Sunday, May 03, 2009

In Memoriam: Marsom Pratt

I first met Marsom Pratt in 1974. I was 24 and working in the state energy office and was assigned to be the staff person for a gubernatorial blue ribbon panel, the Public Power Corporation Study Commission. It was created by Governor Frank Sargent and kept going by his successor, Michael Dukakis, to evaluate whether Massachusetts should take establish a public authority to take over the power generating functions of the privately owned electric utilities.

This was done in response to a move by Congressman Michael Harrington to put the question before the public as a referendum. The question was ultimately defeated, in part because of compromise legislation enacted by the Legislature to enhance the authority of the MA Municipal Wholesale Electric Company to enable municipal light departments to build and finance their own power plants. That Governor's Study Commission report provided the rationale for this approach, versus the broader state takeover of the private utilities' power generating functions. (By the way, for the record, one of the members of the Commission was Stephen Breyer, later to become an Associate Justice on the US Supreme Court.)

For a young person right out of college, Marsom was good company and a good mentor. Plus, he was just the right commission chairperson for someone on a small salary: He would often take me out to Maison Robert, a fancy place located in Boston's Old City Hall, for a working lunch. His office on Court Street was just a few steps down from MR, and we would inevitably find ourselves walking over. He was a regular: "Good afternoon, Mr. Pratt," would say the maitre d'. I become one, too, learning to ask for the items that I liked that were not on the menu that day. And then, there was the famous upside-down apple tart served with fresh whipped cream. Heady experience for someone who usually brought in a peanut butter sandwich for lunch!

His wife's comment in the obituary is exactly on target: He was "unconventional, but he didn't directly defy convention." He was superb on public finance, and a gentleman who held our study commission together, notwithstanding strong advocates within that group. I had occasion to see him a few times recently when he was a patient in our hospital. A kind and gentle person who will be missed.

1 comment:

Bob Ciolek said...

Marson was no longer financial advisor to HEFA when I arrived in 1995, his role assumed by the late Stephanie Gibson from Public Finance Management. But he was remembered as the last of the “white shoe” bankers whose business philosophy guided HEFA from its inception to roughly 1990 or so. In his day the attitude was that HEFA would solely and rigidly determine what investment banks were eligible to serve non-profit institutions and which would not; the same attitude also found its way into the Authority’s standards of which institutions it believed were fiscally sound enough to qualify for tax-exempt bond issues or not. That policy created the opening for an almost successful effort by an excluded banker to attempt the first hostile takeover of HEFA by MDFA (then known as MIFA). While that “closed shop” philosophy moderated going forward to one where the market place rather than the Authority was largely deemed to be the best adjudicator of credit worthiness or professional competency, his commitment to insuring that HEFA issued the highest quality bonds continues to this day.