Donald Niven Wheeler – Curriculum Vitae

Donald Niven Wheeler

Bainbridge Island
WA 98110 Nov 9, 1993

Dear Elisabeth,

It’s a gloomy chilly day around Puget Sound, but dry.

We have not been getting the everlasting drizzle that is both the blessing and the curse of Western Washington, and which as a child of the oasis I have never quite got used to.

I’m sitting beside the air-tight stove. A fire of Madrona wood gives off a pleasant glow, so I really haven’t much to complain of.

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I wrote to Rena Belle to thank her for that delightful meeting but I want to thank you too. I hope you are entirely rid of that throat cold by now – I could bear just a trace. I know I did my usual of talking up all the time with my babbling, so nobody else had a chance to say anything. I wish I knew more about your work at Census. I’ve made a tremendous use of census materials especially on agriculture. (Lenin remarked that the U.S. Census of Agriculture was the best of any country’s.) I hope we can meet again an I promise next time not to talk so much, and to listen for a change. With all my talk I don’t think I gave an outline of my history and…

I’ll do that here:

  • June 1935
    Graduated from Reed College with a BA in Politics.
  • Oct 1935 – June 1937
    Student at Oxford, took a second BA in Modern Greats – Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
  • Fall 1937 to July 1938
    Student at The University of Paris, Faculty of Law (not the for bono) I was a candidate for The Doctorate in Law but I never took the degree. More important things to do.
  • Fall 1938 to Spring 1939
    Instructor in Government, Yale.
  • Spring 1939 to Fall 1940
    Economist Division of Monetary Research, US Treasury.
Reed

Reed

University of Oxford

Oxford

  • Fall 1940 to Spring 1941
  • Clerk, Senate Banking and Currency Committee, Senator Wagner of NY was chairman, the committee had been authorized to conduct a broad survey of the country’s monetary system, and that’s why I was hired. But by the time I got there, the study was called off because it became obvious that war was pending. So I was looking for something more relevant.
  • Summer 1941 to Summer 1946
  • Section Chief. Office of Strategic Services. My section was Germany and we along with the other sections in the Research and Analysis Branch, were given the assignment of figuring out the best way to defeat Germany. We were attached to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We found out Germany’s strengths and weaknesses and we gave our chiefs excellent advice, but they did not follow it.
  • Up to the Battle of Stalingrad (Fall 1942 to late winter, about Feb 1943)
  • We were all agreed that the Germans were a deadly menace. But with the decisive German defeat there, the dominant powers on the US side moved to the position that Germany was no longer a threat – the USSR was the threat and the task now was to prepare for using Germany as a junior partner in a an offensive against them (the Soviet Union). I did not accept the new policy and after a long string of bitter clashes I was forced out in the summer of 1946. At that time I was a Principal Economist, next to the highest chief.
U.S. Treasury

US Treasury

Office of Strategic Services

OSS

  • Summer 1946 – Spring 1947
    I spent several months at a fancy salary as an economic consultant in DC but I could see that that would not last for me. I tried to get back into teaching – but the Great Repression was beginning, If I had got a job I would soon have been fired.
  • 1947 Retreat to the Northwest
    With Mary and our 4 children we went to Seattle where we stayed temporarily with Mary’s mother. I got a job as an oil burner mechanic – thanks to some pull from an Oxford friend. I liked the work but I was laid off after a few months when housing starts went into a slump. They could not guess when I might be called back.
  • 1948
    There seemed to be nothing else, so we bought a dairy farm at Sequim, Clallam County Washington. Twenty-three milking cows. It was a hard life, but we survived. After 18 years, we were milking 100 cows, and each cow gave twice as much milk, but we were still just surviving. The price of milk had fallen and all our costs had gone up. The kids had all grown up and left.
  • 1965
    I was offered a job teaching at an experimental college in Franconia, New Hampshire. Job was found for me by eldest son Steve Vause and his wife who were teaching there. It was great fun. But after 3 years the faculty had a bitter row with the trustees over the firing of a couple of our teachers and I left, together with most of the teachers.

The last farm family in Sequim to use a team of horses: Bonnie and Daisy

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  • 1968 – 1970
    Returned to Oxford for my degree of Doctor of Philosophy. My Thesis was on Soviet agriculture. I made exactly the right connection there and was offered a job teaching economics at Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba, at the exalted rank of associate professor.
  • 1970 – 1980
    It was an improbably glorious ending for my career. I got along famously with the other members of the department – we’re all still friends. My students were enthusiastic and several of them are still my friends. I was elected vice – President of the Faculty Association. I was promoted to the rank of full professor and when I retired after 10 wonderful years, I was given the rank of Professor Emeritus.
  • 1980
    I have been busier than ever since I retired in 1980. I had always planned to retire within walking distance of a research library, but wound up instead on Bainbridge Island. The nearest scholarly library is at the U of W and that is about a 2 hour trip each way. Still I have done quite a bit of research. I wrote a paper on Poland which was ???, and one on Afghanistan which was not but which I think was pretty good all the same. I can’t get anything published. Too much of a maverick, I don’t please anybody.
  • Mary and I were active in politics at all levels from school boards to international affairs. I used to do a lot of doorbelling, and thus got to know quite a few people in the neighborhood. Now my legs aren’t up to that, but I can still drive and one of my jobs is to round up stragglers and get them to the polls. Or, it was the last big go-around. The recent election I did very little as I left for Baltimore on Oct 19 and got back on the eve of election day – Nov 2. I had voted absentee. I find that many good people have given up on politics. I understand, but my conscience forbids me.

Donald and Mary Wheeler

Donald and Mary Wheeler

They who laugh last, laugh best

  • Repairs and maintenance take a lot of time, and I do much of that for daughters Susan and Honeybee, and some even for sons Stephen and Tim. When I drive to see them I always have the trunk loaded with tools and hardware supplies. This house, which was falling down when we moved in is now in reasonably good repair so I don’t have long hours of carpentry, wiring, plumbing, roofing, painting etc. A good thing because I’m not up to a long hard day anymore.
  • I still do almost all the repairs on Old Blue – 28 years old and with 378,000 miles on the odometer. I don’t have the tools to mount tires, but I do almost everything else including changing engines which at least till now – I do in the back yard with a tripod I made and a block and tackle.
  • Mary used to do almost all of the family business such as paying bills, banking etc. She liked to do it and she was (rightfully) doubtful of my reliability. Now that is a bit of a burden for me.
  • As for cooking and general housework, that hasn’t been the sudden shock that some thought it would be. About 12 years ago Mary had a little stroke. She said “I guess that serves me right for smoking for 50 years” For once I said the right thing: “Nonsense, There’s no good evidence that smoking is related to stroke!” It relieved Mary to hear me say this even though she knew I was wrong and probably suspected me of faking it.

  • This very minor stroke did impair Mary’s ability to walk and to work. I was already doing all of the dish washing and much of the other house work, but Mary was still in command of cooking – I helped. But after that more and more I took over, deciding what to have for dinner and doing the preliminaries in good time.
  • Eventually I didn’t even ask her to set the table. If she felt up to it, she joined in and did her share and more, but fairly often she seemed exhausted and just waited till I called her to dinner.
  • It was great that Mary did quit smoking about 5 years before the lung cancer showed it’s effects. It was pressure from the younger generation that led her to try one more time, this time with the aid of Nicorettes. She, and all of us, felt good that she had succeeded.
  • So, I was braced for taking over the housework, and I like to do it, even though my standards are low. That is, I mop the kitchen floor only once in awhile, as long as it does not become sticky – that I can’t abide. We have millions of spiders in this old house and I cant begin to keep up with the cobwebs. But I don’t buy, so called convenience foods. I don’t like them. They cost too much and they aren’t even convenient. I have staples like steel-cut oats for breakfast, lentils and turky or pinto beans with ham hocks. The later two I make in big batches and freeze in one-serving containers.
  • I do worry about losing my ability to do things. Maybe especially driving, but other things too. I’ve lost a lot of manual strength, I’m clumsy, forgetful. I drop things, knock things over, mislay things by putting them in a safe place. I know all this is very common, and furthermore, the truth is that I and a lot of other people did a lot of these things when we were in the prime of life. I make up in part by the vast store of experience, by no means all of which is lost, and patience far beyond what I had when I was young.

Donald Niven Wheeler

Gathering at Gig Harbor

Well, I see that as usual I have wandered all over the place but I do hope you can make some sense of it.

I’m very happy that we did manage to see each other again, and I hope we can meet one more time?

With Love From Don


Curriculum Vitae 2016