EXCEPTIONAL. That's perhaps the best word to describe Eric Watmough, the 76-year-old director of recreational services for the Bank of Boston, who is the exception to a number of generally accepted rules.
Born in Manchester, England, Mr. Watmough came to America at the age of four to grow up as an Episcopalian in predominantly Irish-Catholic South Boston. With only one year of high school education, he rose over the course of his 49-year career at Bank of Boston to become an assistant vice president. Then, six years after retiring, he was called back to the bank to work, and now he is perhaps better known in his new position than he ever was in his earlier career at the bank.
As director of recreational services, Mr. Watmough administers recreational activities that the bank offers at a discount to employees. These activities are determined by a committee of 25 people, a cross-section of employees from different departments of the bank that meets once a month.
"I coordinate the activities they decide to offer," said Mr. Watmough. His budget of $60,000 is supported by the profits generated by the vending machines throughout the bank's system. His tasks include sending out flyers with news of the coming events to some 10,000 New England bank employees. He estimates the number of tickets to buy and contacts the ticket office of the museum, amusement park, or professional sports team in order to buy a block of tickets, usually at a discount. The bank also underwrites some of the committee's operating expenses and up to 25% of ticket costs. It is up to Mr. Watmough to decide what percentage of the ticket costs the bank pays.
"I use my own judgment," he said, explaining if an event is priced too high to attract a large number of lower-level employees, he will increase the bank's subsidy more than he might otherwise to take a little more off the employees' price.
"If it's not a popular event, people blame me, even though the committee made the decision," he laughs. While the home contests of the Bruins, Red Sox, and Patriots are always favorites (Celtics tickets are almost impossible to come by because their home games are nearly always sold out), the committee tries to balance its offerings with important cultural events, such as the major Renoir exhibit this fall at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and a show on China's cultural history at the Museum of Science. The committee also offers special tour packages through travel agencies to popular vacation spots in the United States and abroad.
Many employees look forward to the annual United Way charity kickoff outing, and this year's event was held several weeks ago at a Massachusetts amusement park.
"We rented the whole park. Eric was there from dawn 'till dusk," said Law-rence K. Fish, head of the bank's New England group, who was also among the 4,500 in attendance. "The programs are great team-builders. They create a positive attitude among officers and nonofficers," Mr. Fish added.
Employees desiring to attend an event send a check for their tickets with a return envelope to Mr. Watmough, who collects the money and sends out the tickets. The long-time banker keeps his own books and makes daily deposits into the recreation committee's account at the bank.
Before his job was created, recreation committee members would divide up the tasks of correspondence and ticket purchases between them, and carry out their duties during spare moments on the job. This led to times when supervisors would chance on employees in the midst of calling Fenway Park to order tickets, or opening piles of mail with checks from employees. Frequently, recreation committee members had to explain that, although they were not, strictly speaking, working, they were in fact carrying out a vital function.
Management decided this source of confusion could be eliminated by delegating many of the committee's responsibilities to one individual. Remembering Mr. Watmough's genial manner and outgoing personality, bank officials contacted him, and soon his "second career" was underway.
"He has a 25-year-old's energy. He believes in the program so deeply, it's contagious," said Mr. Fish, indicating Mr. Watmough was an ideal choice for the job.
Mr. Watmough credits his relatively high visibility during his first career at the bank to his having worked in the proof and transit department, dealing with check clearances, where he had contact with all banking departments. He also attributes it to his handling of management trainees sent to his department to learn the business. These trainees later went on to positions of high authority at the bank.
"They all passed through my department," he said, listing the names of such alumni as William L. Brown, chairman and CEO, and president Ira Stepanian. Most of the trainees were required to write papers on what they learned, he recounted.
But his outgoing nature and his ability to make friends is certainly a major reason Mr. Watmough was selected for his job. "I like working with people. I enjoy people," he said, explaining why he finds it easy to become a part of group activities.
His personable nature has been his hallmark since he joined Atlantic National Bank (later acquired by Bank of Boston) in 1925 as an errand boy at the age of 17. "I wore a 'Philip Morris' suit," he said of his work uniform, likening it to one worn by a character in advertisements.
After two years of messenger duty, he worked another two years in the mailroom before moving to the proof and transit department in 1929. He remained in that department until his "retirement" as assistant vice president in 1974.
From Clerks to Computers
Although he learned about banking mainly from his work, he also took courses at the American Institute of Banking and at HArvard University Extension. During his years at the bank, he saw the transition from the black-sleeved, green-visored clerks who posted accounts and operated adding machines by hand to the lightning efficiency of the computer age.
When he retired from the bank, however, he did not come back periodically to renew acquaintances and chat about the good old days.
"I stayed away. I didn't want to be an old-timer visiting," he said. Instead, he worked as an attendant in the Italian Room of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where he became familiar with the works of Raphael and Titian on exhibit. "People used to ask me questions about the paintings, so I read up on them. It was very educational," he said.
Now, Mr. Watmough drives to work each morning, traveling the brief commute from his South Boston home to the Bank's data processing facility on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, where his office is located. Although his work hours are from 8 AM until noon, he is known to stay later, bank officials said. In the afternoons, he stays in shape by walking a 2-1/2 mile course around South Boston's Castle Island.
Not everyone is as naturally inclined toward group activities as he is, Mr. Watmough acknowledged, and not everyone his age will be as active as he. But he urged others to be as involved as possible: "It's a must to keep busy -- it doesn't matter what. Otherwise people go downhill." And those who wish to be involved should never complain of lack of opportunity, he believes.
"The opportunity is there. Businesses do reach out -- they are looking for volunteers," he said. He and his wife, Dorcas, did volunteer work at New England Medical Center before she passed away four years ago. And during his earlier career, he took part as a volunteer in a bank-sponsored Junior Achievement program, advising a team of high school students in the ways of banking.
He now lists the Masons, Shriners, and Odd Fellows as his main involvements, which take up most of his time outside of the banking responsibilities.
Over the years, he has taken an active role in the Episcopal church of Saint Matthew and the Redeemer in South Boston. A lifelong member, he has held various positions at the church, including Sunday school superintendent, and is now church treasurer. Mr. Watmough also met his wife at the church, he said.
Mr. Watmough's attention is also fondly drawn to his two children, a son Robert, and a daughter Clare, and a 7-1/2-year-old grandchild, Elizabeth Renee.
Although he takes part in activities for the sheer joy of involvement, rather than for recognition, his contribution to the spirit of the bank has not been overlooked. Ask around the Bank of Boston, and people will tell you Eric Watmough, the older gentleman with the unusual English surname, is one of the best-known and best-liked people at the bank.
"He's a wonderful man," said Mr. Fish. We're lucky to have him."…