Saturday, November 15, 2014

One Man's Paint is another Man's Ink

Ron and I spent the weekend before the mid-term elections in Kentucky.  The fall colors and warm, sunny days were delightful. We went to visit our daughter Lynne and her husband, Barry McNees. Near where they live, there is a special place with an interesting history. It's the place where bourbon was born in 1865, in Lexington, close to the University of Kentucky (UK) campus.  Barry is a graduate of UK.

I am very proud of Barry and think he is a remarkable man of vision.  He's also a master craftsman. He can restore beauty to relics and turn sorry looking structures into award winning show-places.  I think that is an amazing gift.

For years, Barry eyed the old, dilapidated, crime ridden, rusting remains of distilleries past that had endured decades of neglect.  He saw potential all around, potential with historic stories to tell.  He envisioned music venues, restaurants, shops, museums, and people hanging out and sipping world-class bourbon again.  He started calling it, "The Lexington Distillery District."  He even persuaded a few investors to join in the fun.

Sometime around 2005, Ron and I got involved as investors. Progress was excruciatingly slow. Partners came and went, some were nice and some not so much. Tenants came and went, some paid their rent on time, some had to be hunted down on the first of every month, and some didn't pay at all. One of the issues even wound up in front of a Judge to be decided.  Barry came out the winner on that one and we all cheered.  One homeless group, camped in the woods, booby trapped their illegal fort with fishhooks festooned in the trees.  In an attempt to reason with them, Barry got a fishhook in his eye.  Over time he has cleaned out more dark and scary places than most people can even imagine. Sometimes he even finds historic, old treasures hidden in corners under piles of debris.  He found the original recipe and process for James E. Pepper* bourbon in a rusted-out file cabinet beneath the old distillery yeast room.

Lexington is a city that embraces and encourages public art.  Just recently, an amazing thing happened.  PRHBTN held their annual street art festival.  Last year, PRHBTN commissioned the popular mural of President Abraham Lincoln on the back of the Kentucky Theatre.  This year they brought in a French graffiti, muralist and artist named MTO.  He painted Lexington's largest mural on the side of the Pepper Distillery Warehouse.  His painting is of a street artist, behind bars, but still spraying, and there is red police tape running across that says, "Caution: Do Not Feed."  His hands are reaching out through the jail cell bars to sign the letters MTO, his initials.  He has used this signature on many of his other works all over the world.  But folks in Lexington thought it looked like he was forming gang symbols and they didn't like it.  Not everybody, of course, but everybody sees art differently.

The Lexington Herald Leader ran front page stories.  Television news crews filmed it.  Everybody was talking about it.  The day I took this picture, other people were on the street taking pictures too. See what I mean about one man's paint being another man's ink?  We watched as MTO, way up high on a cherry picker, made a gigantic thumb and thumb nail take shape and come to life with photographic quality. (You can barely see the artist working way up high in the second panel from the left.) The vision of his being able to do this, while being right on top of his work area, fascinated me.  It's true that I wouldn't have chosen the same subject matter as the artist did, but then my choice probably would not have generated as much free publicity for the Distillery District either.

From the Barrel House Distilling Company, here's the first barrel of bourbon that's about to be ready to drink.  Gosh it smelled good.

Around the corner, we found Tony Davis, the owner and master mind behind Studio 300.  He was busy crafting cutting boards and other wood products from reclaimed Kentucky Bourbon barrels.  His signature pieces are beautiful cutting boards and wood products that he described as "Bringing Bourbon Barrels back to life by handcrafting them to be functional pieces". He named his studio in honor of his 300 fellow marines who were aboard his naval vessel in the 1990's that took them to the Persian Gulf. Another innovative thing he does is scrape the charcoal out of the old barrels, bag it up, and they are going to be sold in red and green bags at "Liquor Barn" as coal for Christmas gifts.  He told us to throw some of the charcoal on our barbecue for a taste of bourbon on our steaks or chops. If you are lucky enough to have a Liquor Barn nearby, you might want to try this!

Ron Walker and Tony Davis in KENTUCKY KNOWS BOURBON, Studio 300 where Tony proudly displays his Marine Uniform, complete with all his medals and an American flag.  The two veterans enjoyed meeting each other.

Amid the Art Gallery and other businesses, an Ice Cream store is taking shape, and down by the Town Branch, a restaurant is about to open. Bourbon and beers will be on tap, with burgers, tacos, and burgoo available via rotating food trucks, and diners will enjoy sitting outside by the river. They even decorated all their fall pumpkins with MTO's.  It seems like a sure bet that all of these places of business will benefit by all the ink that MTO's paint has created.

                               The "Break Room" on the Town Branch will soon be serving.

And since we are talking about Kentucky, here's a political aside.  The weekend we were in Lexington, both The Louisville Courier Journal and The Lexington Herald Leader endorsed Senator Mitch McConnell's opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes.  Why in the world, we asked each other, would Kentucky rather have a freshman junior senator than the Majority Leader?  Turns out the newspapers wanted that, but the voters did not.  Since winning, Senator McConnell has said the Senate is going back to work and their first goal will be to see if they can find things that they and President Obama can agree on.  They better.  I think we are all sick of such a lack of leadership from all of our leaders, democrat and republican alike.  Get to work!  All of y'all, as they say in the south.

*Colonel James Edward Pepper designed the distillery and the layout of equipment.  He was a colorful, flamboyant character who traveled in his private railroad car.  Colonel Pepper began distilling "Old Pepper Whiskey" using his grandfather's proprietary formula, developed in 1780.  Colonel Pepper invented the "Old Fashioned" cocktail: two ounces of Old Pepper bourbon, a splash of sugar syrup, bitters and soda water.  He also originated "Bourbon and Branch" for a bourbon and water.  The "Branch" was the water taken out of the distilleries nearby water supply, the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek near Lexington, Kentucky.  Both of these cocktail became famous in New York City, and throughout the eastern States.

Pepper was one of the few distillers allowed to produce whiskey during prohibition for "medicinal purposes."  A doctor could write out a prescription and the "patient" could take it to be "filled."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Remembering Dewey Clower

W. Dewey Clower died on October 31, 2014 after being hospitalized from a fall.  

Dewey was one of the five original White House advancemen in President Richard Nixon's administration.

    From left to right:  Bill Henkel, Mike DuVal, Jon Foust,  Ron Walker, Mike Schrauth and Dewey.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, November 9th at 2:00 pm at Hope Presbyterian Church, 11121 Leavells Road, Fredericksburg, VA 22407.

In November of 2010, I posted a blog about The February Group.  Dewey Clower started the February Group and many of you remember how important the gatherings were to all of us over the years.  Us Nixonites needed each other, and The February Group became the place where we could get together for fellowship and commiseration.

Not everyone could get a group of people together on a continuing basis for more than thirty years, and yet Dewey Clower did exactly that.  I asked him to tell me the history of how The February Group came about.

Here is W. Dewey Clower's story:

It was January of 1975 when he submitted his letter of resignation as Assistant Director of the Domestic Council in the Gerald R. Ford White House.  It had been because of President Nixon that Dewey had the opportunity to work in the White House and he decided he wanted to see the former President and thank him for the honor of working for him as a senior advance man and member of the domestic council staff.

Dewey called Jack Brennan, the president's aide, in San Clemente and asked for an appointment to see the President.  When the appointment was confirmed, Dewey flew out to La Casa Pacifica, that had been known as the Western White House when President Nixon was in office.  The President greeted him warmly and they spent forty-five minutes together, talking about the Ford administration, world events and the 1976 presidential election.  But, Dewey said the President was most interested in what his former staff people were doing.  Dewey remembered that they talked about Ron Walker, Steve Bull, Bill Henkel and others on his advance and travel staff.  The President said he wished there was some way a network could be established so he could stay in touch with the members of his White House team.  He asked Dewey if he could establish such a network.  Dewey said he had not really thought about such a group, but promised the President he would look into it.

When he returned to Washington, every one he talked to liked the idea.  Dewey decided to host a luncheon on February 10, 1975 in the China Room at the Mayflower Hotel.  The people who attended were: General Larry Adams, Pat Buchanan, Steve Bull, Henry Cashen, Red Cavaney, James Clausen, Michael Raoul-Duval, Michael Farrell, Dave Forward, Gerald Gilbert, John Gartland, Dave Gergen, Ashton Hardy, Bill Henkel, David Hoopes, Tod Hullin, Noel Koch, Tom Korologos, Anne Morgan, Pat O'Donnell, Terry O'Donnell, Dave Parker, Jack Pettit, Bill Rhatican, Howard Roycroft, Geoff Shepard, Bill Timmons and of course, Dewey.

President Nixon sent a telegram saying how glad he was they were getting together, and loved the symbolism of the group being in the China Room.  Dewey told me that those listed above in red are the FEBRUARY GROUP CHARTER MEMBERS.

More gatherings were held and the group got bigger with each event.  People suggested other people that they wanted to invite to join the group.  At first it was mostly limited to those who served in the Nixon administration, and then to those who had remained in the Ford White House.  Dewey would send out a notice saying, . . . . "The next gathering of the February 10th Luncheon Group will be . . "
After a while, they went to cash bars and Dewey could usually talk the hotel into serving some food.

After about a year, they decided to ask for donations to cover mailings and they needed a treasure to keep track of it all.  And, they needed a proper name for the group.  The February Group was what everyone had come to call it, and that was the name they wanted to keep.  The purpose of the Group, as Dewey understood it, would be to provide a forum for the like-minded, former Nixon Administration members to be able to keep in touch with each other, through social events and written communication.  They held at least two events each year and established The February Group News.

The February Group met regularly from 1975 to 2003.  Jack D'Arcy, at the time working for a bank, volunteered to be the treasurer and he, along with Steve Bull and John Gartland, asked for volunteer contributions and the membership was very supportive.  The group grew rapidly, especially during the Carter years, and soon it was no longer made up of just former Nixon staff members.  It had become much bigger than that.

Dewey and Melinda Maury Thompsen managed the mailing list and the newsletters.  The newsletters always included news and updates about the members, because that's what President Nixon wanted to hear about.

The February Group reached a peak of more than 400 members just prior to Ronald Reagan's first campaign in 1980.  It was about this time that Jack Anderson, a liberal political writer for the Washington Post wrote an article that labeled the February Group, a "government in exile."  That caused a lot of former Nixon/Ford folks to want to join the group and the result was that the membership list became a valuable document for Republican candidates.  Dewey was constantly being asked to provide the mailing lists to various campaigns, but he always insisted that members "vetted" the request before he released the information.  In June of 1981, the newsletter announced that 47 February Group members had joined the Reagan administration and nine more were listed in the next edition.

In September of 1986, it was noted that group members had raised $132,000 toward the goal of $200,000 for the Nixon Library and Birthplace.  Dewey led a large group of February Group Members to the opening of the Library.  Now, with the help of Steve Bull, the February Group members have become a valuable list of "Nixon Alumni" that is now housed at the Richard Nixon Foundation.

Dewey  worked for several associations over the years and in 2003 he was named President Emeritus of NATSO where he served as President and CEO for 15 years.  He had been an officer in the United States Air Force.

Dewey retired in 2002 and he and Shirley moved out near Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Shirley has battled cancer for a long time and Dewey was such a solid rock and source of strength by her side .
I can't imagine what the impact of his death must be having on Shirley and her family.  Dewey and Shirley's children are Candice Clower Scala, Mike Clower and Cathy Clower Shirey.

Ron and I send our deepest sympathy, prayers,  and much love to all of Dewey's family.  We thank you, Dewey, for giving so much to your family, your friends, your country, and your President.  You are a great American.  You will be missed.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations in Dewey's name be made to either Hope Presbyterian Church or to Young Life of Greater Fredericksburg, 1210 Princess Anne Street., Fredericksburg, VA 22402.  Dewey was very active in both of these organizations  and his son Mike said they were both very dear to him.