E. Bronson Ingram: Complete These Unfinished Tasks of Mine

E. Bronson Ingram: Complete These Unfinished Tasks of Mine

by Martha Rivers Ingram


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781577362166
Publisher: Martha Ingram
Publication date: 11/28/2001
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Grace talked me into it. It was the winter of 1957, and I was a senior at Vassar. One of my friends from Nashville, Grace Ward (now Hall), asked if I would have a blind date with a friend of her boyfriend, Ed Nelson. I already had a date that weekend, and I was reluctant to break it. Grace said, "Oh, Martha, you better break it. You're really going to like this man, and you're going to be so sorry if you don't." The young man I was supposed to go out with that weekend was someone I had been out with quite a bit, and I knew it was going nowhere. I did the unaccustomed thing for me, which was to break the date, and went to New York with Grace. That was where I met Bronson Ingram for the first time.

    Several Nashvillians had made the trip, and one of them was John Jay Hooker, who had ordered two limousines to take the group around town. We went to all the glamorous places. We saw My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, which had just opened. We went to a restaurant called Chez Vito that had lots of red velvet and strolling violinists. We heard Edith Piaf sing plaintive French songs at Versailles, a Midtown night club. For a senior in college who had been treated to lots of beer and pizza on dates, the experience was quite extraordinary.

    On Saturday morning, Bronson and Iwere walking around town and he said, "I need to stop in here at my tailor. I've got something that is basted, and they need to be sure it's right before they seam it up the rest of the way." Going to a tailor with a date was another unusual experience for me. (By the way, he had that sport coat until the day he died, and it still buttoned.)

    Back at school, away from all the excitement of New York, I thought, Now, wait a minute. I think I really like this man, but do I just like him or his lifestyle? I decided I liked both, but I got very little feedback from him—only a postcard or two. I thought that was the end of it.

    After graduation in the spring, I returned to my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, and worked for my father at WCSC-AM/FM and WCSC-TV. I was the eldest of three children, and he was more or less training me to take over the business for him someday. In addition to my daytime duties, I chose to be the disc jockey for a classical radio show on my father's FM station. I was on from 7:00 to 11:00 each evening and called my program "Music from the Masters." I even lowered my voice and used the pseudonym of Elizabeth Crawford because some listeners might think it was inappropriate for the owner's daughter to hold that position. I was responsible for all of it, including writing the introductions and selling spots to advertisers. In what little spare time I had I went on dates with several young men.

    Grace invited me later that summer to visit her in Nashville, and I did. She said, "I'm going to fix you up with Bronson Ingram again. You all had a good time, and I think, long term, you all might go places" I had a date with him the first night and was to have had a date the second night with Franklin Jarman, whom I had never met. He was of the Genesco family. Grace was very interested in fixing me up with someone in Nashville because she and I were good friends, and she thought it would be nice if our relationship continued by me moving to Nashville.

    At the end of the evening, Bronson asked, "What are you doing tomorrow night?" I replied, "I have a blind date tomorrow night with Franklin Jarman." He said, "Do you mind if I call him and just simply tell him you're already taken?" I thought that was a splendid thing for him to do, and we went out a second time. I never even met Franklin until several months later.

    I sailed with Bronson a couple of times that summer in Minnesota, where his family had a summer home, and I didn't think it was fun at all. He yelled like Captain Bligh. He was so competitive, he wanted everything to be done just so. I grew up around water and sailboats, but not that kind of sailboat and certainly not with the competitive sailing pressures that he was used to. My legs ended up bruised from the sideboards that I had to sit on as we tilted from one side, leaned one way, and then came about and leaned the other way. After one weekend, my father glanced at my legs and said, "How in the world did you get so black and blue?" I explained to him about the sailing, and he asked, "Are you sure you want to go around with a man who puts you into a boat that gets you so black and blue?" I decided that our relationship was probably better off without me in his sailboat, and Bronson agreed. I became a fierce spectator instead of a crew member.

    Bronson sometimes flew himself to Charleston to see me. The first time I ever flew with him, he was in the company's twin-engine Cessna 310. As he was getting ready to go back to Nashville, he asked if I wanted to go with him, and I decided to accompany him. We took off, and I could tell that my parents were absolutely frantic that I was going off into the wild blue yonder with this man they hardly even knew. They were doubly shocked when we turned up again about an hour later. We ran into a bank of thunderstorms and couldn't get through. Bronson did not have an instrument rating, and he knew enough to turn around and come back before we got totally in trouble. I think my parents somehow felt that if he was cautious enough to come back, they wouldn't worry too much about me flying with him again.

    My brother, John Rivers Jr., is ten years younger than I, so he was not yet a teen when Bronson and I started dating. He was paying closer attention to my dating life than I realized. He remarked, "Bronson often flew his plane to Charleston. It was amazing how often the plane had some kind of mechanical difficulty, and he had to stay another day."

    Others were noticing, too. Bronson's father and I were alone at breakfast one morning at their Tyne Boulevard home. It was April of 1958 when he suddenly looked up from his Tennessean and said, "You know, it gets expensive letting Bronson fly our Cessna to Charleston so often to see you. Sometimes he gets stuck there in bad weather, and we have to send Elmour [Meriwether, the pilot] to help get him and the plane back. It's damn inconvenient. Why don't you just marry my son and be done with it?" "Mr. Ingram," I replied, "he's not yet asked me." Shaking his head and smiling, Mr. Ingram said, "Well, then he's a damn fool!" At least I knew that Bronson's father would approve of me—if Bronson ever got around to asking.

    In May when I came back to Nashville for the Iroquois Steeplechase, Bronson did ask me to marry him. He started out by saying, "I want to come over to Charleston to visit you next weekend [the weekend following the Steeplechase]." I told him, "I have another gentleman friend coming from Atlanta then." He paused. "I don't want you going out with anyone else." I said, "You don't have any rights to me, but you could have." He hesitated, then said, "Oh, my God, I think I know what this means." I said, "Well, it's up to you." He said, "Then you would marry me if I were to ask you?" I answered, "Yes, but don't ask me if you don't mean it." He said, "Well, will you?" and I said, "Yes."

    I was staying at his parents' house. The next morning when I got up, he was already outside, wandering around, looking stricken. At age twenty-six, almost twenty-seven, he found that he had gotten himself engaged. I don't think he had ever really thought about it, and suddenly, here he was with a fiancée. I saw him down by the creek, and I went to join him there. I said, "You know, what you asked me last night is something nobody else knows about. You look so pale and so stricken by all this. If you'd like to back out, it's okay." He said, "Oh, no, I really want to go forward with it." He must have been awake most of the night thinking, Oh, my God, what have I done?

    My parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Minott Rivers, announced our engagement in June. We planned the wedding for October 4, to be held in Charleston.

    My brother, John, recalled: "We took a family trip to the West Coast. Five family members and twenty-seven suitcases piled in a station wagon. I kept calling Bronson 'Burnside,' and Martha talked about him throughout the whole trip." I guess I could be excused for talking about him so much, since we had not been engaged long. We made the trip that summer after my sister's graduation from Vassar.

    On Saturday, October 4, 1958, Bronson and I were married in St. Philip's Protestant Episcopal Church at 8:30 P.M. The Reverend S. Grayson Clary and Bishop Thomas Neely Carruthers of the Diocese of South Carolina officiated. That church was meaningful to my family. My father had been senior warden several times, and my mother was much involved in the women's activities.

    Elizabeth (then called Betty Craig), my sister, was maid of honor, and Mrs. Vernon Reese Loucks (Ann Thomas), who had been my roommate at Vassar, was matron of honor. The bridesmaids were Mrs. Frederic Bigelow Ingram (Barbara), Bronson's sister-in-law; Mrs. Henry Williamson Hooker (Alice) and Mrs. Henry Rodes Hart (Patricia), Bronson's sisters; and Grace Ward (my Nashville friend from Vassar who introduced us in the first place).

    Frederic (Fritz), Bronson's brother, was best man. The groomsmen and ushers were Henry Williamson Hooker and Henry Rodes Hart, both brothers-in-law of Bronson; Fraser Robin Bigelow, Bronson's cousin; John Jay Hooker Jr.; Edward Gage Nelson; Johnson Bransford (Jake) Wallace; John Minott Rivers Jr., my brother; Thomas Pinckney Rutledge Rivers and George Lamb Buist Rivers Jr., my cousins; Brownlee Owen Currey Jr.; Scott Crabtree; John Alden Rodgers; and Frank Prince Macartney.

    Following the ceremony, the reception was held at my parents' home, 20 Church Street, near the Battery in the old section of town. The formal garden, lighted with side sconces and crystal chandeliers, was decorated to resemble a large ballroom. A string ensemble provided the music.

    Many friends and family members were able to attend. Mr. Ingram chartered a plane to take people from Nashville to Charleston. This partial list gives some idea of the people who were there, in addition to the wedding party: Mr. and Mrs. James C. Ward Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Jack M. Bass, Jack M. Bass Jr., Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Bradford, Mr. and Mrs. John S. Bransford Jr., Edith Caldwell, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Cargile, Mrs. Brownlee O. Currey, Emily Fletcher, Mr. and Mrs. Minos Fletcher Jr., Horace Hill, Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew H. Mizell III, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Owen, Mr. and Mrs. Eldon Stevenson, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. William Waller, and Ryan Richardson.

    John Alden Rodgers vividly recalled the event: "I don't know how many people Mr. Ingram took on that airplane, and people came from all over the country. They took over the Fort Sumter Hotel, a big hotel right there on the Battery. Mr. and Mrs. Rivers had the reception at their house. It rained so hard that everybody felt sorry for everybody else, but we all had a lot of fun.

    "The next morning I walked by the cashier's office at the hotel. Mr. Ingram was on his way to play golf, but he had stopped in the cashier's office to go over his account. He was sitting down in a chair, the cashier wasn't there, so I walked in and shook hands with him and said what a great time we had and how wonderful everything was. He had a stack of checks that was deep, right in front of him, and he was looking through them. He said, 'Hmmm, this is really something. Everybody had a good time, didn't they?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He kind of shook his head and grinned. I said, 'Have a good game, Mr. Ingram. See you later.' He was a very generous fellow."

    Despite the rain, we had a wonderful wedding, and we left for our honeymoon that evening. We went to Acapulco, where Bronson became so ill (Montezuma's Revenge) that after three days we had to return to Nashville. Of course, when we got back from what was supposed to be a week-long honeymoon in three days, even our families thought, Oh, gosh, it must all be over. But he soon recovered his health, and we moved into a house on Evelyn Avenue.

    Looking back, I guess it was a fairly precipitous courtship, but we had very similar backgrounds, we had very good, solid educations, and we had fun together. Our biggest difference was that he was Presbyterian, and I was Episcopalian. We thought we could get beyond that. Like any newly married couple, we had a lot to learn about each other, but we looked forward to the years ahead. Neither of us could have predicted how low the lows or how high the highs we would experience together.

Excerpted from E. Bronson Ingram by Martha Rivers Ingram. Copyright © 2001 by Martha Rivers Ingram. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

1. Beginnings1
2. A Family of Doers10
3. Nashville to New Orleans ... and Back Again32
4. Ingram Corporation55
5 "A Wretched Ordeal"103
6. Ingram Industries112
7. Man in the Arena153
8. The Campaign for Vanderbilt218
9. Adieu251
10. Unfinished Tasks274

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