Philip Saltonstall Weld (1914 - 1984)

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About Philip Saltonstall Weld

Philip Saltonstall Weld (1915-1984) was a World War II commando with Merrill's Marauders (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merrill%27s_Marauders) who was awarded the Silver Star. He was also a newspaper publisher, a record-breaking yacht racer, and an environmentalist.

Source: Harvard Magazine

Philip Saltonstall Weld: Harvard Class of 1936 (1914-1984) Philip Saltonstall Weld

On winter Sunday afternoons in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the frostbite dinghy regattas were not a terribly popular form of sailboat racing. "You'd go zinging around the harbor--four races, back to back--in the freezing cold," recalls Annie (Weld) Bell, who sometimes crewed for her father, Philip Weld. He wanted to hone his racing skills and, as the daughter laughingly recalls, "He had to look hard to find a crew."

Yet the bone-chilling preparation paid off in 1980 when Weld won a 3,000-mile race with no crew at all. At age 65, he beat 89 younger competitors in the London Observer-sponsored OSTAR (Observer Singlehanded TransAtlantic Race) on his 50-foot trimaran Moxie. By crossing the Atlantic in a record time of 17 days, 23 hours, he became "the fastest sailor in the history of the world."

Weld, who described this race in his memoir, Moxie, had a singular talent for taking on chaotic forces and finding a way through the most daunting troubles. Single-handed sailing was exhilarating; he was not attracted to America's Cup racing, with its big organizations and crews. "He was so good in high stress situations: keeping a level head, sorting out what needed to be done. He did not lose his cool," says Bell. "In long-distance sailing he was against the elements, and something in him loved that kind of challenge, being out in that wild territory."

At times the elements nearly won. In 1976, en route to an earlier OSTAR, a huge rogue wave north of Bermuda capsized Weld's trimaran Gulf Streamer, stranding him and a crewman for five days before a British container ship rescued them. Weld was unflappable. He had spoken with many sailors who had been in distress and, as he relates in the documentary film American Challenge, "You've got to see at least nine ships before you're rescued." At the suggestion of his wife, Anne (Warren), he christened his next trimaran Rogue Wave.

Phil Weld came from doubly old New England stock: his mother's family were Saltonstalls. (Massachusetts governor, and later U.S. Senator, Leverett Saltonstall '14, LL.B. '17, LL.D. '42, was his mother's cousin.) Yet he was "not the normal, quiet, self-effacing Yankee," says his daughter Eloise (Weld) Hodges '62 ('82). "He was a volcanic presence. He had very strong opinions and was impatient with those who couldn't keep up with him, or with complacent people who didn't have the vision to see what was coming down the pike. My father was always 10 to 15 years ahead of the moment. When he blew up about something, he didn't burn bridges--he bombed them."

At Harvard, Weld was president of the Porcellian Club and a reasonably diligent scholar--a consequence of landing on permanent probation after some drink-inspired hijinks on the first weekend of his freshman year. "I knew if I missed one class I was out," he later admitted. He never finished his senior thesis on Lord Byron, but essayed a romantic adventure of his own: one summer, accompanied by a friend from Harvard and Milton Academy, he ascended the Amazon to Ecuador and set out for the untamed haunts of the Jivaro Indians.

In World War II, impatient with the numbing routine of a training camp in Oregon, Weld volunteered as a commando, and parachuted behind Japanese lines in Burma. He enlisted as a private and was discharged as a second lieutenant, thrice decorated for valor as part of the celebrated Merrill's Marauders.

After the war, Weld resumed the newspaper career he had begun in Chicago in the late 1930s. Eventually he owned several town papers on Boston's North Shore and in New Hampshire. He and Anne moved to Dolliver's Neck in Gloucester in 1954, where, by the ocean, they raised a son and four daughters. After the Gulf Streamer calamity in 1976, Weld decided to simplify his estate in the event of another, more final, accident, and sold his publishing interests for $10 million in 1978.

His publishing savvy benefited this magazine, which he served as volunteer president and publisher between 1967 and 1972, and as a member of its governing boards until his death. He was instrumental in hiring John T. Bethell '54, the magazine's editor from 1966 to 1994; as a teenager in the late 1940s, Bethell had a job bundling and distributing copies of the Cape Ann Summer Sun, one of Weld's papers, and had later been an editor at another, the Beverly Times.

"He never wanted Harvard Magazine to become the mouthpiece of a monolithic Harvard and not have the guts to print anything critical of what Harvard was doing," Hodges recalls. "He didn't want Harvard to ever get self-complacent and feel it could get away without criticism." In 1969, when the police bust and student strike roiled the Yard, Harvard Magazine covered the story vividly in photographs and an eyewitness account by Bethell, and despite protests from officials and alumni who would have preferred the magazine to look the other way, Weld stood squarely behind the coverage, noting bluntly that "the motto of this institution is Veritas."

During the 1970s, which Weld described as "the happiest decade of my happy life," he nonetheless had to face some troubling truths of his own. In 1971, his firstborn, Philip Jr. '60, slipped into chronic manic depression. Weld père had regarded his son as the heir apparent ("It never occurred to him to have a daughter as heir apparent," Hodges wryly observes), and it was for many reasons deeply anguishing to see the young man disabled by illness and incapable of taking over the reins.

This may have been another reason for Weld's sale of his publishing interests and his increasing involvement with sailboat racing during the 1970s; on the ocean, one was completely absorbed by the conundrums of wind and water. And even there, Weld was a maverick. As an early convert to multihull boats, he relished not only the vastly greater speeds but the "outsider" status of the innovative catamaran and trimaran designs; he gleefully mocked traditional monohull boats as "heeler-keelers" as he whizzed past them in races.

In later years Weld became active in the nuclear disarmament movement. He also backed James Anderson, Philip S. Weld professor of atmospheric chemistry, in his pioneering work on ozone holes in the upper atmosphere (see "Reeling through the Stratosphere," January-February 1983). Weld endowed the chair Anderson now holds and, wanting to learn the relevant chemistry, hired an undergraduate to come to Gloucester and tutor him. He also underwrote the construction of an unmanned aircraft that could fly to high altitudes to document ozone depletion. Concerned about the nation's dependence on petroleum, he drew upon his sailing experience and plunged into the study of solar and wind energy--building a windmill, installing solar panels at home, and investing in U.S. Windpower, a utility that operated a string of windmills along the Southern California coast. "He felt wind had power," says Hodges. "He would read the Odyssey and quote the wind god Aeolus."

In a "retirement" that was actually a broadening out into several new careers, Weld had an array of exciting projects before him, making his sudden death at 69 especially unfortunate. On his last afternoon he attended a luncheon meeting of Harvard Magazine's board of incorporators, and again exhorted the editors to cover controversial issues; he even offered a cash prize for the best example of investigative reporting. Then, on his way through the Square to attend another meeting, he suffered a fatal heart attack. "We've always wondered whether he'd voted," says Hodges; her father died on Election Day 1984 and, typically, had been eager to vote for the underdog.

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