In case you haven’t already guessed, I’m from the old school of journalism — we do what we think is right, not what they tell us is right in journalism school (if we ever got around to going). And if some source tells how to do our job, we almost always do it some other way. We’re contrarians.
But maybe I’m getting a little soft in my old age.
A few weeks ago we got a press release from Bryn Mawr Trust, a wealth management office opening in Princeton at 47 Hulfish Street. The new folks expected that news of their presence in town could be reported in the paper. No problem there.
But they were hoping for a more prominent article. First off they were already deeply involved in the community. “Even before our permanent space is ready, we have been making ourselves visible in Princeton with daily activities and event sponsorships,” they pointed out in a press release. “We were present at Morven in May, the McCarter gala, the Corner House annual benefit, and the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls annual luncheon. We are sponsoring the Princeton Public Library’s fall benefit, and we have signed on to be a lead sponsor for the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. It’s a great start, and we will continue to make our presence known!”
And, in fact, the four principals in the new office had all worked together in the past, for the most part at PNC Bank at 76 Nassau Street.
Well that’s a story, for sure.
Then there was one more thing. While they worked at PNC they had all worked with Christine Lokhammer. And I knew that Lokhammer, recently retired after more than 40 years with PNC and its predecessors, was now fighting cancer from her home in Hopewell. The press release was accompanied by a cover note: “Richard, I’m sending you a hello and best wishes from Chris Lokhammer! She is very excited for us and fully supportive of our new venture.”
A week later I got another nudge from the bankers, this time with a copy of an e-mail exchange with Lokhammer: “Tell Richard I said thank you and would love him to do the front page. It would make a sick girl very happy. Better than flowers from him!”
A story, yes, but front page? Now that’s a tall order, I thought to myself.
On June 10, the inevitable occurred and Lokhammer died at the too-young age of 68 (as a 70-year-old knows all too well).
I showed up at the memorial service last week at the Nassau Presbyterian Church. As the minister pointed out, the service was there not because Lokhammer had been a member of the church (she had not been) but because it was the church that she looked out at every day from her office across Nassau Street. Four close friends shared remembrances of their time with her. Toward the end of the service the minister said he had worried when he had heard that four people would speak — they have a way of rambling at these emotional moments. But he shouldn’t have worried. Lokhammer had instructed the people who spoke to limit their remarks to five minutes.
In fact, she had planned the 11 a.m. service to last an hour — a fact that the minister shared with the large audience just before his benediction. It was 12 o’clock sharp.
As I found out at the service, Chris Lokhammer had a way of getting things done. Cindy Ricker, who had worked with her many years at PNC, recalled how the people reporting to her referred to her. To some she was Mrs. Lokhammer, to others Chris. Or boss. Or bossy. Or — and the laughter began to well up in the sanctuary, the Queen of Nassau Street. “Let’s face it,” Ricker said, “we all worked for ‘The Hammer.’ But when she asked us to do something we didn’t mind because we knew what she was asking us to do was the right thing to do.”
After the service most of the audience regrouped at the Nassau Club a few blocks down the street. There we were welcomed by Kevin Tylus, CEO of Royal Bank, which has just been acquired by Bryn Mawr, and who previously worked with Lokhammer at PNC and will continue to work with the Bryn Mawr group after the merger is complete.
Just like the service, the reception was guided by “The Hammer.” The charge given to Tylus and the other organizers was to have — and he quoted here — “a great, light, fun celebration.” Tylus said he was quoting from 15 typewritten pages of instructions, to which handwritten notes had been added.
Among the instructions: What day to hold a “surprise” retirement ceremony being planned for her; and to include lamb chops and shrimp on the menu of passed hors d’oeuvres at the reception.
“Don’t let the Nassau Club serve small sandwiches with the crust cut off; and make sure the passed snacks are good ones!”
Do not serve cocktails at the reception, only wine, prosecco, and beer “because my friends will fall asleep if they have mixed drinks at lunch.”
At that point friends and family were invited to participate in a “Quaker-type afternoon, where people get up and speak,” but — per the instructions in the 15-page playbook — “tell them not to speak too long!”
Lokhammer and her husband, architect Peter Lokhammer (who also died way too young, at age 54 in 2001) had no children but they did have a small army of nieces, nephews, and god children. Several of them spoke, as well as business friends.
Lokhammer’s life was a testament to the old adage that people like to do business with people they know, and Lokhammer liked to know people, even the ones who weren’t doing business with her. One of my first meetings with her was at our old offices at 12 Roszel Road in the mid-1990s. Lokhammer and several colleagues from the bank showed up unannounced “just to say hello” and let us know they were there if we needed them. In an era when it’s sometimes hard to find a banker to talk to in the bank lobby, here was Lokhammer & Co. knocking on our door.
One of Lokhammer’s duties was to bestow the bank’s charitable donations upon various community organizations. She didn’t put a check in the mail. Instead she organized a breakfast meeting at the Nassau Club with all the representatives of all the recipient organizations. One of the attendees was Melanie Clark of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. “We were all her godchildren in the non-profit world,” Clark said. Lokhammer’s Christmas breakfast “made us realize how much we could support each other.”
Richard Kisco, the floral designer, spoke about meeting Lokhammer 30 years ago when he applied for a loan to start his Princeton-based business. Instead of poring over his financial projections, Lokhammer pulled out a phone book, opened the yellow pages to the florist section and began reciting the names of all the florists already doing business in the area. “Tell me what you’re going to be doing that’s different from all of these,” Kisco recalled Lokhammer demanding.
So what about that story on page 1? While the story of a new branch of an out-of-town bank does not ordinarily have the breadth and depth of a typical U.S. 1 cover story, I did see one other opportunity — to run the photograph of the new trust company’s staff on page 1 in the space above the cover story. So there it was in the May 31 issue, a story being promoted in exactly the way the source wanted it, by an editor who usually balks at such requests. And we got it out in time for Lokhammer to see it (and presumably correct us if we had any factual errors).
So maybe I did not get soft in my old age. Maybe I just heeded the command of Chris, the boss, bossy, the Queen of Nassau Street, or — let’s face it — The Hammer. And I do believe it was the right thing to do.
A note to readers: With this issue Richard K. Rein begins his customary summer break. His column will appear from time to time as his time and travel permit.