Thursday, November 29, 2012

Martha Stewart – She Generates Mixed Feelings, but A Lot of Admiration

A Truly American Phenomenon

It is difficult to come to a conclusion about Martha Stewart.  The greedy and arrogant "I am above the law" behavior that ultimately led to her incarceration in a woman’s prison in West Virginia made many of us think she got what she deserved.  But looking at her today, and at the life that she has  led it is impossible not to be overcome with some admiration, however grudgingly that feeling emerges.

Ms. Steward was the subject of the weekly Financial Times feature, “Lunch With . . .” and what came out of that article is a definitely positive insight into her life.  First of all she had been very successful

Stewart is, after all, the former stockbroker who commoditised domestic arts, turning the pursuit of the perfect home into an empire in 1997 and taking it public in 1999, ending up on the Forbes billionaires list in 2005 (Stewart is still the company’s largest shareholder).

And she did a lot of it on her own initiative.

Stewart (who was born Kostyra) grew up in New Jersey, one of six children, and began her career on Wall Street; she didn’t embark on her adventures in public home-making until the 1970s, when she and her then-husband, publisher Andy Stewart, moved to Connecticut and – having taught herself to cook from Julia Child’sMastering the Art of French Cooking – she opened a catering business. Things soon expanded, as they have a way of doing around Stewart.

And when someone is north of 70 years old and still continue to work as she does, well that says something about her drive.

And she is 71. On the other hand, she does yoga every day, gets up at 5am to write, be it a column or a foreword to one of her many crafting/cooking/entertaining/gardening books (77 at last count) and, when I ask her if she has considered retiring, looks horrified and says, “What would I do? My mother never retired. She was a teacher, and then babysat until she was in her nineties.”

And admirably, whatever her politics are they have been kept out of her public persona, unlike someone like former GE head Jack Welch, who has made a complete fool of himself.  All of this comes after a humiliating stay in prison.

When I ask Stewart about her biggest mistake, thinking it would be to do with legal issues, she says first, “I have made so many,” then announces decisively: “Not having more children.”

Prison, on the other hand, is referred to as “the hole I fell into; luckily it wasn’t a very deep hole” and she claims the experience didn’t teach her much other than “be careful.

So here are at least two cheers for Ms. Stewart, and yes even though The Dismal Political Economist is too cheap, among other reasons, to buy Martha Stewart stuff he is willing to watch her cook every now and then and maybe learn something.

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