PERSPECTIVES -- Our Man in the Caribbean: The Clark-Wallace Story Continues
Above, Generalissimo Hector Biennicido Trujillo Molina (circa 1960). His rage at a racist insult nearly led to an international incident-- but for Ted Wallace...
By James C. Johnston Jr.
Before moving to Franklin in the 1940’s, Edward Matthew Wallace was a young Canadian who began working for the Royal Bank of Nova Scotia in the latter half of the 1930’s. “Ted” Wallace, as he was known to his friends, had attended Mc Gill University and then entered the banking world as a result of a really good opportunity opened to him. Being of a capable nature, and possessing a predisposition for adventure, “Ted” jumped at the chance to work for The Royal Bank of Nova Scotia’s operations in the tourist and business rich area of the Caribbean when the chance to do so manifested itself.
Now in his mid-twenties, Ted Wallace quickly became the head of the bank’s operations in the whole Caribbean Area. Along, with the other young men working for him and running operations, the “Merry Bankers” took over a lovely old mansion in San Juan as their household and hired a skilled staff of servants to run the domestic side of their lives.
Their office in the city drew a very rich and conservative group of clients, and this brought Ted directly in touch with the Roosevelt “Brain Trust” operative and Governor of the island Rexford Tugwell. Here in the middle of the Great Depression, Ted Wallace was both working hard and living well in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Ted was then in his twenties, was well connected, and now had a great job that he loved and could grow in, and he lived in a beautiful mansion with his close friends on an island paradise. What else could a tall, handsome, athletic, and well positioned young man-of-the-world want in that all too seductive situation? How about a romantic interest?
As luck would have it, a very lovely young lady, named Maddy Clark, recently graduated from Wheaton College, and from Franklin, Massachusetts traveled with her mother from that self-same chilly Massachusetts on a luxurious American liner to the glories of Puerto Rico to soak up the sun and have some fun in the resorts of this fabulous island where it was always high summer. Now fate would take a hand, and Ted met Madeleine Wyatt Clark on a fabulous afternoon on a Sunday when music was literally in the air in a beautiful hotel near the beach amid a crowd of young people dancing. After dancing to the music of the Hotel’s Orchestra on this glorious Sunday afternoon and evening, especially designed by the hotel for just such a great social opportunity for young people to meet, Ted led Maddy out onto the soft moonlighted veranda that overlooked the Caribbean. Nature took a hand, and in this most ideal of all romantic settings, the banker, who had deeply ingrained Victorian sensibilities, fell deeply in love with the woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life.
Many years later, when I asked how he and Maddy met, Ted would say, “Maddy came to Puerto Rico and whistled at me on the beach.”
I am sure that in their early marriage, this remark would have drawn a different reaction than the one Maddy showed me that particular evening. She looked at him coquettishly and said, “Well, I had to get your attention didn’t I?”
She flippantly said this with a smile not unlike Lauren Bacall did in the first film she made with Humphrey Bogart, To Have and Have Not.
One thing was for sure. Mother Clark liked this tall, blonde, blue eyed, athletic, and well placed Canadian Banker as a potential husband for her daughter. Trips to Puerto Rico became more frequent, and the budding romance deepened. Then came “the War” in 1939.
Ted joined The Royal Canadian Airforce, and became more determined than ever to make Maddy his wife. Ted proposed to the lovely Miss Clark and was accepted by her. The wedding was a simple but very tasteful affair catered by The Parker House of Boston complete with liveried waiters and a sous-chef running the Clark kitchen catering to about a hundred guests.
Maddy and her attendants were beautifully gowned, and all of the gentlemen were in formal attire. Ted was in his dress uniform, and his best man, Maddy’s Uncle German Wyatt, was resplendent in black tie and tails. Yes indeed. It was a simple yet tasteful wartime wedding, and then the couple was off to the frozen North and the Married Officer’s quarters on a frozen base of the Royal Canadian Airforce. But after the war, it was back to the Caribbean where Ted took up his banking career from just where he had left off.
Ted was expected to take care of all the special whims of the Bank’s well-healed customers like a few very fussy stamp collectors who gave Ted the job of securing every sheet of new Canadian stamps as they were issued. In those days, Canada issued fewer stamps than she would later, but most of the sets were definitive values which also commemorated historic events in its higher denominated stamps which ranged from ten cents up to a dollar in face value.
As head of Caribbean operations of the bank, Ted and of course Maddy were invited to all of the best parties in the huge Caribbean area including New Year’s parties at the Presidential Palace of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, Dictator of The Dominican Republic from 1930 until he was assassinated in 1961 in a coup d’état. Ted’s top staff was also invited along with their wives to the New Year’s Celebration, and that is when this grand social occasion almost all fell apart!
By now Ted, after being lured away from The Royal Bank of Nova Scotia by all sorts of lucrative inducements, had a new job running the operations of The First National Bank of Boston in the Caribbean area, and he was also in the process of becoming an American citizen. The December 31st evening was balmy and wonderful, in the beginning that is. Among Ted’s party, there was a blue-eyed-blond woman of considerable personal beauty who drew a great deal of the attention of the President of the Dominican Republic’s party guests. Every man, and some very jealous women, noted the presence as this most lovely young American woman who was so gorgeously gowned in the most contemporary haut couture that would make any Parisian House of Fashion proud. Among those who took note of the entrance of this blond goddess, was the President’s brother, Generalissimo Hector Biennicido Trujillo Molina. The General had enjoyed a huge reputation as an expert in the study of the many charms of beautiful females. The dapper General Hector Trujillo’s reputation was the talk of the diplomatic community of the whole Caribbean Area.
The Generalissimo, who was typically splendidly attired in one of his specially designed ice-cream white formal dress uniforms complete with gold braid and gold buttons, white leather holster holding his gold plated and pearl handled side-arm, extravagant jewelry, and formal gold ornamented cap under his arm advanced on the beautiful vision who had entered the palace with Ted’s Party, bowed with great respect and asked, “Madam, would you give me the honor of this dance?”
The Beautiful American woman smiled at the magnificently uniformed man who commanded all the military forces of his brother, the dictator and President of the Dominican Republic, and in her lovely and warm accent of The Old South said, “I’m sorry Sir, but in my country, white ladies don’t dance with Negros.”
The Generalissimo’s face was a mask of disbelief and then quickly darkened. He backed away slightly as if to make room for some huge pronouncement. Then his voice seemed to threaten to shake down the palace itself as he boomed out, “Take this woman outside into the garden and shoot her!”
As two huge Guards advanced at the General’s command and grabbed the woman by the upper arms and prepared to execute the General’s order, Ted dashed to the side of President Trujillo and said, “You have to stop this now! Do you want twenty thousand United States Marines landing in your capital in the New Year?”
“My God! I do not Mr. Wallace!” Trujillo quietly replied as he sprinted to the side of his brother who was no stranger to having people shot in the garden, or just about anywhere else, as the mood of the moment might take him.
“Hector, you can’t do this,” the president said as calmly as he could to his younger brother. “This would cause no end of troubles for us. God only knows what President Truman might do if you shoot her Hector!”
“Did you hear what this bitch said to me Rafael? Did you hear what she said! I have to kill her! She has insulted our Mother, our Father, our whole Family, and our country! This cannot go unpunished!” Hector growled between clenched teeth.
The entire room was captivated by the high drama being played out in the moment. At this point, the offended lady began to speak, “Well! I never…”
Her husband’s hand suddenly was over her mouth as he began to mouth apologies to the Generalissimo who was now all but apoplectic. Ted motioned his staff to back off and be quiet. He then addressed General Hector Trujillo directly. “My Dear General, this woman comes from a very backward part of my country which was in a state of rebellion against our own government just eighty years ago over slavery. They lost in their rebellion, and they have not advanced very far culturally since then. Their women, who are sometimes rather attractive, are also very backward, and stupid, and hard to manage.”
The woman seemed stunned for a moment by what Ted had just said, and then she started to throw a fit of great fury as her husband used all of his strength to restrain her. “As you can see sir, she is rather a primitive and has no self-control! Not only that, but her husband has to restrain her like this several times a month. She really is not much more than a spoiled child. I almost left her behind this evening, but I have a certain loyalty to her husband who would have suffered if I had done so. Have pity on this poor man who is still her long suffering husband and has to live with her General. Stupid women like this are lovely traps for those caught by their beauty. This poor man has had to put up with quite a lot. Just look at her. I am sure that you can sympathize with this poor fellow, because in spite of her being so immature and obnoxious, he does love her.”
The General looked at Ted’s assistant, as the poor man struggled with his wife whose fury had now reached the intensity of a Caribbean Hurricane. “I can see what you mean Mr. Wallace. She really is quite mad-totally insane almost.”
The General was now looking with almost a little pity at Ted’s hapless assistant. The General followed up his remarks with, “If she can be gone from this country in one hour, I will not have her shot. Now get her out of here before I change my mind. You have one hour only to make sure that she is out of the country.”
“I can tell you quite reliably that within an hour, that woman and her husband were over the border and into Haitian air space,” Ted laughed, “Now you have to admit, that was what you might call a ‘Close thing.’ And we averted another invasion of the Dominican Republic by the United States Marines in the space of less than half of one century! That was one heck of a New Year’s Eve. Let’s see. It was in 1948 I think.”
“And Ted, you didn’t even get nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize or anything,” I said.
“You can’t be greedy Jim. Sometimes you just have to be happy to get out of these sticky situations alive,” Ted replied. Yes, Ted’s job was not without the element of adventure and real danger.
Sometimes when I think of that conversation I had forty-five or so years ago with Ted, I begin to think about what might have happened in the marriage of that young Southern couple after they landed in Haiti. Ted had no idea of what ever became of them.
Ted and Maddy got back to Franklin for good a short time later when Ted became one of Bostin First National Bank’s top Vice Presidents, but the fallout from their Caribbean sojourn was not over. There was another big surprise to come flying up from that island of perpetual summer.
James C. Johnston Jr. is a former Franklin selectman, Franklin High School history teacher, and author. Article copyright James C. Johnston, Jr. 2022, used with permission