Dick Press (of the illustrious J. Press family) has an amusing tale of meeting the former British Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Atlee when he was an undergraduate at Dartmouth in 1959.
Clement Attlee memorably defeated Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a landslide June, 1945 election taking his place alongside President Harry S. Truman and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference. Following his retirement from politics Attlee was elevated to the peerage taking his seat in the House of Lords in 1955.
For reasons unknown, perhaps my perceived joie de vivre, I was selected to be a member of the Welcoming Committee for the Great Issues Class, a senior curriculum subject.
The Great Issues course brought to campus a weekly series of illustrious speakers to educate seniors on pressing national and international issues of the time. Speakers included Robert Frost (class of 1896), former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, containment strategist George Kennan, NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller (class of 1930), and conservative commentator Bill Buckley.
My assignment on a bleak snowy winter afternoon was to pick up Lord Attlee at the nearby White River Junction, Vermont railroad station where he was expected to arrive from Boston. I was to transport him back to Hanover. The conveyance was my battered 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air, veteran of numerous fraternity road trips to Smith and Skidmore, nicknamed “Sheldon Chevrolet” and always parked in the back lot of my Chi Phi fraternity.
As Lord Attlee arrived at the primitive White River station, he emerged quite alone introducing himself to me as if I were but a hired retainer. Holding a note telling him a student, Richard Press, would meet him when he arrived. I retrieved his two pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage that barely fit in the back trunk along with the proverbial spare tire.
“Mr. Press, my ungodly journey from North Station on an unspeakable turn of the century train car requires me to take whiskey refreshment. Kindly take me to wherever we might find immediate relief. I would most certainly enjoy your company elucidating your own Dartmouth College experience.”
Twenty minutes later we were seated at the cocktail lounge of The Hanover Inn, normally not a student domain. Lord Attlee ordered the lounge attendant, gaped open mouth in apparent trauma, “two double Scotch Whiskeys for each of us.” …
HT: David Solin.
Dick Press presents the Labour leader in a very positive light. I could not help but recall that it was his stupid policies that kept Britain starving under food rationing until 1954.
Winston Churchill had several great comments on Atlee. He once said:
“An empty taxi pulled up and out stepped Clement Attlee.”
Churchill described Atlee as:
“A modest man, who has much to be modest about.”
According to Churchill:
Winston Churchill entered a men’s washroom in the House of Commons one day and, observing Labor leader Clement Attlee standing before the urinal, took up his stance at the opposite end of the room. “Feeling stand-offish today, are we, Winston?” Attlee chirped. “That’s right,” Churchill replied. “Every time you see something big, you want to nationalize it.”
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