Pickled Sox

Posted 10/10/03

By Jerry Cosley

When I transferred from San Francisco to Kansas City in 1972, one of my first duties was to seek an audience with His Eminence, the late Justin D. Bowersock ("Sox"), Aviation Editor of The Kansas City Star. As TWA’s "new man" in town, tradition required I appear before Sox and seek his blessing, if not absolution, with the desperate hope he wouldn’t use a sharp sword to dramatize the ceremony and decapitate me -- a justifiable caution as I had never, ever, seen him sober and knew of no one who had.

There had been a number of earlier Sox experiences in my career, escorting him through raucous nights in Chicago, Las Vegas, L.A. and San Francisco whenever he was "juss passin’ thru" on news assignments -- sometimes involving TWA sometimes not -- but we airline PR chaps could always be counted on to absorb the considerable expense of his drinking tabs. The worst part of these assignments was escorting Sox to his hotel room at what one prayed would be the end of the evening, only to see him reappear at the lobby bar scant minutes later. The record for this event is held by one Larry Hilliard of our shop who said that Sox, appearing to be totally blacked out on the bed in his room, once had actually managed to beat Larry’s return to the downstairs bar without using the elevator!

My personal favorite Sox story involved a retirement party for our boss Gordon L. Gilmore, for many years TWA’s highly respected, straight-laced VP of Public Relations in New York, whose career wound down while I was still based in KC. It was one of those command appearances -- everyone in TWA’s global PR operations was to show up for the farewell gala at a hotel near JFK. In addition to TWA working stiffs, every senior aviation writer in the world also was invited and most attended, including the beloved Sox who now was under my direct supervision.

His initial behavior was moderate by the standards of the day. Dinner was set for 7 pm, preceded by cocktails at 6, so Sox began his "warm-up" about 4 pm in the hotel bar before entering the dining salon at precisely 5:45 to closely supervise the initial flow of beverages. Dinner seating was assigned, and I was dismayed to see that Sox had been placed next to Gilmore on his right at the apex of the U-shaped table. My spot was six seats away on one arm of the "U", allowing me a clear view of events but physically unable to intervene if Sox should decide, as he often did, to "imprint" the affair.

As salad was being served, some TWA fool rose to propose a farewell toast to Gilmore. Whatever was said, it certainly wasn’t memorable, but it triggered an orgasm of similar bleats from the other attendees, many of whom considered themselves to be quite literate and charming. I watched Sox closely, temporarily relieved, as he seemed to be oblivious to everything around him except for the task of smearing butter on the heel of his palm rather than the dinner roll he held in his shaking hands.

But then to everyone’s horror, Sox took a firm grip on the table and lurched uncertainly to his feet. Turning to his left, he said, "Gilmore, you dumb %$#%$# …" and promptly passed out cold, falling backward to the floor without finishing what all were certain would have been an interesting thought. As he cratered, Sox was still clutching the table cloth, pulling about four feet of it down onto his sodden, unconscious form -- china, silverware, candelabra and foodstuffs included.

Always the consummate corporate gentleman, Gilmore had lifted his salad plate out of harm’s way as Sox began his swoon and remained seated, nibbling at the lettuce while staring in shock and disbelief at Sox’s gartered white legs which were sticking straight up above the table’s edge as if in rigor mortis.

Years later after he had passed on to whatever reward awaits folks like him, the word around KC was that Sox had perhaps achieved immortality, as his liver was rumored to be forever preserved for study at the Harvard Medical School.

Jerry Cosley (1960-1985) served in Public Relations/Corporate Communications in CHI, LAX, SFO, MKC and NYC.

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