In Memoriam—Henry H. Morgan
I learned today that Henry Hollingshead Morgan died on June 4th. Henry hadn’t responded to my phone calls in the last few years after our last lunch at the Harvard Club, so I presumed his emphysema was getting him down.
Henry Morgan was a gentleman and a scholar, a mentor and a friend. His repertoire of characteristics included charming, witty, intelligent, helpful, learned, persnickety, particular, pedantic, thoughtful, sophisticated, generous, determined, dependable, honest, ethical, a gourmand, conservative, respectful, reserved and a skillful and patient teacher.
Henry taught me to do psychological assessments and interviewer training when we were colleagues at The Psychological Corporation after I arrived as a junior professional there in the mid-1960s. Little did I know how lucky I was to have Henry as a teacher. I can’t imagine anyone who could have been better. As part of all that learning, I learned perhaps the most important skill I have ever learned—to ask questions. Henry was a master questioner, and he was willing to share that mastery. Little did I know how important was his teaching.
Those interviewer training workshops provided Henry and me with adventures that I remember to this day. We did a workshop for Weyerhaeuser in Hot Springs, Arkansas and stayed at the Avanelle Motel. I stole an ashtray from the Avanelle that decorated my desk long after I quit smoking. Henry liked words and names as much as I, and there was something about Avanelle that tickled both our fancies. Last year when I drove through Hot Springs, I saw the Avanelle and told Ruth the story.
Henry loved to tell little stories—he taught me one that we used to introduce rest breaks when we were doing workshops: “In the days of the British Foreign Service, they taught the officers who were going “out” three things: One, never tell a lie; Two, never tell the complete truth; and Three, never pass up a chance to go to the washroom.” We both loved that story, and so did the people who heard it.
As an Arkansas boy in New York City, I took Henry as my model of the sophisticated man. Forty years later and having been around the block a few times myself, I still think of Henry that way. When I went to Lutece for the first time, it was Henry who coached me on how to act. When I wanted to impress a special date with a special restaurant, Henry sent me to Le Cygne, told me to ask for Hubert, told me where to sit, what to order and how much to tip the wine steward. Henry wore the navy blue blazer with grey slacks, and red rep tie—I learned to wear that too. Henry knew a lot that I needed to learn.
In the mid ‘70s I had some friends in southern Africa who were urging me to come to visit them. I was more than a little trepidatious about flying to South Africa...there were all sorts of news reports of bad things happening there in those days. I’d never been outside the U.S. other than when we went to Mexico on a high school trip to El Paso. I didn’t even have a passport. So, I went to Henry: “Henry, what do you think?” With his usual wisdom and wit, Henry said, “Go ahead George. If nothing else, it will make you more interesting at cocktail parties.” I went and had the time of my life, and of course, Henry was right—I was better at cocktail parties . One day a few years later I was riding down the elevator in my apartment on West 12th Street and somebody in the elevator broke the code of silence to ask, “Those are very nice sandals. May I ask where you got them?” You can imagine how much fun it was to say, “I got them in a little shop in Capetown.”
Few would remember today that Henry was a mainstay of the Metropolitan New York Association for Applied Psychology, (METRO; he was President in 1968-69). My earliest recollections of METRO’s meetings are at the Harvard Club, thanks to the Henry’s membership there (another badge of sophistication, of course.). To this day, METRO has an annual Groundhog Day dinner; few, if any, now who attend would know that Henry instituted the annual banquet, that it took place at the Harvard Club (thanks again to Henry’s membership) that it was held on Groundhog Day and named in honor of Henry’s grandmother.
Not only was Henry my model of the New York gentleman, Henry and Donna were my model of the New York professional couple. With their impeccable taste in furnishing their apartment on the upper East Side (I suspect that was Donna’s doings), going for cocktails before dinner at one of their neighborhood restaurants or the occasional Donna-cooked elegant dinner set my standard for what the quietly understated WASP life should be.
It’s funny about remembering—the more I remember about Henry, the more I remember. But a couple of last things. Henry was an honest man, a psychologist of the very highest integrity. In a New York world that was not always easy, I never knew Henry to cut corners or put business above ethics. He always did it right, and he taught me to do it right also.
Many remember Henry’s wit, and he was indeed witty. But he had a fault in that area—his excessive love for puns. He would readily acknowledge the lowly status of a pun, but he couldn’t help himself. We just got used to it, and would groan. Henry was, I guess, good at punning, if there is such a thing.
Enough of the memories. Life lives on in the memories of those who survive us. I am lucky to have survived Henry, and my memories of him and what he taught me are a part of who I am. And they are also a part, I hope, of those who I have taught myself. And, I have no doubt that those lessons will survive through their teachings also. Henry is gone and will soon be forgotten, as we all will, but his life lives on.
God Bless Henry Morgan.
June 25, 2009
George P. Hollenbeck