Looking at my grandfather, I’m reminded of how much of a successful life is about swimming with the current, wherever that takes you.
A black-and-white image. It had been tucked away in an album for years before I snuck it out of our family camp on an island in a lake in Maine. “Megunticook” is the name of the venture capital firm I started and ran for a decade before shutting our doors last week. It’s also the name of that lake in Camden. When I first started Megunticook Management, a secretary blew up the image to an 8 x 10 and put it in a silver frame. I’ve brought the picture with me as we moved offices over the years. Saturday morning, a truck delivered boxes of files to my home office — a garret in the third-floor corner of our home in Brookline, Mass. — and the picture was the first thing I unpacked.
The man in the picture is wearing a fedora, dress slacks, and a collared windbreaker. It’s my grandfather, just after the Second World War, when he bought the postage-stamp-sized property for a few thousand dollars. His legs are spread, left foot forward, and knees bent, almost in a sprinter’s stance. His right arm is caught in motion as if he were trying to propel the wooden boat forward. A thicket of branches graze the water behind him and jagged rocks protrude from the surface in front of him. The bow of the boat is caught on a sand spit. Grandfather Bob’s body is lit up in bright sunshine but his face is stuck in the shadow of his hat. In my mind’s eye, I can just make out the look of intense concentration as he drops his head slightly to stare at that bow.
What he might do if he got the boat free of dry land, I don’t know. There are no oars in the craft. But it doesn’t much matter, since he isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps the reason I have carried this picture around is to continually ask myself how much different I am than my grandfather. While I don’t know the exact date of the picture, I think the man in the boat is roughly the same age I am now (46).
Robert Matlack was first involved in the paint industry at George D. Wetherill and Co. in Moorestown, N.J., and then as the president of the Federation of Societies for Coatings Technology. He had three kids, lived in a large house, and didn’t seem to have much use for people. He spent a lot of time in his study by himself, reading the paper, watching sports, and smoking his pipe.
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