A Personal Remembrance
When I was a teenager I occasionally worked in my father’s downtown law office, substituting for his regular secretary. One morning, in walked two nice-looking young men. They were Englishmen touring the US, visiting English-Speaking Union branches. This was the address of the Indianapolis branch since my father was the branch secretary.
Ordinarily, my ESU duties consisted of typing up membership cards. (To the irritation of a local Episcopal Bishop, I continued to have trouble with where to put “Rt. Rev.” when typing a card for him and his wife.) “Nancy,” said my father, as he slipped me his charge card, “take these boys to lunch at Ayres’ Tea Room” (a popular restaurant at a department store a few blocks away). I can’t remember what we talked about, and they were soon off to their next stop, but suddenly ESU had become to me a much more interesting organization.
The English-Speaking Union was founded after World War I in the UK in 1918 and in the US in 1920. The Indianapolis ESU branch was started in 1949 by Charles J. Lynn, a retired Eli Lilly vice-president. He had known of the organization at least by his time in Basingstoke, a town in south central England where Eli Lilly & Co. Ltd. was building the company’s first overseas manufacturing plant. The plant opened in September 1939, the day after Great Britain declared war on Germany. The gleaming white building was soon covered with camouflage paint and its proud new neon sign switched off.
Charles Lynn was president of the Indianapolis branch from 1949-1958. After his death, his wife, Dorothy B. Lynn, became president. She frequently included my husband and me in the lovely dinner parties she hosted for visiting ESU speakers – quite a change from our modest fare as newlyweds. When my husband was sent by Allison Div., General Motors, to England for a few months to work on a new engine with Rolls Royce, he took along me and our two-year-old toddler. My parents decided to enhance our experience with a membership in the British ESU – which also entitled us to stay at a lovely small members’ hotel when we drove down to London.
The closest ESU branch to our new “hometown” of Derby was in Nottingham. We found the branch’s meetings to be stimulating, academic, and a bit more serious (box cookies and instant coffee), compared to the more social, elegant club luncheon meeting we were used to at the Indianapolis branch. We did make interesting friends and the meetings were well worth attending, even if the drive home from Nottingham sometimes involved such heavy fog that the passenger had to aid the driver by also putting her hand on the steering wheel while sticking her head out the window to see the edge of the road.
Ah, fog. Ah, England. Ah, ESU.