I was thinking that you grew up in a time when pressures to achieve in a concrete sense were INTENSE. So you got out there and achieved, thinking it was what you had to and wanted to do but you never really sat still long enough to listen to any inner voices -- except for when you were fishing or gardening . . . . " -- Deborah Bradford, Jan. 21, 1971, in a letter to her father
Amory Bradford, former newspaper executive, creator of the Environmental Protection Agency and now -- hang on -- a gestalt therapist, never lost his connection with his children. When all his other connections short-circuited, all five of his children reached out to support him but for a long time it was inconceivable that tough, brilliant Amory Bradford would ever need anybody but himself.
In 1962, Bradford was 50, vice president and general manager of The New York Times, and the epitome of the clockwork cool Establishment, which he mirrored, like the Century Club, which he still frequents when he is in New York. Married to Carole Warburg Rothschild, whose family made a fortune in investment banking and department stores, he always made as much money as his wife earned in interest from her holdings. But money never interested him as much as power, of which he had quite a lot, or as much as control, a more subtle adversary.
"I was an extraordinary success story," conceded Bradford, "in conventional terms."
By 1972, all the conventions had been stripped away. He had left his job, been divorced from his wife, married twice more and was quarreling with his third (soon to be ex-) wife at the time. His closest friend, New York Times publisher Orvil Dryfoos, was dead. In a precedent-making lawsuit (Bradford v. The New York Times) he had lost over a million dollars worth of stock options. And he had become an alcoholic.
One night, in Manhattan, he walked down to the North River at the foot of Bank Street to commit suicide. "It was typical of me to chose the most repugnant way to die, by drowning. I have always had a fear of choking." But Bradford, in a way, had already choked on his own life.
The eldest son of a Vermont Congregational minister (and the first eldest son in four generations to reject the church as a vocation), Bradford said, "I never liked my father's minister friends as much as I liked his lawyer friends. The law was cool, rational. When I was l0, I told him that I wanted to be a lawyer. My father said, 'Well, all right, Amory, if that's your decision. But if you are going to be a lawyer, try to put more into the community than you take out.'"
Bradford proceeded to acquire the perfect r,esum,e to guarantee him permanent access to the mahogany-paneled board rooms of the power elite. Going to Phillips Andover Academy on scholarship, he graduated with highest honors, went on to Yale (where he ran a suit-pressing business to finance his education), Yale Law School, and the blue chip Wall Street law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell. As Bradford scaled the mountain, every time he needed a piton one seemed to materialize in his hand.
Like most men of gathering importance, Bradford passed through Washington for additional validation: Securities and Exchange Commission business for Davis Polk, a war- time stint in the special branches section of the Pentagon, a job at the State Department. At State he was part of a task force assigned to recommend a peacetime intelligence operation in the government. Bradford recommended that the Central Intelligence Agency, as it has evolved, not be established. Nobody took his advice.
In 1947, Orvil Dryfoos convinced Bradford to leave the law and join the management end of The Times newspaper. Devising a plan to improve the paper's management, Bradford presented it and found his plan more or less ignored. One of nature's more inspired quitters, he took a leave of absence and returned -- at Dryfoos' urging -- only when his plan was put into effect. Most of the time, Amory Bradford was annoyingly right about things, which was one of the reasons that few lamented his downfall when it came.
"He was arrogant, as befitted his brilliance," said Harrison Salisbury, long-time Times correspondent and chronicler of the paper's politics. "But unlike other men of brilliance who manage to do a soft-shoe around it in the presence of other people, Amory let it shine through."
Bradford agrees. "I was self- consciously arrogant," he said. And what made him feel that he was better than anybody else? "Because I was." He smiled.
"Hah!" exclaimed Salisbury when this conversation was relayed to him. "Good for Amory. I'm glad he said that. It wasn't necessarily true, but it shows he still has a strong sense of himself."
Bradford's strong sense of himself began to disintegrate in 1962, when the printers and typographical unions in New York went on strike. For 114 days (New York's longest newspaper strike) there was a newspaper blackout, while Bradford, representing the publishers, tried to negotiate a settlement.
By the time the strike was over, Bradford himself was not very negotiable. While praised for his role, he alienated many colleagues, suffered the death of Dryfoos (who died of heart failure many believed induced by anxiety during the strike) and when Arthur Ochs Sulzburger was named publisher in Dryfoos' place, Sulzburger refused to accept Bradford as president. Bradford didn't like "Punch" Sulzburger either so there wasn't much to talk about. Bradford quit and took a job with the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, stepping onto an ice floe that gradually turned to slush beneath his feet.
"During that dark destructive 10-year period after I left The Times, I devoted myself to the task of dying. When Orvil died I lost the closest relationship I have ever had. Orvil was warm, affectionate and intuitive. I was his other half -- analytical, problem-oriented, a plan maker. With one half of me gone, I tried to finish the job, setting things up so that I would lose my job, destroy my marriage (all of my emotional energies were tied up with The Times) and ultimately destroy myself."
As he stood on the bank of the North River, only a piece of paper in his pocket with the name of a psychiatrist, Dr. Stanley Gitlow, on it kept Bradford from jumping off the dock. Gitlow had a reputation for helping people who were alcoholic and suicidal.
"I don't consider it any great act of courage that I sought Gitlow out," said Bradford. "I was too desperate. But, oddly, during this worst decade of my life, I did some of my best work."
In 1966, he was a consultant with the Economic Development Agency under Assistant Secretary of Commerce Eugene Foley. Commuting between Washington and Oakland, Calif. (which the EDA was trying to keep from becoming another Watts), Bradford consulted with local leaders, recommended federal funds for jobs and training, provided forums for the frustration in the community, and even wrote a book about the experience (Oakland's Not For Burning) that received favorable reviews.
In 1969, President Nixon formed the Advisory Council on Executive Organization, chaired by Roy Ash. Bradford was signed on to coordinate a team examining the government's resource programs. When the Ash Council submitted its package of proposals to the president and Congress, Bradford's "baby" was the only new idea proposed that made it all the way. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was born. Armory Bradford was next.
He is a tall, silver-haired New Englander, wearing drawstring jeans ("Last Chance Pants" he bought in Santa Cruz, Calif.), a yellow chamois shirt, and Birkenstock sandals. He twinkles with health, tension and a certain rosy-fingered certitude. At 70, he looks much younger, except when he is angry, when he resembles Lee Marvin cornered in a fight. But if one didn't know that Amory Bradford had just spent the last decade crisscrossing the country pursuing a curriculum that can't be found in the old Yale catalogue, he could pass on the marble sidewalks of Arlington, Vt., where he now lives as one more patrician-looking "Green Mountain" native with mulch and window-caulking on his mind.
Vermont is Bradford's birthplace. He used to vacation there with his wife and children when he worked for the Times. But since 1972, the year he almost committed suicide, he has led an increasingly nomadic existence. He has wandered as the spirit moved or stalled him around the country (for the last four years in a Dodge "Xplorer" van) attending workshops, seminars and conferences on human development. His explorations have taken him from the realms of the unconscious to Shiatsu massage.
But finally the spirit told him to stop being a moving target. "It's an important shift, giving up being on the road. But it was time," he said "to return to my roots."
This summer he bought a small red frame house on several acres near the Battenkill River and after the towel racks and wood stove are installed, Bradford will move in. But he does not intend to read National Geographics by the fireplace. When the painter leaves and the cement hardens on the new back porch he has just dug, he will try his skill, like a dry fly upon the Battenkill, as a gestalt therapist!
The old Amory Bradford would have been appalled at such a transition. But in a sustained effort to track himself back to the beginning of his emotional and intellectual history, Bradford has painfully climbed over an entire lifetime of past experiences, relationships, and "unfinished business"to understand what he and his life have been all about.
"I nearly died of pneumonia when I was 13. Near-death is a common occurrence among overachievers at puberty. Then you spend the rest of your life proving that you exist.
"I was the family good boy. In therapy I had a terrible time acknowledging my dark side. A 'bad boy' can't be successful because if you succeed you become part of the opposition. But a 'good boy' tries to destroy his successes because, deep down, they seem empty and incomplete."
Two old adversaries -- power and control -- still bedevil him in the present. But he is supremely aware of their existence. Being more supremely aware is what the last decade in Amory Bradford's life has been all about.
His credentials in the "human potential" movement are as impeccable, and in a way as predictable, as the Wall Street credentials that he no longer uses. After three years with a Freudian analyst, he participated in group and individual therapy at the Esalen Institute in California, entered gestalt training with Ilana Rubenfeld and Laura Perls (gestalt therapy founder Fritz Perls' widow) in New York, took additional seminars with Erv and Miriam Polster in California, and finally decided (with some 2,000 hours of therapy-training) to be a gestalt therapist himself.
Stitched between these major segments of activity, Bradford studied hatha yoga, trained in holistic massage, learned tai chi and became (at the urging of his daughter, Mahdavi (n,ee Allison) a follower of the Indian spiritual leader Muktananda.
"Twenty years ago,"said Bradford, " I would have said that all of this was a lot of s---. Now it's my life's blood."
Bradford's toughest life task is always the same -- to let go. Little things, like somebody picking the first ripe tomato in his garden when he had been watching it for weeks, get on his nerves. And no thank you, he would rather put his own honey in his herb tea. It is difficult for him to be at the receiving end of a gratuity..But Bradford, weeding out the emotional lamb's-quarters when it catches his eye, is awesome to behold.
At 70, with only 10 years sustained training, he continually wills himself into positions of vulnerability. "Taking risks doesn't get any easier, I find. It always feels the same because you're skiing down steeper slopes," he said. "But it seems to me that if one is living life correctly, one should always lean against the wind."
Leaning against the front steps of his Vermont house, Bradford talked about his father. "He was a kind, somewhat emotionally cripped man. He did not know how to express anger at all. Then at 85, he went into a deep depression and had to be put into a mental hospital. I spent six weeks with him, being coached by a therapist who remained behind the scenes, trying to bring him back to life. He wouldn't talk. He wouldn't show any feeling. But, somehow, I managed to coax him partly out of his depression and then my sister took over when I had to leave.
"Six weeks later, he was back presiding at his dinner table. He was completely out of his depression, and a new man, asking me questions about my children's attitude toward sex and drugs and telling me about his own sexual life, which he had never in the past 85 years spoken of before. It was a miracle. . . ."
For several long moments, Amory Bradford -- taking himself by surprise -- found himself weeping. "That's funny" he said at last,"I've told that story a dozen times before and I've never felt like crying before."
"He is an extraordinarily complex man" said Harrison Salisbury, "although he didn't appear so when he was in his glory at the Times. I always want to know what the next act is going to be."
The immediate next act was a cement truck that pulled up the driveway. Bradford stood on the bank above the porch as cement was poured into the trenches he had dug down to the hardpan the day before. Bradford saw the metaphor and smiled.
"You've got to get rid of a lot of dirt," he said, "to make room for something new."
Meanwhile, two Vermont workmen who knew from nothing about Gestalt therapy, took a long 2x4 beam and began to push it back and forth over the wet cement, to smooth out the rough spots. It was a long slow process. But it was beautiful when it was done.