Judy Kay-Wolff

LEW MATHE (Of Mice and Men)

Other than an occasional nod or smile at the Nationals as we passed each other, I hardly knew Mr. Mathe.   However, in 1971 Norman and Edgar were invited to join the team of Lew Mathe/Don Krauss and John Swanson/Dickie Walsh at a world championship held in Taiwan.  Lew was a tough hombre and opponent.   In the thirties, Johnny Gerber and Lew Mathe were thought to be the two leading bridge players in the country.  Years later he partnered Meyer Schleiffer and Bob Hamman but Lew had been known to do things his way.   His partners were barred from leading from a jack or opening a NT without all four suits fully stopped.   Simply put, he was intimidating, a tough critter and a hard taskmaster. 

Lew liked to call the shots and enjoyed being in the limelight.   Two famous incidents come to mind. 

In Bermuda in 1975 Bobby had a sting operation in place ready to corner Zuchelli and Facchini, proving their foot contact signaling  (before the footboards were employed) and had everything in place when Lew got wind of the operation and blew the whistle before the plan went into effect.  They did finish the tournament but never again played for Italy.  However, they will go down in history as “The Foot Soldiers” with no doubt as to their identity.  It was covered amusingly in The Lone Wolff in Chapter 9 (The Agony of De-Feet) along with Eric Murray’s famous telegram.

Another jumping the gun incident occurred in 1977 where Lew was present.   A pair was accused of cheating, ACBL attorney Lee Hazen flew to the site, the accused hired an attorney and it was agreed they resign from the league with no prosecution or publicity AND  the terms of the agreement were to be kept confidential.    However, Lew let the cat out of the bag, contacting the New York Times , naming names, and caused this too to come to a screeching halt.   Lew did like to be in the middle of the fray and get the lead story – but it was not always in the best interest of  the honor of the game.

Forgive my digressing.   Back to 1971 and our Taiwanese trip.  Returning from the world championship, I got to know the ‘other’ Lew.   Our journey was a rather circuitous one – via L. A., Tokyo and eventually arriving in Taipei and coming back via Hawaii for a two day visit.   To me, Pearl Harbor represented a sad event I studied in history class as a child and hard to envision as I had never been to the actual site.   Genie (Lew’s bright, fun-loving wife) and I were anxious to visit the remains of the historic battleship Arizona – a huge tourist attraction still entrenched in the harbor.   So, Norman and I spent an entire day with the Mathes and Lew was absolutely delightful, entertaining and a different person away from the table.   It was a treat to be with them and Genie and I remained friends for many years, even after Lew passed on.

My favorite Mathe story took place at the old Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City before it was imploded.  It was the site of a trials.  Lew became very ornery and suddenly, there was a shrieking call for the DIRECTOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   When the gentleman arrived at Mathe’s table, he was flabbergasted by the following request:   “Can’t you do something about those damn mice???? They are running back and forth across the floor and they disrupt my concentration.”   True story.   I was an eye witness.

1 Comment

JSJanuary 4th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Steinbeck would have enjoyed your title.