Uncle Sam wins the family challenge

Mills Lane IV received some unexpected military aid in deciding his future while toiling away in the summer of 1965 at the C&S Bank in Macon, Ga.

Mills Lane IV (left) organized a trip south for a group of Harvard friends during spring break in 1965.

In anticipation of progressing from the waiting list to enter the Harvard MBA program, he had been taking summer night school classes in Macon to improve his math scores and facility with languages and was under the impression that those classes would keep him from the military draft. When the draft board notified him otherwise, he overcame initial panic, consulted with his family, and decided to apply for Navy Officer Candidate School.

As he prepared for his next step, he checked in through letters with his friends from Harvard, especially his fellow members of the Phoenix – S K Club.

He had executed an excursion during the recent spring break of his senior year to take a group South to explore his haunts in Atlanta, Savannah and on a trip on the bank’s boat through the Golden Isles to Fernandina, Fla. and the family compound at Alligator Creek.

For his parents, he outlined the descriptions of the Harvard men with educational, social, political and business connections and took great pride in arranging an interesting, congenial group that would have the best time together. He also sent a list of suggestions for how his parents could contribute to the trip and confirmed details in a letter to his grandmother, Mama Lane:

“We have prepared for the trip with intracoastal waterway charts and blue blazers with white linen pants.”

By the end of summer he had passed the Navy physical, to his own amazement, and told his friends that after four months of OCS, “I will be free to romp on sunny, sandy isles, swim in emerald seas, and dance with voluptuously writhing native girls.”

But he still had a few more months as a responsible bank leader in Macon where he had decorated a branch and had been schooled in giving to the community.

“I am working for the local United Fund, which is good education for a well-fed, arrogant college boy, and … I have run the full gamut of charities. I have even played the piano for the mental ward on the seventh floor of the Macon Hospital – a far more appreciative audience than I ever had at the club.”

He had not completely ruled out becoming “a titan of corporate finance,” but after initial dismay at the thought of military service, he seemed to relish the chance to gain new experiences and to see what he could do on his own.

“No patriotic valor prompts me to this rash act: only the inevitability of my military obligation and the hope that a little physical training, impersonal discipline, and exotic experience will do me some good. After all, the little world bound by the Citizens and Southern Banks, which revolves around my father, is hardly a good place for his son to test himself, and a little outright, outside competition will do wonders for my self-confidence plus [add] the possibility of a little sin in a worldly port city for another sort of confidence.”

In his last days of civilian freedom, he praised the escape of movies with an elaborate critique of “Ship of Fools,” drove his red VW convertible up the East Coast, and rued that he still couldn’t milk a cow.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

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