Good news for Hillary Clinton and Hathaway Shirt last week. Hillary clawed her way back to a victory in New Hampshire. And after years of work, the Hathaway project undertaken by Paul Boghossian ’76 and his developer colleagues, is a go.
You can't underestimate the importance of this to Waterville, which has seen too many promising development projects evaporate like fog on the Kennebec. One day it's there; the next day it's gone. I firmly believe the Hathaway Creative Center, like the Andross Mill in Brunswick, will be the jolt that the community needs. Hats off to Paul, Colby, the Maine Legislature, and all involved.
But back to Hathaway and Hillary.
About a dozen years ago, I spent a day with a bunch of other Hathaway backers. They referred to themselves as "the girls" and they worked at Hathaway when shirts were actually made there. The company had been bought by Warnaco and the workers, who sewed the shirts in the big rooms in the riverfront mill, were afraid the company would be gutted and they'd be out of work.
It was, and they were, too. In hindsight it seems as inevitable as the change of seasons; Hathaway was a Maine manufacturer that managed to hold on way past its time; economic forces, and some would say the forces of greed, were all against it.
But the women who worked at Hathaway weren't going quietly. They hired a bus and went to the state Democratic convention in Portland. Hillary Clinton, the first lady, was going to be there. They wanted to tell her about their plight. They thought she might be able to do something for them.
I went, too. We rode down the Turnpike, the women singing songs and eating snacks from lunchboxes. I remember one woman who reached into her bag to get me a drink and grabbed what she thought was a can of Coke. To her shock and dismay, it was a Budweiser.
We went to the convention, the women wearing their red union T-shirts. They listened as Hillary addressed the convention—and she was a very dynamic speaker, by the way, smart as a whip—and then they had their audience. The press was not invited, but the women came away encouraged and inspired. Little did they know that the demise of Hathaway Shirt was part of a larger trend that Hillary Clinton wasn't going to stop. The shirts could be made cheaper offshore; the buyout artists just wanted the brand, which had value because of the hard work and skill of the shirtmakers in the plant.
Thanks, ladies. Turn off the lights on your way out.
So now the Hathaway plant and the adjacent mills will be resurrected. The lights will be on once again in the big windows overlooking the Kennebec. And I hope that when the tours of VIPs begin, the ladies from the bus are the first to be invited.