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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clifford settles into his job with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation

In his position with the Reconstruction Finance Commission, Clifford Durr spent most of his time either at work or fielding calls related to his work as he tried to save the banks and the men who had invested in them. In the process, he encountered the wealthy men from Alabama who had known him as a hometown boy and refused to offer him respect, revealing the role of family connections in southern society. He developed a good relationship with his supervisor Jesse Jones, but Virginia had little respect for Jones because of the way he treated his wife. She argued that poor manners made a poor man.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So here I was in this beautiful old house in Virginia. And my husband was gone all the time. He'd go to work in the morning. He'd come home for a hurried dinner, and then he'd go back and work. He'd come back at two or three in the morning. They were trying to save the banks, you see. The telephone would ring in the night. He was waked up by people calling from every point of the compass saying if we don't get the money-you see he was with the RFC who was trying to save the banks-if you don't get the money here by tommrrow I'll commit suicide, and we'll all be ruined. You know he was working as hard as a man could possibly work. He couldn't work any harder. But the trouble was that sometimes they did commit suicide. That was the aweful part about it, was that this desparate voice that would be calling all night . . . And they were working as hard as they could, but some of them did commit suicide.
S:
Were these calls from all over the country?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
All over the country.
S:
Banks?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Banks, people in the banks. See, they'd set up this big deposit insurance to save the banks. The banks were all closed after Roosevelt was elected. You couldn't get any money out of them at all. And so the government was putting money into the banks, trying to save the banks. Theyup a big organization and they worked day and night, Saturday and Sunday. It was a real crisis. So I didn't see much . . .
S:
Cliff was gone all the time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Cliff was gone almost all the time.
S:
Did you know very much about the work? Did he come home and talk about what was going on?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
If he wasn't too tired. He'd usually come home and go to sleep. He was in such a state of exhaustion all the time. It was like putting your finger in the dike. They were afraid the whole country was going to bankruptcy. It was the strangest kind of time. One funny experience we had which I thought was amusing because it was so unlike Cliff. Cliff, you know, was such a model of being a gentleman, having such good manners and very rarely did he show any irritation or anger or resentment against anybody. The head of the biggest bank in Birmingham, Alabama, where we had just come from, came up, and his bank was in bad trouble. So he thought he was an awful big shot and he went directly to Mr. Jesse Jones, who was head of the RFC, and wanted Mr. Jesse to handle his problem immediately. And Mr. Jones says, you'll have to go down and see Mr. Clifford Durr, who is head of the general counsel for the bank reorganization division. And so the man said, his name was Mr. Wells, he was a rather pompous man, had been very rich and very powerful because he'd been head of the biggest bank in Birmingham. And we had known him, but only slightly. And so he said to Mr. Jesse Jones, Oh, Mr. Jones, I couldn't deal with an underling like that, why that's just a local boy from Birmingham. You know, I want to deal with the big shot, in fact I think he thought Mr. Jesse Jones ought to get busy and draw up the papers himself. He said, well, if you don't deal with Clifford Durr, you just don't deal with anybody, because he happens to be the one, the lawyer, that's drawing up all these papers. So Mr. Jesse Jones called Cliff and said, Cliff, there's a man on the way to see you from Birmingham, named Mr. Wells. And he says he doesn't want to deal with you because you're just a local boy from Birmingham. And he said, you have to keep him waiting for a while. So Cliff did keep him waiting, I think an hour, sitting in there cooling his heels. But it was so unlike Cliff to do anything like that. Mr. Wells had been so arrogant, so scornful of having to deal with just a local boy.
S:
Mr. Jones apparently had a lot of respect for Cliff.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, yes, he thought Cliff . . .he had a tremendous amount of respect for Cliff, and Cliff liked him very much. I never did like him at all. I mean personally we just . . . ugh (?) He was a great big overpowering Texas man. He told nasty jokes. You know that kind of dirty jokes I feel like are so offensive to women, that make women the butt of . . . And he'd tell them . . . I just couldn't stand him infact. I never did like him. He had a poor, pitiful little wife who looked like she wore black dresses and knitted black shawls. She was the most pathetic little creature I've ever seen.
S:
Did he tell jokes on her?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, he told jokes in front of her. But they were all sex jokes. I thought they were extremely bad taste and vulgar. I didn't like Mr. Jones at all, I mean just as a personal thing.