Denise Littlefield Sobel
Interviewed by Richard Sadler and Gene Sessions
5 May 2006
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Denise Littlefield Sobel
Richard Sadler and Gene Sessions
5 May 2006
Copyright © 2011 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
The Oral History Program of the Stewart Library was created to preserve the institutional history of Weber
State University and the Davis, Ogden and Weber County communities. By conducting carefully
researched, recorded, and transcribed interviews, the Oral History Program creates archival oral histories
intended for the widest possible use.
Interviews are conducted with the goal of eliciting from each participant a full and accurate account of
events. The interviews are transcribed, edited for accuracy and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewees
(as available), who are encouraged to augment or correct their spoken words. The reviewed and
corrected transcripts are indexed, printed, and bound with photographs and illustrative materials as
available. Archival copies are placed in Special Collections. The Stewart Library also houses the original
recording so researchers can gain a sense of the interviewee's voice and intonations.
The Utah Construction Company/Utah International Inc. Oral History Project was created to capture the
memories of individuals associated with the company. Several of the interviewees are family and
relatives, others are personalities involved with Utah Construction Company/Utah International Inc. and
some of the company’s prominent figures.
Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-informed interviewer, with
the goal of preserving substantive additions to the historical record. Because it is primary material, oral
history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken
account. It reflects personal opinion offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it
is partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable.
All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to
the Stewart Library of Weber State University. No part of the manuscript may be
published without the written permission of the University Librarian. Requests for
permission to publish should be addressed to the Administration Office, Stewart
Library, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah, 84408. The request should include
identification of the specific item and identification of the user.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Denise Littlefield Sobel, an oral history by
Richard Sadler and Gene Sessions, 5 May
2006, WSU Stewart Library Oral History
Program, Special Collections, Stewart
Library, Weber State University, Ogden, UT.
Denise Littlefield Sobel
in the Weber State University,
Denise Littlefield Sobel, Tera Farr,
and President F. Ann Millner
in the Weber State University,
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Denise Littlefield Sobel (born 1952)
conducted on May 5, 2006 by Richard Sadler and Gene Sessions. Ms. Sobel is the
youngest child of Edmund Wattis Littlefield and Jeannik Méquet Littlefield, and great-granddaughter
of E.O. Wattis. In the interview, Ms. Sobel discusses her recollections of
her father, and his role and influence in the Utah Construction Company. Ms. Sobel also
describes her father‟s personality and personal opinions on many subjects, as well as
the relationship between her father and his close family and friends. Lisa Largent was
also present during the interview.
GS: Denise, what are some of your earliest memories of your father's involvement in the
Utah Construction Company?
DS: I'm the youngest child. I was born in 1952 and as far as I was concerned my father had
always worked for the Utah Construction Company. Many of the people in the family,
such as his uncle, Pat Wattis, were also involved; Pat was on the board. I grew up
thinking...I grew up in Burlingame, California, which is very close to the San Francisco
airport, and I grew up thinking that everybody‟s father went to the airport.
My parents were very relaxed. My mother was—and is—very calm and
competent and did not ask my father to call her every time he landed someplace. Of
course, telephones were much more expensive then; you just didn't pick up the phone
and call someone in those days.
So, I remember that my father was very proud to be...to have been held in high
regard by Marriner Eccles. I wasn't as aware if there were other people that perhaps he
worked with that he didn't think were in the right position because I was just too young. I
very much remember going to the annual company picnic. As a child, I thought that was
a lot of fun. I think it may have been in East Bay but I don't recall exactly where. Well, it
was interesting because my mother is very good with her hands. She‟s very good with
sewing and with crafts. Initially, she had trouble having children and when she wasn't
sure if she was going to be able to have children, she plunged into many hobbies,
including upholstery. Part of what one needs to use in upholstery is a hammer. She was
very good with a hammer. My father had many skills; he was coordinated and athletic,
but he wasn't very good at hanging pictures or changing a tire. That was not his strong
suit. So, my mother goes to the annual picnic and she wins the nail-driving contest at
the Utah Construction Company. Not only is she a woman, but she's the wife of an
executive and built quite slimly with an elegant French name—Jeannik—and there she
is among all these beefy guys and one, two, three she bangs the nail right in. Anyways,
that was one very famous memory of the Utah picnic.
In terms of my father, when he got home he opened his briefcase and watched
the local TV news—of course, people only had one television set—and we would have
dinner and he would have a conversation around the table. We had a very formal
household and, as the youngest, I did quite a bit more listening than talking. I remember
him being very concerned about the safety of the people and just so devastated he
practically couldn't speak if somebody had been hurt. With the open-pit mines, often it
was just a human error. Somebody would step out of a cab and the driver of the next
vehicle didn't see him and...Well, my father would often be the one who would go to the
funeral and call the family and tell them what had happened. He would sometimes
shake his head and say, “What can we do to make things more safe for people? This
man had several children, he was a good worker, and there's a great big plaque riveted
to the side of the cab and the steering wheel that says „Don't get out of the cab!‟ How
did this poor man get so distracted?"
So, he was very concerned about that and he was also...when he would read—
which is, of course, very relevant to today—he would get very upset with people—not
just in Utah Construction, but if he read about somebody cheating or embezzling or
taking money, he would shake his head and say, "What's the matter with that person?
How could they cheat not only their family's honor, but the stockholders and
employers?" He felt it was very important...it was when he was first hired by Marriner
that he said he was not going to give somebody special favors just because they were
related. In fact, he wanted to make sure he could fire anybody or not hire anybody that
he didn't feel was appropriate. But you know, in Utah everybody has a big family and
that was kind of a tall order.
GS: I wanted to get to that a little later but since you're there: people say Utah was always a
family company. There's a famous—I consider it famous—account where he told
Marriner, "Ok, I'll come on board, but I don‟t want any pressure about hiring or firing
people in the family." Tell me a little bit about your sense of that: his worry about that
and the notion that Utah was a family company. Your father was in both places—he was
the grandson of one of the founders and yet he was brought in as a person of his own
quality. He didn't want it forced on him like some of the other leaders of the company
DS: Well he...I think he was an extremely honest, affable person. He did not want to work for
a company where he would be asked to hire somebody or promote somebody if that
person wasn't right for the job, no matter how nice that person might be or if that person
was family. He joked that he insisted with Marriner Eccles that it would apply not only to
his family, but to Marriner's family, which was even larger.
DS: I think...he felt an obligation to himself, but in an extended way to the family. He felt that
the best think you could do as a good person—and this also extends to being a good
family member, because if you did a good job it would translate well for the family as
well as for the success of the company—was to put the right people in the right
positions. I think he also felt it was actually unfair and cruel to people to put them in a
position that they couldn't handle. He felt that often—sometimes—people turned to
alcohol or became unhappy because they realized they were in over their heads and yet
they didn't want to tell a person, "I'm sorry, I want to take a lesser position." Especially if
it was a family member. I think he was also concerned about the person being pushed
into something that they couldn't handle.
GS: And it was such a watershed because if you look at the company in the '30s and '40s, it
was often falling into that trap where family people were doing things. Speaking of that,
and maybe this gets in a little tender area, but there's always that...when the family
grows and you have cousins and second cousins and people kind of vying for influence
in a company. What are your memories of those relationships with cousins and other
folks in the Wattis family? Or even in the Eccles family, and other families that have
been involved through the „20s and '30s and '40s? You're coming along in the '50s and
„60s and your dad's saying, “We've got to get away from these kinds of forces that have
crippled the company.” What do you remember about all that?
DS: I'm afraid not too much. I think that he probably thought it was inappropriate for him to
tell me in the '50s and early '60s that "Oh, well, such-and-such a person is a big
shareholder and thinks that he can have a seat on the board.” But other than that I don't
know. I know he was very—as a family person—he was very devoted to and very close
to Barbara Kimball Browning and so forth, but that's more in a family sense rather than
a Utah Construction, "Should we hire so and so?" I think he felt it was very important to
have a balance of people who had been around a long time but also outside directors.
He didn't feel it was great to just have people who were related to each other. He
wanted to have a balance in that.
GS: It's not surprising you say that because it's so consistent. Outside of social moments like
the picnic you mentioned, did your father bring much work home? And, did you hear
about projects a lot? Did you hear about decision-making when they were thinking
about problems in Peru or any of that sort of thing?
DS: Fairly early on my mother gave up preparing something like a soufflé for dinner because
he would have a telephone call from Australia or from Japan or from Europe and so
forth. So, that was something I was used to. Dad would come home, sit down, and fairly
regularly be interrupted by a phone call that he had no control over.
As far as Marcona, the operations in Peru, I don't think I could add much to what
other people have said. He felt that...in the context of the time, perhaps now he would
say it was paternalistic, but he felt that Marcona tried to provide very good conditions for
the workers. I guess as it is in many locations where there are mines, the company has
to provide schools and buildings and...
DS: Yes, everything for the community. He was actually bemused and a bit proud when the
workers went on strike because they wanted maids' quarters. He said, "Isn‟t that great?
A few years ago they didn't have indoor plumbing or the same type of housing.” He felt
that was progress. I don't know what happened with the suit, but he felt it was really
tragic the way the government had...was nationalizing companies. He felt that it really
didn't serve the employees of Marcona very well, but he could certainly understand,
given the tremendous disparities in income between extremely wealthy, elegant upper-class
who had mansions everywhere, traveled all the world, were cultured and spoke
several languages, and were nobility. And then everyone else. He felt there was not
much, if any, of a middle class. He would just keep shaking his head and say, "At least
we were one of the last companies to be nationalized." You probably know more of the
details than I do, but my impression was that there were agreements between Utah and
Marcona, and between Marcona and the Japanese shipping companies, to ship the iron
ore to Japan to be made into steel and there were these long-term contracts that were
pretty good for everybody. And, as often was happening, in the countries that relied on
metals for their income, the price would go down and the countries, instead of having a
cartel, they would decide to all ratchet up their production, which of course, meant there
was more supply so the price went down even more. I think when the Peruvian
government nationalized Marcona, the Japanese took one look at the long-term
contracts and said, "We don't have a contract with you. We have a contract with the old
company." So, it was even harder for the Peruvians because they now didn‟t have the
long term contracts that they'd had before.
GS: With a lot of these problems, it‟s easy to get into the mold of thinking, “Well, these rich
Americans are ripping me off.” But then, on the other hand, look what happened after
the rich Americans were thrown out.
So, you did hear things like this from your father around the dinner table. Let me
ask you this, in the memoirs you said it was common for him to leave home at 5:30 to
catch the train. Was he around a lot? Tell us about that.
DS: I think...growing up we had one car. It was a Chevy station wagon. My mother would
drive my father to the train station in Burlingame, and then have the use of the car for
the rest of the day. We would go with her to get my father in the evening.
GS: What time would he come back?
DS: Probably around 5:30, because we often had dinner around 7:00. There was a time to
decompress and so forth. Later on, he got two cars so he would just leave a car at the
station and come home. He had kind of a signature whistle [demonstrating]. I can‟t
whistle very much. But it kind of let everybody know and that would be the signal for all
of us to stop what we were doing and come and greet him. Then we‟d sit around for
about half an hour or an hour and have dinner together.
GS: When we study a corporation and officials we all think about how they had a wife and
children, and it‟s interesting with as busy as he was—as involved as he was—you never
felt like he was an absentee father?
DS: Well, I think each of us has things about our parents that we would reform and vice
versa. He was a little bit more formal than I think parents of my generation are with their
children, but he was certainly much warmer than I think his father, Ted Littlefield, had
been with him—he was quite reserved. His stepfather, Joseph Hanke, was also quite
distant. But he wasn‟t cold, partly because he traveled so much and my parents had
such a trust in each other, such a solid marriage. My mother was really in charge. If my
mother said, “You‟re going to bed early because you didn‟t do this,” or because you did
something you weren‟t supposed to, there was no point in running to my father. He
would back up whatever my mom said. Now, if they disagreed, they might argue about it
behind closed doors, but they were very united in that sense.
And we played softball in the back yard, we played croquet; we had Easter egg
hunts. I had two older brothers and we would go for summer one week—when people
only had two weeks‟ summer vacation—he would have one week where we would go
on a sailboat and we would all be together as a family.
GS: Did you travel with him to business destinations, to visit projects and things like that?
DS: Not until I was in college. He had a wonderful opportunity to go to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
It was right about the time of my spring break. I was a senior in college, so I‟d already
finished my academic requirements anyway. He was very careful about my mother and
I going along; he paid our way and he was very strict that way. But he added some
cities—none of us had been to Brazil before—so, in addition to the business meetings in
São Paolo, we went to Bahía. We also went to Brasilia because I was studying
architecture at the time so I thought it would be very interesting to see. But no, I didn‟t
go to mines or to conferences. I think my brother Jacques had much more of a sense of
what my dad did in the office.
Jacques would drive up to my father‟s office in San Francisco on a Friday and
see my father wrap up work and delegate and tell people, “I want this done,” and “This
is going to be done this way,” and I didn‟t really see much of that. Then the two of
them—my brother Jacques and my father—would go off to Marysville or Sacramento for
the weekend. My brother—both my brothers—liked to hunt ducks. I‟m better at cooking.
RS: Let me go back just a little bit and ask you about your father and mother meeting. I‟ve
heard some stories and I‟d be very interested in you bringing this up because it‟s so
important in the family relationships here.
DS: I think the way my father and mother met is one of the most charming stories I‟ve ever
heard. This is really true. They met in Washington D.C. during World War II. My father
was there because he was working for the Petroleum Administration and he had a desk
job. He would have been about twenty-eight or twenty-nine at the time. Quite eligible.
He had a desk job in part because he worked for Standard of California and knew
something about the oil business and had an MBA. But also he had a disability. He had
received a bad batch of Yellow Fever vaccine shortly after Pearl Harbor and he was
hospitalized, so he was told he couldn‟t go on a ship. I think he was in the Reserves, but
he was ready to go wherever he was told.
Anyway, he had a desk job and his parents, of course, had divorced and
remarried and I think his mother and father pretty much did not talk to each other and
only communicated through him. He often said to me that he felt that the best way to be
lucky in marriage or…well, he felt that his parents had gotten married a bit young, and
so he was going to wait until he found just the right person. He‟d had a series of
girlfriends, to my understanding; and, being a bachelor in Washington D.C. in World
War II, he had, I think, the pick of anybody who was there. So that was his attitude. And
he had his own apartment there.
My mother had left France in 1939 to come to New York for, quote, “One year of
English study at Barnard in New York City.” But then, in June of 1940, she got another
scholarship to finish her education because she didn‟t want to go back to France. That
led to another year. She got all of these scholarships on her own.
She really couldn‟t communicate with her family. The letters were all cut up
because of the censors. You couldn‟t telephone. There was no email. So, here she
was, a nineteen year-old, completely on her own. She was speaking English as a
second language, she had one year in New York—one year at Wells College where she
got her BA. After, she went to Mills College and got her Masters. She started working on
a Ph.D. in linguistics because she also spoke German and Russian. But then at
Berkeley, she said, “Oh, I‟m kind of tired of studying; I really want to go home. Maybe if I
get a job as a translator someplace in San Francisco, then I can get transferred back to
New York or Washington and that would be at least closer to Europe.”
So, she got a job as a translator at the Office of War Information in San
Francisco and sure enough, she got transferred to Washington D.C. She had an
apartment—it was a loaner with somebody else—and she walked to work. But she is
extremely near sighted—remember, this is before the advent of contact lenses—and
once she sort of memorized her way to work, she didn‟t bother wearing her glasses.
She only wore her glasses at home when she was reading or at work when she was
reading, but she really didn‟t like wearing them in public. In those days, of course, it was
real glass and they were very thick. She didn‟t feel it was very becoming.
But she wasn‟t looking for a husband; she wanted to go home! She wanted to go
home to France. She hadn‟t seen her family since August of 1939. So, here it is,
December of 1944—the fall of 1944—and I think they lived in the same apartment
complex. My father is looking at my mother as an attractive woman, twenty-three or
twenty-four years old, and she‟s not looking back at him.
She also has an interesting uniform. It‟s not American, not British, not Australian,
not German; it‟s Free French Air Force. They sort of cobbled together a little emblem
from one place and a little stripe from something else. I think she was an officer—I want
to say she was a colonel—but she had some sort of decoration on her shoulders. My
father was intrigued; he couldn‟t figure out what department she could possibly be with.
He would…well, he drove to work—I guess if you work for the Petroleum Administration
you‟ve got a car—but he gets the car and slows down as my mother‟s walking to work,
and she still is not interested, and so he gets more and more intrigued. Every other
woman in Washington it seems, of marriageable age, is chasing him, and the one who‟s
in his building that he sees every day, doesn‟t give him the time of day.
Well, in December of ‟44, my mother was asked to go to a…a cocktail party or
Christmas party—I think it was in the building—and a friend of hers said, “I was
supposed to go with…” oh, some other friend, “and she cancelled. I don‟t want to go to
this party by myself, will you come?” Well, of course, here‟s my mother and it‟s
Christmas, which is a really hard time if you‟re in another country and she had no family
at all in the United States. She said, “I‟m not doing anything; I‟ll come.”
Well, she wore her glasses. And my father was there. He immediately marched
up to her and introduced himself and said, “I‟ve been meaning to meet you; I‟ve been
seeing you.” And she said, “Oh, you have?” She had no clue.
I think they were engaged on their sixth date. So, they met in December ‟44 and
they were married in June 1945. They were married for almost fifty-six years when my
father passed away. So that is the story of how they met.
GS: What a great story.
DS: I think my father was also very attracted to my mother because she had such…she is so
bright and had a graduate education and was independent. She had lived away from
home, she knew how to balance a checkbook, find an apartment, get a job, get a
scholarship, make her way around the world, and you know, many women of the
time…she said many of the seniors at Wells College were all showing off their
engagement rings and they thought she was a nerd for wanting to go to graduate
GS: It was a different time.
DS: It was a different time.
RS: You mentioned that he was very comfortable with her being in charge of the house and
everything involved with it. Did he also seem to, on occasion, seek her advice about
things at work?
DS: Oh, I‟m sure. They talked a lot. Both my parents were very good at keeping confidence.
These are not people who gossip or who told secrets or let the cat out of the bag. I was
living at home at the time the GE merger was announced and I did not know it was
DS: No. And I was in my twenties. I wasn‟t asking anything, either, you know, like: “Are
you? It looks like GE is looking for a company to buy, gee…” I wasn‟t a business major
and it wouldn‟t have occurred to me. But no, they kept business…if they felt they could
share it, then they would share it. I‟m sure he felt that because of her level of education
he could trust her by him. Not that he would bring every single problem home.
RS: But they had a very solid marriage, as you suggest, and probably relied on each other a
DS: Yes. And there are a few times that I can remember that there must have been a certain
amount of negotiation before a decision came through. I went to a prep school—a day
school for seventh and eighth grade—in California. I liked it; it was Crystal Springs, a
girls‟ school. Then for my freshman year, my parents encouraged me to go to a
boarding school in Monterey. At first glance, it looked pretty good, but after a while I
decided it wasn‟t for me. Half-way through my sophomore year I put my foot down and
said, “I am not going back.” My father had gone to boarding school and not really liked
it. And my mother thought that—this being the sixties—that my being in boarding school
would be better than my being too close to San Francisco where there were hippies and
all sorts of things happening. My father pretty much said, “She‟s a good student, she‟s
been good, if she‟s really miserable, let her go back to the school where she was
before.” Anyway, that was what happened. It wasn‟t very often that they had a
disagreement, but that‟s obviously going to happen with any two people. With children
you want the best but sometimes—
RS: You have to negotiate.
DS: Yes, you have to negotiate.
GS: I had a question down the list here about the counter-culture and the stuff going on in
San Francisco in those days. What did your father think about it? He was a pretty
buttoned-down kind of a guy. How did he regard what was happening in the culture of
the Bay Area during that time?
DS: I think he felt that it was appropriate for people who were young to experiment with
alcohol or marijuana. He said they just don‟t have the research on what the long-term
effects of these drugs are. He, personally, was very cautious about that because his
father, Ted Littlefield, worked for the Veterans Administration in Salt Lake. At one point,
when my father was quite young, he had taken him to a Veterans hospital to a unit
where some veterans were being rehabilitated and detoxed from heroin and other
addictions. My father said he was so shaken to see the physical effects of drugs on
these brave, former soldiers that it turned him off, personally, to any experimentation.
So, I think he felt it was sort of human nature for teenagers and young people to
do things that were going to aggravate their parents…I remember him coming down
very hard on my brother Jacques for getting two speeding tickets in one weekend. Over
that he was furious. He said, “You‟re endangering yourself and you‟re endangering
other people. It had better not happen again or you‟re not having a car.” My brother
Jacques can tell you about that, but he felt like steam was coming out of the telephone
Back to your point, I think he didn‟t feel that the Vietnam war—as Marriner did—
was a great idea. And, of course, my mother, being French, said, “[Speaking
French].You wait, you watch, you‟re going to have the same mess.” She actually
refused to vote—I think this is the only time—she refused to vote for President in the
1964 election because she didn‟t trust Lyndon Johnson and she did not think
Goldwater‟s idea of going to war was great either.
But…it was frightening being an executive—he was on the Weatherman‟s hit list
and it was a time when bombs were going off in office buildings. I‟d gone to school with
Patty Hearst and so it wasn‟t all that far away. I had a class mate from Crystal Springs
who was at Stanford University and was on a trip with some Stanford people—I don‟t
know if it was Jane Goodall or somebody else—but this class mate of mine, Carrie, as a
student at Stanford had gotten kidnapped in Africa as a researcher. So, here I had two
classmates who were kidnapped within a couple of years of each other. I think that must
have been very frightening for him as well—knowing how you want to be able to protect
I think he felt that Earth Day and the environmentalists…of course, being a
mining executive, he said, “Thank goodness, it‟s pretty easy to restore the tumbleweeds
in Arizona rather than the hill tops of West Virginia.” I think there were times when he
felt that some of the tactics of the more left-wing groups of the Sierra Club or Green
Peace were trying to achieve was good, but that it was a little too strident. But you
know, especially as an outdoorsman, he was conscious of the environment and
protecting open space.
He wasn‟t as strict as fathers of friends of mine. He didn‟t say, “How dare people
live with each other before marriage.” He just sort of rolled his eyes. He was very much
in favor of women choosing when to have children and hopefully the father and mother
were married and decided together when, if, and how many children to have. We had a
wonderful…someone who worked for us but I don‟t want to say her name because
she‟s still alive, this might be something I don‟t want published for a while—but she was
a wonderful housekeeper [name withheld]. She and her husband and her young child
lived with us. When the child was about six, the housekeeper became pregnant again
and they did not want another child. Years later, I found out that my mother and father
paid for her to go to Japan where an abortion could be done safely and legally because
they didn‟t want her to go to some doctor illegally and then have complications. It was
not an issue that my parents had to face with my mother. She had enough children; they
had three and they were very happy with that.
So, I‟m trying to think of some of the other issues of the time. I think it was
frightening to go out and demonstrate against the war but I think that burning the flag or
terrorizing people was not something he approved of. But trying to do things a different
way like…wearing blue jeans or long hair—I think even IBM executives of the time
started having little sideburns and hair a little bit longer—it didn‟t bother him.
My older brother, Ed, of course, is a very talented musician. When Ed was half-way
through his freshman year at Stanford, he had his physical for the Army and was
declared 4F because he had had terrible skin allergy and eczema problems as a child
and still was very susceptible to it. With that, he decided he was going to quit college
and go be a musician—he is very talented—and go down to Los Angeles. I think my
father was disappointed that he didn‟t finish college. He said, “I don‟t care what your
major is, you don‟t have to be an executive, but I think you really should go to a college.
It doesn‟t have to be Stanford.” So, I think that would have been more of a
disappointment rather than that Ed wanted to be a musician or wanted to have long
hair. Does that answer your question?
GS: Actually, that does answer very well because it‟s exactly the way I see him.
DS: He wasn‟t really judgmental.
GS: You mentioned Marriner‟s opposition to the war and that got me back to thinking about
him. We wanted to talk to you ninety-nine percent about your father, but what do you
remember about Marriner? Did you have much opportunity to meet him or to see how
DS: Mostly in large family gatherings, so he was sort of another great-uncle—well, he
obviously wasn‟t related in that sense—but that‟s how I viewed him. Then, of course, my
father was quite close to him and respected him.
RS: What do you surmise was their relationship? How did they come together and get so
close and do so well?
DS: I think both of them were very ethical people. Both of them, obviously, were very good
. My father, in a way, didn‟t have too much of a chance to be close to his father.
And his stepfather…I think they tolerated each other, but they weren‟t very close. I
guess you‟d say it was more of a typical step-father arrangement. They went along
because that was best for Marguerite, my grandmother. I think…Marriner never had
sons and in that sense there was a very paternal relationship. I wonder if that‟s in one of
the memoirs that my father wrote, that he felt to some extent that he was the son of
Marriner. Not that my father didn‟t respect his own father, but it was a very different type
of interest. My grandfather, Ted Littlefield, was not really interested in international
finance and business in that sense. And they were both very patriotic, I think.
RS: Describe Marriner as you remember him as a young person. What was he like, and
what were his actions and attitudes?
DS: I was so young. I thought of him as a bit gruff because he was so much older. He just
seemed like something from another century. I think as I got older he became a little
RS: Was he friendly to children?
DS: He was formal. He wasn‟t a Santa Claus—I could never see Marriner Eccles in a Santa
RS: Interestingly, Marriner did have at least one son, maybe two. We need to check on that
for sure. His grandson has been a good friend of mine ever since I moved to Ogden. He
tells the story that they went in to announce to Grandpa Marriner that they were going to
have a child—his grandchild—and Marriner gave them a copy of a pamphlet on birth
control. Thus, I‟ve got some idea of what‟s going on. That kind of reinforces the gruff
idea in that kind of relationship.
GS: Let me ask you one more time about the relationship. You said they were both honest
and both ethical, both crunched numbers, and patriotic; it really is something of a legend
in the corporate world about these two. As I was working on the book, it was almost
magical the way they worked. There would be these conflicts that would come up and
you could think, “Boy, they‟re going to blow up.” But they didn‟t.
DS: I think that…I‟m just going to compare that with my parents, with my mother and father‟s
relationship. I know my father said that he—and my mother was the same way—they
didn‟t lose their temper. I never saw my father and mother yell at each other. Never.
They disagreed; there were grumblings when the other person wasn‟t around, “Oh, I
have to do this,” or my father would say, “Ugh, I really don‟t want to go get all dressed
up and go to that opera; ugh, I‟d rather be duck hunting.” Or my mother would say,
“Ugh, I don‟t want to have to go duck hunting, I‟d rather be at the opera.” That sort of
thing. So I can imagine that if you‟re careful with your words and if you respect and love
the other person…if you can hammer things out and don‟t blow up, then it‟s easier to
get back together.
My father told me at one point about some of the relationships he had dating
other women. He had one woman he was very fond of, but her idea was to get angry,
walk out, and then kind of kiss and make up. He said no, that is not how he wants to live
his life. So, I‟m assuming that to some extent in business, he was the same way. He did
not like to yell at subordinates or blow his temper and then have to say, “Oh, gosh, I
was just doing that to put you in your place because I wanted to scare the other people.”
I don‟t think he did any of that.
GS: That may be the secret to the both of them.
DS: My father especially—and my mother too—they meant what they said and they said
what they meant. That goes a long way in trusting somebody. I don‟t know if Marriner
also had that in his character. So that if he said, “I need that report Tuesday morning,” it
wasn‟t that he was saying that because he wanted to make you scramble and get it
done Tuesday morning; he really needed it Tuesday morning and you better have it
Tuesday morning because it was important. That‟s why he‟d told you it had to be done. I
think that my brothers and I, sometimes as we grew up, we were surprised to realize
that other parents and other people would say things and not really mean them. I
thought, “Well, gee, I thought you said I had to have this project done or you had to
have this right away,” and you get it done and they say, “Wow, you did that!” and I
thought, “You told me it needed it to be done. You didn‟t mean it?” So, that was another
part of his style.
GS: I think that‟s Marriner‟s style as well. What about other luminaries? Your father become
buddies with Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger, are these people in and out of your lives
as children? How did that affect you to know that Dad‟s over here with the President?
DS: My father, I think, started to know more people who would be in the headlines when he
was president of the Business Council. I don‟t know how many years he did that, but he
was very proud of it. He thought he‟d been a good president of the Council. He…I
remember when Nixon was President—I don‟t know what year this was, but I‟ll say 1970
because I was still at home and I graduated from high school in 1971—the President
had given a speech that was televised and after the speech the phone rang. It was
President Nixon asking my father how he thought the speech went. Well, it probably had
something to do with wage and price controls or something like that—something that my
father was not particularly fond of, but he was very gracious, “Yes, Mr. President, I
thought you did a nice job.” I don‟t know enough about what the speech said or what my
father‟s view of the issues were, but he said that he‟d voted for him and he was the
President and he had respect for the office. So, that was pretty startling.
It‟s interesting…in getting to know Henry Kissinger or President Ford or that
category of people, I wasn‟t really aware of that until I was in high school or early in
college. It‟s interesting when you are mixing with a lot of people, if you come from a
family with a lot of money or that‟s famous. My father wasn‟t really that famous in the
East—I went to school at Williams—so I was able to keep a lot of that part of my father‟s
business success unimportant. Then, as I got to know people I would let them know,
“Actually, my father is on the board of Chrysler and he‟s going to be in New York. Do
you want to go down and see him?” Not that I was the only student at Williams College
whose father or mother was quite successful and well known. I think that‟s kind of a
It was interesting…at other times my daughter, who is twenty-two, would be
studying history and read about George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford
and realize that these were people that my father and mother were on a first-name
basis with. When my father died in 2001, George Shultz spoke at the memorial at
Stanford Chapel two weeks later. A few months after that, in April, my brother Ed and
others organized a sort of happy send-off service—well, not service, a series of singing
and anecdotes at the Bohemian Club.
GS: You were at the send-off for you father?
DS: This was in April of 2002, and my brother Ed organized the performance—as I said, my
brother Ed is very talented musically. He organized the members of the Bohemian Club,
who were very fond of my father—my father who could not carry a song in his suitcase.
He was completely tone deaf, but loved the Bohemian Club and the singers and the
wonderful talent they have there. Well, Kissinger was the Master of Ceremonies.
Kissinger had retired from government life and as he was looking to set up his own
business he said, “I want to know how I can parlay my talents, but I don‟t want to be
coming under a lot of investigations. What is the right balance between my connections
in government and how can I turn that into a consulting business without divulging state
secrets or doing something illegal?”
I guess a couple of people said, “The person you should talk to is Ed Littlefield because
he‟s very honest, and if you ask him, he will tell you what he thinks. He‟s not going to tell
you what he thinks you want to know.” For somebody from Washington that‟s got to be
awfully refreshing. One, they were honest, and two, they were going to be blunt and
say, “Well, no you shouldn‟t do that,” or “No, that‟s a stupid idea,” or “That‟s a fantastic
idea,” and actually mean it. So, they really hit it off.
I think growing up I didn‟t really have—until I was a teenager—the sense of being
really proud and saying, “Wow, look, Dad‟s really made it,” and “Look, isn‟t it nice.” Not
so much in that he knew these people, but that those people really wanted to know him
and to seek his advice. It was pretty impressive that somebody like Henry Kissinger
would come to my dad for advice.
GS: Among the other people in the company and company executives, were there any of
them that you remember meeting that particularly impressed you?
DS: Jim Curry. Jim is still a very close friend and he was also someone who spoke at the
memorial service at Stanford. He was very close. There were other people that I
remember seeing, more at dinner parties that had a business connotation or at
company events, but not so much a personal friend. Those would be Bud Wilson and Al
Reeves, who had a couple daughters, one of which was about my age. I don‟t think my
mother became…she‟s close to Barbara Curry and she likes Beverly Wilson and Mrs.
Reeves, whose name escapes me at the moment, but I think she was not as close to
GS: Did you associate with the children of these other executives very much?
DS: No. I was born in 1953, so my father would have been fifty-nine or so. He was older and
I was the youngest child, so there was a mismatch of age. I was much younger than the
children of the other executives.
RS: When the President of the United States called, did that make you think differently of
your father? Did you think, “Does this happen often to other people?” That‟s a unique
kind of a thing—as well as knowing Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. Did that
change your relationship with your father at all?
DS: I was very impressed because I didn‟t know it was going to happen. My father said,
“Yes, he calls certain executives,” and he wasn‟t totally shocked because he‟d been told
that the President might be calling him. But I think my father taught all of us that we‟re
all just people; everybody puts their trousers on one leg at a time. So, yes…at the
dinner table sometimes, as time went on, he‟d say, “Oh, I had the most fascinating
meeting with George Shultz,” or “I met with so-and-so.” But it wasn‟t just a name-drop; it
was to really say, “This is so exciting, let me share this with you.” Not to puff up what he
was doing. So, I think that aspect, no, he didn‟t change. I felt very lucky.
RS: That was really the question I wanted to come to: Did he appear different or was he just
DS: One thing that I think my father aimed for…he‟d said this about Bill Hewlett. At one
point, one of the Hewlett‟s‟ sons was kidnapped in the Bay Area. I think the son was in
his early twenties or perhaps he was living at home, I‟m not sure. My father shook his
head and said, “That Bill Hewlett, he‟s still the same guy that he was five-hundred
million ago.” He said that as a compliment. I think my parents have…I mean, they‟re
gracious and diplomatic but they really didn‟t have much use for the nouveaux riches
people. Not that they didn‟t build a nice house for themselves and take advantage of the
money, but they felt it was very important to give money away and be seen as giving
money away so that other people could see that as an example that they might want to
follow, and to give challenge grants to encourage other people to give money as well.
There were a couple of people, whose names I don‟t need to mention, who had been
successful in the Bay Area—not related to our family, fortunately—and he‟d say, “That
so-and-so, I know he gives money to his church but he should be on all these other lists
and he doesn‟t give a dime to the museum or to anything else. I don‟t care what it is; it
can be whatever group that interests him.” He thought that if you were successful, you
had an obligation. He felt that the Mormon Church and the Jewish community were
especially good at not only taking care of their own community, but also being generous
to their neighbors.
GS: Denise, you‟ve come back to Ogden, in a sense, with the house. You know your dad
was born there.
DS: He was born in his grandmother‟s house, which was not the house on Eccles Avenue.
GS: I mean he was born down there.
DS: Yes, he was.
GS: I‟m sorry, I misspoke. What did he think of Utah and Ogden? The company…it moved
from Ogden to San Francisco in ‟53 officially, and even though there are a lot of
investors still here, the company really moved away from its Utah roots. What did he
think about Ogden, Utah, and this area?
DS: I think part of it was in some of the memoirs, but he felt that people had really good
values here. He did feel that, again, as I just said about the Mormon Church not just
taking care of their own but also being involved. Being the Beehive State—working
hard. Not drinking, not smoking. We‟d kind of say, “Oh, those Wattis boys, they were
known for smoking, drinking, and driving fast cars.” Not my father, but other members of
the Wattis family. In fact, I think his uncle Earl was killed in an auto accident. Paul
Wattis Jr. thinks that he tried to outrun a train in a car, probably having had something
But he had many nice things to say about Ogden and about Utah. But he did say,
of course, it was difficult being a non-Mormon. There was a woman who lived nearby
who took some of the gentile children into her home on Sundays, and he felt that he got
a very ecumenical exposure to religion. He said, “Well, one Sunday would be a
Presbyterian, a couple Sundays later we didn‟t have anybody so we‟d have a Baptist,
then we‟d have a Holy Roller, and then we‟d have a little of this and a little of that.” He
felt that that was one reason that he did not go to church on Sundays. In name, he was
Presbyterian. I would describe him as a devout golfer. A very ethical man, but that was
where he celebrated being alive, not in church.
GS: Apart from the culture, what about the town and community? As you know, Ogden is in
some trouble and we‟re trying to do more of what you‟re doing down there. What did he
think about the town? Was he concerned about Ogden or did he think much about
DS: In 1991, we had a family reunion where we stayed in Salt Lake. By „we‟ I mean my
father and mother; I and my daughter Naomi, who would have been about seven at the
time—I was recently divorced so her father wasn‟t there; my brother Jacques and his
wife Liz, and his two boys, David and Scott—their daughter, Allison, was too young;
then, my brother Ed and his wife Charissa. We came and stayed a day or so in Salt
Lake. I can‟t quite remember what we did in Salt Lake, but I think we visited the
Dumkes; then he rented a bus with a driver and said, “We‟re going to Ogden.”
We spent the day in Ogden. We drove by the Ben Lomond Hotel and he
remembered fondly how he had had breakfast there with E.O. Wattis. He, of course,
drove by the house on Eccles Avenue and had arranged with William Stockton, the
fellow that we ended up buying it from, to tour the house. He talked about how lucky it
was to spend so much time there with the Kimballs and the Brownings all close by and
the way families were at that time—larger families—all having Sundays together. I think
he really liked Ogden, but then after his parents remarried…I‟m not quite sure, I think he
went to boarding school when he was in seventh grade, so that would have been about
1926 or ‟27. I think he would have taken the train to San Francisco and would have had
to take the ferry to Marin County. He went to a school called Mount Tamalpais School
for Boys which is no longer in existence.
DS: He didn‟t say, “Oh, it‟s too bad that they didn‟t have the trains any more in Ogden,” or
anything like that. I just felt very lucky that the house was still there in 1991. Of course,
we went to the train station here and saw the cars. Bobby and Matt Browning were alive
and we had some time with them.
GS: Did you go to Uinta?
DS: No, we did not. I‟ve never been there. I had not been, actually, to the town cemetery
until our neighbor on Van Buren, Tom Moore, showed us the Wattis plot there. I haven‟t
been to the more modern cemetery, just to the really old one where E.O. Wattis and
many of his children—not my grandmother, Marguerite, but many of his other children,
including Pat Wattis and Phil—called Aunt Phil—are there. I want to take a picture next
to it with my cousin, Paul III, who was very much raised by Aunt Phil. So, anyway, we
went there. That‟s kind of what I remember of his recollections of Ogden.
He wasn‟t judging, like “I wish they‟d do this,” or “I wish they‟d do that,” or “They
should have this,” or “They let that go.” I really didn‟t find out much about Historic 25th
Street or the challenges a town faces as to how much do they keep historic and how
much do they say, “We really need a shopping center.” I can‟t imagine the town
planning and trying to balance the people who want to keep things the way they are and
the other people who say, “We need jobs,” or how much and what part you need to
have. If you‟re going to sell cars you‟ve got to have car lots. If you‟re going to have
shopping centers you‟re going to have parking areas. You‟ve got to have those things.
They‟re not particularly touristy, but this isn‟t Colonial Williamsburg, this is…people live
here. But these are just my own opinions, not necessarily something my father would
GS: Which brings me to this: the energy that Sterling put into getting the papers here. I was
talking to somebody not long ago and he wanted to give somebody else credit for that.
But it was really your father who, at Sterling‟s urging, had brought the papers here. How
do you think he‟d feel about what we‟re doing?
DS: I think he‟d feel fantastic.
GS: I hope so.
DS: Because he was born here, the company was started here, and even though E.O.
Wattis was not born in Ogden, he felt that…even though Ruth Wattis Mitchell had given
money towards Stanford and the building of the school—I don‟t know the exact title, it
has to do with geology and—the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University. I
know he was approached, or at least considered, because there‟s a building in the
business school with my father‟s name on it, and there‟s a library collection with his
name on it at Stanford. He was very devoted to Stanford, so that certainly would have
been something that crossed his mind. I don‟t know if he was approached by other
schools, probably the Colorado School of Mines—
GS: The University of Utah.
DS: Yes, the University of Utah. But I think that says a lot about him. Also, he was more
concerned about knowing he was doing the right thing rather than making it something
that would get headlines. So maybe he got headlines in Ogden but it didn‟t in New York
or San Francisco. That was fine with him. He didn‟t need that kind of stamp of approval.
If he felt it was right, then he felt it was good enough. Well, like anybody else he liked
getting an award or getting recognized, but that‟s not really what drove him to do the
GS: By the time we got it all here and got the symposium going, he was not well.
GS: Then he died, and as I was putting this together this afternoon, I thought, “I wonder what
her thinking is about how he would have liked what we‟re doing.”
DS: Oh, there‟s not a question that he would be really thrilled with keeping the archives. Of
course, he…well, this was really my brother Ed‟s urging, my brother Ed urged him to put
together a memoir with, of course, the Dumkes and all the research they and others did
as far as the family tree. I‟m hoping to put together—with help from a lot of others, I‟m
sure—a Wattis family reunion in Ogden in June next year. The last person who put one
together was Louise Heydt, who is Mattie Harris‟s granddaughter. That was in 1996.
Time flies. I think it was ‟96, it may have been ‟97, but it was about ten years ago.
Before that, Jacques organized one with my parents‟ help in the San Francisco area in
1990. So I think my father felt a real connection to family, in part because he didn‟t have
brothers and sisters, but he certainly had lots of cousins and other people.
GS: Well, we‟re obviously hoping to draw the attention back to Ogden as a center for all of
this—to establish Ogden as a center of Utah International and this sort of idea that the
company has come home. I‟m glad to hear you say that.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.