Gerrity and Rico loved to play golf. They both enjoyed participating in Palma Ceia’s Member-Guest Tournament here in Tampa. (r. to l. My brother Sol, Dick Gerrity, Paul Rico, me.
The Howard Johnson’s sign at the second Ocala exit read “28 Flavors of Ice Cream.” This was their slogan throughout the country. But, that night, and most nights after the Ocala Jai-Alai evening performance, Dick Gerrity and I would stop there for a midnight chat.
Since we were both staying at the Admiral Benbow Motel the final two months of the season, the HoJos was a convenient place to wind down. Of the 28 flavors, I would order chocolate ice cream to go on top of my strawberry shortcake. Dick would just drink coffee.
Besides talking about golf, Dick was interested in the fronton personnel, the players, and my past involvement in the sport. He often talked about his long-time FBI buddy, H. Paul Rico, who was currently Chief of Security for the company. He had many stories about Rico, especially the one about him solving one of the most infamous robberies in American history, “The Brinks Heist” of 1950. This made Rico a legend in the Boston office.
I could see from some of our conversations that Dick was being groomed to run Tampa Jai-Alai. And Paul Rico’s role might change, too. I knew Gerrity liked me. So, during those late-night chats, I became aware that these changes would benefit me personally, if they actually happened. A few months later, Gerrity was, indeed, at the helm of Tampa Jai-Alai.
One night, Dick told me that I was to attend an advertising meeting in Miami. This was a rarity since, in the past, a Miami ad agency placed all of Tampa and Ocala’s ads. There was never any input from us. I was intrigued. Maybe I was going to be part of the future decision-making process.
A few days later, I found myself seated at a long table in a Miami Springs restaurant surrounded by many unfamiliar faces. John B. Callahan, the newly appointed CEO of the company was at the head. Next to him was a quirky looking gentleman with a blue blazer wearing white sneakers. He looked like a caricature of a Hollywood movie director. His voice whiney, his hair was short and wiry.
This gentleman seemed to dominate the initial conversations. Yes, it was Alan Trustman, successful movie writer and member of our Board of Directors. This was Buddy Berenson’s archrival.
Some of the others were familiar to me and gave me big “hellos.” Rick Wallace, company Chief Operating Office, (who I became fairly close with during the Teamster Union issue) sat next to me. Milt Roth, our Corporate Director of Public Relations, who always gave me valuable guidance, was seated across from me. I was introduced to a cigar-smoking, gray-haired man, with a big Boston accent. His name was H. Paul Rico. So, this was Gerrity’s mentor and close friend. I felt an instant connection to Rico.
During the meeting, Trustman would drone on, sounding like an expert. But Alan Trustman had no advertising background whatsoever. Callahan would quickly ask, “Dick, what do you think.” He was deferring to our new CFO, Richard P. Donovan, a young, quiet, very conservative gentleman at the end of the table. This happened repeatedly. I couldn’t help but wonder why he was asking our chief accountant his opinion on marketing and advertising ideas.
I would later find out that Donovan would not be remaining long in that position. Donovan would go on to be President of World Jai-Alai for more than 20 years. He would have a tremendous impact on my future and the future of my family.
After that meeting, I returned to Tampa and reported back to Gerrity. “They were kicking around a lot of new ideas for the future marketing of World Jai-Alai,” I told him. “I, also, met Paul Rico.” He responded that he already knew that, and that Rico liked me. He said that would be very important for the future.
Later that year, unexpectedly, Milt Roth left World Jai-Alai to pursue another job opportunity. Gerrity told me he received a call from Miami, and I was to fly down there to meet with Callahan concerning the vacant corporate position. Gerrity said he didn’t want to lose me to corporate headquarters, but it might be a great opportunity for me. I had mixed emotions. I had no desire to leave my hometown of Tampa. Gerrity, Giles Ellis, and I were a perfect team. Business was great. We worked hard and we played hard. Golf almost every day. Parties almost every night. Did I really want to leave this?
I arrived at Miami Jai-Alai and took a cab directly to the fronton. I was directed to the 2nd floor, to the office on the far right that used to be the conference room. It was now Callahan’s office. As I waited in the small outer office, my heart was pumping. I was about to be interviewed by the CEO of World Jai-Alai for a corporate position I wasn’t sure I really wanted.
When I entered his office, Callahan got up and we shook hands. He looked like a wrestler, with dark features and rosy cheeks. Definitely a streetwise, highly educated Boston Irishman… friendly, but intimidating.
“We were very impressed with how you handled the player situation in Tampa,” he started off. “Also, Gerrity speaks very highly of you.” I felt I was off to a good start, having not said anything at all.
“World Jai-Alai is planning on expanding, not just into Connecticut, but to many other states,” Callahan continued. “It is going to require a massive PR effort. The person we hire in this corporate position will be doing a lot of traveling.” He had my undivided attention. I didn’t mind travel. But I wondered what he meant by “a lot.”
Then, Callahan asked, “How do you feel about living out of a suitcase?” I hesitated, and slowly answered, “that’s fine.” I could tell he saw little enthusiasm in my answer. He continued to ask me more about myself, my goals, what I thought about the future of Jai-Alai, etc. We continued for about another 20 minutes. Then, it was over. He thanked me for coming down. I still thought I had the job, even if that answer was underwhelming.
About two weeks later, Fred McKenna, a man who had never seen a game of Jai-Alai in his life, who didn’t even know how to spell it, was named Corporate Director of Public Relations for World Jai-Alai.
Less than a year later, Callahan would be forced to resign from the company. Six years later, he would be found dead in the trunk of his car.