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Cheap cigars, politics and the Volcker Rule

Reuters - In mid-January, a who's who of Wall Street gathered to hear Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman whose role in the White House seemed at best unclear.


The son of a town manager who grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, Volcker has a no-nonsense style. He was famous during his tenure at the Fed for the shiny suits he wore and inexpensive cigars he relished.

James Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president and a longtime friend who took on Volcker as a business partner after he left the Fed, said Volcker never sought out the trappings of power.

"In today's world it sounds rare to see on a Friday night the chairman of the Federal Reserve carrying his bag himself in economy class, smoking the most foul cigars because they were cheap and he enjoyed them," Wolfensohn said.

When Volcker was chosen as Fed chairman by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, his wife's illness prevented her from moving to Washington so he rented a cramped apartment in D.C. and commuted back to New York on weekends on the shuttle.

His daughter, Janice Zima, recalled that when her father worked at Treasury during the 1960s, he drove an old green Ford car with a white stripe along its side. The driver's seat was broken and wouldn't stand up by itself.

"We had this old kitchen stool that he ended up sticking behind the driver's seat," she said. "He was too cheap, I guess, to go have it fixed."

Volcker remains thrifty to this day. He often takes the bus rather than a taxi in New York and has felt no need to upgrade the metal cabinets and Formica countertops in his apartment, his daughter says.

But friends have noticed more of spring in Volcker's step lately. He got engaged late last year to his longtime assistant, Anke Dening, and surprised his daughter and many of his friends by eloping in mid-February. In a ceremony presided over by a friend who is a judge, the two were married and then took a short honeymoon the Virgin Islands.

Source: Reuters UK