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Story 11: Learning to Lead

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Getting in Bed with Jim (1968)

Written by Mike Spock

We always were on the lookout for money to do the good things we wanted to do, or just for survival, but sometimes we had to hold our noses in the asking. How did we rationalize the strongly felt institutional and personal values with the sometimes unsavory folks we found ourselves going to bed with?

Jim Craven, our Jamaica Plain state representative, was a hands-on, second generation Irish pol. Jim showed up at the preview party for the brand new Visitor Center in the fall of '68. Impressed by what he saw, Jim took me aside and said, sotto voce, that he would get us a line item in the state budget just like the Museum of Science. Boy, wouldn't that be great! He brushed aside my offer of help and said he would get back to me.

Months passed with no word about the line item. Then the phone rang. It was Jim. There would be $35,000 for the Children's Museum in next year's MDC (Metropolitan District Commission) budget! Wow! Terrific! How did it happen? Jim said he would come over with a copy of the legislation and tell us about how he got it through.

"Prorogation"—over the years I grew fond of that arcane word and concept—was the moment when legislators were extraordinarily focused on getting all the loose ends of their favorite projects wrapped up before the close of the session. Of course, anything left on the table—bills and budgets—would have to start from scratch with the next legislature.

When Jim Craven arrived looking pleased with himself, he presented me with a copy of the bill and told this tale: In the frantic, sleep-deprived moments of prorogation, with the house chamber clock actually stopped, Jim timed his moment to approached the Speaker and (I always imagined him whispering conspiratorially as he always did with me) saying that he hoped that the leadership wouldn't forget The Children's Museum. He then eagerly reported their conversation that followed.

"What about The Children's Museum? I don't remember anything about The Children's Museum!"

"But you promised that you would put The Children's Museum in the MDC budget, like the Museum of Science."

"I did?"

"You did. Here's a draft of the bill. And here is the line where it goes in the budget. We're all counting on you!"

"OK, OK, OK!"

Jim went on: "And it passed! Of course I lied, I hadn't talked to the Speaker before then! I was waiting to slip it in when everyone was so busy with prorogation that the Speaker was unlikely to remember whether he had promised me or not!"

When I asked Jim the next year about an increase in our new line item, he said that the school busloads that were to be let in free had only just begun to come to the museum. He chided me, "You have to crawl before you learn to walk!"

But the year after that he came through with an increase to $50,000.

As before, Jim phoned and said he was coming over. He arrived with a photographer and an elaborately illuminated and framed certificate that expressed our gratitude for James J. Craven, Jr.'s contributions to The Children's Museum. He wanted me to sign it, so he could hang one in his office and one in the museum, and take a picture of the two of us and the certificate for the Jamaica Plain Citizen. I was pleased to accommodate him and more than a little embarrassed that he had to initiate this little ceremony of gratitude. Jim wasn't at all displeased. The important thing was that it got done and that the recognition—whatever the source—appeared!

Next: Harvard Community Health Plan (1970)