Edward, the Duke of Windsor, had stalked a tiger in India, crossed the Andes from Argentina to Chile, dodged an elephant in Uganda, toured Australia by royal train and launched a golf ball from the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
About the only thing missing from his bucket list was traveling to Ohio to visit Lawson’s in Cuyahoga Falls.
Fifty years ago, the British royal graced Summit County with his presence when he toured the Lawson Milk Co. plant at Broad Street and Newberry Street.
The world had once known him as King Edward VIII, the ruler of 450 million people across the United Kingdom and British Empire, before he shockingly abdicated the throne in December 1936 to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Warfield Simpson.
Formerly the Prince of Wales, Edward was the great-grandson of Queen Victoria, the grandson of Prince Albert and the son of King George V. Before turning over the crown to his younger brother, George VI, he announced: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”
Edward and Wallis were formally bestowed the titles of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and divided their time between New York and Paris. And on the rarest of occasions, Ohio.
Chicago multimillionaire Nathan Cummings, a chum of Edward, was the founder of Consolidated Foods Corp., the parent company of the Lawson’s store chain. In a casual conversation, he had explained to the 74-year-old duke how the Lawson's company had grown from one Cuyahoga Falls store in 1939 to nearly 700 in 1969.
“In talking with His Royal Highness about some of Consolidated Foods’ successful business divisions, Mr. Cummings told the story of Lawson’s remarkable growth in Ohio,” Lawson’s President M.M. Hoch explained. “The duke’s interests are very wide, and he expressed a desire to visit Lawson’s and see some of its stores, restaurants and motels if Mr. Cummings could arrange it.”
Reporters, photographers, deputies and a small crowd of British Americans waited in the morning rain as Edward’s jet landed June 3, 1969, at Akron-Canton Airport. Edward, the uncle of Queen Elizabeth, emerged from the plane, waved to onlookers and left in a police motorcade for the Cuyahoga Falls plant, arriving by 11:35 a.m.
Striding with a cane, the diminutive, gray-haired Edward wore a brown, double-breasted suit with a blue-patterned shirt and polished brown shoes. He displayed a brown tie in a wide Windsor knot, the same knot he had helped popularize decades earlier in men’s fashion, and also wore dark sunglasses, in part to protect a detached retina in his left eye from camera flashbulbs.
Cummings and Lawson’s officials greeted him at the plant, and they toured the complex in electric golf carts.
Lawson’s workers went about their business as the entourage filed through the building. The former king watched with keen interest while a pastry cook twisted dough for a conveyor belt.
“That looks like good bread,” the duke said in a clipped, posh accent.
Then he was whisked to the ice cream department, where three flavors were being churned out that morning on noisy machinery. Lawson’s officials touted their plant as having the biggest ice cream freezer in the world, and the former king took a peek inside the 16,000-cubic-feet refrigerator where 160,000 gallons of ice cream were being stored.
He exited the chamber that reached 40 degrees below zero, laughing and shaking his trousers. “That cold penetrated clear through my pants,” he said, the only time a British royal is known to have uttered that phrase in Greater Akron.
Other than general pleasantries, the duke said little that was quotable, disappointing reporters covering the event.
Oh, but there was controversy of a personal nature. The date was June 3 after all, which happened to be the 32th anniversary of Edward's 1937 wedding to the Duchess of Windsor.
The date apparently had slipped His Royal Highness’s mind when he arranged the visit to Ohio, but he hoped to make it up to the duchess when he returned that evening to New York with 32 individually packaged containers of Lawson’s ice cream.
He explained that he had to rush back to Manhattan where cosmetics tycoon Estee Lauder was giving the couple a party, but first he had to dine with his Ohio friends.
Off to lunch
After bidding farewell at the Cuyahoga Falls plant, Edward was the guest of honor at a 100-person luncheon at Silver Lake Country Club.
In addition to Cummings and Hoch, seated with Edward at the head table were Robert Kibbey, executive vice president of L&K restaurants and motels, a Consolidated Foods subsidiary; Robert Manners, Ohio franchisee of Manners Big Boy restaurants; Cleo Ludwig, president of L&K; John S. Knight, president and editor of the Akron Beacon Journal; Walter S. Lineberger Jr., president of Society National Bank of Cleveland; William Caples, president of Kenyon College; and former Lawson’s President William Howlett, chairman of the board of Consolidated Foods.
“The Duchess took a dim view of me leaving her alone on this special day of our lives,” Edward told the audience. “Thank you so much for remembering our anniversary. I have enjoyed my visit to Lawson’s wonderful plant, and I enjoy looking out at this beautiful golf course where I’d like to try and break 100.”
He raised a toast at the luncheon and basked in the applause of the affluent guests. Then it was back to the airport to jet back to the woman for whom he gave up a kingdom.
Three years after his visit to Ohio, the Duke of Windsor died of cancer May 28, 1972, in Paris. He was 77.
The Lawson’s plant later served as the home of Dairy Mart and Schwebel Baking Co. Today, it’s the home of U-Haul Moving & Storage of Cuyahoga Falls, where its brush with British royalty surely is long forgotten.
Fit for a king, it entertained a duke.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.