Friday, June 13, 2008

Silver Spoon Boy of Flint is Dead

AP Photo

It's hard to write about anything else but the shocking death of Tim Russert. But another death today caught my eye: that of Stewart Mott, robustly eccentric son of Flint's legendary benefactor and auto baron Charles Stewart Mott.

Flint has nurtured a host of original and interesting characters -- Billy Durant, Michael Moore, Paul's Pipe Shop owner Paul Spaniola, River Man Riley McLincha, East Village Magazine publisher Gary Custer -- just to name a few. Stewart Mott, who died last night at 70 in New York, is another fascinating example. I never met him but I'm charmed by some of the details of his life. He apparently was a rebel and a hippie and a man-about-town, delivering bon mots along with his passionate contributions to the causes he cared about, including, prominently, Planned Parenthood and gay rights. He supported Eugene McCarthy, protested the Vietnam War and incessantly nettled his GM forebears.

Born when his father was 62, Stewart was the child of C.S. and Ruth Rawlings Mott, the young strumpet the lusty patriarch supposedly sneaked into Applewood, the family mansion on Kearsley Street, through a window. She was C.S. Mott's fourth and final wife. (I'm exceedingly grateful to that spunky woman -- her foundation, separate from the C.S. Mott Foundation, generously funded the three-year Green Arts program at UM - Flint which has been one of the joys of my recent professional life.)

Perhaps he was as much his mother's son as his father's. According to the New York Times, this sometimes wackily philanthropic Mott son cultivated "a farm with 460 plant species (including 17 types of radishes), a chicken coop and a compost pile, atop his Manhattan penthouse." I didn't even know there WERE 17 types of radishes, and the zest for life that must have led to that curious project is pretty irresistible.

Here's some more of the Times obit: "Stewart was overweight as a child and nearly drowned at 9 when he ventured out on thin ice. After running away at 11, he struck a bargain with his father to come home half the summer if he could work the other half at family enterprises. His experiences included a Flint department store, a pecan-and-goose farm in New Mexico and a refrigerator plant near Paris."

"After his Chinese junk kept sinking in the Hudson," the Times continues, " he abandoned it for terrestrial accommodations. He wrote a thesis on Sophocles for a never-completed Columbia master’s degree in Greek drama." He even taught English for a year at Eastern Michigan.

Finally, I particularly enjoyed that Stewart Mott drove a Volkswagen, partly to irritate his GM father. According to the Times, "In 1969, Mr. Mott gave a huge party at Tavern on the Green in Manhattan to celebrate his father’s 94th birthday. The older man earlier that day accepted a ride in his son’s Volkswagen. He said it was bumpy."

I'm sorry this Flint original is gone. He sounds like fun.

1 comment:

greg rappleye said...

I thought you might write about Stewart!

He does sound fun.