Aug 20, 2002
We need shame to make a comeback
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
As of Wednesday, Feb. 26, the week''s top local story was the $35 million in pension benefits paid to three former US Airways executives. It was front page, above-the-fold news.
Stephen Wolf, who regrettably changed USAir to US Airways but otherwise led the company capably for seven years, received $15 million upon his retirement.
Former president and CEO Rakesh Gangwal also received $15 million, while former vice president and general counsel Lawrence Nagin got a mere $5 million.
Righteous talk-radio hosts decried these lump-sum payments as the legalized looting of the embattled airline. Indignant callers wondered how a judge could free the airline of its obligation to honor the pilots'' pension plan, or even allow the company to enter bankruptcy with the executives'' outrageous perks intact.
I myself was thinking fondly of the days when our society approved of the creative use of tar and feathers. If we did, and if we''d publicly applied those products where they might do some good, a headline writer could have had fun with the image of a Wolf becoming a crow, I thought (which is why I''m not a good headline writer).
And then Fred Rogers died.
When our best and favorite neighbor died of stomach cancer that Thursday morning, all the justifiable outrage over the week''s earlier issues turned to an outpouring of grief at our collective loss. We the people have only so much emotional energy. We went with the more important story. Everything else disappeared.
This was certainly appropriate. Sadly, big shots loot businesses every day. The homegoing of a modern saint is a once-in-a-lifetime event. So this was a time to mourn.
And in our time, there has been no one like Mr. Rogers. He found love and grace, made that his message and stuck with it. Through more than four decades in a radically changing medium, he did not change his message.
We loved him as children, poked fun at him as adolescents and rediscovered his blessed presence when we had children of our own. We could parody his speaking style and roll our eyes at his cardigans, but we couldn''t mock his message: You''re special, and I love you just the way you are. But applying that message to life when other, slightly more special people are robbing you blind -- aye, there''s the rub.
I can''t imagine Mr. Rogers with a bucket of tar (though trying to can lead to more naughty headlines: Rampaging Rogers tells execs to ''turn the other cheek'' ).
No, no, no. Mr. Rogers would sing, What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite? and he''d get us to set our tar buckets down. His goodness, on screen and off, was so compelling that it made you examine yourself to root out the bad within.
In light of his death, I wonder whether the US Airways honchos are feeling any shame at their let-them-eat-cake folly. We lose the ability to feel shame for certain actions if we keep repeating them over and over again or if we surround ourselves with people who act the same way. The action -- such as, oh, insulting those with whom you disagree or robbing the less powerful to add a couple more zeroes to your net worth -- begins to seem normal.
So it''s hard to guess what Messrs. Wolf, Gangwal and Nagin are capable of feeling. They''ve lived a long time in that rarefied corporate world where you appoint your buddies to the board of directors and then ask them to vote you a big payoff. This obscenely lucrative, mutual back-scratching must seem pretty normal to them, because they accepted it as their due just months after September 11, 2001 -- when the country as a whole, and the airlines in particular, were reeling.
Now US Airways is in bankruptcy, which means American taxpayers are backing $900 million in loans -- $35 million more than we need have -- and the pilots have lost much of their pensions.
Fred Rogers, born in comfortable circumstances, could have turned his ministry to children into a merchandising empire. He could have lived like a mogul, but he chose to be modest. He did unto others as they would be done by.
If they haven''t yet, the Gang of Three might want to ask themselves, What would Fred do?

Light Years

Aug 27, 2002
While we're on the topic, I seem to remember an episode of Mr Rogers where he visits the airport and gets a tour of a USAir plane from a friendly "stewardess" in a tan uniform. Am I dreaming or does anyone else remember this?


Feb 8, 2003
On 3/12/2003 11:04:32 AM Light Years wrote:

While we're on the topic, I seem to remember an episode of Mr Rogers where he visits the airport and gets a tour of a USAir plane from a friendly "stewardess" in a tan uniform. Am I dreaming or does anyone else remember this?

YeS!!! infact he wrote a childrens book based on that, All USAir everything, it was after the uniform change but still in the old airport. Very cool, i found and purchased a copy of it last year.


Aug 19, 2002
Sadly, I'm afraid those who need to read this article and act on it, probably won't. Mr. Rogers and Corporate America. Two total ends of the spectrum in many ways.

How are things in YOUR neighborhood?
Thanks for the story.


Aug 22, 2002
Isn't ALPA fighting letting the Wolfgang crew keep that cash in the BK court? I wonder if the company may not be in a position to demand the money back (honoring contracts like the lump sum pension benefits that pilots kept getting), but is really working behind the scenes with ALPA to get the $35 million back. The whole thing about ALPA fighting the reorg plan is court because of those payments seems so downplayed.

Or am I just a conspiracy theorist?