FOR GOOD AND SUFFICIENT REASONS THEY ALL HAD THEIR EYES ON The Two Millionth Customer of the Bank of Lower Canada
THE BANK of Lower Canada is a national institution; its head office dominates St. James Street, Montreal’s one-way heart of finance. The Bank of Upper Canada is also a national institution; towering above Bay Street, it makes a brave attempt to dominate the rather more extensive financial heart of Toronto. That the other should have achieved institutional status too is a matter of traditional regret for the officials of each bank. And the rivalry between them is keen, for the Bank of Upper Canada can claim a few more years, the Bank of Lower Canada a few more millions, but neither many.
Jonathan Spalding, president of the Bank of Lower Canada, belonged, he was well aware, to a dying tradition. As a younger son of good Scots family, banking had been for him an elegant career, just a step lower in the social scale than the diplomatic service. He deplored what he considered the vulgarization of his profession; the retail-store appearance of the modern bank, its undignified advertising and neon signs. He objected to the banker descending into the market place.
Similarly, many in the Bank of Lower Canada had come to deplore their president. In the past few years “that Toronto bunch” had been catching up; any day they might surge ahead in assets and deposits. And there was just one simple reason; the Bank of Upper Canada was up-todate, go-getting. It had developed a powerful slogan, “The Bank of the Canadian People”; its assets, it proclaimed on boardings and in streetcars, were measured not in dollars but contented customers. His opponents held Jonathan Spalding personally responsible for the Bank of Lower
Canada’s refusal to get in on a good thing. But they had one consolation; it would not be too long before the old man resigned and Blake Jopson became president. What a live wire Blake was and so human!
Jonathan Spalding was a tall thin man who moved gently and spoke slowly. General manager Blake Jopson was a shorter, square man who moved and spoke forcefully, the image of authority as it is understood today; he kept his grey, fifty-year-old hair sharply crew-cut. Their imposing offices were situated on either side of the marble banking hall of head office. When the president wished to speak to the general manager, he would ask his secretary to request Mr. Jopson’s secretary to request Mr. Jopson to pay him a call. When the general manager wished to see the president, he would stride across the banking hall, lavish with brisk smiles and greetings, knock on the presidential oak and enter.
One morning in early summer he appeared at ten o’clock.
“Jonathan,” he said, as he swung into the visitor’s chair, “we’ve got to do something about this. We can’t afford to turn it down.”
“The Bedrock Incorporated loan?”
“No, the celebration of our two millionth customer. Charley Stagg has just told me about it. The statistician says we’ll pass our two millionth account by the middle of next month.”
“Surely, Blake, there is some difference between an account and a customer?”
' “Not when you’re dealing with the public. Always talk people to them. The two millionth account of the Bank of Lower Canada—the two
Bank of Lower Canada
millionth customer of the Bank of Lower Canada—you can hear the difference.”
“But one is true, the other false.”
“D’you imagine that Upper Canada crowd would hesitate? Two million customers it is, and a very impressive achievement.”
“And what do you propose to do about thiser—milestone in our history?”
“Make a terrific show out of it. Bring the two millionth customer to head office and pour it on. Receptions, speeches, line up the press, turn on the advertising. We’ll make those Toronto jokers take notice. They’ll look damn silly if all they can say is, ‘Now we’ve got two million customers too. ’ ”
“You’re sure we won’t look silly?”
“How can we? Though we probably won’t get St. Laurent for the ceremony we can be sure of at least two ministers. It’s a nationwide front-page story. I’ve told Charley Stagg to go to work on the project straight away.”
“Oh, you have, Blake?” It was one of those mornings—sadly becoming more frequent when Jonathan Spalding found himself unwilling to face a head-on collision with his general manager; when he all but regretted that tradition—presidents of the Bank of Lower Canada did not retire before sixty-eight—demanded some thirty more months in the saddle. “Well, you have my consent, though scarcely my blessing.”
But the more Jonathan Spalding thought Continued on paße 55
The Two Millionth Customer of the Bank of Lower Canada
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19
about the project the more he was worried by its implications. He saw a dozen ways in which the bank’s reputation might be besmirched, and he decided to keep a close eye upon its author and executant.
CHARLEY STAGG was proud to belong to what he reverently entitled PR. He believed in it, not merely as an activity profitable to Charley Stagg or the Bank of Lower Canada, but as good in itself. Public relations was a religion, a Christian religion of course, and he was a high priest—a canon, a bishop-to-be. His presence spoke of his calling. He was not a big man but he had the gift of enveloping those he addressed; he flowed over them, warm, friendly and encouraging. Every word he uttered, he once remarked, was measured against the Golden Rule.
It was in this spirit that he answered the president’s summons to discuss with him the two millionth customer. “You see, we are not just a bank, Mr. Spalding,” he explained. “We are part of this immense thing called Canada, which is a way of life as well as a geographical expression. So the announcement of our two millionth customer will have a significance far exceeding the mere statistical fact. It must arise from the intimate relationship existing between the Bank of Lower Canada and whatever is good and great about our country.”
“Very fine sentiments, Mr. Stagg.” “I envisage the whole ceremony, sir, as a tribute to the Canadian family, the Canadian home. The hearthstone is our foundation stone. Whomever we choose to stand as the symbol of the two million—Mr. and Mrs. Two Million, you might say—must make this shiningly clear. A youngish couple with two or three children would, I think, be most desirable.”
“You would not leave it to chance?” “Oh, no, sir. Everything must reflect our public relations policy.”
“So you have other qualifications?” “Quite a number, sir. For example we need a man who is well regarded in his community, established but not obviously wealthy. He and his wife must both be photogenic, as well as the children. A churchgoer of course, and it would help if he belonged to one or more service clubs. He must be able to express himself in public.” Charley Stagg, noticing how Mr. Spalding nodded his receipt of each point, warmed to his expose. “I have considered the question of national origin. Naturally our ideal would be someone with a name like Robert Martin, which sounds right in both English and French, but we cannot expect too much.”
“I quite agree.”
“It was suggested that we have a Mr. Two Million and a M. Deuxième Million, separate people, but I’m afraid that would look rather obvious. And as the bulk of our customers are English-speaking we must give them priority. But perhaps we should select a Roman Catholic in compensation.” There was a pause. “What do you think, sir?”
“On the whole, Mr. Stagg, I would be flexible. The Almighty Himself is generous in His conditions for salvation. Let us follow His example.” Planning and organization proceeded rapidly. Speed was indeed essential, for no word of the project must leak out
before it burst upon the Canadian public; the Bank of Upper Canada could not forestall but it might try to sabotage. Charley Stagg drew up a report form for distribution to the bank’s five hundred and thirty-one branch managers. When D-Day was declared, they would begin to record on the form the details of any likely candidate among their new customers, and would go on doing so until Charley Stagg declared the selection of Mr. Two Million. The forms—which covered such subjects as size of family, occupation, financial standing, home owner-
ship, church and club affiliations, appearance (outstanding, good, ordinary) and public-speaking ability were to be regarded as top secret and air-mailed to head office at the end of each day.
The branch managers received their instructions with varying reactions. A small percentage at once consigned the forms to the wastebasket and a few more told their secretary to lose t hem in the files. The majority called in their accountants to “take care of this public relations stuff.” But there were a handful of keen young men who knew opportunity when they met her face to
face. They waited eagerly for D-Day and the chance to show head office that they were right on the ball. Indeed, one or two prepared suitable candidates in advance from among their more qualified acquaintances or deserving friends.
Steve Hatchett, manager at the delightful Ontario market town of Haddington Falls, did not go so far as this, but he gave a lot of attention to the project. Thus he saw with bitterness that the only new accounts opened in his branch on D-Day morning belonged to a teen-age girl with a pronounced lisp and an elderly farmer
who was reputed to beat his wife. But he had just come back from lunch when he was called to the counter. “Mr. Hatchett, this lady would like to open an account with us.” She was a tall woman, one could almost say a big woman, of thirty-five or so. She was very fair, and had both a presence and an engaging smile. Clutching her coat was a little girl, darker than her mother, who had the same smile and the same restful grey eyes. “My name is Jones— Mrs. Marian Jones. My family and l have just come to Haddington Falls. We’ve taken one of the new houses on Cedar Avenue.” “Yes, yes, a very nice district. Mr. Jones is working here?” “I’m a widow.” “I’m sorry, Mrs. Jones, I . . . ” “Later I may be opening a dress shop. I had one in Toronto for some years. But for the moment I’m thinking only of a personal account.” “Well, of course we shall be delighted to do anything we can for you.” Steve Hatchett’s hopes, which had fallen momentarily at the news of his customer’s widowhood, were beginning to rise. For what better institution was there to protect the widow and the orphan than the Bank of Lower Canada? Surely this was Mrs. Two Million, with her delightful daughter and her own charm? “What a sweet little girl that is,” he said. “Have you any other children?” “Oh, yes. Jenny has two brothers.” THERE FOLLOWED an enjoyable conversation during which his new customer opened her account with a sizable cheque on a Toronto investment house, and Steve Hatchett collected some promising data for his report sheet. Though not wealthy Mrs. Jones was obviously not in need, and she drove away in a nice little English car. Qteve, a very happily married man, found himself looking forward to their next meeting. He had no other useful candidates, and the more he thought of Mrs. Jones the surer he was that he had hit the publicity jackpot, provided head office could be persuaded that a typical Canadian family might exist without a father. To reinforce his suggestion he sent Charley Stagg a personal letter in which he emphasized the emotional impact of the widow - and - orphan theme. He added that there was a promising small-business reference in the proposed dress shop. Charley Stagg prided himself on his imagination. Steve Hatchett’s letter appealed deeply to this imagination, which was peopled with grateful, cheerful men and women continually praising the benevolence and efficiency of the Bank of Lower Canada. Here, he saw, was the extra twist, the something different which would raise the whole story another notch above the ordinary and command a correspondingly larger share of column inches. Indeed, this brave little woman was not only the key figure for his set piece but the theme of an advertising campaign which could make the bankers of Upper Canada look like a nest of meanminded money-grubbers. At once he hurried to lay Steve Hatchett’s letter on the general manager’s desk. “I like it,” said Blake Jopson. “Good-looking woman and kids. Just what we need. But check with Mr. Spalding, will you?” He paused and winked. “And let me know if the old boy has any objections.” “Yes, Mr. Stagg,” the president murmured as he lit his cigar, “I grant you it’s a charming conception. Though not perhaps so original as you claim. And provided the lady is agreeable, I, myself, have no serious objections.”
Charley Stagg telephoned Steve Hatchett to congratulate him on his perspicacity and request him to secure immediately Mrs. Jones’ co-operation. “I’m up to my neck, Steve,” he said, “or I’d come down myself. So we’re relying on you. Don’t let us down, will you, boy?” And Steve Hatchett, who saw the next rungs of the ladder materializing before his eyes, answered emotionally, “You bet I won’t.” He drove out at once to Mrs. Jones’ new home. Two brisk and sunny-faced boys were playing out front. Mrs. Jones in a pleasantly flowered apron welcomed him indoors. “I’ve been baking,” she said. “Oh, no, you don’t disturb me. Everything’s in the oven now.” The house was tastefully furnished, the smell of baking quite delicious, the coffee she served him as good as he had ever drunk. Encouraged by the atmosphere, he made his proposition, insisting that the bank would meet all expenses and provide the family with suitable gifts. The publicity, he added, might be a great help in launching her dress shop. “Well, Mr. Hatchett, I just don’t know.” She sounded serious but a little coquettish, as if she might be persuaded. So he spoke of the role of the Bank of Lower Canada, the way of life it represented, and he mentioned too the keen, healthy competition with the Bank of Upper Canada. Then she smiled and remarked, “As a businesswoman myself I see just what you mean.” “I’m so glad ...” he began. “I tell you what, Mr. Hatchett, give me this evening to think it over. I’ll call you in the morning. Now do have another cup of coffee—with one of these cookies.” He had never waited so tensely for a phone call—not even before his marriage. He sat at his desk and snapped at his subordinates. At eleven-thirty Mrs. Jones released him. “Yes, Mr. Hatchett,” she said, “I’ve let you persuade me. You and the boys, for they insist on their trip to Montreal.” THE NEXT ten days were the most feverish Charley Stagg had ever known. There were invitations to be mailed, press releases to be prepared and speeches to be written. There were conferences with the newsreels, the radio and TV people, tie-ins with the big stores which would provide the family presents, souvenir menus and seating arrangements, and delicate negotiations to secure the best ministerial representation. The keen interest shown by the president was a further complication. Mr. Spalding summoned him every day to report on his activities, insisted on censoring each speech and press release and reorganized all the seating arrangements. “I’m afraid, Mr. Stagg,” he remarked, “that you find my interventions a trifle tedious. But I cannot entirely abdicate my responsibilities, or forget a lifetime’s devotion to such matters as dignity and protocol.” He showed signs of enthusiasm only when he saw some pictures of Mrs. Jones and her family. “A fine figure of a woman,” he remarked with approval. Perhaps it was Mrs. Jones’ personal charm, evident even in those not-tooexpert photographs from Haddington Falls, that stirred Jonathan Spalding to further interest in her. “Oh, Mr. Stagg,” he remarked, looking up from the latest list of acceptances to the luncheon, “I don’t think I ever saw the report that was sent in about Mrs. Jones’ background. D’you remember what it said about her husband?”
Charley Stagg took time to answer. “He he was in business, 1 believe, sir.”
“Indeed? I’d like to see the exact details.”
“Actually there’s nothing in the report, sir. Mr. Hatchett told me on the telephone. The report merely says that Mr. Jones is deceased.”
“I see. Well what do we know about Mrs. Jones’ own history?”
“She deposited a substantial cheque with Mr. Hatchett to open her account. It represented, I understand, the proceeds of the sale of her dress shop. “You have the name of that shop?” “Nno, sir.”
“Then your knowledge of Mrs. Jones before she turned up in Haddington Falls consists of a few general impressions gleaned by Mr. Hatchett?” Charley Stagg found it difficult to answer. “That is so, isn’t it?”
“Mr. Hatchett was very impressed with her.”
“As a trained banker, Mr. Stagg, I seek a foundation for my personal impressions. I’m afraid Mr. Hatchett is still somewhat impulsive.”
“Shall 1 ask him . . . ?”
“No, 1 think not. You can leave this matter in my hands.”
HE HAD been moved first, Jonathan Spalding admitted to himself, by natural human interest, but now his professional instinct was aroused and he telephoned the manager of the main branch in Toronto.
The answer to his queries arrived only on the morning of the reception. Jonathan Spalding and Blake Jopson were already conducting the two ministers on a ceremonial tour of the bank; they had reached the board room and its portraits of past presidents when an agitated secretary, casting decorum to
the winds, dragged Mr. Spalding away from his guests. There was thus irritation in his voice when he sat down to the phone, but it changed quickly to the deepest interest, in which concern was mingled with something that might have been taken for self-satisfaction. “Yes, yes,” he murmured, “you don’t say. You’re certain, absolutely certain? Live years ago? Oh, May twenty-third. Thank you very much, Mr. Mortimer. I’m sure you’ve been most discreet in your enquiries. It would be a good idea, I think, if you forgot they were ever made.” Mr. Spalding returned to his guests in time to hear the general manager explaining, “That space is reserved for our president himself.” “Excuse me, gentlemen,’’ he said, “but might I have a word with Mr. Jopson?” “Yes, Jonathan, what is it?” It was not the tone that the general manager ought to have adopted toward the president, but be let it pass. “1 think you had better know, Blake, who Mrs. Marian Jones, our Two Millionth Customer, actually is.” “What do you mean?” “Mrs. Jones owned a dress shop in Toronto. It was called Chez Marianne. She is also a widow.” “We know that, Jonathan.” “Her husband, though this thank heavens was never common knowledge, was a certain Gentleman Jones. He was shot to death by the police on May 23, 1948, when attempting to hold up the Bloor and Yonge branch of the Bank of Upper Canada.” “What!” For the first time Jonathan Spalding saw the iron jaw drop. “Just that. Mr. Stagg, who 1 may remark is not a hanker, did not deem it necessary to look into the lady’s background. I called Mortimer in Toronto, myself, and he secured this information.” “But she’s due at Windsor Station in just under an hour. We’ve invited the press. The newsreel men are in the banking hall. The ministers have already sent their speeches to the agencies.” “I am not suggesting that you cancel your ceremony, Blake. It is unhappily too late for that, and I blame myself for not appreciating earlier the full incompetence of your Mr. Stagg. But you will, I’m sure, realize what could happen if the public or even our Toronto friends should learn these facts.” The general manager was in agony. “What shall we do, Jonathan?” “What shall we do?” Jonathan Spalding savored the phrase. “First I’d advise you and Mr. Stagg and everyone concerned to exercise the greatest caution from now on. I shall have to take over myself, and I’ll spend as much time at Mrs. Jones’ side as possible. Yes, we must go through with the business expeditiously and discreetly.” “Shouldn’t we tell Mrs. Jones to he careful about what she says?” “I think not, Blake. It is my impression that Mrs. Jones has put the whole unhappy episode out of her mind. It would be neither civil nor charitable to remind her of it. After all, we thrust this role upon her.” THERE WAS some adaptation of the ceremonial. The president himself went to the station to welcome Mrs. Jones and her family, instead of the general manager, and then formally greeted them as they entered the banking hall. While the young Joneses, delightful, well - conducted children, were being shown the sights, such as the piles of notes and sacks of coinage in the vaults, he escorted their mother to the board room for a brief preluncheon cocktail party. This was to
have heen the job of the general manager, leaving the president to devote himself to the cabinet ministers. His attention to his guest during the cocktail party caused the Head of Ontario Credits to comment to the Assistant Secretary, “The old boy’s smitten. 1 never thought he could be.” It was just as the party was leaving for the Sandringham Hotel that a balding man in a dark gi'ey suit surged up to Mrs. Two Million and clasped her hand. “My dear Mrs. Jones, I’m so glad to see you again. How are the dear children?”
“They’re just fine, Mr. Blenkinsop.” Mi's. Jones turned to the president. “You must know Mr. Blenkinsop,” she said. “You’re both in the same business.”
“I’ve never had the honor, sir,” said Mr. Blenkinsop, “but I’m manager of the Mimico branch of the Bank of Upper Canada. When we learnt what a magnificent show you were putting on for one of my old customers the president felt I ought to pay my respects.” Jonathan Spalding received Mr. Blenkinsop’s uttei'ly discreet wink and held out his hand. “It was kind of you,” he said, “to come and make sure that Mrs. Jones really is your old customer. There are so many Joneses about, it would be easy to make a mistake.”
“No mistake at all, I assure you, sir.” “Then 1 trust you will join us for luncheon and shai'e in our celebration.” “With pleasure, sir—up to a point.” “Oh Mr. Stagg!” Jonathan Spalding called out. Charley Stagg ti'otted over to his president. “This is Mr. Blenkinsop of the Bank of Upper Canada, a good friend of Mrs. Jones. Please see that he has a place at the head table.” The party dissolved; those invited to luncheon and those not invited went their separate ways.
The meal, itself, passed off happily, and, as the last pêche Al elba was consumed, the President of the Bank of Lower Canada rose to speak. He began by welcoming Mrs. Jones and her family, “such well brought up childi'en in an age when good manners are inci'easingly rare.” He then welcomed the ministerial axxd other dignitaries. “And we are especially gratified,” he said, “to have among us the representative of our great but friendly rival, our fellow institution you might say, the Bank of Upper Canada.”
“That’s not in the script you gave me,” the newspaperman next to him muttered to Charley Stagg.
“Nothing is,” Charley managed to reply.
“His presence here today,” went on the president, “symbolizes the real theme of my remarks. You will see and hear a lot of the competition of the chartered banks, and such competition is good, ft improves service and keeps us bankers on our toes.” Standing spare and straight, lie looked around him, allowing his glance to rest on the general manager. “Some of us perhaps need a little such exercise.” The guests chuckled appreciatively. “But,” he added in louder tones, “that does not alter the fundamental fact, which is this — united we stand, divided we fall.”
For the rest of his ten minutes the president spoke of the Canadian hanking system and its devotion to Unpeople of Canada, the families of Canada so charmingly, so gallantly represented by Mrs. Jones and her children. Today, he said, we may have two million accounts—he lingered on the word—tomorrow it will be the turn of the Bank of Upper Canada. But this is unimportant. What matters is our service to our fellow citizens, the century-long traditions we both revere.
“No,” he concluded, “I do not want you to regard this ceremony we have organized as in any way glorifying the Bank of Lower Canada. I do not want you to regard this lovely lady as representing any achievement peculiar to us. Mrs. Jones and her family stand for all those good people of Canada whom its chartered banks are proud, are honored to serve.”
As acclamation shook the room Mr. Spalding returned his wink to Mr. Blenkinsop.
The Jones’ visit to Montreal lasted three days and Mr. Spalding acted as personal attendant throughout. He greeted them at breakfast, he tucked the children in bed at night. He was present at each ceremony, even the toy presentation in Seaton’s, each official photograph, each excuse for speechmaking. He waved them bon voyage from Wixxdsor Station.
Driving home in his bank president’s limousine, weary relief was tinged with achievement. Careless idiots, he thought, they can’t do without me, I got them out of that mess. He envisaged with horror what might have happened if he had not been there to meet—with diplomacy—the challenge of Mr. Blenkinsop. Generations of dignified service could have been swept away in a nationwide gale of coarse guffaws. Yes, he mused, I must stay on as long as I can—and then, with pleasant reminiscence, but she was a fine figure of a woman, if