Heywood Fox and Elizabeth pick up the story: Heywood: “After Irene, his first wife, died, Channing married Lucile, (Irene’s sister, on 12 February 1941). Lucile had been just a wonderful member of the family for a long time anyway and Lizzie and her brothers were all very fond of her. We all were.
“When Channing went out to Palm Springs that winter . . . there was no hint that he was going to marry her. But he did say that he was going to stop in Chicago and see Lucile on the way out. “And he stopped in Chicago to see Lucile, and one of the most touching things I think that ever happened was that Channing called all of his children and asked their permissions for him to marry Aunt Lucile . . .”
Elizabeth: “Oh! Oh! We were so thrilled . . . we were just so thrilled . . .” Albert concludes: “At first we were shocked and couldn’t believe it, but he never did a better day’s job in his life. Channing is very well today.” Approximately a year and a half later, Cheney also remarried. On July 20, 1942, Marion Hollister of New York became Mrs. Cheney Wells. The marriage ended with Marion’s death in 1955 in Sturbridge.
He worked on another product which he hoped AO could sell. He had the help of Tillyer — the lens genius — who helped him on quartz crystals for radio frequency control. Trying the same ploy with aviation in 1937, he wrote to AB on May 12 seeking a way to set up a “Scientific Research Laboratory . . . which will help us in the future with new allied products to our present lines, and, I hope, brand new lines which will also become part of our business . . .”
He also sought relief from administrative work to free his time for research .. . “I believe that it is the only way in which I am going to be able to work out a set-up for myself which will give me the opportunity to do those things that I feel I can best do, not only for my own future happiness, but also for the ultimate best interests of the company and also the rest of the family . . .”
But, after another year and a half, it was clear that his plans for uniting his own efforts with those of the company were not going to work. On September 10, 1939, he wrote an eight-page, single-spaced letter to his father, on the eve of Cheney’s departure for another of his long trips — this time to Europe. In it, he deplored the fact that they could not sit down and discuss the matter face to face because “the sentimental side of it all is such an important consideration . . .”
He went on to recap his life from the earliest days, much of which has been quoted earlier, and wrote an itemized summary of the obligations he felt were causing the confrontation. Then the emotional flood, so long held back, poured out its dams.
. . . I am pretty unhappy at the way I know you feel over all this and toward me. I know you believe I haven’t made the progress in The American Optical Company that I should have . . . More than that, I know that it has always been your ambition that I should follow in your footsteps with the company as my dominating interest and life’s work. I am particularly conscious of all this when I realized all that you have done for me — the fine education . . . then our wonderful home, Mashapaug Camp, chances to travel . . . your offer to build a separate radio house after our fire, and I realize I never did properly thank you for . . . the airplane, the very best and safest that I could ever hope to own . . . I just never can show my appreciation enough …
“. . . Before I make any final decision though as to what I’m going to do with my life, I realize there are certain obligations that must be taken into account. I did take into account these obligations and I am satisfied that what I have decided is right and that I should go ahead on that basis.
“First of all, there is the obligation to Sylvia, the children, and to myself. I’ve got to live a happy life, to be fair to them, and at the same time I have got to take care of them in every way to the best of my ability.
“Next, there is the obligation to you and to Mother who brought me here and who brought me up. I owe it to both of you to do the best job I can with what I have, so that you can be proud of me and be happy in all that you have done for me and given me.
“Then there is an obligation to the American Optical Company, as a separate entity from the ‘family’, since through it and its progress we have had so many things and advantages we might never have had otherwise.
“And finally, there is an obligation to, for want of a better word, ‘society’. I don’t believe anyone has a right to go through life taking out of this world more than he has given. This may sound like theory, but it is a real moral belief of mine, and I just don’t believe anyone can find real happiness if he goes through life taking out of it more than he contributes.
“How can one best fulfill these obligations and still live a happy and enjoyable life? Primarily, I feel sure, the answer is to take up that job or those jobs in life for which one is best suited — work hard at those objectives and make them of major importance, and if one is honest and reasonably capable and educated, the rest will take care of itself and come naturally.
“I have finally made up my mind, at least with all the background I now have available, and with all the foregoing in mind, that I should devote my major energies along aviation, radio, and similar lines . . .”
In order to have the necessary funds for such a major change, John went on in the same letter to review the trusts his father had established. He made it plain that he hoped to use some of the income, but “naturally, if you need income from that trust for the Village, you have only to say no and I shall be glad to acquiesce to whatever you suggest or want. “As I sit and read all of this letter over, Father, it just doesn’t do justice to all that’s in my mind and heart and all that I’d still like to say to you. From now on I hope that we can sit down often together. I so want to have you tell me your thoughts and ideas on the many points I have tried to cover, and I know you can help tremendously with advice and counsel when we really get talking together. All the time, Father, I’m realizing what you’re going through, and your disappointment at the fact that my interests aren’t perhaps what you had hoped and planned for, but deep down I know that you want me to be a success and be happy. I know that I am going to do both now that I have finally decided the route I should take. Once this is accomplished I’m sure you are going to be proud of me and happy in it too. Your affectionate son,”
Cheney relayed his replies from various points around the globe. Couched always in the most affectionate terms, as one might write admonishments to a wayward child, they emphasized one point: John had better relinquish any notion that he was going to utilize funds from the trust in order to finance any adventure of his own outside of American Optical Company. Cheney took steps to cover this point with his attorney, Frederick H. Nash of Choate, Hall & Stewart. “I told John that I would prefer to leave the situation just as I had last talked with him before leaving home . . . I told him that certainly when I made my Common Stock Trust I never contemplated that the income from it would be used by him or anyone, to finance a new business, or something outside of A0Co . . .”
John had anticipated his father’s apprehension. Whatever the business he might ultimately select, he would finance by applying savings accumulated from an earlier trust.
Albert, too, apparently motivated by John’s need for self-sufficiency, followed suit. If, indeed, John were to leave the company, he should spend a few years as an employee of whatever company in the aviation field or the radio field he chose. Albert felt he was not ready to assume the responsibility or owner-management. Albert pointed this out to John whenever he could.
The voluminous correspondence that developed was, of course, “passed around”. It reached its crossroads on the desk of President George B. Wells. Cheney appealed to George on January 16, 1940: “Dear George: Thank you for your letter of January 6 in further reference to John and the correspondence referred to. Quite a volume of it, and I do appreciate your taking the time to write now again as fully as you have . . . With all that you have on hand at the present time I am terribly sorry to have this added to an already sufficiently full calendar, and I know how deeply interested you have been from the beginning and how helpful I am sure you are to John. I will have to admit that I doubt if he appreciates the soundness of the advice which you and Albert and others have been giving him, but one of these days I think he will remember it as being sound . . .” George’s summary, to which Cheney’s letter was a reply, had been brief but cogent. And as the matter flowed toward its conclusion, it included Florence who was reported to have offered her son $50,000 to help him in his new venture. The offer was countermanded by her husband. Finally, on Saturday, January 27, in the offices of Choate, Hall & Stewart, the papers of incorporation for John’s new company were signed. After one name change, Harvey-Wells Communications, Incorporated, with headquarters in Southbridge was launched. The dams had been breached. The retaining walls had been tumbled in direct assault. The established power flow was altered irrevocably. Upon George fell the role of peacemaker. As one follows the intricate play and counter play of emotions, ambitions, and disciplines, one emerges with a growing respect for the stature George achieved not only in this situation, but also in other family matters. He wrote to Cheney on February 12, 1940: “Fundamentally, I know, Uncle Cheney, that we are all interested in the same thing. Next, I agree that we all have the same opinion concerning John’s plans. “If we disagree at all, it is my very strong feeling that if John has made up his mind to go ahead, then we owe him our moral support and encouragement. I have said a hundred times to John ‘I can’t agree with the plans you are making, but you have made up your mind. I will do all I can to help you.’
“Father and I are behind you 100% in trying to do everything that we can to assist John and to keep him on a sound foundation; but I must be frank in writing that we are all, and I think you are too, more interested in avoiding any friction or misunderstanding developing in the future among the members of the family. “It is perhaps that point that Father had in mind in the letter that you refer to, that I did not send a copy of to you. “Again, I should not be frank if I did not write that I am very impressed with the plans John is laying for the development of his new enterprise here in Southbridge. It is a tremendously difficult job, but he is going at it with immense energy, and certainly is watching every penny”. “Since I wrote you, others have had chance to meet Harvey and the other men, and feel as Ned Williams and I do that they are sound, hard-working youngsters. Incidentally, all three families plan to move to town quite soon . . .”
On February 20, 1940, while George was visiting his father at Rancho Santa Fe, both Channing and Cheney visited Albert. Also, once again the discussion centered on John. George again stepped into his peacemaker role with a hand-written note to John:
“Dear John, Just a note to say that everything is OK. It isn’t over yet, but Uncle Cheney is going to be all right about it. He is very interested in your doings. Why not try to write him once a week and let him know what’s doing. All are fine, never saw Uncles Channing and Cheney looking better, nor Mother and Father either.
Trip OK and plenty business to talk and think about.
My love to Sylvia
George did not know it at the time, but his efforts had already born fruit. In a hand-penciled note from Palm Springs, prior to George’s note, Cheney offered support:
“So you have now organized your new company and are ‘on your way’ — I want to add my best wishes to all you are receiving from others. It’s not been an easy step or series of steps — for you to take — but certainly your heart is in it and you have known for a good while in what direction you wanted to go and have found a plan which fitted your desires, and after working so steadily toward such a plan you should know you have every best wish for your complete success and satisfaction. The same goes for your new associates. I’ve been very glad to hear that George has met them and their wives, too — and likes them — and I do hope they each will do well for himself and for the company into which each of you is putting your strong endeavor. You know that it has not been easy for me to try to carry on my side of what we have been covering by writing so far from home, but I do look forward to going over all these matters when I get home and I do hope I can be helpful to you and in any way that I can as you go on with your undertaking. Let me hear from you how things go from time to time as you have a chance and never doubt my desire to see you make the greatest of success for yourself and family.
With best love to you all, Sincerely Father”
As always the triumvirate presented a united front to the world, no matter what their private disagreements.
The decade of the thirties had its family problems and disappointments for Channing as it did for Cheney. It was hard to accept the fact that not one of his sons would ever have a top managerial job at the company. Greg, as a customers’ man and general diplomat like his father, would stay on. Turner would do his best job, but would not to the point of sheer dedication. Cady and Mason struck out on their own, although Cady did spend a short time in the Advertising Department.
There was, however, one great compensating factor. In 1930 Channing’s daughter Elizabeth, busy in the Junior League, Vincent Club and the rest of the Boston social scene, met a young Harvard sophomore from New York at a dinner party. During the next years he sought summer work on Cape Cod. His name: Heywood Fox.
“I was looking for a summer job at the seashore and found one sailing a boat at Wianno. It paid thirty-five bucks a week, which is a lot of money . . . I never saw Liz in the social whirl around Boston until that summer when I discovered that she lived at Wianno and sailed one of those Wianno Seniors that she and Greg Wells owned jointly . . . She kept licking me in the races — and you know, if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. I got sick of looking at her transom and after three years of hard work I steered her away from another guy that she was interested in, and she finally said she guessed we’d better be married . We’d known each other for four years before we were married in 1934 . . .”
They spent their first years in New York where Fox worked in the Chase Bank. Then, “George Wells propositioned me. He said that they thought it would be well worth everybody’s while if we could talk about ‘Lizzie’s husband’ joining the AO.
“I thought about it long and hard . . . and finally decided in spite of the fact that I wasn’t particularly keen on a family association with business, nevertheless it was exactly the kind of thing that I wanted to do, and maybe it was an opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up. So I finally decided that I would. “Uncle Channing urged me to some extent to do this because I think he felt that he wanted some financial representation of his family in the business. Channing was not financially minded as Albert was. Albert was a financial wizard — and so was George as far as that’s concerned . . . None of Channing’s sons was interested in financial things and I was; that was what I wanted to do. So I came in basically to represent Channing’s financial interests . . .
Fox soon became the nucleus of a group of younger men whom George gathered around him as advisors in running the company. Fox’s advent also gave Channing the time to devote himself to the landscaping and gardening of his home on Fiske Hill, and more time to enjoy the winters at Palm Springs. About a year and a half after his walk through the flood-hurricane of 1938, he and Irene were invited to a New Year’s party to usher in the year 1940. Writing to his friend Walter Gamble in 1942, Albert was critical of Irene’s un-willingness to lead a less active life at Palm Springs. Irene had known for several months that she had a bad heart, but you couldn’t control her. About New Years, she went to some parties. Channing was so angry he wouldn’t go with her, but her son, Henry Cady Wells was there and went with her. Channing felt that he couldn’t go. He thought she was doing just what she shouldn’t.
“And he was right. She had the very best of medical care, and they had a bungalow at Desert Inn which they turned into a hospital. Still Irene didn’t recover. Of course, it was a great shock, and it was the first break in the family. (Florence, Cheney’s wife would die on August 22 of the same year.) Channing was just lost. Irene had meant so much to him. They had been everywhere together for about forty-two years . . .”