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News of Otsego County

erna morgan mcreynolds

McREYNOLDS: Our family secrets still feel haunting

Be Afraid, But Do It Anyway

Our family secrets still feel haunting

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

Nature or nurture is a question I keep asking myself. Why have I always been afraid? Did I learn fear?

Why did my parents keep to themselves? Kept us close to them?

No overnights with other kids. Or other kids sleeping at our house.

Maybe not just because our house wasn’t as nice as the other kids?

My family lived secrets. Were Mom and Dad just shy? Or were they really afraid? That they would be shunned by neighbors? That they couldn’t measure up? That they might jeopardize the life they wanted to build for their girls’ futures?

Dad had told us why he emigrated from Northern Ireland. But was this the real story?

I had believed his story. It shaped my life. With four daughters on a farm my Dad needed sons. In the 50s and 60s, probably, a man needed at least one son.

MCREYNOLDS: Moving horror stories bring back memories

LETTER from ERNA MORGAN MCREYNOLDS

Moving horror stories
bring back memories

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

Moving? Whether you have changed countries or states or cities or streets you probably have some stories? Hearing a tale from a friend brought to mind some of the terrors.

One of the scariest moves I made was back to upstate New York after years working in cities — first in New Zealand, then London and, finally, in Manhattan. It was a frightening move from my big-time journalism job at NBC to work with my husband to start a business and to become a financial advisor. My friends worried I would regret abandoning that career to move from city life to country life.

We could make this work.

We had to buy a house upstate and simultaneously sell our house in New Jersey. Most everything we owned had to go to upstate New York, except for some things I needed for my last few months working in Manhattan, when I would share an apartment near Carnegie Hall.

McREYNOLDS: Experiencing ‘Rashers’ To ‘Baps’
LETTER from ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS

Experiencing ‘Rashers’ To ‘Baps’

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

Just leaving Belfast to go to London was scary. Soldiers dressed in camouflage gear held machine guns and guarded barbed wire topped fences which ringed the airport.

I kissed my family through the fence. Security whisked my suitcase away and sealed my handbag in cling wrap until we landed in London.

After 10 days in Northern Ireland, I loved the security. I imagined my plane blown up in mid-air, hurtling to the Irish Sea.

But Northern Ireland — I was still with my family. London? Perhaps the biggest city in the world. I had to travel miles from the airport to central London. I had figured out a bus would be the cheapest public transportation — and found the right stop.

A couple of hours later, I was at Kings Cross-St Pancras – railway, bus and underground stations all in one place.

My $1 a day guidebook said my hostel was a short walk from Kings Cross. I realized that author hadn’t been lugging a suitcase with all of his worldly possessions to get there.

Eventually I found the street number on a windowless door. I pushed the buzzer, climbed a windowless flight of stairs. Arrived at a dingy counter where a clerk scrutinized my passport, wrote down details, demanded cash in advance.

Then he locked my passport in a safe. Told me I couldn’t have it till I checked out. By then I expected that he would murder me in my sleep, steal my traveler’s checks and cash them with my passport.

McREYNOLDS:…But I Wasn’t Afraid Of ‘The Troubles’
LETTER from ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS

…But I Wasn’t Afraid

Of ‘The Troubles’

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

You already know that I have been afraid to do almost everything I ever did, but that never stopped me. But then there were the times when I should have been afraid but wasn’t.

Why did I think I could head off around the world at 21? Emigrate to New Zealand from a small Upstate dairy farm?

From New Zealand there was no easy way to call home if I was in trouble or just homesick. With the primitive system there I had to book calls to the U.S. far in advance. At Halloween I reserved my slot for Christmas Day.

And of course there was no Internet back then. Just handwritten letters on onion skin paper to make them lighter and cheaper to mail. Even an air mail letter could take weeks to get to my family.

There were no credit cards in case of emergency either. I hadn’t even dreamed of seeing ATMs.

So where was my fear when it should have seized me?

Car bombs, like this one depicted in the Irish Times 50 years ago, were common during “The Troubles,” when Erna Morgan McReynolds visited Belfast.

I had booked and paid for my 13,000-mile ticket which would let me see a lot of the world. I could get on and off planes, change airlines and visit as many countries as I wanted as long as I didn’t exceed those 13,000 miles.

I put on nylons, dress, gloves and my sturdy walking shoes. One had to“dress” for airplane travel in those days.

My foreign travel began with a drive from Upstate to the JFK airport. Without a look backward, I boarded a 727 and flew from that iconic TWA terminal.

First stop was Ireland to meet my Dad’s brother — my Uncle Tony, my cousins, Dad’s friends.

Dad left Northern Ireland in 1926. He had never returned. I would be the first to visit his family since 1926!

After my TWA dinner, which was served on china even in steerage, I took a brief nap. I opened my bleary eyes at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Shannon was a world apart then, with donkeys hauling goods and people through

Western Ireland. No tractors. Few cars.

But my uncle and two of my cousins were there to greet me. Their hours-long journey to fetch me took almost as long as my trip from JFK.

In my ignorance, my Upstate travel agent had booked me to the right island but the wrong side of it. The McReynolds lived near Belfast. Hours away from Shannon and often on single-track roads flanked by hedgerows.

My cousin Tommy, who could tell a tale about almost anything, told me those hedges housed the “wee people,” who built fires there and roasted mushrooms.

I have to admit I stared hard into those hedges. I wondered when one of the wee ones would spring out in front of our car.

This cousin never stopped spinning fairy stories. But he had some real stories to tell too. A tough Belfast city bus driver, Tommy had been held up at gun point more than once “in The Troubles.”

My Dad had left half a century before. He assured us that it was a time of “The Troubles” back then. Nothing to worry about.

But there had been plenty to worry about then and when I arrived too.

After our visit to my cousin Iris in a border town in the Irish Republic, we had to go through a checkpoint to get into Ulster.

Soldiers dressed in camouflage wielding machine guns; sand bags to deflect bombs; questioning by sentries before we could pass through.

That was unnerving but with Dad’s reassurances I knew this was just normal life.

A few days later when my cousins and Uncle were giving me a tour of a nearby city, a policeman was stopping the line of traffic in front of us. As we neared the road block suddenly my cousin wheeled the car around and started tearing away.

But before we went more than a few yards, an explosion rocked our little Mini, our eardrums felt like they would break and black smoke plumed in the air. Sirens blared. Children on their lunchtime recess ran about screaming. Parents arrived shouting, looking for their children in the mayhem.

Maybe I should have been afraid? But I took my Dad’s advice and didn’t worry. I stayed in Northern Ireland for my 10 days. We were frisked as we went into Belfast department stores. Stopped at roadblocks. Walked past young soldiers in camouflage. But I still had 9,000 miles to go.

Next stop London.

McREYNOLDS: The Joys, Challenges of Retirement
LETTER from ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS

The Joys, Challenges

of Retirement

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

Mom told me that they promised her the “Golden Years” but she got the “Rust Years.”

She had dreamed of retiring. Yet after a couple of weeks into retirement her litany changed from “can’t wait to retire” to telling me: “Don’t do it’’.

My Mom was born when women were supposed to stay home, while their husbands supported the family.

But, my Dad, Mom’s husband, lost their farm and his health. He became too ill to work. With three girls under the age of 5 at home, my Mom had to go to work. She got lucky and landed a good-paying job at a factory. After a string of horrible jobs.

Not her Ozzie and Harriet dream. But good money to feed her family. Mom was careful and saved from every paycheck. She belonged to a union and got a good pension. She planned golden years of traveling. After a couple months staying at home she wanted to go back to work. A week or two on a bus tour was OK, but she didn’t want “vacation” all of the time.

Mom’s “Golden Years” were “Rust Years.”

Any point here? Sure. You have probably already figured out that I did what most of us do – I didn’t follow Mom’s advice. I retired. Afraid as always. Maybe this time I was right.

Did you know 10,000 baby boomers retire every day?

You don’t need any statistics. You know. You live it every day. Your long-time doctor and your lawyer have retired. Your plumber. Electrician. A year or so ago it seemed that all of the local CEOs, college and hospital presidents retired the same week.

Are they like Mom? Regretting every day that they retired? Baby Boomers do retire a few years later than the Greatest Generation. They are healthier and more active. But many work. Some because they can’t afford not to, but many are just like my Mom. She really wanted a longer vacation. When she wanted to take it. Not a permanent vacation.

Recently I commiserated with a 36 year old. He went from a structured job – which he loved – to self-employed when his wife took a job on a remote Caribbean island. A sort of retirement. Hard to do, he said. No structure. No people coming at you making you react. No co-workers. He liked some of the freedom but he misses having a regular job. Two months later he fell dead from a heart attack.

A week earlier I had coffee with a 67 year old who had retired almost two years ago. He has nightmares about his job. He loved his job. Didn’t really want to retire but it was time.

Intellectually he was at the top of his game. But he had great successors from the next generation. He did the right thing, he believes. But why the nightmares? Does he have a mental illness? Is this normal, he worried?

Why do we have friends who say they love retirement? That they never missed their jobs. Did they hate their jobs and count the days to retirement – those golden years?

For me, I retired at the right time, for the right reasons. I had plans. Spend more time with some terrific non-profits with which I work. Mentor? Take up those old passions like gardening, go out for coffee or lunch.

I knew how I should prepare to retire. I coached clients for 30 years. “You’ll have a black pit ahead of you. Plan”, I told them.

Frightening. Retirement – terrified me. Fear drove a planning frenzy for the next third of my life.

My French teacher was right – I am a perfectionist. I intended to corral my fears and do this perfectly.

But even with all of that planning I spent my first year in mourning. I missed my colleagues. I missed my clients. I missed feeing useful.

My friend with nightmares is suffering too.

At a conference with my Adviser Hall of Fame colleagues – many of whom are my age – they applauded my courage. Said they envied me. They’re afraid to retire. Some know they’re staying too long. Missing the chance to spend time with their spouse, children, grandchildren. To do charitable work. Give back. Pick up those old hobbies abandoned to climb to the top.

Like the 77-year-old with whom I had dinner last night? Afraid? Her husband is sliding into dementia. He retired 17 years ago.

“Be Afraid but Do it Anyway” still seems to be working. Now a couple of years later retirement seems less scary, not so heart-breaking. Eventually I plunged into my plans and some unexpected projects too. COVID has upended life, but also has bestowed its blessings.

ERNA: Fear Retirement, But Do It Anyway
BE AFRAID, BUT DO IT ANYWAY

Fearsome Retirement

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

Mom told me that they promised her the “Golden Years,” but she got the “Rust Years.”

She dreamed of retiring. Yet after a couple of weeks into retirement her litany changed from “can’t wait to retire” to telling me – “don’t do it.”

My Mom was born when women were supposed to stay home, while their husbands supported the family.

But my Dad, Mom’s husband, lost their farm and his health. He became too ill to work. With three girls under the age of 5 at home, my Mom had to go to work. She got lucky and landed a good-paying job at a factory. After a string of horrible jobs.

Not her Ozzie and Harriet dream. But good money to feed her family.

Mom was careful and saved from every paycheck. She belonged to a union and got a good pension. She planned golden years of traveling.

After a couple months staying at home, she wanted to go back to work. A week or two on a bus tour was okay but she didn’t want “vacation” all of the time.

Any point here? Sure.

You have probably already figured out that I did what most of us do – I didn’t follow Mom’s advice.
I retired.

Afraid as always. Maybe this time I was right.

Did you know 10,000 baby boomers retire every day?

You don’t need any statistics. You know. You live it every day.

Your long-time doctor and your lawyer have retired. Your plumber. Electrician. A year or so ago it seemed that all of the local CEOs, college and hospital presidents retired the same week.

Are they like Mom? Regretting every day that they retired?

Baby Boomers do retire a few years later than the Great Generation. They are healthier and more active.

But many work. Some because they can’t afford not to, but many are just like my Mom.

She really wanted a longer vacation. When she wanted to take it. Not a permanent vacation.

Recently I commiserated with a 36-year-old. He went from a structured job — which he loved — to self-employed when his wife took a job on a remote Caribbean island.

A sort of retirement. Hard to do, he said. No structure. No people coming at you making you react. No co-workers. He likes some of the freedom but he misses having a regular job.

A week earlier I had coffee with a 67-year-old who had retired almost two years ago. He has nightmares about his job. He loved his job. Didn’t really want to retire, but it was time.

Intellectually he was at the top of his game. But he had great successors from the next generation. He did the right thing, he believes. But why the nightmares? Does he have a mental illness? Is this normal? he worried?

For me, I retired at the right time, for the right reasons. I had plans. Spend more time with some
terrific non-profits with which I work. Mentor? Take up those old passions like gardening, go out for coffee or lunch.

I knew how I should prepare to retire. I coached clients for 30 years. “You’ll have a black pit
ahead of you. Plan,” I told them.

Frightening. Retirement — terrified me. Fear drove a planning frenzy for the next third of my life.

My French teacher was right — I am a perfectionist. I intended to corral my fears and do this perfectly.
But even with all of that planning I spent my first year in mourning. I missed my colleagues. I missed my clients. I missed feeling useful.

At a conference with my Adviser Hall of Fame colleagues — many of whom are my age — they applauded my courage. Said they envied me. They’re afraid to retire.

Some know they’re staying too long. Missing the chance to spend time with their spouse, children, grandchildren. To do charitable work. Give back. Pick up those old hobbies abandoned to climb to the top.

Like the 77-year-old with whom I had dinner at that conference? She told me she was afraid to retire?
Her husband is sliding into dementia. He retired 17 years ago. Now she wonders where her courage was.

Too scared to have enjoyed those great years.

“Be Afraid but Do it Anyway” still seems to be working.

Now a couple of years later, retirement seems less scary, not so heart-breaking.

Eventually I plunged into my plans and some unexpected projects too. COVID has upended life, but also has bestowed its blessings.

ERNA: Fear Of Swimming

BE AFRAID, BUT DO IT ANYWAY

Fear Of Swimming

By ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS • Special to www.AllOTEGO.com

Swimming. I was a kid who wanted to learn to swim.

It really started when I won a week at Bible camp by reciting enough verses. Just being there was scary enough. I was afraid to sleep in my bunk at night. Homesick.

Had all of the wrong clothes. All of the other kids had fancy clothes. My bathing suit was the only store bought thing I had and it didn’t fit. It was a hand-me-down from our neighbor.

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.


My week at camp seemed to get worse, scarier every day. After our morning calisthenics, we put on our bathing suits, huddled in our towels for the frigid march to the lake.

Most everyone could swim to the dock. Not me. I came from a family of non-swimmers. Mom was too scared to put her face in water.

Watching me shiver, a cabin mate decided to push me in — way over my head.

I sputtered, swallowed water till the guard pulled me out.
I was afraid, but I wanted to swim.

Never again – no more being trapped in dark terror, I said to myself. But it did happen again at friends’ ponds.

More than one time I climbed onto rafts with my friends. They jumped off. I fell into murky, reedy water way over my head. Not sure why I didn’t drown.

So when I heard I could take swimming lessons at a summer school program, I put on another ugly swimsuit.

Worse still, since I was 11 and embarrassed. Chubby size 16 that year. Wearing a hand-me down. Budding breasts made that clingy suit even worse. But I walked a mile from my house every day.

Joined the others at the local swimming hole in the creek just outside the village. Finally, I thought.

But it wasn’t to be. A gangly man and a chubby woman were in charge. They got us in the creek. Had us put our faces in the water. Stretch out on our stomachs in the dead man’s float. But then, a few seconds later, they shouted “buddy up.” I became an expert at buddying up. Could lie on my stomach in water without touching. After a whole summer.

I still wanted to learn to swim, though.

In Wellington, they had a pool. I joined. The water smelled like Clorox and was hot. I tried to do it. Still, after a year all I could do was the dead man’s float. Had buddying up in my kit bag. Just in case.

Before I could learn to swim I moved. First to my new TV/radio job. Then six months across the Pacific, America and finally London.
In London, after a lot of “temping,” I got a permanent job. On my way to work I passed the Drury Lane baths (swimming pool) every day.

After my near-drownings, I was terrified of water over my head. But I knew I could do it. Day after day I practiced widths at the shallow end. First the dead man’s float; then I added kicking.

Next I tried the doggy paddle. Widths. But I got really good at widths and thought: I should move on to lengths.

The first time was a disaster. I doggy paddled and paddled but suddenly the bottom of pool fell away. No way I could touch it. Or doggy paddle over the terrifying water. Shaking inside, struggling to float, kick, somehow made it back.

Days, weeks, months passed until I could make it to the far end.

The saga continued. I beat my fear. Swam an hour every day for years.

At a dinner party years later, a friend asked about how I learned to swim. I got to the buddying up, dead man’s float part.

Suddenly, my husband asked if the teacher was really tall and wore glasses?

It was my husband. First time we met.

Years later I learned that without knowing it when we first met — he taught me what I needed to know to beat my fear. Taught me how to do it.

ERNA: ‘Be Afraid, But Do It Anyway’

INTRODUCING ERNA

‘Be Afraid, But

Do It Anyway’

By ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS  • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

One day a woman who had sat next to me at a fundraising dinner called me. She wanted me to be the speaker at an event for women alumnae from NYU. How could I resist? She titled it, “An Interview with a Financial Superstar”.
She asked about my growing up outside a little village in Upstate New York. How did you go from no hot running water in your home to being on the Barron’s Top 100 Financial Advisors list?

Editor’s Note: Erna Morgan McReynolds, managing director of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in Oneonta before her retirement last year, has agreed to write an occasional column for our newspapers. Here, she introduces herself. Enjoy!

Good fortune blessed me. Or I thought it did. As a child I thought I was lucky. Wouldn’t it have awful to be poor in the city? Instead I grew up in a village of 300 and went to a small central school where teachers and villagers alike could look after every child.

Knowing that our family was poor, a teacher helped me get jobs cleaning houses and serving at soirées for the wealthy society of the village.

During my high school years I worked at the grand summer home of a descendant of the founder of the village. Mr. and Mrs. G. gave me special standards.

She dogged my steps as I dusted and polished with her white glove ready to pick up any speck of dust. Her husband led me to his library for 15 minutes every day. He wanted me to learn about music as diverse as the Welsh National Choir to the Brandenburg Concertos.

They gave more. On my day off each week they had me sit with them at their grand dining room table for lunch. I had prepared those gourmet meals using the Cordon Bleu cookery course they bought me.

They taught when and how to use all of those forks and knives and spoons and eat strange foods. Mrs. G called them “alligator pears.” Now I call them avocados. And I know how to do more with them than guacamole. Sometimes my knees shook under the table trying to do everything just right.

As a high school senior, my English teacher persuaded me to write an article which landed a scholarship at a journalism course.

Terrified.

Yet somehow I finished that course thinking I could be God’s gift to journalism. I took a series of jobs when women couldn’t be journalists but only were secretaries, nurses or teachers. I became a sports reporter while going to college, then a radio news director and advertising sales woman at a local station. By selling ads to pay the bills for a group of weekly newspapers, I became a reporter/editor.

Want to know scary? A girl who couldn’t even dribble a ball covering soccer and basketball? Going into rooms filled with cigar smoke, politics and men who sometimes leered.

Next with the naivety of under 20s I emigrated to New Zealand, where I became a reporter for the morning paper in the capital, Wellington. This was the era when there were no real women reporters. There were two others in the newsroom: the women’s page editor and another woman who never saw the light of day working overnight as a sub-editor.

Getting a “round” or a beat was for men. But I became what no man would – the energy reporter. That was 1973 – the year of the oil crisis. Good fortune again. I was in the right place at the right time.

After all of those front page leads, I landed a job as a radio/TV reporter at the NZBC. Great tales attached to both jobs. Then on to London. By age 23 I produced the news and current affairs show which boasted the largest audience in Europe.

Lured back to the U.S. by the most persuasive man I ever met – my husband of 35 years – I became a news producer at 30 Rock, NBC. Scary too. Would I be good enough?

My final career, I thought. Then another piece of good fortune. Lured back to Otsego County by that persuasive man, we built one of the largest investment advisory practices in the country. One of three top teams in America. We advised foreign governments’ social security funds and thousands of individuals.

During those 30 years I became a Girl Scout Woman of Distinction and a Maker – one of a select group of women who “make things happen” along with women like Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton. Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year. Part of the Barron’s Hall of Fame Advisors. And I spoke at the United Nations in the room where the General Assembly meets. Where they have all of those headpieces that translate to your language.

When my interviewer asked the audience for questions, the first one was … how did you do all of this? What gave you the courage?

The answer: I have no courage. I have been afraid of everything I have ever done.

When Jim Kevlin suggested writing a column – I didn’t think I could do it. I was terrified, but Jim said I could do it so…and more to come.

A French teacher I had once told me I could speak French but that I am a perfectionist. Hope she was right!

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