November 1, 2010

Peter Monash, the second quarter-century

If you knew my late father Peter Monash, you knew him to be a very personable and social man.* Frankly, I don’t know any stories from his life in Germany or France that particularly bear that out, save perhaps in the immediate WW2 aftermath when — like everybody else — he was scrounging resources so that he and his family could survive. But it sure came into play as soon as he got to the US. He lived in poverty in New Haven, CT, working as a dishwasher. But he also fell in with a group of Yale students, who set about “Americanizing” him. He got progressively more decent jobs. He took one or the other Yale extension course, the basis for wild academic resume inflation later (in fact, he never actually graduated the equivalent of high school). He blew the covers off a prototype IQ test. He had an active social life. And he did his part to bring the rest of his family to the US to be with him.

*And if you didn’t know him, you may not care much about the narrative in this post.

For much of the 1950s, he lived in Lubbock, Texas with his family, worked as a department manager in the local Sears store, and did social and political things. He was a delegate to the Texas state Democratic convention in 1954, the very first election he was a US citizen (I’ve always admired that). He had a gig on a TV show. He was active in the local little theater. He ran something called a “United Nations Club”, which garnered him a visit from Eleanor Roosevelt. He risked his career to go on the local radio and denounce McCarthyism (something else I’ve always admired). He changed his name to something reasonable (with his father’s permission, of course). He was local PR director for the 1956 Adlai Stevenson campaign. And then he got married, to a woman who decided to instill him with ambition.

Within two years of being married, Peter Monash was an assistant buyer at national headquarters at Sears.* Then, for reasons I’ll outline when I write about my mother, he gave it up and moved the family to Los Angeles. A few years later, his career was back on track, and he worked his way up in a regional discount store chain called White Front. Some of the time he just ran a group of stores, but he also was selected to do some innovative things. He opened stores in new geographical regions (hence we briefly lived in what later became known as Silicon Valley). He innovated new management structures and, usefully for his later career, inventory management techniques. (Laughably primitive now in the computer era, they were far-sighted then.)  And he cleaned up operations (including literally — one of the things he did was professionalize janitorial services).

*One of his self-imposed duties was to proofread the hardware section of the Sears catalog, something I remind people of when I endlessly correct their typos myself.

At that point, the various group social activities — political, theatrical, whatever — were in the past. A career and a son and a sick wife kept him more than busy. And indeed he never became much of a social “joiner” ever again.

Then White Front’s parent company Interstate Stores went bankrupt.* The ensuing job search led him to a career change. In 1973, he joined Management Horizons, a retailing-oriented management consulting firm in the Columbus, Ohio area. That’s when the cool part of his career began.

*What emerged out of Interstate’s bankruptcy was Toys R Us, which is why my Dad could decades later point out to me, in a Toys R Us outlet, a store-design feature he’d first invented at White Front.


6 Responses to “Peter Monash, the second quarter-century”

  1. How bricks-and-mortar retailing got modern | Software Memories on November 3rd, 2010 3:07 am

    […] he got to Columbus, Ohio, my late father Peter Monash helped make retail industry history. So before I continue a more […]

  2. Where I’m going with these obituaries | Software Memories on November 5th, 2010 2:53 am

    […] Peter Monash’s life his first quarter-century in the United States. […]

  3. joel garry on November 10th, 2010 6:52 pm

    I remember going to the White Front in Culver City in the ’60s, and the Toys R Us it became later.

    Found a pic online:

  4. Curt Monash on November 10th, 2010 11:54 pm

    Wow. That pic brings back memories, of the all-but-white fronts of the White Fronts.


    And somehow, the obvious point never occurred to me that some of the shuttered locations would have been used to ignite the expansion of Toys R Us.

  5. Terry Singleton on May 26th, 2011 10:58 pm

    aloha from Hawaii. for what reason I cannot say, but I Goggled your Dad’s name just to see what would pop up… in the early 50’s my parents lived in the same neighborhood with the Monash family…my mom, Estelle, became good friends with your Dad and Lottie…was the elder brother Gerhardt? There is also a recollection of your grandparents. My uncle, Oscar, was also a good friend of your Dad’s by way of their mutual involvement with Democratic party and theater interests. I was 10 or 12 and a curious kid, quiet taken by the exotic and unusual Monash family in Lubbock in the terrible Red-scare years.
    I had never heard before that your Dad had been so brave as to speak out in public against McCarthy. That took great courage in a place like Lubbock. I do recall his attempt to get into Spain and hearing your Dad speak of the smell of burning human flesh during the war…strong impressions on an impressionable kid. Your Dad was a delightful person and much admired and respected by those who knew him. My family and all connections to Lubbock are long gone…I have no knowledge of how the Monash family got there…seem to recall some connection to Texas Tech, where Lottie was a librarian. Somehow, I thought your grandfather was an academic? I do recall your Dad getting married, that was just about the time I left Lubbock and lost touch with him. It’s no surprise to hear that he had a rich and fulfilled life after leaving there. It’s wonderful to read your Blog…I send best wises to you, Terry Singleton

  6. Curt Monash on May 28th, 2011 5:27 pm

    Hi Terry!

    Yes, Gerhardt/Gerry was my uncle. And the real academic connection was my grandfather, who was a Texas Tech professor; Lottie just wound up working there too. The two professions she ever chose in life were actress and librarian; both suited her. 😉 She was a librarian-actress with a Texas-German accent.

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