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He only had eyes for wool

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BEFORE ``The Thorn Birds'' or geographic specials on television, Australia and wool and sheepshearing were topics as familiar to me as my grocery list or the bus schedule. The textile industry, strong as a Pilgrim's conscience, was once the backbone and rib cage of New England. And when I was associated with it, long-staple merino wool for worsted fabrics reached Boston after a five-week sea voyage.

I was proud to sit amidst samples of those crinkly fleeces in the agency representing Kent & Sons Ltd., the most prestigious wool house in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Perth.

Every morning from September through May we received code cables from one or more of these markets, with information to be relayed to customers. Every night we coded orders and replies, remembering always that there was a time difference of 15 hours. Guess, then, how much amplifying correspondence was exchanged. Add to this load the cables and letters to less-active accounts in South Africa, South America, and the Channel Islands, as well as paper work for our American clients. And this was before photocopying machines!

The senior partner of Kent & Sons was Sir Rowland, who, after the Australian winter arrived as an opposite to our summer, spent two or three weeks in Boston at each end of his annual trip ``home'' to London. And, during these visits, I was his handmaiden.

Sir Rowland was the most urbane man ever to come down the pike. When he walked in the door it was as if the whole world came in with him; and, in a way, it did, for he had cultural and government interests, as well as business ones, not only in London, but in Paris, Vienna, Rome, and way stations. A local example tells something of his life on this circuit: Because he was more than a would-be violinist, he was, on many of his evenings here, a personal guest of the concertmaster and other members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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