Christmas 2013

I am writing this on Thanksgiving, feeling particularly thankful for little Connor Bancroft Johnson, our second grandchild; born on November 24th in Seattle to our younger daughter Emily and her husband, Andy Johnson. Connor joins our other grandson Greg Sewell-Bancroft, now 19 months and also living in Seattle with older daughter Carrie and her husband Phil Sewell.

Looking back it has been quite a nice year for the Bancroft family and quite an unfortunate year for America. This being the holiday season I prefer to focus on the former. But of country I will say this – dysfunction in Washington has reached levels not seen since Lincoln’s time. We are in dangerous waters here. It is the symptom of deep and debilitating malaise- malaise that threatens our ability to govern.

Some of us have seen this coming – now all of us are feeling the chilling impact. We may be able to stumble along from crisis to crisis but the chance of tragic miscalculation gets ever larger. The only short-term fix I can see is the House returning to a Democratic majority. The Republican majority there now refuses to govern responsibly. They do not represent a majority of the country. They deserve to lose in the mid-term elections of 2014.

On a personal note, 2013 was the year when I began to step back from the level of business commitment I have sustained over many years. I stopped taking new assignments and began to phase out current assignments. I am keeping my advisory commitment to Industrial Growth Partners, a small Private Equity firm out of San Francisco – otherwise I am winding down.

The most obvious result of this winding down was the five week road trip that Sally and I embarked on at the end of August. We hopped into Sally’s Prius and set out to see the West. In 8,000 miles of blue highways we saw much of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. It is a grand and glorious country out there where Lewis and Clark first ventured more than 200 years ago. Much detail is on our trip is on our trip blog (that name is a story in itself). I will only say visit the little town of Medora in the North Dakota badlands before you die.

Back home in Maine our economy sputtered along more feebly than the Nation’s, engendering a headline from one of our leading newspapers that read “20 years of plans for Maine’s economy, but where’s the progress?”. One of the fundamentals of that progress is making Maine “an education state”.  We have at least one distinctive plus on which to build the Education State:  The Alfond Scholarship, unique among the fifty states, this scholarship provides a $500 education account for every baby born in Maine.  Think about it: “Come to Maine and your children will get a head start on their education.” See Sally or me for details of your relocation.

Other big news this year was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, and one that marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.  We had never been to Gettysburg, so this Spring, thanks to our good friend Kevin Sharer, we got the grand tour of the battlefield from one of the senior National Park Service historians.

The Gettysburg National Military Park is one of our national treasures.  It is preserved to look just as it did in 1863.  The battlefield covers a large but accessible area, running from the town itself south along Cemetery Ridge, the heart of the Union Center, to Little Round Top at the far left of the Union line.  Little Round Top was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting – held gallantly by the 20th Maine led by Joshua Chamberlin.  Chamberlin and another member of the regiment won Medals of Honor for their work that day.

Given the visit and the anniversary, it is no surprise that my book recommendations this year are about Gettysburg.  Gettysburg, the Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo is the “official” commemorative history.  It is tidy and well-researched.  However, Guelzo raised the ire of this Mainer by playing down the efforts of Joshua Chamberlin and the 20th Maine.  To him the real hero of Gettysburg was General Winfield Scott Hancock.  Hancock was in charge of the Union Center and repeatedly shifted troops to fill the gaps in the Union line that threatened to give the Confederates victory on the fateful record day.  As Guelzo puts it “Win Hancock had his best day as a general when his country needed it most.”.

The other Gettysburg book, a gift from our friend Dennis Blair, is Searching for George Gordon Meade:  the Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, by Tom Huntington.  General Meade was given command of the army of the Potomac just three days before the battle.  His forces dealt Robert E. Lee an enormous loss – after an unbroken string of Confederate victories in 1862.  Nonetheless Meade gets little credit.  This is partly because, in Lincoln’s view, Meade failed to follow-up after Gettysburg when Lee’s army was vulnerable.  In addition, Meade had a dour personality and a volcanic temper – not the endearing character of his opponent Robert E. Lee.

The biggest global news of 2013 was the retirement in November of the legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. The 40 year old Tendulkar, known as the “Little Master”, retired after his 200th test match.  No other cricketer comes close to his record:  most test wins, most one-day international runs, most international centuries scored and most international matches played.  Tendulkar led India’s resurgence in world cricket – perfect for a country that is mad about cricket.

For 2014 may your joys be many, may your challenges be character building, and don’t forget rule 5. Note: Rule 5 is “Get plenty of sleep”.