By Pam Woolway
Military brat is a term I grew up with, having a father who served as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy for 30 years. My four siblings and I used to visit Dad on “his” Destroyer, where we’d devour platefuls of Oreo cookies in the officer’s mess, then race wild on the ship playing hide-n-seek. This was the 60s – long before homeland security.
I grew up in a Navy town, with parents who sang us sea shanties at bedtime. Outside of military functions, where we had to eat with one hand in the lap and ask politely to pass the butter or risk a knife across the knuckles, we ran like a band of outlaws barefoot and tangled hair with unleashed dogs. Family vacations were out of a camper parked in the mountains where the only rule was to return by 5 for dinner.
Scrappy is a common adjective used to describe my sisters and me, even today.
After college I wound up working as a waitress in a pub owned by a Vietnam veteran in a community bleached in military presence. From 1987 to 1996 I worked for Greg McPartlin, owner of McP’s Irish Pub in Coronado, California. To some, Greg’s style of management appeared non-existent.
The McP’s bar ran the full length of one wall. Above the bar, a hundred glass beer mugs hung by sturdy handles that jingled with key chains that identified the regular who drank from them. Greg sat at the corner most afternoons, chatting up customers, with a cigarette in one hand and a Bud Lite in the other. Behind him on the wall hung a framed 30-inch black and white photo taken in Vietnam, of he and a buddy in camouflage gripping massive automatic weapons.
He served multiple tours in Vietnam as a Navy medic and Frogman (predecessors of the SEAL team), where he survived two helicopter crashes and was a member of the Team that assisted in the sea recovery of NASA’s Apollo 11. He was a decorated veteran.
After his military service he moved to Coronado where he made enough money in Real Estate to afford beachfront property. He didn’t exactly fit into the khaki clad population with his baggy shorts, sockless topsiders and big belly peeking through the buttons of an untucked shirt, but trust me, his haphazard demeanor was merely a cloaking device.
In nearly 10 years of studying Greg, I assure you, he didn’t miss a beat. He was sharp, knew how to manage people, and was generous to his staff. Not only did he offer medical insurance to employees at a time when it was unheard of, he rewarded hard work by carting the staff off to the horse races at Del Mar and Padre games every summer. At Christmas, he threw us a huge party in the pub. His generosity was unparalleled, but it was his read on people that impressed me most.
McP’s Irish Pub sits at the southwestern end of Coronado Island, just a mile east of the Navy SEAL training base and three miles west of the Naval Air Station. A testosterone saturated community, the bar scene on Coronado could get pretty intense.
Greg’s man-at-the-bar style of management worked for two reasons: One was his accessibility to guests and employees; the other, his hands-off style of management. He saw everything that was going on and I only recall one time in nine years when he actually rose from his bar stool to tell me what to do.
During a busy lunch rush, three Navy SEALs sat down to order. When I said I’d be with them in a moment, one responded, “Take my order now b****.”
Before sassing a busy waitress, a wise man would have made sure her hands were empty. The five-inch stack of plastic menus flew from my hand across the table to catch him square in the chest. Using the vocabulary of a sailor’s daughter, I told him he should consider eating elsewhere, and stormed into the kitchen.
A few minutes passed before Greg sauntered through the swinging door. Never one to rush or raise his voice, he said, “Hey Pam, will you come into the dining room? There’s someone who’d like to make an apology.”
These are the stories my retired sailor of a father loved – of me busting chops on cocky sailors. He was a terrible influence that way. But what girl, young or old, doesn’t live to hear her father laugh? I knew he took great pride in raising daughters who could hold their ground, and I think Greg McPartlin was in the same camp.
Dad used to ride his bike 20 miles to visit me at the pub, where I’d serve him a Rueben and a Guinness, and if he was lucky, a tall tale where I always came out victor.