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GP 25 April 2007: The Babes of New York and Mount Everest

The Lady’s Not for Burning.  In Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning, a despairing, used-up soldier, one Thomas Mendip, returning from the wars in the 15th century, goes to the town major and asks to be hung.  Meanwhile, Jennett Jourdemayne, accused by the villagers of witchcraft, has been sentenced to hanging, but she very much wants to live.  Ah, fortunately this is a comedy, and by play’s end, the two are in love and saved from the gallows.

This last year death has snatched some of New York’s leading ladies from our midst.  In a town where the men do not distinguish themselves by pursuing the common interest and civilized interchange, they were both life giving and lively.  That is, they were against ‘burn out’ in all its senses.

Not so well known as the ladies who lunched at Swifty’s on the East Side (see “Surviving Despite Recent Losses, and Still Having Lunch,” New York Times, April 22, 2007, p. YT27), Eleanor Thomas Elliott left a considerable imprint on the nation.  She was a board member of both the National Organization of Women and of the Celanese Corporation, once a leading textile and chemicals concern headquartered in New York City.  As chair of Barnard College in New York City, she ensured that it did not disappear into the bowels of Columbia, a merger that was much in the works for quite a while.  We remember, too, that she put together a little essay on politeness, just one indication that she thought that one did not have to be abrasive to be a force for change.  She passed away in December 2006.

The Buck Starts Here.  Pat Buckley was always someone you just read about and enjoyed because she had an acerbic tongue.  We imagine she outdid her husband Bill Buckley on more than one occasion, which was certainly no mean feat, as he was and is c prideful about his caustic abilities.  She cut through the fluff of the very society of which she was a part. One acquaintance commented: “She called herself an Arab wife, making sure everything was perfect for everybody, good food, good wine.”

The Times (April 19, 2007, pp. E1 and E7) adds: “There were cigarettes in monogrammed sterling cups on the dinner table (her own brand was Merit).  There were soufflés prepared by the chef the Buckleys employed for decades.  There were gin rummy games in the library after dinner, at 2 cents a point.”  In other words, a dinner party was a dinner party—not a quick, besotted affair.  We imagine that such occasions allowed her to put the bite on her guests for charity.  Along the way she raised several millions for Sloane Kettering.

Kitty Carlisle Hart.  Each lady figured out her part and got it down, none more so that Kitty Carlisle Hart, who died on April 17 at 2007.  She sang, did some movies, even appeared along the way at the Metropolitan Opera.  Her joie de vivre carried her a very long ways, for, as she said, “With a soupcon of courage and dash, one can make a small talent go a long way.”  She raised a ton of money for the arts in New York.  “In 1996 she was named a ‘living landmark’ by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.  The next year she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame” (New York Times, April 19, 2007, p. C13).

As we said, she (as well as Elliott and Buckley) made a little go a long way—even down to her makeup.  “Offstage, she never washes her face with soap, and her makeup takes all of 10 minutes.”  Not for her all the fancy women’s lotions and artifacts.  She used Nivea everyday: it was a matter of pride (New York Times Style Magazine, April 15, 2007, p. 98).

Reinhold Messner.  The world’s best mountain climber, perhaps the best of all time, is Reinhold Messner.  He reached his peak going up Mount Everest in August 1980—without oxygen, completing the round trip in 3 or 4 days.  Until Messner came along, expeditions would number 400 people, demand huge amounts of money and equipment, set up camps up and down the mountain, and take several weeks.  Messner just climbed it.  For him the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. You can read more about him in our “Gods and Heroes” section.

Messner comes from the Italian Tyrol, where German is spoken.  It would seem that he combines the efficacy of the Germans with the humanistic style of the Italians.  Somehow it is fitting that now he has dedicated himself to setting up a cluster of museums dedicated to the relationship of men to mountains.  He speaks movingly of the culture of mountaineering, a human intricacy he finds lacking in other sports.

Messner and New York’s Potent Ladies.  At their best, New York’s premier ladies do pursue mountaintops and they keep their modus operandi simple.  Like Messner.  Without this spirit and economy of style, society becomes a little boring, and countries don’t get much done.

P.S.  We are indebted to our friend Ced for some of the background on Messner.  He and his former colleagues at Cranfield recognize what business agility is all about—doing a whole lot with unbelievably little very fast.  For them Messner’s climb perfectly illustrates agility.  Agility is the answer to our age where products and projects are over-engineered, prone to breakdown, and oft without results.  Resources are squandered without cease.  Learn more about agility in our Agile Companies section.

P.P.S.  More than one big deal expedition has resulted in tragedy.  For a good account of a bad climb, see Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.

P.P.P.S.  In sport we are always discovering that clubs on short budgets do amazing things.  A few years back the Minnesota Wild came close to winning the Stanley Cup, though it had the most meager payroll in the hockey business.

P.P.P.P.S.  Ellie Elliott was a true New Yorker, born in Manhattan.  Kitty Hart and Pat Buckley were imports.  The Times has just remembered another genuine original from New York, Brooklyn in this case.  In “The Infinite Variety of the Lady Stanwyck,” April 22, 2007, it surveys the broad range of her movies—vamp, comedienne, and more.  The Lady from Brooklyn had more range than the ladies across the river, with an ability to bring several parts to life.

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