On June 2, 1930, architect William A. Delano, fresh from the opening of his American pavilion at the Venice Biennale,graced the cover of TIME magazine, in company with a story on "the sixty-third Convention of the American Institute of Architects, an exclusive body devoted to the preservation of professional standards, the solution of problems" in Washington, D.C.:
Architects have one thing in common—they are the least advertised professional men in the world. They do not sign their work. Advertising copy writers never get a McKim, Mead & White or a Warren & Wetmore account. Even in the pages of architectural journals you will look in vain for architects' advertisements. Everyone has heard of the Woolworth Building, the Lincoln Memorial and the palatial Pocantico Hills residence of John Davison Rockefeller, yet few laymen can name the designers (Cass Gilbert, Henry Bacon, Delano & Aldrich, respectively). The feats of great lawyers and even doctors are popularly associated with their names. But if you want an architect you have to go and get him, and the information you have as to his worth is usually conveyed by word of mouth.
On June 2, 1930, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sears had begun to experiment with a five-day work week, and that National City Bank of New York was confident in an early economic recovery. Press and business leaders nervously eyed the final committee negotiations on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which Henry Ford correctly predicted would "stultify business and industry and increase unemployment."
And, oh yes, my father was born in Toledo, Ohio, which makes today his 80th birthday.
My father spent a good part of my childhood as an automotive engineer for Chrysler, toiling in architect-like obscurity while attached to the company's high performance and racing programs. In that connection, he spent more than a little time roaming along with Chrysler's teams on what would eventually become the NASCAR circuit. The story I have always liked to tell -- the beauty of it being that it it true -- is that our family liquor cabinet once held a Mason jar full of clear liquid from the personal still of Richard Petty. No one ventured to open it, and eventually the liquid in question ate through the lid of the jar.
When Bobby Isaac went to the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1971 and set 28 speed records in four days, my father was not only there, he occasionally rode along, one hand on the roll cage:
Retired Dodge engineer George Wallace went along with Isaac and the K&K Insurance Dodge team when they set the records at Bonneville. Known for riding along in race cars during practice to check instrument readings, Wallace took advantage of the opportunity to ride with Isaac on the salt flats.
'Normally at Bonneville for long distance records, they run on a circle, but with the condition of the salt that year, they had to run an oval,' said Wallace. 'It was basically two-mile straightaways and three-mile turns, for a 10-mile lap. I rode with Bobby while they were setting the car and it got to about 205 at the end of the straightaway. He wouldn't lift. He'd throw it into that three-mile-long turn like he'd throw it into a half-mile dirt-track turn.'
He's George Mills Wallace; I'm George Mills Wallace, Jr. I don't use the "Jr." professionally, because there is no likelihood of confusion between us. I know nothing about automotive engineering, though I would be wiling to bet that my father would pick up the practice of law like a shot if he were so inclined.
Somewhere along the line, one of the high performance automotive journals -- I can't rightly recall which -- published a brief profile of my father. The writer described him as possessing "the bemused smile of true genius." That has always sounded right to me.
I took two attempts to get marriage right. My father managed on the first try, and he and my mother will reach their 56th anniversary before the month is out. Tonight, with my two sisters, my wife and my two sons, I will be joining my parents for a celebratory 80th birthday dinner. My father is badly slowed up by Parkinson's at this point, but remains ultimately himself. The still vital essence at the core makes the physical ravages that much more aggravating.
I have never had a strained relationship with my father. Neither he nor I are ones for flagrant or overt shows of affection, the one for the other. I believe, though, that each of us has always known that he has the love and deep rooted respect of the other. I know for certain that my father has mine, and always will. Everything that I consider remotely worthwhile about myself, I trace in one way or another to my parents. I could not ask for a better father. (I could not ask for a better mother, either, but this post isn't about her.)
Happy 80th birthday, Dad, with all the abiding affection and gratitude I can muster.
Photo: a speed demon and a collection of lunatic engineers, circa 1971, via MOPAR Magazine. My father, and his autograph, are at left.