When I moved to Portland, Maine, in 1992, abandoning Greater Boston for what I then considered the ends of the Earth, I lived at the expense of my new employer for those first 2-3 weeks in the city’s lovely West End. It reminded me of the Back Bay and my temporary residence, the modern art-strewn Pomegranate Inn, was so cool — and my apartment over the garage so spacious and funky — I’d have just as soon stayed there forever.
I met Frank Rodway because eventually I had to find my own place. At that time, Frank was owner and proprietor of Thomas Brackett Reed House, a 19th century brownstone once inhabited by and now named for the Maine Congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the turn of the 20th century, when America was slowly transitioning from insular, adolescent republic to imperialist bestrider of worlds. Frank was then a small, trim, 60-something fellow with a fit, vaguely military bearing. Before he even walked me upstairs to the third-floor apartment then available for rent, I mentioned my two cats, Scott and Zelda. “Oh, well, we don’t take pets here,” he said. Frank showed me the place anyway, which gave me the chance to pursue an historical charm offensive. The space was great — 13-foot pressed-tin ceilings; windows stretching from the floor to somewhere above my head; $525/month, heated! What’s more, I had just finished The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman’s magisterial history of Thomas Brackett Reed’s very heyday. We mixed it up, Frank and I, trading Mark Hanna anecdotes, book citations and recommendations. Half an hour later as he and I were walking back downstairs, I said it was too bad about the cats. “Oh, don’t worry about them,” he said.
Frank Rodway passed away this past January at the ripe old age of 91, the result of a fall on icy pavement as opposed to simple old age. I was among five former residents of Thomas Brackett Reed House who showed up to his memorial service in South Portland. TBR House was a different sort of rental property: An historic landmark, for starters, watched over by a guy, Mr. Rodway, who knew that history but also how to engender esprit de corps. This quite elegant building had a guest apartment on the first floor that tenants could rent for $25 a night. I routinely stashed my parents and visiting Greater Bostonians there. Every Christmas, that guest room and the entire first floor played host to Frank’s holiday party, a shindig that routinely proved the event of the season, as current and former residents alike renewed old acquaintances and partook of Frank’s legendarily strong and plentiful punch. I should never have known Steve Weatherhead and his lovely wife Annetta; they departed TBR just before I arrived. But I met them at these Christmas parties, along with longtime golfing buddy Michael Moore. At Frank’s funeral service, Steve recalled these parties among other things, but not before answering the question that opened his remarks: “I mean, who goes to their former landlord’s funeral?” Well, if it’s Frank Rodway, you go. He was one of a kind, as this obit (clearly written by the man himself) attests.
Another former TBR denizen in attendance this past January was one Mary Fowler, my upstairs neighbor and probably the first real friend I made in Maine. She remains one, but I thought of her again, in the immediate aftermath Frank’s memorial, when Mary Tyler Moore passed away.
Mary Fowler and I had a running joke, each of us claiming to be the Mary to the other’s Rhoda. “Hal,” she would start in, with not inconsiderable finality, “Rhoda was the loud Jew and Mary was the tactful WASP. And my name is Mary. Clearly, I am Mary and you are Rhoda in this relationship.”
“But May-uh,” I’d say in my best Brooklyn accent, “while all that is true, you live upstairs in the apartment crowded by charming eaves, while I reside in the open and airy apartment downstairs. Cultural heritage has nothing to do with it. It’s all about upstairs and downstairs. All the action takes place here, in my apartment. There are no eaves here. These are 13-foot, pressed tin ceilings. It’s all about the eaves!”