All I Needed to Know in Life, I Learned as Co-chair of the 1974 Christmas Banquet  

The RSE Lectures Series continued this fall with Jim Williams ’77 addressing the Society at the October meeting. Jim recently retired from a career in environmental and chemical engineering, where he spent 35 years in wastewater and sewage, for Union Carbide and The Dow Chemical Company. 

Ted Holden ’20 arranged the lecture, introduced Jim and his topic “All I Needed to Know in Life, I Learned as Co-chair of the 1974 Christmas Banquet

Jim has always enjoyed stand-up comedy so he kept the mood entertaining while delivering a substantial message. He talked a little about how things were in the 70s, largely to contrast them with today. Then Williams turned the talk to his experiences with the Christmas Banquet (now called the Holiday Banquet) stating “I have applied the same (four) basic principles to multi-million engineering projects in three countries with success.” 

First, You Really Don't Have Be an Expert on a Topic to Lead a Project

The brothers of RSE always picked two sophomores to run the banquet. In 1974, they picked two Jewish kids, Rich Silverman ‘77 and yours truly.  The banquet was not about the true meaning of Christmas or history of religion. The banquet was about inviting professors to have a good time and getting our sorry grades raised half a point.

All I Needed to Know in Life, I Learned as Co-chair of the 1974 Christmas Banquet   

Jim Williams addressing the Society at the October 2017 meeting

Secondly, Rely on Existing Processes. Only Innovate When Necessary

Here's a program from a Christmas banquet. Every year, same format, just different nicknames for the brothers. Every year, the same menu is served. There was no need to reinvent the wheel. People use processes because - surprise - they work. Learn them. Beware of the so-called experts who want to be radical. There is a time and a place for that. Not when your only key inputs are free booze and good food.

Thirdly, Things Will Go Wrong. Improvise.

Rich and I made a small oversight, which was caught by more astute and experienced brothers. We had forgotten to get the Christmas tree!  An easily understandable oversight as we had not had a lot of experience with this back home.  Thankfully, another Jewish brother, Bruce Friedman ‘76, had a station wagon and helped us get the tree in time. There we were, three wise men on a quest from the East … and this would have made a great TV special.

 Finally, Where There Are Shared Goals, Your Team Has Your Back

Everyone wanted the banquet to succeed. Bob McCain, our chef, loved the chance to dazzle the faculty and the house. Every last brother helped clean up, or decorate, or serve tables, or contribute to the effort.  We all wanted to night to be a success.  When Doc Hollinger, a chemistry prof and our Toastmaster for the evening, went off-script, Rich and I were dumbstruck. I believe it was Bruce Friedman ‘76 who stepped in and led us in the House Song to bring the evening to a close. 

The brotherhood watched out for each other. That's what brought success.  So remember, "Thy Strength Is My Strength", and live it.