friday.  However, Frigga and Balder remain related as mother and son in Norse mythology.  Each Friday the 13th stands as an eternal reunion for these Norse gods.

Casting Frigga away remained only part of the process to find fault with Friday.  Numerous Biblical references portray Friday as simply a bad day.  Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on a Friday.  Cain murdered his brother Abel on a Friday.  Friday witnessed the fall of the Temple of Solomon.  Noah’s Ark set sail on a Friday with the Great Flood.  Of course, the crucifixion of Jesus took place on Good Friday.  

Beyond the reference to Norse goddess Frigga conspiring with her group of thirteen, historical accounts attributing misfortunes to Friday the 13th remained few.  One notable Friday the 13th event took place on October 13, 1307.  King Philip IV of France arrested hundreds of Knights Templar, charging them with fairly vague offenses.  The Crown executed many of these Knights Templar in an apparent effort to reduce their power and confiscate their wealth.  Some historians credit this massacre as the source of associating bad luck with Friday the 13th.

Nonetheless, by the 19th century, Friday the 13th clearly became firmly entrenched as the date of bad luck.  A French play from 1834 included a character who claims that his birthdate of Friday, December 13, 1813 served as the event from which all his misfortune flowed.  An 1868 biography of Gioachino Rossini solidly tied together events on Friday the 13th.  According to the biography, Rossini considered Fridays as unlucky days and 13 an unlucky number.  Rossini died on Friday, the 13th of November.

In 1907, author Thomas W. Lawson published his instantly popular novel, Friday the Thirteenth, which chronicled an unscrupulous stock broker who prayed on the superstitions of investors surrounding Friday the 13th to orchestrate a crash of the stock market.  The conjunction of Friday and the number 13 became complete.

Need further proof that Friday the 13th is unlucky?  The following events took place on Friday the 13th:  The Germans bombed Buckingham Palace in WWII.  A cyclone killed more 300,000 in Bangladesh in 1970.  The Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed off the coast of Italy in 2012 killing 30.  And, the ultimate proof, rapper Tupac Shakur met his fate in 1996.

Can 13 or Friday be saved?  Frigga did well in establishing Friday as the day of fertility and family.  Even the Medieval Church could not get rid of the name Friday or Day of Frigga.  We may need a new goddess.  One who can single-handedly take down the recording industry.  One with immense popularity.  One who, as a slight woman, can boost NFL television ratings through the roof.  Of course, the modern goddess Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift has been on a mission to salvage the number 13 in a way that Captain Fowler would take pride.  Swift fearlessly embraces the number 13.  In fact, for Swift, the number 13 is her good luck charm.  Swift gushed in an interview about the number 13:  “I was born on the 13th.  I turned 13 on Friday the 13th.  My first album went gold in 13 weeks.  My first number 1 song had a 13-second intro.  Every time I won an award, I’ve been seated in either the 13th seat, the 13th row, the 13th section or row M, which is the 13th letter.  Basically, whenever a 13 comes up in my life, it’s a good thing.”  Of course, her agents could rig the system by placing Swift in the 13th seat of the 13th row in the 13th section at every event.  That little detail matters little to Swift’s legions of fans.

In Estate Planning, we often need to tackle fears.  Many potential clients express fear of the Estate Planning process.  For some, consideration of issues to arise after they pass feels as though they must confront their own mortality.  We strive to show these clients the the decisions and issues are not about death, but rather how these choices can make everything both easier and certain for loved ones and friends.  As early as the initial meeting, I begin to demystify the process by explaining the purpose of each Estate Plan document and how it functions as a critical component of their plan.  The discussions gradually and organically become more business-like with focus on the necessary decisions to be made.

For couples in this process, I quite often end up drafting 26 documents in a Living Trust Estate Plan.  I know the number is 26 as I use tabs with letters A-Z in organizing, indexing and binding the final documents for the clients.  I now hope that these couples do not think too deeply to recognize that the process results in 13 documents per each person.  We do not want to add fear of the number 13 in the planning process.

You keep trying Taylor Swift.  You have much history to overcome battling against Friday the 13th.  You have upstaged Patrick Mahomes at Kansas City Chiefs football games.  So, who knows, perhaps you can be the cure for the 20 million suffering from friggatriskaidekaphobia.  

50 Years and 90 Million

Fifty years ago in 1973, over 90 million Americans placed their lives on pause to take in a major event.  Were they recognizing the Paris Peace Accords bringing an end to the participation of the United States in Vietnam?  No.  Were they celebrating or protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade?  Not even close.  Did they gather to figure out how to address OPEC’s 200% increase in the price of oil?  Nah.  Perhaps they joyously cheered on Secretariat becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years?  Nope, but getting closer.

September 20 represents the fifty year anniversary of the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.  Before 30,472 fans in attendance at the Houston Astrodome and 90 million television viewers, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) in this captivating, cultural exhibition tennis match.

Foremost, consider the viewership of 90 million in 1973.  Those figures rival current Super Bowl numbers.  In 1973, merely 50 million people watched the Super Bowl with the 90 million mark in viewership for the Super Bowl not achieved until the 1990s.  1973 television, quite simply, had not developed into the mega-entertainment medium which we take for granted today.  Across the country, television markets consisted of CBS, NBC and ABC national networks with some local stations in the mix.  Cable television remained an infant.  Many Americans received their news and sports over transistor radios or through newspaper accounts.  The King-Riggs match represented so much more than tennis for America in 1973 America.

1973 witnessed the Equal Rights movement in full swing.  Congress would not pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution with a state-by-state battle then set to determine if the ERA would be adopted.  The Battle of the Sexes tennis match hit at the heart of the cultural hot buttons of the time.

Billie Jean King, then 29 years old already with ten Grand Slam titles under her belt, played the determined underdog, well-focused on the task of defeating Bobby Riggs.  But every good tale needs a villain – enter Bobby Riggs.  Riggs, then 55 years old and well past his prime, had defeated tennis star Margaret Court earlier in 1973.  He viewed this new tennis match with King with disdain.

Leading up to the match, the outspoken Riggs embraced the male chauvinist role with quotes to the Press such as: “she’s a woman and they don’t have the emotional stability.”  Riggs added this gem: “women belong in the bedroom and the kitchen, in that order.”  Riggs channeled his inner P.T. Barnum to drum up interest in the tennis match.

Riggs’ showmanship continued during the match itself.  Riggs entered the tennis court via rickshaw surrounded by statuesque women.  He wore a warm up jacket with “Sugar Daddy” emblazoned across the back.  To show his contempt, Riggs wore the warm up jacket for the first three games of the first set of the match.  However, unlike his match against Margaret Court earlier that year, Riggs clearly appeared out of shape for the battle with King.  Billie Jean King rather easily volleyed shots past Riggs en route to her straight sets victory.

Billie Jean King used this new, larger than life, podium to help create the Women’s Tennis Association.  She threatened to boycott the U.S. Open Tennis Championship unless male and female athletes received equal pay.  The U.S. Open became the first major tennis tournament, and perhaps first major professional athletic championship, to offer equal prize money among the sexes.  King continued as a staunch advocate for equal rights, ultimately retiring in 1984 with 39 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles championships.

As for Bobby Riggs, he made a lifelong friend in Billie Jean King until his death in 1993.  Many believed that this genuine, respectful friendship confirmed the extreme chauvinism as an act by Riggs leading up to the Battle of the Sexes.  But was there more?

Almost as quickly as the 1973 tennis match concluded, the rumors of Riggs throwing the match began to circulate.  Do not mistake, Billie Jean King outplayed Riggs in every manner possible.  Riggs simply did not appear as himself and completely out of shape for a match of this caliber.  Even before the historic encounter on the court, Riggs was a well-known gambler in Las Vegas.  He placed wagers on all sports, including events in which he participated.  Indeed, given his reputation as a gambler, the London sports parlors refused to offer wagering on the King-Riggs tennis match.

Vegas had no problem offering odds on the big match.  The oddsmakers installed Riggs as a heavy favorite.  The male oddsmakers figured that Riggs was a man battling a woman.  More seriously, Riggs had beaten then tennis number 1, Margaret Court, rather handily but a few months earlier.  Riggs could certainly handle a “lesser” opponent in tennis number 2, Billie Jean King.

The training regimen for Riggs leading up to that September included meeting with reporters and bad-mouthing women in general.  Announcer Howard Cowell quickly commented how Riggs appeared out of shape.  Riggs could not run down shots which he easily had done a few months earlier.  The heavily favored Riggs was in trouble from the first serve.  Who could gain with such an embarrassing loss by Riggs?

Of course, the group who bet heavily on “the girl” with favorable odds could clean up — the Mafia.  The Mob would need Riggs to throw the match.  Motive supposedly existed for Riggs.  Allegedly, Riggs owed the mob $100,000 in gambling debts.  To pay off the debt, Riggs had to beat up on Margaret Court which would drive up interest for a bigger match with Billie Jean King.  Riggs would then lose spectacularly to the underdog King with significant Mafia money bet on the underdog.  Such conspiracies easily come to mind after events have passed and all the pieces nicely fit in place.

Enter Hal Shaw.  Shaw worked as an assistant golf pro at a Tampa, Florida country club frequented by Mafia types.  Naming names, Shaw detailed meetings he witnessed and heard among these esteemed country club members.  Riggs’ $100,000 debt would be forgiven if he could defeat Court and lose to King.  Shaw waited until 2013 when he was on death’s doorstep to reveal these events he witnessed 40 years earlier.

Shaw’s account remains plausible when viewed in a certain light.  Riggs, a professional athlete his entire adult life, understood that preparing for any tennis match against any other professional player – male or female – required training.  In fact, even at age 55, Riggs seriously dedicated himself in preparation for his match with Margaret Court.    Thereafter, for the next four months, Riggs did not train for the over-hyped Battle of the Sexes.  Perhaps Riggs’ ego got the better of him.  However, this same ego did not get in the way in all the decades leading up to this event.  Seems unlikely.

After the Battle of the Sexes, Bobby Riggs spent most of his days tied in some manner to the gambling industry.  He served as a casino greeter and functioned as a resident celebrity at casinos.  The gambling and gaming bug never left him.  These facts in no manner establish or suggest that Riggs intentionally failed to prepare for his tennis match with Billie Jean King.  They do, nonetheless, confirm that Riggs operated comfortably within this Mafia-influenced environment.

Mob-influenced or otherwise, the King-Riggs tennis match in 1973 placed front and center equal rights issues among genders.  King nicely parlayed the event to achieve a degree of equality for the sexes at least in the world of tennis.  Fifty years later, we find the inequality of wages, inequality of opportunities, and inequality of promotions among the  sexes merely a footnote in the history books having achieved complete equality.  Oh.  Wait.  Perhaps we need another tennis match.

Honorable Mention in the Sports World for September 20.

In Baltimore, Maryland, in the final home game in the 1998 baseball season, on September 20, 1998, Cal Ripken, Jr., removes his name from the starting lineup of the Baltimore Orioles.  This step concluded The Streak of 2,632 consecutive baseball games in which Cal Ripken, Jr., started.  Ripken, humbly, always claimed that whether he started remained the Manager’s decision.  As his Manager noted with a healthy sense of history: “Only Cal or God can end the streak.”

In Estate Planning, we rarely address culturally altering events such as the Battle of the Sexes.  We do, nonetheless, address life altering or life changing circumstances.  Those leaving bequests and distributions appreciate that these gifts could alter life trajectories of others and may influence the paths of many others.  Whether through Statements of Intent, Distribution Guidelines, or Guidance to Trustees, messaging may accompany such gifts.

Perhaps we do not have – and do not want – an audience of 90 million.  Our work remains focused on more limited audiences of a few loved ones or charities.  I am OK with that dynamic and the critical differences we can achieve for others. 

Naked Commitment

Dateline: Coventry, England in the year 1045, give or take ten years.  Leofric, Earl of Mercia, possesses two distinct reputations.  First, the Earl and his wife continued as generous benefactors to religious houses.   In 1043, Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery in Coventry on a site of former nunnery.  The Danes destroyed the nunnery during an invasion in 1016 with Leofric determined to restore a religious purpose to the site.  Leofric’s wife “encouraged” him to grant land to the monastery of St. Mary and create an endowment for that monastery.  The power couple donated jewelry and commissioned works of art to be donated to these monasteries and other religious sites.

Second, the Earl possessed a well-earned reputation as a landowner who highly taxed those on his lands under this feudal system.  These taxes satisfied tribute the Earl owed to the King and supported Leofric’s own lifestyle, including the generous donations to monasteries and religious sites.  It is good to be in favor with the King!

In or about 1050, these reputations collided with Leofric insisting that his charitable generosity continue to be funded through his extensive land holdings.  That approach translated to even higher taxes on those who occupied the lands.  In Coventry, the new and excessive taxes hit so hard that residents confronted the choice of satisfying the new, additional tax or have their families go without food.  The Earl made clear that the only choice available would be to pay the taxes.

Enter Leofric’s wife who took pity on the people of Coventry.  The Earl’s wife interceded on behalf of the villagers begging the Earl to abandon the new taxes.  The historical accounts politely suggest that these requests were so frequent and so fervent that they amounted to marital nagging by Leofric’s spouse.  Exasperated, Leofric exclaimed that he would grant his Lady’s request if she would strip naked and ride a horse through the streets of Coventry.  Lady Godiva accepted the challenge.

Lady Godiva stood much to lose in bargaining for the town people.  While recognized in her own right as a Lady of the King’s court, she knew that her status deeply depended on the fortunes of her husband, the Earl.  She could not embarrass or cross Leofric to the point where he would relegate her to some non-relevant status.  Lady Godiva’s own riches and lifestyle were directly tied to the funds raised through taxes.  Her ability to direct charitable offerings to religious orders derived from collecting taxes on the residents of these lands.  Lady Godiva’s own reputation would certainly be an issue among the elite if she were to ride naked through the town.

Yet, Lady Godiva threw caution and her clothes to the wind in an effort to assist those in Coventry.  Lady Godiva, in a nod to her own modesty, issued a proclamation “commanding all Persons to keep within Doors and from their Windows, on pain of Death” during the ride.  She then rode her horse clothed only in her lengthy hair through Coventry and circled the marketplace before returning to the homestead.  Note that historical accounts differ on whether such a proclamation to remain indoors had been issued and whether an audience witnessed the naked parade of one.  Regardless, the Earl relented after Lady Godiva’s ride and eliminated the new tax.

The directive to remain inside during Lady Godiva’s ride ultimately lead to another legend which historians cannot readily accept: Peeping Tom.  The earliest published accounts of Peeping Tom date back to the 17th Century, hundreds of years following the naked journey.  The story of Peeping Tom had been part of the local lore in telling the story in Coventry for hundreds of years.

Peeping Tom, a local tailor in Coventry, could not resist spying on Lady Godiva as she processed through town in all her glory and only her hair.  Legends differ with Tom either killed or blinded for his peeping.  In one iteration, Lady Godiva’s beauty struck Tom blind.  Alternatively, God killed Tom for ignoring the command to remain inside.  God would so act to protect Lady Godiva as Godiva meant “beloved by God”.  In other tellings of the tale, the people of Coventry beat Tom half to death and blinded him for his transgression.  In any event, by 1796, a dictionary defined Peeping Tom as “A nick name for a curious prying fellow.”  

Whichever account of Lady Godiva may be accurate, one item remains certain.  Lady Godiva possessed commitment to her cause.  She bought into the protest at the risk of losing her social status, her spouse, her pride, her wealth, and her future income.  She stood up to the one in power knowing that the consequences could be catastrophic for herself and the people of Coventry.  

It strikes me that today, especially in this day of the 24 hour news cycle and immediate reporting of anything we can call “news”, we have many protests on almost any issue.  But Lady Godiva’s commitment appears absent.  We protest so that the voices are heard on the news cycle for today and then almost forgotten. 

Take, for example, the Kid Rock Bud Light protests from earlier this year.  Please note, I take no position on either side of the Bud Light protests.  I am not a fan of Bud Light simply because I do not like the taste of the beer.  I otherwise find nothing wrong with Bud Light.  I also have no problem with Kid Rock.  I do not own Kid Rock albums or CDs, but have no issue with his music.  I further understand that Bud Light wants and needs to market to all potential beer drinkers as part of its business model in our capitalistic system.  I appreciate that these marketing decisions may not sit well with some of the existing Bud Light consumers and they may rightfully protest.  No judgments.  No positions.  No questions.  No dog in the hunt for me.  

My point relates to commitment in any protest.  Quite vocally and splashed all over social media, Kid Rock famously fought a case of Bud Light.  The Kid took aim with his semi-automatic assault rifle at a case of unarmed Bud Light. The semi-automatic won, hands down, with the case of Bud Light blown away beyond recognition.  Take that Anheusser-Busch.  Kid Rock used that incident to bring voice to the protest against Bud Light’s marketing decisions which alienated Bud Light drinkers.  No more Bud Light at concerts, tailgate parties, floating around the lake or at backyard barbecues!

Except . . .  Kid Rock forgot about something.  Two months after the video of the battle between Kid Rock and the case of Bud Light went viral and Kid Rock declared that Bud Light is beer non-grata, the media dutifully travelled to Kid Rock’s Nashville bar.  Entering Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock ’n Roll Steakhouse, reporters were greeted with two bottles of Bud Light on the bar.  The reporters inquired if Bud Light was still being served at Kid Rock’s bar.  The bartender confirmed that Bud Light was never taken off the menu or offerings.  In fact, the bartender pointed out the two Bud Lights sitting on the bar.  The barkeep further confirmed that patrons still regularly ordered Bud Light.  Oops.

Apparently, Kid Rock drew the line for his own protest at his wallet.  His bar still served the very offending beer and Kid Rock still made money off those sales.  Kid Rock demonstrated commitment by taking down the case of Bud Light and then voicing opposition from his platform.  But Kid Rock’s commitment did not equate with the naked commitment of Lady Godiva.  Kid Rock placed his own potential income in a position superior to the underlying protest.  His commitment possessed limits and he would not risk it all as did Lady Godiva.

Do not misunderstand, Kid Rock pushed the protest against Bud Light father down the road.  It could be claimed that Kid Rock’s efforts gave oxygen to the fire against Bud Light.  Bud Light’s sales have taken a hit.  The protest worked, in part, due to Kid Rock and his actions.  However, Kid Rock cannot legitimately claim to have been “all in” with his commitment so limited protecting his own interests.

I do not suggest that Kid Rock should ride his Harley buck naked down Broadway outside his Nashville bar to bring further attention to this protest.  Hopefully, none of us wish that approach.  When a protester, especially a high profile person, stages such a public demonstration as protest, then commitment must be genuine and across the board.  You need naked commitment as with Lady Godiva.  Kid Rock did not achieve that level with still looking out for himself.

In Estate Planning, it is often difficult for clients to achieve naked commitment when evaluating who should serve in agency positions in the plan.  I have candid and sometimes challenging discussions with clients to recognize who would best protect their interests if and when they can no longer act for themselves.  After discussing how one child cannot handle financial affairs and evaluating trust protections necessary for that child for any distribution, the same parents then want to name that child as their Attorney in Fact under their financial powers of attorney.  I scratch my head and ask why the parents want this financially irresponsible child to handle their financial affairs.  I receive response that the child is the oldest and that the oldest child should have this responsibility.  I gently suggest that others may be better suited, even if not the eldest.

Commitment to a child is not a bad thing, but Estate Planning demands naked commitment.  Honest, candid and complete analysis of strengths and weaknesses of those who will serve as your agents must be mandatory to protect your interests and ensure that your wishes are followed.  Commitment light will not do.  Lady Godiva commitment is needed.

Unexpected Encounters

I admit that I am not a big social media participant.  I worry not about the number of my “friends”.  I “follow” others only if I personally know them.  I do not tweet (or X-tweet now).  I do not check my social media accounts hourly, daily, or many times even weekly.

Despite this lack of attention, a recent post from an actual friend caught my eye.  The entire post consisted of: “I am looking for a Roy Orbison article.”  That’s it.  Nothing more.  No context.  No reference to an article about Roy Orbison’s life, music, career, or otherwise.  Responses to this post by others included comments about Roy Orbison’s unique voice, hit songs, and his musical abilities, but no one inquired about the nature of the article sought by my friend.

Without more, I will rise to the challenge.  Here is a Blog article about Roy Orbison for my friend Dave.  With minimum digging, Roy Orbison’s life offers a tapestry of riches for any writer.  Roy’s gift of a guitar from his father at age 6 and confirmation that he would pursue a life in music by age 7 could be a good article.  Roy’s early Texas influences including Country music star Lefty Fazzell, who later served as the namesake for Roy’s character as Lefty Wilbury, could be grist for a good story.  Orbison’s personal tragedies of loss of his wife and two of his children in horrible accidents remains prime canon fodder for any tail.  Hanging out with Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash for three years at Sun Studios, including Elvis loaning Roy his purple Cadillac to impress Roy’s date, represents writer’s gold.

Instead, our story about Roy Orbison begins in the pubs and wedding halls in northwest England in the late 1950s.  Sixteen year old guitarist John Lennon plays with the Quarrymen when fifteen year old Paul McCartney joins the band for a few numbers during each gig.  Paul’s guitar playing improves to the point where he gets a solo on “Guitar Boogie”.  However, the fifteen year old proved too nervous to perform well on stage on his solo forcing the band to reach out for fellow fifteen yer old guitarist George Harrison to join them.  The core of the Beatles became cast by late 1957.

The Quarrymen played local parties, wedding receptions and at pubs in Liverpool and Manchester during 1958 and 1959.  Trying to gain traction, they also performed as Johnny and the Moon Dogs, the Silver Beetles, and the Silver Beats at this time.  John Lennon and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe coined the term “Beatles” by combining the Silver Beetles and Silver Beats.

During this period, the band, under whatever name they used, could not keep a drummer.  Paul McCartney even played drums for a few shows considering himself pretty good at it.  Apparently, the rest of the band disagreed with a search continuing for a drummer.  In August 1960, the band’s manager and booking agent, Allen Williams, convinced the band to travel to Hamburg, Germany to play for a while as Williams previously had success with sending other bands abroad.  One problem:  the band still lacked a drummer.  Williams recruited drummer Pete Best from a different band and sent him along to Hamburg as the Beatles’ new drummer.

Between 1960 and 1962, the Beatles split their time between Liverpool and Hamburg.  John Lennon credits the young German audiences with pushing the band’s development.  The Germans demanded that these bands play lengthy sets and play loud.  That dynamic forced Lennon-McCartney to create more music to feed the demand.  As Lennon put it: “We really had to hammer.”

Of course, the Beatles big break came in January 1962 when record store owner Brian Epstein “discovered” the Beatles in Liverpool signing them to a five year management contract.  1962 became the year of change for the Beatles.  In April, bass player Stuart Sutcliffe died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage.  In June, the band got a shot at recording, being teamed up with producer George Martin.  The Beatles recorded various singles including “Love Me Do” and “PS I Love You”.  In August, Martin let Epstein know that drummer Pete Best was holding back the band.  Epstein immediately fired Pete Best thereby relegating him to an answer to trivia questions for generations to come.  Epstein turned to the son of a local confectioner, Ringo Starr as the new drummer.  August 1962 – the Beatles as we know them.

January 1963, the Beatles release “Please Please Me” which shot up to No. 1 on the U.K. charts.  The Beatles followed a string of Top Ten hits in the U.K. during 1963 and became a touring sensation in Great Britain.

While the Beatles evolved and started to find their groove, back in the States, in 1960, Roy Orbison — you remember Roy Orbison — this article is about Roy Orbison — wrote and pitched “Only the Lonely” to Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers.  After they each rejected the song, Orbison recorded it himself.  “Only the Lonely” charted out as No. 2 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the U.K. and Australia.  Between 1960 and 1963, Roy Orbison pumped out a series of hits including “Running Scared”, “Crying”, and “Dream Baby” which each raced up the charts in the U.S. and the U.K.  “Pretty Woman” was added to the mix.  By 1963, Roy Orbison was established both in the States and across the pond.

With their own freshly minted No. 1 songs now in hand in 1963, the Beatles planned a U.K. tour with Duane Eddy billed as the top performer.  Eddy was pulled from the tour with Roy Orbison asked to take on the top billing spot to tour with this new group, the Beatles.  Orbison arrived in England having never heard of the Beatles or their songs.  Roy and the Beatles met for the first time backstage before their first scheduled performance.

Orbison asked “What’s a Beatle, anyway?”  John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and responded “I am”.  This interaction began the unlikely friendship between Roy Orbison and the Beatles.

The Beatles and Orbison discussed the order of performance for the show with Orbison stating that he would gladly play first and give “top billing” to the up and coming Beatles.  The Beatles watched in awe as Orbison, dressed in his trademark performance black clothes, strode to the center of the stage with his guitar and simply played and sang.  He did not move from the center stage position.  He did not dance around.  He just performed.  This approach was the antithesis from what the Beatles learned in Hamburg which demanded high energy and high volume songs.  After the tour, the Beatles remained amazed that Roy Orbison so captivated the crowd while simply standing still in one spot on the stage.

The audience roared with applause for Roy Orbison.  Orbison played encore after encore with the crowd chanting “We want Roy” every time he exited the stage.  After the fourteenth encore, John Lennon and George Harrison grabbed Orbison by the shoulders and told him that they would not let him go back out for a fifteenth encore as the Beatles had to get on the stage.  

During this tour, before one show, Orbison lost his black framed glasses.  He grabbed his dark prescription sunglasses, also set in large black frames, for his set and realized he liked using the sunglasses better with the spotlights.  Thereafter, Roy always performed with his dark sunglasses regardless of venue.

Bruce Springsteen inducted Roy Orbison into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.  In tribute, Springsteen concluded his speech as follows:  “I wanted a record with words like Bob Dylan that sounded like Phil Spector – but, most of all, I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison.  Now, everyone knows that no one sings like Roy Orbison.”  We all knew the incredible range of Roy Orbison’s voice.  Now we can better appreciate how Roy Orbison and George Harrison so easily teamed up in the Traveling Wilburys in the late 1980s.

I have learned with Estate Planning clients that everyone has their own story with unique and unexpected interactions during the journey of their lives.  Perhaps we do not have chart topping musical hits or perhaps we do not meet the Beatles.  Yet, these interactions and relationships remain important to us.  Some clients wish to utilize their estate plans to recognize special events or relationships in their lives.  Clients may memorialize such events with a modest distribution or donation to a deserving cause in the name of a special person.  The Will or Living Trust could simply include a statement of the importance of the underlying event.  For these clients, when we prepare to sign the myriad of documents in their Estate Plan, without failure inquire if these token or special gestures are properly included in their documents.  Events along the journey for each of us matter as does an article about Roy Orbison for my friend Dave.

Happy 4th and Unhappy Relatives

Happy July 4th Week!  Many are on vacation this week or at least taking it easier with a mid-week 4th of July.  The Blog decided to kick back a little as well with reflections on the Silver Screen – Estate Planning Edition.  OK.  Very few, if any, movies follow that ever-exciting plot device of estate planning: “Ooh, will they choose a Will or Revocable Living Trust — or maybe even a Domestic Asset Protection Trust.  Oh, boy!”  Instead, the dynamic conflict and drama flows more naturally after someone dies with all left to fight for the spoils of the deceased.

With focus on the post-death battles for the riches, then, what can Hollywood teach us about estate planning and ourselves?

Secrets, Secrets, Secrets

Charlie Babbit spent life as an only child, rather spoiled, and growing more distant from his parents each year until they passed.  Expecting an oversized inheritance to match his oversized ego, Charlie instead learned through his parents’ trust that he had a brother; the brother had autism; the parents institutionalized his brother; AND everything except a vintage car was left in trust exclusively for the benefit of his brother — Raymond Babbit or Rain Man.

Charlie’s frustrations in not securing the expected death windfall from the estate is taken out in the form of anger directed against the trustee who refuses Charlie’s demands for money.  The trustee simply fulfills his duties to protect Rain Man.  Charlie’s ire should be focused on his parents who refused and failed to even mention the special needs sibling. The parents took their secret to their graves.

Of course, after kidnapping Rain Man and a cross-country adventure worthy of Thelma and Louise, Charlie slowly discovers brotherly love and a desire to provide and care for his long lost brother.  Charlie decides not to use Rain Man as bait for ransom payments.

The saddest part of Rain Man remains the parents’ secret which denied Charlie and Rain Man the opportunity of a lifelong relationship.  Perhaps Charlie would have steadfastly continued in his self-centered existence even if he knew of Rain Man.  We do not know.

Quite often, clients question whether they should disclose details of their estate plan to their children.  I counsel that, at a minimum, the children should be made aware that an estate plan exists with the plan containing directions and wishes of the parents.  I further encourage some level of discussion among family members especially if ultimate distributions and perceived expectations of the children may not align.  If an unknown sibling exists whose identity will become known only after death and that sibling stands to inherit everything, I can only suggest a different type of family counseling requiring advanced degrees beyond my law degree.

Words Are Important

I try my best to avoid crafting any part of a Will or Trust leaving anything to the “closest relative”.  My practice became validated in A Series of Unfortunate Events.  These novelettes, combined to form the basis for the movie, follow the misfortunes of the orphaned Baudelaire children; Violet, Klaus and Sunny.  The dastardly Count Olaf continues to plot the orphans’ demise in an on-going effort to gain their fortune.  The insane plots and crazy characters are not of interest here although they abound in the movie.  Instead, the origins triggering this series of misfortunes matter.

The Baudelaire tragedy begins with a day at the beach for the three children interrupted by the family banker and trustee, Mr. Poe.  Mr. Poe delivers the horrible news that the Baudelaire parents just perished in a fire which consumed the family mansion.  Rather than grieving the loss or addressing the myriad of emotions the children must be confronting, Mr. Poe swoops up the children to deliver them to their new legal guardian, care taker, and very distant relative, Count Olaf.  

However, Violet, Klaus and Sunny had never even heard the name of Count Olaf mentioned in their family and do not know him.  The children protest that their parents surely would have selected others as guardians such as closer relatives well-known to the children.  Aunts and uncles who were part of the fabric of the lives of the children could serve as guardians for the newly minted orphans.

Yet, Mr. Poe will not hear of such protests as the parents’ trust clearly states that the “closest” relative of the Baudelaire parents becomes guardian if one is ever needed.  Mr. Poe conducted extensive research to determine that the previously unknown Count Olaf resided merely cross-town from the Baudelaire family while all other relatives resided farther away.  Accordingly, Count Olaf, although a very distant and heretofore unknown relative of the Baudelaire orphans, indeed, constituted the geographically “closest” relative.  To Mr. Poe, the trust language could not be more clear with the orphans placed with the evil Count Olaf.  Let the fun begin!

The parents’ use of ambiguous language set in motion the Series of Unfortunate Events for the Baudelaire children.  Avoid your own Mr. Poe interpreting your Will or Trust after you are gone.  Provide specific and clear direction and instruction.  At times, descriptions in a Will or Trust may appear complex or cumbersome.  I can live with that approach if it ensures that the Count Olafs are avoided.

The Slayer Rule Has Been Slain

The recent hit film, Knives Out, combines a classic tale of greedy relatives fighting over the bounty with a “whodunit” murder mystery.  Successful novelist and ultra-wealthy head of the family, Harlan Trombey, is discovered murdered on his palatial estate.  As the movie unfolds, each character lays claim to the riches providing the rationale and basis for the position superior to the other seekers of the riches.  Certain characters form alliances to bolster their claims and undercut the efforts of the others.  Everyone believes themselves fully entitled to the inheritance.

This pit of vipers truly has their Knives Out prepared to stab each other in the back in order to advance.  And yet, each character possesses motive and opportunity to have murdered Ol’ Trombey.  Every character is flawed and equally unlikeable.  The plot twists and misdirections are classic.

Overlooked with all the drama in Knives Out is the Slayer Rule.  If you meet your demise at the hands, or due to the actions, of another, those who caused your death cannot gain from your death.  The Slayer cannot benefit in the slaying and cannot collect any inheritance.  Well-drafted Wills and Trusts expressly disinherit the Slayer.  Many states have now enacted their own statutory version of the Slayer Rule.

The entire storyline for Knives Out will not be revealed here nor will it reveal “whodunit”. The plot makes for an enjoyable movie even if the writers slew the Slayer Rule.

Blinded By Greed

Courtesy of the streaming services. The Estate hit the Little Screen in 2022.  The wealthy spinster aunt, played by a curmudgeonly Kathleen Turner, confronts her final battles with illness as her misogynistic, self-centered nieces and nephews appear out of nowhere seeking to position themselves to inherit the aunt’s fortunes.  Each niece and nephew believe a few acts of kindness at death’s door will place them in the best stead after a lifetime of neglect of the aunt.  Alliances are made and disregarded.  Backstabbing is the norm.

One niece convinces her husband to seduce the failing aunt in an effort to court favor.  The creepy nephew keeps attempting to seduce his cousin including directions to internet sites which encourage “love” among cousins.  Yuck!  Each niece and nephew is throughly unlikeable.  You either root for the least unlikeable niece or root for “none of the above”.

Even if these characters would otherwise be normal and act with some degree of moral propriety, the greed and potential to inherit everything drives each cousin to act without regard for their aunt, for each other, or for anyone else in their lives.  Of course, the surprise ending leaves the cousins with nothing except the ugly painting cast off to the ugly niece at the reading of the Will.  A final plot twist after the reading of the Will helps, but these characters remain fatally flawed.  

Unfortunately, in estate administration, such characters or their characteristics come to life all too often.  In planning out your estate, you may not be able to determine who may cause disruption and chaos among your family and loved ones.  In some instances, when clients are candid, such characters can be identified.  In those instances, the Will or Trust can include guardrails and protections to better ensure that wishes are followed and some level of peace remains among those left behind.

So, enjoy your own July 4th Week and even take in a movie if you wish.  Perhaps the cinema could replay a classic movie where the action is more civil and more polite than these rabid families bent on destroying one another.  You know, a movie like Jaws.

Flag Day Stinks!

Happy Flag Day to you.  June 14 is never a happy day for me.  My own lot really has nothing to do with Flag Day, but rather the date.  Flag Day stands as the annual reminder of certain past events I wish could just stay in the past.  

First, let’s tackle Flag Day itself.  Flag Day is relegated to one of the lesser “holidays” of the year.  Many simply forget about Flag Day completely and wonder why a number of American flags pop up in June until someone declares: “Oh yeah.  It is Flag Day.”  I am not aware of anyone who gets the day off from work for Flag Day.  I am not aware of folks who throw Flag Day parties.  I would wager that if Americans listed their Top Ten Holidays, Flag Day would rarely make the cut.

In fact, Flag Day is technically not a holiday.  In 1916, President Wilson issued a proclamation officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day.  In 1949, Congress established June 14 as National Flag Day, but failed to recognize this patriotic 24 hours as a holiday.

Great dispute exists regarding the origins of Flag Day.  Despite uncertainty as to who initiated Flag Day or where it began, June 14 clearly recognizes the June 14, 1777 Flag Resolution passed by the Second Continental Congress.  That Congress declared:

“Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.

Two early references for a national Flag Day date back to to the 1800s.  In 1861, George Morris of Hartford, Connecticut proposed June 14 as Flag Day to honor the original adoption of the American flag.  The City of Hartford observed Flag Day in 1861 as a patriotic day with prayers for preservation of the Union.  Yet, that 1861 event appears as a “one and done” day with no further annual Flag Day celebration or tradition.

The 1880s witnessed the efforts of the “Father of Flag Day”, Bernard Cigrand.  Cigrand, a school teacher from Wisconsin, proposed an annual observance of the U.S. flag on June 14 to promote patriotism and respect for the flag.  He traveled the region gaining support in newspapers with his proposal.  Cigrand organized his efforts through establishment of the American Flag Day Association and National Flag Day Society, serving as president of both organizations he founded.  Cigrand claimed to have given well over 2,100 speeches in favor of establishing Flag Day.

Others pushed for June 14 a Flag Day, but credit rests with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks who made Flag Day official.  In 1907, the Elks decreed June 14 as Flag Day with every Elks Lodge obligated to observe Flag Day.  President Wilson took note and saw an easy political score with the Presidential Proclamation of Flag Day in 1916.

OK.  So why does Flag Day bother me?  It is another anniversary of sorts in our house.  Actually, it is the anniversary of us moving into this house years ago.  For the record, we love our house.  It is comfortable.  The layout is ideal for us.  It provides all the feelings of warmth and security desired in a house.  Even with the house now way too large as we enter the empty nester phase, moving is not seriously in the cards for consideration.

The June 14 move date itself remains the day of which should not be spoken – but somehow is annually reminded to me.

As with Flag Day history, there exists a marital history regarding moving into this house.  Years and years ago now, when our three boys were ages 9, 7 and 2, we closed on this newly constructed house and arranged to move across town to our new home.  Moving date became set on June 14 which fit perfectly for exiting our former house.  Pre-packing went on for days in anticipation of the arrival of the movers on June 14.  Simply moving across town may not be quite as traumatic as moving across country, but not by much.  The stress and logistical problems apply to each such move.  Managing three boys below age 10 with one still not potty trained just added to the chaos.  But, we were excited and determined, at least until late in the afternoon of June 12.

At that time, I worked as the in-house counsel for a global manufacturing company with responsibilities extending to all litigation matters around the world – with 90% of all litigation in the United States.  Among the myriad of litigation cases pending at that time was a “wage and hour” class action case in Puerto Rico.  The company operated four factories on the island with the class action seeking in excess of $50 million for alleged improper calculation of work time for employees.

Puerto Rico was then, and remains today, a worker-friendly venue for claims against U.S. companies doing business on the island.  As one trade off for the amazing tax breaks for the corporations, the Puerto Rico legislature took care of the Puerto Rico employees through these worker-friendly laws.  That fact, combined with amazingly complex Puerto Rico wage and hour laws, provided many “gotcha” traps even for those employers who genuinely sought to comply with all laws and regulations.  Oh, and plaintiffs’ lawyers would be awarded substantial attorneys’ fees if even a single violation could be established in a wage and hour dispute.  These cases were free money for the plaintiffs’ bar.

The ultimate exposure for the company would not be the $50 million as demanded, but a realistic exposure range extended well into 8 figures.  Prior settlement efforts through mediation proved fruitless.  Ultimate case outlook appeared rather poor for the company.

Late on the afternoon of June 12, I received a call from the court-assigned mediator “instructing” that mediation would resume the morning of June 14.  Now, the mediator was a retired federal judge so he felt it well within his rights to “instruct” (i.e., order) the mediation to resume in less than 48 hours.  I explained my moving conflict and gently and carefully reminded the mediator the he cannot compel us to proceed, especially on such impossibly short notice.  The mediator tolerated no such pushback and bluntly told me I had to be in Puerto Rico the day after next.

I actually liked the mediator.  While he was on the island for decades, we shared a strong Boston connection.  Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. 1st Circuit federal court system which includes Massachusetts.  The mediator began his days as a federal judge in Boston and was later transferred to Puerto Rico.  Our professional circles intersected in Boston where we found quite a number of common friends and interests.  The mediator looked as tough as a Boston “Southie” and acted as a gruff Ernest Borgnine.  He cared not about our personal connection or conflict and told me to be there, on time, as there arose a substantial breakthrough.

I promptly informed my boss, the General Counsel (GC), of this dilemma.  The GC called out for his assistant to immediately make travel plans for us both to Puerto Rico.  The GC saw opportunity in the mediator’s vague assurance of a breakthrough and wanted to be involved to place this risk behind us.  He met my suggestion that he fly solo on this settlement mission with laughter noting that only I knew the facts and I possess at least some understanding and appreciation of the bizarre Puerto Rico laws.  Also, the GC reminded me that I was a licensed mediator myself and I know how to resolve cases.  Oh, great, to be so needed.

The news of my valued legal expertise and skills to settle cases did not go over so well at home.  Sorry, Honey.  Instead of packing to get ready to move, I will leave you with three young children to fly off to a tropical island.  Oh, and I cannot be here for the big move day we planned for weeks.  Do you think you can give me a ride to the airport?

June 14 arrived with me in Puerto Rico at mediation in the old courthouse.  The mediator was correct in estimating the appetite of the plaintiffs’ counsel to settle.  The week before, the plaintiffs’ firm rather surprisingly lost a significant case it had on contingency fee.  The law firm lost millions of dollars in expenses it put up in that case.  Local legal gossip had this firm disbanding due to that loss.  These lawyers desperately and quickly needed something in the “win” column.  Enter our wage and hour case.

The mediator used 100% of his Ernest Borgnine charm in beating down the plaintiffs’ lawyers.  They caved fairly quickly but advised that the lead plaintiffs possessed expectations which could preclude agreement.  The mediator “ordered” those plaintiffs to appear at the mediation after lunch.  They complied.

The mediator explained that the plaintiff lawyers did a great job in securing the best offer and advised the plaintiffs to accept the offer.  A few holdouts remained.  In a surreal scene out of a Quinton Tarantino movie, the mediator instructed the holdouts to carefully consider the offer without interference.  The mediator knew of the spot for careful consideration – the former jail cells in the basement of the old courthouse.  As he placed the plaintiffs in the jail cells, the mediator instructed them that when they were ready to accept the offer, they can call back upstairs to us.  Surprise!  We reached full agreement for pennies on the dollar.

We wrapped up settlement details fairly well into the evening and returned to the hotel.  The GC inquired where we could get some food at this late time with the desk clerk advising that only the rooftop Mexican bar and restaurant was still open.  To the rooftop to celebrate our victory!

We each had a margarita to celebrate stealing a settlement and dodging a litigation bullet.  The tequila provided enough courage to allow me to call home to see how the big June 14 move progressed.  Despite sitting in 80 degrees with a tropical breeze, it felt quite chilly when the phone was answered.  I sounded genuinely sorry and recognized the thin ice I needed to traverse.  As the chill began to defrost ever so slightly, a strolling Mariachi band struck up a tune at the next table.  The GC then shouted over the music to the bartender instructing him to bring us two more margaritas.

Click.  The call ended and June 14 became a day of infamy in our house.

Each year since then, I make no mention of Flag Day or June 14.  Each year since then, I am reminded of my spousal shortcomings associated with our move into our house.  The good news is that after all these years and all the blessings in this house, our own little Flag Day is met with slightly more humor each year.  This year, I was reminded that the anniversary of moving into the house is Flag Day, but I cannot celebrate until June 15 as I did not arrive at our house until that date.  We are making progress!

In estate planning, every client brings their own Flag Day.  Everyone has their own circumstance they made special or unique for themselves over time.  You can celebrate such events through a memorial or remembrance gesture in your estate plan.  Or, as in my case, you can simply hope that instead of raising Flag Day to a federal holiday, your own Flag Day gets forgotten and its name should never be spoken.