He Calls Ex-President Taft “Bill”
Some men possess the ability to slap their fellows upon the back—and create friendships vital to their life's progress. Murray Williams is one of these.
J. HERBERT HODGINS
WE SAT before a blazing fire, of a crisp, midwinter night. Dancing flames lit the elusive background of a Constable upon the
opposite wall, turned to liquid the rich “wines” in rare orientals, old English brasses flickered in the firelight, quaint bits of silver gleamed.
It was in this comfortable, homelike, unpretentious room, before this fire, that we discussed many things, music, religion, books and men. We talked of mundane things like stocks and bonds, for sooner or later, I care not what his passion in life, man reverts to “shop.”
Here, amidst all that refinement of taste gives to the modern home, contrast the boy Murray Williams born into an atmosphere of stern New England
Puritanism with the man, Murray Williams, of the world prosperous, Montreal stock broker, urbane gentleman. In spite of business success—as the world invariably translates success, into dollars and cents—Murray Williams is just an overgrown boy. He has youth’s bubbling zeal for sport, an unquenchable love of poetry and music, and—here, perhaps, is evidence of “mellowing”—a singularly keen layman’s penetration of things religious. What is it we so often hear about the influences of environment in moulding the character of youth? All ye who pin your faith upon early environment to make first impressions lasting, listen to this tale:—
This is the story of a boy, who forty-seven years ago arrived in a stoic Massachusetts’ home. Take from your library shelves the novels of Hawthorne, the verses of Longfellow and saturate yourself, afresh, in the atmosphere of New England. This, for twelve impressionable years, was the setting of Murray Williams—twelve years of stern example, twelve years of Puritan precepts, twelve years of the “fear of God,” rather than the love of God.
To-day, Murray Williams, product of the school of early adversity, product of the daily newspaper grind, product of the turn of fortune in security markets, prefers to be known as a violent modernist in religion, with toleration enough never to miss a great Mass, upon a feast day in historic Notre Dame church, Montreal. The colorful Rorhan Catholic services lure Williams away from the “ticker” every feast day at eleven o’clock. He attends, too, the weekly benediction in the little chapel of the Sacred Heart.
Williams is friendly with a well-known Jew, who loves music as much as he does. Frequently they
go to the benediction, together. “Think of a Unitarian and a Jew, ‘steadies’ in a Roman Catholic church!” says Williams.
So much, then, for the immediate influences of environment and early religious training upon Murray Williams. One seldom finds so buoyant a religionist as he—at least, not among stock brokers.
Elements of his Progress
IN MY talk with Murray Williams, I came to sense the elements of a picturesque progress. I learned the part which personality plays in a man’s career; how the ability to slap a man upon the back and call him, Jack or Tom or Frank, instead of creating offence, can be turned into one of friendship’s strongest links.
I learned that friendships, thus made, withstand the business crucible.
I learned, too, of an enthusiasm for work which would mock the adage, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” were it not that here was an enthusiasm, alike for play and work. Such zest makes pastime of work-a-day problems. It is relentless in surmounting business difficulties, limitless in creative endeavor.
Three characteristics chiefly account for the Murray Williams of to-day, tireless energy, an all-consuming passion for creative work and a remarkable ability to "make friends.”
Williams will laughingly tell you that any measure of “success” which is his, is due to “perspiration not inspiration.” This is true to the extent that his working energies are apparently inexhaustible. But, that inspiration is also part and parcel of his make-up is revealed in every phase of his progressive journalism, the success which he counts above all worldly gains from prosaic business.
His newspaper cronies will tell you that Murray Wil liams had the ability to do the work of two ordinary reporters, and the capacity to “stick everlastingly at it.” To him it was ever the “newspaper game.” He played it' zealously. It was like reading a good book, with always the pull to read another chapter. Above all, newspaper work was the basis of his education.
“The newspaper game is a wonderful college,” his contention is based upon his own experience. “Newspaper work has an everlasting fascination; I never pass the Montreal Daily Star, or get the smell of the printer’s ink that I don’t feel the urge to go back.”
I uncovered the real “story of his life” in a book, which he wrote, last Christmas, as a gift, and intended, exclusively, for the four members of his immediate family. It is a record, in Murray Williams’ best style, but so intimate in detail, that he was reluctant to have an outsider delving into its “mysteries.” Fortunately, I won him over, and the reading of it revealed a fascinating story of grit and determination, seasoned with many a delicious bit of whimsy and old-fashioned homily.
Murray Williams was twelve years old when his father died. He and his mother, penniless, left Cambridge,
Mass., to live with his mother’s father, in Montreal. Soon Murray went to work, primarily to earn money, that he might buy a bicycle. Bicycles were all the rage, then, and Murray, as a lad would, ardently yearned to possess one.
“I looked over the want advertisements in the Montreal Daily Star,” he recounts, in disclosing his first wofking experiences, “and noted that Thomas May and Company, wholesale milliners on Victoria Square, needed a bright, active boy, not afraid of work. I applied and found that the salary was five dollars. A lightning calculation convinced me that twenty weeks of keen endeavor in the millinery industry would give me the wherewithal for th^ ‘bike’.
“My activities with the firm were confined to the department which handled the ostrich feathers and at1 the end of the month I sprinted down to the cashier’s window for my pay. The cashier handed me five dollars.
“ ‘Where is the twenty dollars?’ I asked.
“ ‘What twenty dollars?’ he snapped.
“ ‘Why,’ I said, T get five dollars a week.’
“He consulted the list. ‘You are down for five a month —move on.’
“I almost fainted. The bicycle was a goner.”
Williams, however, continued with the millinery business, upon his mother’s and grandfather’s decision that he might some day rise to a departmental managership. In the meantime, he began attending the Unitarian Church Sunday School, and, later, the late Edward G. O’Connor, who was a pillar of the church, and also managing director of the Montreal Herald, took an interest in the growing lad. It was an outcome of this friendship which resulted in Williams entering the newspaper field, where, before he was thirty, he had distinguished himself as a journalist and established some remarkable friendships among Canadian financiers and bankers, which ultimately he “capitalized” in business venture.
Early Days With Montreal Herald
OF HIS early days with the Montreal Herald, Murray Williams has amusing tales. It is his invariable knack to pick silver spots off the darkest clouds.
“One day,” he said, reciting the history of his entry in journalism, “Mr. O’Connor”asked me if the millinery business was remunerative. I told hin) it was not.
“ ‘How would like to be
a newspaper writer?’ he asked.
“A writer! the proposition was äppalliTife. I had received less than three years* schooling and told him so.
“ ‘That is all right,’ he said, ‘you will soon learn. I will give you $2.50 a week on the Herald.'
“My resignation did not create the slightest flutter in millinery circles, and one Monday morning I presented myself at the Herald building on Beaver Hall Hill and reported to the managing editor, John W. Dafoe, who, I am glad to say is still living and prosperous and now runs the Manitoba Free Press.''
Young Williams’ first work consisted of cataloguing the ‘cuts’, as newspaper illustrations are called, and the “stiffs” as the obituary notices of celebrities are known in répertoriai parlance.
“I had been on the Herald three weeks,” reminisced Williams, “when, walking to the office, one morning, I noticed Beaver Hall Hill congested with fire engines, ladders, and hose trucks. My heart stood still as I looked for the Herald building. It had disappeared during the night. My $2.50 a week job had gone up in smoke.
“I ran home to relate the disaster to my mother, who told me that she always felt sure I had made a mistake leaving the millinery business, and that
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I was not cut out to be a newspaper man. However, I went back to the smouldering ruins, where I met a printer who gladdend my heart with the rumor that the Herald
would start up again, somewhere behii the Star office.”
First Newspaper Writing
WILLIAMS’ first attempt at writir was made under the kindly guidam of George Edwards, who was cominera editor. He set the young reporter recori ing fluctuations in flour, oats, hay and a sorts of things. One day Williams reporte that the flour market was weak.
“The late W. W. Ogilvie, the grei miller called in at the office,” Willian recalls this incident, “and scared us a stiff by saying the flour market was stron and he said it in a great, gruff voice. B wanted the fellow who said the marke was weak, fired. I shook in my boots!
“The next day I said the market wa very strong. Then there was a violen protest from the late Robert Meigher Ogilvie’s competitor.
“I had a strenuous time trying tc appease both of them. They never one agreed upon the condition of the flou market!”
But the situation, ultimately, becam a personality victory for young Williams He must have done some diplomatic flou market reporting, as, in later years hot] of these prominent Montreal millers be came his fast friends, especially Mi Meighen, who, he admits, gave him helping hand, many a time.”
The Montreal Herald was a brigh paper in those earlier days, for, on the staff were several budding writers, wE have since made their marks in the liter ary world. Arthur Stringer, the Canadiai poet and short story writer did genera reporting; so did George Pattulo, who, ir recent years, has become celebrated fo; his magazine writing. There was, too, Scotchman, Charles Gordon, who was í hard drinker and hajder smoker, but writer of clever verse. Gordon wrote, foi the Herald, “Meinseif und Gott”, a satir ical poem relating the musings of th( Kaiser upon his own greatness. Thes verses, a few years later, caused frictior between the United States and Germanj when Captain Corcoran of the United States navy recited them at a military and naval banquet.
Some time later, and after a measure of writing progress had been chalked tc his credit, Murray Williams, reporter, was spurred to look for employment elsewhere —spurred not entirely by the Herald't meagre $2.50 per week, but by the fact that often he could not collect the $2.50, Going for three weeks, at one time, without salary, he applied, in fear and trembling it must be confessed, for a position upon the Montreal Daily Star. He saw the late Henry Dalby, who was then the Star's managing editor.
“Can you speak French?” Dalby asked. “No, sir.”
“Can you write shorthand?”
Dalby stared a look of displeasure. “You go and learn French and shorthand,” he said, “come back here and I will give you six dollars a week.”
First to Congratulate Laurier
IN THE course of his reporting experiences, Murray Williams met Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Indeed, he had the distinction of being first to congratulate Laurier, when elected premier of Canada.
“The elections of 1896 were approaching,” Williams recounts. “I was sent with several others to report a Liberal meeting at Lachine, Quebec. The chief speaker was a man with a remarkable face; one of the most attractive faces any of us had ever seen. He spoke beautifully and held us spell-bound. It was Laurier. His FrenchCanadian compatriots and the English, too, went wild as he addressed them in both languages. He had a severe cold and kept his overcoat on, but was hatless. I shall always remember my first impressions of the man, who was destined to be one of the outstanding statesmen of the British Empire.
“On election day we had little hope of success. But late at night when the staggering news dawned upon us that Laurier had been elected we, in the Herald office, went stark mad with joy. We opened the windows and shouted many a merry jest at the Gazette building across
the street. The Gazette, as the Conservative paper, was our deadly enemy!
“I was up early next morning. Hearing that Laurier was at St. Lawrence Hall, four of us reporters decided we would go and congratulate the leader. The new premier of Canada had just finished dressing. Much to our delight, he told us that we were the first to come and congratulate him.”
Newspaper Reputation Established
ABOUT this time there was instituted on the Herald a department called. “Through the Herald’s Sieve,” which occupied a two-column space upon the front page. It was devoted to jests and short paragraphs about politics and the affairs of the world in general. The Sieve put Murray Williams on the newspaper map.
The day came when he, who once had been ingloriously spurned, received an offer from the Montreal Daily Star. But the Herald gave him an increase of salary and he remained. Not for long, however! Williams’ inimitable column was attracting attention not only in Canada, but in the United States, from whence came , important offers. Reminiscing newspapermen are prone to suggest that Williams’
J subtle shafts of wit, not unmixed at times with joyous sarcasm, when directed towards the owner of the Star found vulnerable resting places. He can stand having fun poked at him for just so long and no longer!
Finallv . . .
One night in 1902, Mr. Hugh Graham fnow Lord Atholstan), owner of the Montreal Daily Star asked Williams to call to see him at his residence on Sherbrooke Street.
“Williams,” he said, as they shook hands, “what is the matter with you? “Why don’t you join us on the Star?"
“I am quite happy on the Herald," Williams told him.
“Will you come to the Star, if I give you the liberty to write whatever you like, and make you responsible to me alone? I will give you the biggest salary paid to any newspaper man in Montreal—or Canada.” Knowing the Herald could not afford to pay the salary which Mr. Graham mentioned, Williams accepted the offer and signed a contract to write for the Star exclusively.
Develops First Financial Page
MURRAY WILLIAMS, by this time, disliked being known as the jester who wrote the Sieve and the baseball slang. He wanted to do something serious. In this Williams has a presentday prototype in Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin deserted the pie-throwing films, which made him famous, for the dignified role of director of his own productions. But, like Chaplin, Williams’ early reputation j persisted. Ten years later, Lord Shaughnessy introduced Williams to Lady Shaughnessy as the man who used to write the Herald’s Sieve. All Williams could do was smile weakly!
On the Star, Williams developed a ! financial page according to his personal liking His taste quickly proved to the j public’s liking. No Canadian newspaper: man had hitherto uncovered the human interest of stocks and bonds.
But he could not escape the baseball news. Much to his disgust it made more of a hit than ever. He wrote baseball in prose, verse, slang—did everything but set it to music.
Murray Williams never misses a bit of fun. The crowds at the ball games always entertain him. Invariably the repartee between players and spectators sparkles with genuine humor. Apropos of which Williams tells a yarn:
“The players on the bench were goading the umpire to desperation with loud comments upon his work. At last he could stand it no longer. He left his post, rushed over to the players’ bench, and with a sweep of his arm rasped out in a loud voice:
“ ‘Cut out them personalities—cut out them personalities!’
“A satirical voice from the grandstand called to the umpire: ‘Cut out them grammar—cut out them grammar!’ ”
Ehe Industrial Lawsuit of 1906
WILLIAMS reported forthe Montreal Daily Star the celebrated industrial lawsuit of 1906. This was the $16,000,000 clash between the Dominion Coal Com-
pany and the Dominion Steel Company. Williams, taking advantage of Atholstan’s offer of a free hand upon the Star, and personally convinced of the merits of the steel company’s case, arrayed the newspaper upon its side. He assaulted the coal legions with every resource at his command. It was of course no professional thing to do. But his characteristic enthusiasm, once aroused, knew no limit. He was, fortunately, vindicated by the steel company winning the case.
Williams made some remarkable friendships at this period. One was his chance meeting with “a slight, rather delicate looking, young man,” then “nobody”; to-day Lord Beaverbrook. Another was Frank Jones, to-day, as head of the Canada Cement Company, a veritable Charles Schwab in his native Dominion. Both Beaverbrook and Jones have continued to exert an influence upon Williams’ later years. Beaverbrook wanted Murray Williams for his international propaganda work, during the war, but Williams was ill and unable to undertake the important
INVARIABLY, at Christmas* time, Murray Williams mails his personal greeting cards, with the addresses done in original rhyme. These reveal that inimitable, breezy style, which Was Williams’, in his newspaper Writings, and, not infrequently, disclose something of the regard which he holds for his friends.
Here, for instance, is the Way he addressed the card, intended for his former employer, the owner of the Montreal Daily Star:
On Sherbrooke Street, at fivethree-eight
Lord Aiholstan resides in state. Please give him this, good Postman, for
He was my boss, in times of yore. I found him cheerful, never cross: I never had a belter boss.
It filled me. Postman, full of cheer
When George the Fifth made him a Peer.
mission. Williams, however, lent his writing genius to the publicity of the Victory Loan campaigns in Canada.
In the autumn of 1920, Beaverbrook visited Newcastle, N.B., his home town. Later he travelled into the United States, in President Wilson’s private car, “Mayflower.” Williams was one of the party. The trip was a series of ovations for the distinguished Anglo-Canadian.
One morning in the railway station at Boston, standing upon the observation platform, Beaverbrook turned to Williams.
“Who is the most popular man in the United States?” he asked.
“Babe Ruth,” said Williams, without batting an eye.
Beaverbrook scouted the idea.
“All right,” said Williams, confidently, “ask the first American you see.”
The first American emerged from under the stalled car, a trainman, who had been inspecting the brakes.
‘‘Who is the most popular man in the United States?” Beaverbrook called.
“Babe Ruth,” came back, without a second’s reflection!
During the Reciprocity Campaign
THE Montreal Star’s financial page, during the reciprocity campaign of 1911 was unique. Williams must have caught some of Atholstan’s zest for elections. His page which should have been confined to stock market comment was filled with frantic appeals to reject reciprocity with the United States. Here is Williams’ confession: “Lord Atholstan said one day that we should have a top line, across the entire front page of the
Star, with punch to it. I composed the line. It was printed in huge letters:
“BULLETS KEPT THE YANKEES OUT IN 1812; BALLOTS WILL DO IT NOW.”
“That night I met Mr. Bradley, the United States’ consul in Montreal, on my way home. H'5 shook his head sadly. T wonder what scoundrel wrote that heading?’ he said.”
Embarks Upon a Business
WILLIAMS had been nursing ambitions to get into business for himself. As a financial editor he had become versed in stocks ahd bonds; opportunities to make money on the stock exchange had come to him. Although he was a conservative trader, accumulated profits made possible a personal business venture. In 1912 he deserted journalism and linked fortunes with W. P. O’Brien in the firm, O’Brien and Williams.
* Williams’ personality was one of the new firm’s assets. He certainly knew more influential men by their first names than any other Montrealer who ever graduated from the ranks of journalism.
Murray Williams is one of the few, who, because of a rare friendship, call ex-president Taft, by his Christian name —more than that, by his nickname!
It all came about upon a lazy summer’s day. Mr. Taft had dined previously, with Murray Williams, and, punctilious, as always in social obligations, was paying his return call. Williams, suffering from a slight sore throat had retired. His family had scattered, with the exception of his younger daughter, whom he affectionately calls “Bill.” She was playing in the garden. Williams, half asleep, heard the front door open — someone prowling downstairs—someone climbing the stairway—someone prowling in adjoining bedrooms.
“That you, Bill?” Williams called. “Yes, it’s Bill,” but from a deep voice. The one-time president of the United States walked into Williams’ bed room. He would hearken to no apologies. He insisted, that, from henceforth, Murray Williams should join the chosen group who call him “Bill.”
A few weeks later, Murray Williams succeeded Hon. Mr. Taft, as vicepresident of the American Unitarian Association, representing the Unitarians of Canada in that distinguished body.
Concerning a now world celebrity, who walked the streets of Northampton, Mass., when Williams was a school boy, he says: “In those simple days, everybody knew everybody else in Northampton, and we lads well knew a young man who had just graduated from Amherst and had entered a law office. He was a small, thin, silent chap, and if anyone had predicted that this small, thin, young man would one day be president of the United States, the prophet would have been hurled into the hopeless ward of an asylum. The small, thin, silent man was a characteristic type of small-town lawyer and stood not a chance of ever emerging from the burial ground of a small town law office. But you can never tell. The young man’s name happened to be Calvin Coolidge, and when I think of little “Cal” Coolidge of Northampton rising to the dizzy heights of president, I will not dispute the prediction of a man should he want to bet me that, the week after next, Mackenzie King will jump over the moon on a broomstick.”
A Definite Business Code
FROM inception, the O’Brien and Williams’ partnership has been more than a modest success. It is now one of the largest brokerage firms in Montreal. Williams outlines a definite business policy, which accounts in no small degree for the progress of the business. His business creed is embodied in the following:
“To be successful the partners of a brokerage house must not personally speculate. Very early we made up our minds to steer clear of this most important pitfall.
“Secondly, a brokerage house must give intelligent advice to clients. To give intelligent advice on the stock
market is not easy, for the stock market is as difficult to fathom, as the greatest of the world’s mysteries.
“The best anyone can do is to exercise common, everyday, horse sense—and trust to luck for successful fruition of judgment.
“We like best to be identified with concerns that are creative and which
give employment to our fellowmen. We hope in the future to be more closely identified with constructive enterprises.
“We have tried to extend the human touch with our staff and make our coworkers feel that we are a happy family, rather than an institution where the day’s work is slavery.”