Noblesse oblige

Apropos of nothing, or maybe something—you never know with the way my brainstorms play out—I got side-tracked yesterday digging up dirt on Boston Symphony Orchestra trustees from the 1950s. That’s a lot of Ivy League WASP rectitude right there! But I did find a good story about N. Penrose Hallowell. Hallowell was a brahmin banker (his BSO trusteeship was an outgrowth of his partnership at Lee, Higginson & Co., BSO founder Henry Lee Higginson’s firm), whose propriety was such that he wouldn’t support his mistress until, after many years, they were properly married. But maybe the experience contributed to this instance of magnificent equanimity:

When Mr. and Mrs. N. Penrose Hallowell were selling their home to Mr. Howard Johnson of eatery fame, Mrs. Hallowell expressed the hope that Mr. and Mrs. Johnson would have a happy future in the house. There was a perceptible silence. Then Master Johnson, age nine, piped up, “There isn’t any Mrs. Johnson. One’s dead and one’s divorced,” adding hopefully, “but Daddy’s got a girl friend.” As the silence turned glacial, Mr. Hallowell rose from his fireside, smote the roadside restaurateur smartly on the back, and speaking for the first time said, “Bully for you, Johnson.”

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