The USSR in Transition - My Adventures and Misadventures
Mark Maged
Former CEO of Schroeders, Inc. and Chairman on Edgar Online, Inc.
April 24, 2018

An unusual childhood interest in the German invasion of the USSR during WWII, perhaps in part stemming from the emigration of his grandparents from Russia to America during the 1890’s, was followed by an eventual graduation from Harvard Law School and a 14-year span of practicing law. Addressing 72 members of the Y’s Men of Meriden on April 24, Mark Maged, Former CEO of Schroders, Inc. and Chairman of Edgar Online, Inc., described his subsequent career involving American-Russian economics.

As part of a United Nations team in the 1970’s, Maged was instrumental in trying to revive a sliding Russian economy. At that time, the Moscow Circus which performed internationally and in some 70 locations throughout the USSR had available storage space beneath these stadiums. Maged arranged for an American company, Delaware North, to provide this storage space to multinational companies. However, this process was cut short by the murder of an “untouchable” Russian Mafia leader (nicknamed “Jaws” for his set of gold teeth); the subsequent funeral was attended by thousands of Russians drawn from every profession.

In 1991, The Soviet Union, having arisen from the 1917 October Revolution led by the Bolsheviks under Lenin and which ousted Tsar Nicholas II, was disintegrating, with Russia becoming an independent country, its economy and politics in shambles with widespread shortages of food and medicine. Store shelves were empty and public drunkenness was prevalent. Maged was invited to go to Siberia, where a burgeoning oil industry was saddled by poor management and its infrastructure, such as roads and airports, were in disrepair.

Shuttling between America and Siberia, Maged brokered an agreement for a cash infusion from American companies Mobil Oil and Louisiana Land to stimulate oil production. Risky travel in rudimentary aircraft within Siberia became part of his job. Sadly, however, the powerful military in that part of Russia seemingly had no interest in solving the problems of starvation and development, and repeatedly stone-walled these agreements which never became fulfilled.

How the Probate Court Works
Brian Mahon
Judge of Probate in Meriden, ret.
April 17, 2018

Sixty-Four Y’s Men of Meriden sat expectantly on April 17, awaiting a presentation which never occurred due to a miscommunication between the Y’s Men and the scheduled speaker regarding the date. But stepping up to the plate as pinch hitter, Brian Mahon, recently retired Judge of Probate in Meriden after 17 years and a club member for only the past three weeks, proceeded with no prior notice to give an extraordinary “off the cuff” talk about the duties of the Probate Court as well as field a flurry of questions from the audience.

Mahon explained that in Connecticut, this institution is a statutory court and is not involved in criminal cases. Instead, it deals with estates, trusts, children’s affairs (such as adoptions and terminations of guardianship rights), commitments and conservatorships. Conservatorship positions are split into Conservator of Person (managing an individual’s requirements such as medical needs and housing) and Conservator of Estate (managing an individual’s financial matters). The Court often is embroiled in family disputes (such as which adult will take care of a child), and in abuses of finances (e.g. embezzlement of an individual’s assets). In some cases, the Court will appoint a non-family Conservator, sometimes driven by a long-term care facility’s request so that a patient can apply for Title XIX assistance.

Family disputes often extend as much as 30-40 years in the past. Mahon recalled one case in which the decedent’s estate was worth $1 million; however, there was no conflict regarding distribution of the money, but instead a fight over distribution of their father’s wartime photos, a conflict requiring a full year to resolve.

If a potential heir contests the contents of a will, hearings in Probate Court can be protracted (involving witnesses, attorneys, and others). Mahon’s advice: if you create a new will, promptly destroy (shred) any previous wills to help avoid future conflicts.

India: a Different World
William Barnett
Vice President on the New England Camera Club Council Board
April 10, 2018

It’s a country filled with contrasts: severe poverty, streets crowded with beggars, roads piled high with trash and choking pollution in the bigger cities, juxtaposed with the vivid colors and beauty of the people, their clothing, architecture and customs. Presenting a dynamic video/slide presentation to 66 Y’s Men of Meriden on April 10, Bill Barnett, Vice President on the New England Camera Club Council, displayed images he encountered during his two trips to India in 2016.

In this presentation backed by cultural music and interspersed with historical dialogue by Barnett, he carried the audience on a pictorial journey through much of the country, including India’s largest cities (Mumbai, formerly Bombay, and Delhi) and its smallest villages. An initial video displayed scenes (accompanied by sitar music) of harvesting rice, walking along a canal at sunrise, vegetable stands, bearded Sikhs, beautifully bedecked camels and even a vegetarian McDonald’s! Images from Mumbai included palaces with ornamental gates, food marts bursting with color, streets clogged by bicycles and motorbikes, a sitar player beside the road and an amazing rats’ nest of electrical and phone wires hanging across the street.

Scenes also included the ancient city of Haridwar “Gateway to Heaven” located on the Ganges River and site of religious Hindu rituals (including male head shaving by the holy).  Hinduism, practiced by about 80% of the population, far outranks other religions in India (Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, as well as Christianity and Islam). Sikh Temples are famed for serving up to 100,000 free daily vegetarian meals.

Elephant Festival




Taj Mahal (Agra) 

Archeology sites included the famed elephant caves of Mumbai (with intricate carvings and sculptures), Delhi’s Red Fort, forts in Jodhpur and Jaipur, and Agra’s Taj Mahal. And a favorite pictorial spot was the backwaters of Kerala in southern India, where folks live on motorized houseboats which ply the brackish lagoons.  Barnett’s camera also transported the audience to colorful fairs including the Elephant Festival in Southern India (honoring Ganesha, the elephant god of new beginnings) and the Pushkar Camel Fair famed for livestock trading and camel racing.

And finally a series of still and video images of the people of India, Barnett’s favorite subject, including a woman pounding clothing against a boulder with a wooden club (traditional Indian laundry), folks in noisy street scenes including a vegetable market, cobblers, tailors, barbers, water carts and camel carts, animated card players, and women in beautiful saris. As he noted, “India, it’s a different world.”

Gillette Castle and the Creation of Sherlock Holmes
Erik Ofgang
Senior Writer at Connecticut Magazine
April 3, 2018

His father was a U.S. Senator, his mother a descendent of Thomas Hooker (one of the founders of both the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut). Speaking to 66 Y’s Men of Meriden on April 3, Erik Ofgang, Senior Writer at Connecticut Magazine, described the remarkable life of actor William Gillette who brought the character Sherlock Holmes to life throughout America and built a unique home (castle) high above the Connecticut River on the southernmost of the Seven Sisters hills in Hadlyme.

Born in 1853 in Hartford’s Nook Farm (today the site of the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe Houses), Gillette turned a childhood fascination of acting into his lifelong profession (grudgingly accepted by his parents), ultimately becoming the most famous American actor of his time, due in part to his natural style on stage (as opposed to the stilted manner used by fellow actors). Early on, he began to write, direct and star in his own plays, encouraged by Mark Twain; his performances were often panned by critics but loved by audiences.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Arthur Conan Doyle pursued a medical career, but began supplementing his income by writing, eventually creating the characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in the 1887 novel “A Study in Scarlet” (followed by more than 50 additional novels and short stories). However, eventually tiring of these characters, Doyle allowed Holmes and his archenemy Prof. Moriarty to plunge to their death down Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls in the short story “The Final Problem”. But Doyle received an offer to create a Sherlock Holmes play with Gillette, who introduced the famed curved pipe, deerstalker hat and cape, and initiated the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson”. Gillette went on to perform the play more than 1300 times, all highly successful.

William Gillette

Gillette Castle

Gillette was eccentric, very private off-stage, loved cats, and married once (no children). With funds from his successful acting career, he designed and built his curious retirement home from 1914-1919 which he inhabited until his death in 1937 at age 83. Built of stone (over an inner steel frame), it contained a series of mirrors and spy holes, intricate door mechanisms, and secret passageways from which he would suddenly appear to surprise his guests, including Charlie Chaplin, Helen Hayes and Albert Einstein. The grounds even included a three-mile narrow-gauge railroad.