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Published: Thursday, 6/12/2003

Never complain - but pay your dues

In conjunction with Ford Motor Co.'s 100th birthday, celebrated tomorrow through Monday in Dearborn, Mich., The Blade is reprinting this 1993 column about Henry Ford II by Homer Brickey. Mr. Ford, grandson of the legendary founder of Ford Motor, was chairman of the automaker in 1975.

One late February night in 1975, a California Highway Patrol officer pulled over a rented Ford sedan that was weaving down a one-way street, headed the wrong way, in a suburb of Santa Barbara, Calif.

At the wheel was no less a light than Henry Ford II, and at his side was a beautiful redheaded model, who was not his wife.

He failed the sobriety test and was jailed briefly.

A lesser man's indiscretion would have gone unnoticed. A lesser man might have crumbled under the pressure of publicity.

But not Henry Ford.

Not long after that incident, Mr. Ford attended a dinner in Detroit where someone asked him why he was in California while his wife was in Katmandu, Nepal.

His answer, whether accurate or not, is famous: “All I have to say is never complain, never explain.”

Henry Ford II should be remembered as the man who brought Ford Motor Co. back from the brink of extinction.

He should be remembered as a man who had a vision about downtown Detroit. He should be remembered as a founder of the Ford Foundation.

But, instead, a lot of people will remember him for those four words. In fact, the title of a biography of Henry Ford II (by the late Victor Lasky) is Never Complain, Never Explain.

Henry had his faults. He was a boozer, a womanizer, a chameleon with a Jekyll/Hyde personality.

He was vindictive. He was a gossip. He had a mean streak in him.

But even a critic would have to admit that was still good advice.

Many a worker these days is overloaded with assignments. When the boss dumps yet another chore on the desk, the temptation is to say: “I've paid my dues. Get somebody else to do this.”

But Henry probably would say: Don't complain about good luck. You pay your “dues” for the right to get the hard jobs. If it was easy, anybody could do it. If you want it done right, give it to a busy person.

You pay your dues to become a journeyman, a partner, or whatever.

You pay your dues for the privilege of working. You pay your dues for the right to make some things look easier than they are.

Mr. Ford's unpleasant episode in California ended happily.

He got off with a $375 fine and a suspended sentence, and - after he divorced his second wife - he made the beautiful redhead, Kathleen DuRoss, his third wife.

She was still his wife when he died in 1987.

So, young man or young woman, here's the advice from this card-carrying, dues-paying journeyman (as Henry himself might have phrased it): Pay your dues and be proud of it. Quit your belly-aching and get to work.

And, if you get caught with the wrong redhead, you'd better be prepared to pay your dues for sure.

In the meantime, remember Henry's advice. Never complain, never explain.



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