Dr. Murdock Head, a native Texan and born reconteur, likes to tell about being a young intern and watching a senior surgeon accidentally puncture a heart patient's aorta with his scalpel.
With no sign of panic, the doctor placed a hot towel over the wound to staunch the bleeding. Then, as everyone in the operating room silently watched, the doctor coolly slipped in first one suture, then another until the crisis was over.
"It was a great lesson to me, in life and in the corporate world," He said this week, "When there's a problem, keep calm and don't talk."
There are more than ample problems these days for the tall, graying, 57-year-old Head. The latest came Wednesday in a federal courtroom in Alexandria when a jury convicted him, for the second time, of conspiring to bribe two powerful former Democratic congressmen.
In exchange for $49,000 in cash, the jury found, Head received lucrative federal grants and contracts for his Airlie Foundation, a conference center and group of affiliate organizations he founded in the 1960s near Warrenton, Va.
Yesterday, the usually gregarious Head was back at Airlie, seeing to the day-to-day details of Airlie's operations and taking his own advice. Although he said he was "chipper," he declined to discuss his case, pending his sentencing by U.S. District Judge Oren R. Lewis on July 17.
Meanwhile, Head remains in effective command of the sprawling Airlie department of medicine and public affairs at George Washington University, which is affiliated with the Virginia foundation.
Although Head said publicly in October 1979 he was stepping aside temporarily as the foundation's executive director after his first conspiracy conviction (later overturned on appeal), he continues to live at Airlie and serves as an unpaid adviser.
"He's our senior consultant," says Frank Kavanaugh, a longtime Airlie employe and acknowledged Head loyalist who succeed his boss as the foundation's executive diretor. "I confer with him daily" about details of running the center, Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh, who said he was "shocked" that the jury failed to acquit Head, says there has been no change in the Airlie board of directors' support for Head in his ongoings crisis. "The foundation intends to see him through the full judicial process and his rights of appeal," Kavanaugh said.
A GW spokesman said yesterday the university's relationship with Airlie and Head likewise will remain unchanged pending the outcome of Head's case.
Kavanaugh said yesterday that bookings for seminars and meetings at the Airlie Conference Center have recovered after a sharp decline in the late 1970s when federal investigators began their investigation of Head's dealings.
The nonprofit, tax-exempt center hosts 450 to 500 meetings a year, charging $52 daily per person for a typical three-day session with 75 participants. Yearly revenues total about $1.25 million, some $250,000 short of breaking even, Kavanaugh said. Outside grants help make up the balance.
About half of the center's clients are federal, state and local government departments and agencies, with the Agriculture Department, the Senate Commerce Committee, IBM. Exxon, the National Presbyterian Church and Howard University among the customers in the last year.
An affiliated filmmaking company, Raven's Hollow, the finances of which figured prominently in both of Head's conspiracy trials, has fared worse, according to Kavanaugh. The firm currently has one $100,000 government contract -- with the Agency for International Development -- and is developing a film project on thoroughbred horses in Virginia.
Kavanaugh estimates Airlie suffered a 90 percent drop in overall revenues for its assorted media projects in the three years since news of the federal investigation first became public -- a loss of approximately $10 million, he says.
Meanwhile, Head's legal fight continues. His defense lawyer, Frank W. Dunham Jr. of Arlington, said yesterday a final decision on whether to appeal Head's conviction will be made sometime after the July 17 sentencing.
A separate appeal on tax aspects of Head's first trial is pending before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
In July of last year, the IRS accused Head of civil tax fraud and demanded nearly $2.8 million in back taxes and penalties -- a case that is on hold while the conspiracy conviction is thrashed out in the courts.
At his Airlie home yesterday, Head said his plans for the present are simple: "I'm going to stay very calm in the water."