Is Jack Connors the Last King of Boston?
That night Verret came home to a house full of flowers. His wife, Meg, had tears in her eyes. The note on the flowers read, “Meg: I don’t think we’ve given you the proper introduction to Hill Holliday. — Jack Connors.”
In part, Connors gave the flowers to Verret’s wife for the same reason that, after hiring many ambitious women at Hill Holliday in the 1980s, he set up in-house daycare: He would do whatever was necessary to keep talented people. But there have also been gestures so large, that cost Connors so much, that explanations of self-interest aren’t really sufficient.
In the 1970s Hill Holliday had an art director named Paul Collins. Collins’s father was in the restaurant-supply business. That business went bankrupt, and Collins’s dad had used the family home as collateral — the family home that Collins and his wife and children were then living in. One day at work Connors noticed that Collins seemed particularly glum. Connors kept hounding him about it until Collins said, “My house is going on the auction block.” Come next week, Collins said, he didn’t know where his family would live.
The morning of the auction was cold, with a bit of rain. Connors arrived without a trench coat, and his suit was soon soaked through. He watched as the auctioneer began the bidding at $15,000. As the bidding approached $25,000, Connors looked around; Collins’s two kids were peeking out a front window, watching their own eviction. Connors knew he had to get the house. He threw up his hand again, the other bidder backed off, and the auctioneer banged his gavel. He handed Connors the key. Then Connors walked up and handed it over to a befuddled-looking Collins. “It’s yours,” Connors said. Though the agency didn’t have a lot of money in those days, Hill Holliday would write it off as a business expense, and Paul Collins and his family would stay in their home, making an easy monthly payment. Connors still keeps in his office a key from Collins, a gift with the inscription, “Jack: Our home is your home.”
ON A RECENT JULY MORNING, Connors stood in the doorway of Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe on Columbus Avenue. “Jack,” said Marie Fuller, who’s been a waitress at Charlie’s for 44 years. Connors walked over, so eager to kiss Marie’s cheek and shake the hand of her brother, Charlie’s co-owner Chris Manjourides, that he didn’t take off his sunglasses until Marie guided him to his seat.
Marie and Chris are two of the four members of the Manjourides family who operate the restaurant. They say they’ve never had a customer quite like Connors. He’s the only one to send a Christmas card every year. He also knows details about each of the four brothers and sisters who run Charlie’s, and always takes time to ask about them. On this day, he took a seat and looked at the photo from Disney World that hung on Charlie’s back wall. It was a shot of the Manjourides family celebrating their restaurant’s 80th anniversary. “How are you doing — all 27 of you or however many there are?” Connors asked.
Marie Fuller smiled. Three years ago, when she was planning the vacation, she got a call from Connors. He knew about the getaway — how, she doesn’t remember — and said that he wanted to help.