Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lessons My Band Director Taught Me: # 2 Never Be a Prima Dona

My junior high band director, Mr. Phillip Wilson, grew up in the moving business.  Founded by his late father, Wilson Transfer and Storage in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is still family-run nearly a century later. Mr. Wilson, who gave up his share of the business to be a band director, told me about one of the family's notable customers.

“When I was a little boy, we had three enormously rich and important clients: Mrs. Cyrus McCormick of International Harvester, Mrs. Frank Rand of Remington Rand/Sperry Rand fame, and Mrs. David Lippincott of the eponymous publishing company.

“All three were lovely women, but Mrs. McCormick and Mrs. Rand always came to the transfer to conduct their affairs in their chauffeur-driven limousines.  Mrs. Lippincott, who was probably the richest of the three, drove herself in her Studebaker.

“Once our foreman asked Mrs. Lippincott why she didn’t have a chauffeur drive her around in a limo.  She said, ‘I like my Studebaker because no one else likes them.’”  Then he added, “Mrs. Lippincott never gave a hoot about what other people thought.”

 Then Mr. Wilson told me a story.

“Because our house was on the property in front of the company headquarters and warehouses, we had an enormous driveway where the moving vans could come and go.  Addresses were not clearly marked on houses in those days, so taxi drivers would come to our house to find out where someone’s address was.  As long as they came to the door and knocked, we were happy to tell them what they needed to know.  But invariably while we were eating dinner, a taxi driver would pull up in the driveway and blast on his horn.  He expected us to come out of our house, go to his car window, and tell him what he wanted to know.

“Whenever that happened, one of my big brothers or sisters would stick their head out the back door and holler, ‘We don’t offer curb service!’  If the taxi driver got out of his car and came to the door, we were happy to help him.

“I was a little pitcher with big ears, so one day when I was about six, Mrs. Lippincott drove up to the loading dock in her Studebaker and honked her horn, I stuck my head out of the warehouse and hollered, ‘We don’t offer curb service!’

“The foreman across the yard came running as fast as his little short, fat legs could carry him scolding me all the way.  ‘That’s Mrs. Lippincott!’ he cried.  ‘We don’t say that to Mrs. Lippincott!  She can honk her horn for us to come out any time she wants!’

“Then Mrs. Lippincott climbed out of her car, and the foreman fell all over himself apologizing.”

“’Nonsense,’ said Mrs. Lippincott to the foreman.  “The child is right.  I am a perfectly able-bodied woman capable of getting out of the car to ask for assistance.  Don’t you dare scold him.  Leave him alone.’

“That endeared Mrs. Lippincott to me forever after,” said my band director.  “She was immeasurably rich, yet she was humble and never expected any special treatment.”

The point of this lesson my band director taught me?  You may be a first chair, but be an humble first chair.  Don’t expect special treatment and never be a Prima Dona.

Thanks, Mr. Wilson, for that life lesson.  Thanks, too, Mrs. Lippincott.  Rest in peace.



  1. I know I dearly like Mr. WIlson.... I bet Mrs. Lippincott would remind me of someone else that I love VERY DEARLY in so many ways...

  2. And I adore you, too. As my professional son, you are Mr. Wilson's professional grandson. Lucky you. Lucky him.